Thursday, April 27, 2017

If Timing Is Everything, I Might Need A New Watch

            We’ve all heard the expression. What’s more, we’ve probably all used it. “Timing is everything” is one of those things you hear when someone offers you comfort over the job you didn’t get or the guy that can’t date you because he’s already dating someone else. (Both have happened to me.) It can also be used as a gentle reminder to “get over yourself” when your devastation is at epoch levels upon discovering the tickets to Phil Collins’ reunion tour were already sold out by the time you found out about it. (Did not happen to me… or did it?) It’s an expression that makes us grit our teeth and want to punch the person who’s uttering it right it in the face after he or she says it, while simultaneously recognizing they are dead-on right. Just take a look at my life!

            When it comes to career aspirations, timing-is-everything should be my middle name. As an actor, looks are important. Some might even say they are everything and to some degree they are. After all, there are auditions where you literally must “type in” before you even get the opportunity to perform for the casting people. In my twenties, I apparently was not the right “type” most of the time. I was continually told, “Wait ‘til you are older. Boy, are you going to work then!” I think that was a way of politely saying I was just too young to play the character parts I so desperately wanted to play, parts which were typically relegated to women in their forties and beyond. But now that I AM older, I still struggle to find my place in the acting world and get cast in the roles I am fired up for. And ironically, I am STILL hearing I am “too young.” (True story.) So it comes back to the question of timing. If the timing is never right for the things you are doing, then maybe you need to DO something different! My acting teacher always reminded our class, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” So perhaps it’s me that needs to reevaluate what roles I am pursuing, and if they are, in fact, really right for me at this point in my life!

            Timing certainly comes into play as a writer too. I’ve written four plays and a screenplay to date, and trying to get the timing to work out on those has always been a challenge. One of my dreams was to have my play produced in the New York International Fringe Festival and finally with my fourth play, "Elephants and Other Worldly Dilemmas", my dream became a reality. Isn’t that proof timing is everything? Yes and no. It was a career highlight and one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I am so grateful to everyone at the Fringe for making me a part of their very special world. The timing definitely worked out in that scenario. But… it took seven years and submitting my first three plays unsuccessfully and then submitting my fourth play a total of three times before it happened. So was timing EVERYTHING or was it just a case of good old-fashioned PERSISTENCE? In truth, I think it was a combination of both.

            I’m not saying some universal luck doesn’t have anything to do with success. I absolutely stated as much in my blog the other week, With Age Comes Wisdom. Sometimes we need to tell ourselves “Timing is everything” to push ourselves to keep going, not give up on the things we want in life and trust that the timing will work out eventually. But it should also be noted that IF we want the timing to work out, we must also be aware of the literal passage of time. And hence, comes my watch. Someone once called me Just-In-The-Knick-Of-Time-Dina, the person who sailed in at the last possible second to wherever I needed to be. If timing is everything, then you must be aware of time itself! One of my impeccably punctual friends often says, “Being on time means you’re already late.” Not sure if my just-in-the-knick-of-time heart quite agrees with that, but being early gives you a moment to catch your breath, assess what’s going on and prepare yourself. So maybe instead of  “Timing is everything,” I should say, “Timing matters.” Because it does. After all, when the right time comes, I certainly don’t want to miss it by being late!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Perception Is My Reality

            When my boss once said to me, “Perception is reality,” I got very upset. This was when I worked on Wall Street where perception is EVERYTHING, or so I thought at the time. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve repeatedly seen examples in my life of how perception really IS everything almost EVERYWHERE you go. Or at the very least, it’s certainly significant. The question is, WHOSE perception do you want to make YOUR reality?

            Years ago, I worked on Wall Street as an administrator. That means you oversee a WHOLE LOT of people and their administrative needs. Translation: you are probably looking up the SAME phone number for the SAME slacker, excuse me I mean coworker, several times a day. I found this super annoying. There was a physical phone directory as well as an online version. Why couldn’t the person look it up himself? Was it some kind of learning disability? (Sorry but it still makes my blood boil a little when I look back on it.) Why was I being asked the SAME question over and over? End result: I was one helluva cranky lady!

My boss called me into his office, wanting to know why I was so upset by these types of incidences. After all, I was still getting paid the same money per hour to answer the SAME question over and over. I told him it was disrespectful and insulting, as if I wasn’t important enough to remember the information I had given out the first time around! He responded that people were finding me difficult to approach because they didn’t know what mood I was going to be in. I was horrified (even though inside I knew he was right). I told him that I didn’t mean to come across as unapproachable or moody… I was just frustrated. And that’s when he hit me with the perception-is-reality zinger. He said it didn’t matter what I MEANT to do or how I was feeling in my heart. All that mattered is how I came across to others and their subsequent perception of me.

It was like a light bulb had gone off in my head. I hadn’t really thought about the difference between how I’M feeling and what OTHERS are feeling about ME. Even if I “mean well”, it does not equate to being “received well”. This five-minute meeting in my boss’s office had been a game changer for me – even though he was completely unaware of it. I had often felt misunderstood by others, and this catch phrase helped guide me in future situations to assess my behavior and how others interpret it. However… and there is a however… the trick is to recognize that perceptions are specific to the person interpreting you. 

I was reminded of all of this recently, when a good friend was venting about people’s misperceptions about her. As we talked, I was reminded of another phrase, “Different strokes for different folks.” Everyone has their own set of likes… and dislikes. A beloved behavior to one person is like nails-on-a-blackboard to another. Despite my so-called moodiness on Wall Street, when I worked at Ruby Tuesday my crankiness was almost viewed as “charming” and “humorous”. My coworkers saw me as a “spitfire”, who took great pride and care in my job. That was THEIR perception. They didn’t find me unapproachable. In fact, it was quite the opposite.  It’s not to say I didn’t have moments of moodiness. It’s that this wonderful group of people saw it as something that made me who I was. And they loved me for it! Who knew a chain restaurant could be such a magical place where I felt accepted… warts and all.

But I don’t want to start touting another catch-phrase: “I am who I am”. To some degree, I think that expression is a blanket excuse people use when they’re too lazy to work on themselves. I am all for self-improvement (and I have the therapy, life coaching and self-help book expenditures to prove it). You just have to decide for yourself what are the things YOU want to IMPROVE. Perceptions are reality—make no mistake about that. Just bear in mind that perceptions are relative, and relative to a person’s own reality. So they must always be taken with a grain of salt.

And it’s also important to recognize that perceptions CAN and DO change. Some of my best friends weren’t sure how to take me when they first met me. Being the larger-than-life person I am often described to be, I get it, even though it can sting. Over time, however, the people that are meant to be in my life have learned to see my overzealous energy as a good thing and something they desire in their lives. Their perception became a different reality.

Lesson to be learned? For me, I think it’s to continue balancing accepting myself with taking other people’s perspectives into consideration. (Let’s just say the seesaw topples over in one direction or the other quite a bit!) I think there is great value in looking at other people’s perceptions. But ultimately, it’s up to you to decide whose perceptions jive with your own and align yourself with THOSE people!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

With Age Comes Wisdom a.k.a. The Older I Get, The Smarter My Dad Becomes

            Growing up, we all moan and groan when our parents give us advice. We complain to our friends, “My parents don’t know what they’re talking about. They just don’t get it.” We collectively roll our eyes, criticizing their lack of understanding of the current times and how things are different from when they grew up. We all went through this phase… admit it. You did too! One thing my dad would say when I would argue with him is, “You know, Dina,” (he loved using my name to make a point) “The older I get, the smarter my father becomes.” At the time, it infuriated me. I felt like he was misunderstanding where I was coming from. I mean, I really DID believe that my parents just didn’t get it. It had nothing to do with how smart they were! But now, as an adult in a… ahem… certain phase of her life, I realize what a nugget of brilliance my dad’s statement was. My dad was and IS a genius. I just didn’t realize it at the time.

            As an artist, we all go through the ups and downs of trying to further our careers and continually stay creative. Whenever I would whine about how hard I work and how I wished I could get a break, my dad would simply say, “Dina, it’s nice to be talented, but I’d rather be lucky.” Internally, daggers were shooting from my eyes as I externally sighed, but even then a part of me knew he was right. Talent is just a prerequisite. It’s expected. But that little bit extra that pushes you to the next level of success… well, at this point in my life, I fully believe the “extra” comes from the universe smiling on you and deciding that it is, in fact, YOUR time. In other words, a little bit of luck goes a long way, my friends! That, and a whole lot of faith. (Thank goodness, I have an abundance of the latter.)

            My dad pretty much kept out of my love life—he left that to my mom to complain about: “He’s not right for you”, “He doesn’t treat you the way you deserve to be treated”, “You’re too good for him”… blah blah blah. But he would occasionally comment on my friends’ love lives, and through that, I extrapolated truths that I now hold dear. Once, while driving in the car, he commented on my friend whose husband didn’t seem to make her enough of a priority. He said that a man must make you the most important thing in his world. Kids, if you have them, grow up and leave the house, but your spouse stays with you, and as such, you must always cultivate that relationship so it continues to grow. And my past self has had a history of falling in love with unavailable men – whether it was literally (attached to other relationships) or figuratively (emotional retards). It’s taken me a loooooong time to recognize I cannot pause my life, waiting for an unavailable man to become “available”.  Instead of pausing, I must RUN LIKE HELL in the other direction! I deserve a man who wants to invest the time in cultivating a relationship with me! (Thank you, Dad.)

            My dad frequently said I did too much for others, often at the expense of my own happiness. I still hear his voice, “Dina, you are the world’s crusader, out to save everyone!” He felt I could be a sucker, putting effort into people that were taking advantage of me. Or even if my efforts were appreciated, they were over the top and not necessary. A part of my overzealous helpfulness was that it made me feel good about myself. I acknowledge that selfish component, and perhaps it’s not even a bad thing. But now I know that I want to help people for the RIGHT reasons and know my limitations. If you want to save the world, great! My dad was a teacher in the South Bronx and wanted to help all his students have better lives. (So Dad, my desire to help is kind of your fault.) Just make sure before you try to help, i.e. “save” someone, you know whom you are saving and if they are worth the effort!

            My dad loved to point out that friends come and go, but family is forever. Boy, does that do mixed things to me!  I mean, there are friends who transcend friendship and they ARE family. I am so grateful to have some amazing friends in my life who fit into that category. But I don’t think that’s what he meant. He was simply trying to say that friends can drift in and out of your life at any time. It happens as people go in different directions, and it doesn’t make those friendships any less valuable for the time you had them. But your parents, on the other hand, will ALWAYS be your parents—for better or worse! And I do think in my younger years, I didn’t always appreciate how much my parents did for me. My parents once drove into the city at a moment’s notice to take me home and nurse me back to health when the MTA strike of 2005 caused me to get a severe case of bronchitis (standing outside in sub zero temperatures waiting for a shuttle van to take you to Wall Street will do that to you). Yes, Jewish/Italian parents are super nurturing (others would say overbearing) but the memory makes me smile. That’s love and it truly is eternal.

            It’s interesting how stage in life directly impacts how we think and feel, even though we deny it every step along the way: “Oh, I’m never going to be like that” or “I’m never gonna feel that way”. Trust me, you will, in both cases. And it’s actually not so bad. Hindsight can be beautiful, and I love looking back and trying to figure out how I got from there to… well, HERE. These days, I often find myself talking to someone and realizing I am literally quoting my father’s words. For a brief moment, I get annoyed and think, “Damn, he was right.” But it only takes a split second before my thought changes, and instead I think, “Thank you, Dad... You were RIGHT.”


Thursday, April 6, 2017

Nothing Makes You Feel Less Like Royalty Than Driving in Queens

            A while back, I spewed my annoyances of being a pedestrian versus a driver and the hypocrisy I feel whenever I’m one or the other: (If It Says “Don’t Walk", Then Don’t Walk!) Lately, however, I’ve been finding myself behind the wheel more often than on the sidewalk. In so doing, I’ve discovered that driving in my beloved borough induces more epic fits of road rage than anywhere else my little red Honda Fit has happened to find itself in.

            At the top of my list is double parking. Sure, double parking occurs everywhere, especially in Manhattan, but in Queens they have turned it into a bizarre art form. It’s like people are creating modern art sculptures with their vehicles. There are times I am literally weaving around double-parked cars on both sides of the street as if it’s an obstacle course. Imagine me, driving down the street belting out my favorite Beatles song (I know I’m dating myself), and I slow down because there is a car in front of me. Oh wait… the car isn’t stopped… it’s parked. Yes, these f*ckers don’t even have the decency to throw on their hazard lights to alert you! I think these crazy people have convinced themselves it’s a legitimate parking spot.

            Next are the green lights. What is the problem with a green light, you ask? Oh… just wait. My blood is already starting to boil. When you look up what a green light means, it says you have permission to proceed. Well, not in Queens. In Queens, it means it’s time to slow down. Slow down for what, you wonder? I have no idea. I’m the gal who’s already got her foot poised on the gas pedal when I see the light in the other direction turning yellow. I have places to go, dogs to walk and time is money, after all.

            I must also mention the turn signals. My friend swears he sees people putting on the wrong turn signal, certainly an ignoramus thing to do. I’ve never seen that, personally. What I DO see, on the other hand, are people not using their turn signals… AT ALL. It’s like they’re playing a game of Russian Roulette with their cars, waiting to see where their vehicles want to go at the last second and rolling the dice that they won’t take out any other vehicles or pedestrians in the process. So when you combine this aggravating behavior with the slowing-down-at-green-lights, how are you supposed to maneuver around these morons? I have no idea where they’re going or IF they’re planning on going anywhere…. EVER. When I get to a green light, the elevator music track comes on in my head, as if I’ve been put on hold by customer service. My brain tells me I might be there a while, but my mouth is cursing like a truck driver at the offender, screaming for him or her to get the hell out of my way!

            What about the stopping? I understand as drivers we have to stop at red lights, stop signs, in traffic, etc. But stopping in the middle of the street? Living in Queens is somewhat like living in the suburbs and residents have lived here since the dawn of time. That means, for better or worse, people know their neighbors… and they want to talk to them… even if it causes a ten-car-pile-up behind them. I’ve never driven in a place where so many cars are stopped halfway down the block with their windows rolled down, as the driver talks to someone standing on the sidewalk outside their house. Pull over, buddy! Scratch that, because I don’t want to encourage the equally jackass move of double parking. How about finding a legit parking spot and going for coffee with your friend? No need to delay me and the other nine cars behind you. Trust me, none of us care about you or your quality time with your pal.

            I know that people say New Yorkers are always in a rush and our stress levels are too high. I won’t argue that point, because I know that I am guilty as charged. However, the minute you get in your car, you are no longer a New Yorker. You are simply a DRIVER. And as a driver, I just want some courtesy and respect, and in return, I will give you the same. Be aware of your surroundings, fellow drivers. Recognize the streets are not your personal roadways… or parking lots. I may be behind you and as such, I need to know what you are doing and where you are going, if anywhere. Remember what our parents taught us… the Golden Rule… Treat others as you wish to be treated? That rule definitely applies here. Damn, I hate when my parents are right!