In and out of small boats: 2015

Some days ago I was talking to myself, as I now often do working alone in my house. "Why is this so hard?" I don't actually remember what I was doing, but I have some guesses: maybe it was when I never recorded an interview that I had driven an hour to get, and I didn't know where the malfunction had happened. Maybe it was when I was reading the description of an HVAC question that may as well have been written in Latin. Maybe I was getting into a boat I was sure would tip, or reading a will. I don't remember. But I know that my next thought was: this was a learning year. 

Looking back, I see that this year, I took on many new things without a thought to the change they would wreak in my life. Every year I feel more sure of myself, more of a leader, and this was the year I longed to feel like a student again. 

Here are some things I did not resolve to learn, but did: to cook, to dress better, to row a racing shell, to identify some birds, to edit audio pieces, to get a good interview, to pitch myself to writing outlets, to manage a construction project, to get in and out of small boats. 

So many times I suspected it would all tip over. So far, it has not. 

Here are my year's highlights. 


In a story I've now told a million times, I fell off a stage while conducting a panel at CrimeConn. I fell terribly dramatically, but as I was going down, I felt nothing but joy about how great of a story it was going to be. I'm proud of that. In an clumsy year, this moment was a standout.


So boring, I know. As usual, I went through some spurts of healthy living-- but this time with a much greater focus on sleep and water. I developed a whole new relationship with these two terribly dull things, often prioritizing them as the highest point of my day, and I have to say, it felt really good.


I interviewed BJ Novak back in February for the Twain House. While Novak wasn't the warmest of our guests, he gave a solid interview and I felt good about this being my probable last interview for the Twain House (I was, at this point, starting to think about leaving). I also shook Ta Nehesi Coates' hand at Book Expo America, which was even better.


I'm ashamed of how much my running as fallen off (I was sure I'd be an ultramarathoner by now), but I still got three half-marathons in: the Tinkerbell Half in Disneyland (memorably followed up with walking around the park all day, which was memorably followed up with not being able to walk at all), the Mystic Half (beautiful), and the Hartford Half, which I can now run with my eyes closed. I took 45 minutes off my time between the first and the third race. 


I never think to include this in my yearly review, but I inject a lot of art into my life. I spent good dollars on plays: The Sounds & The Fury by the Elevator Repair Service, Kiss Me Kate at Hartford Stage, an adorable community theater performance of Gutenberg the Musical up in New Hampshire, the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time on Broadway (probably best play I've ever seen), Fun Home on Broadway, Jimmy and Lorraine at Hartbeat Ensemble. And those were just the great ones. BEST PLAY: Curious Incident. BEST ART: Wadsworth Atheneum, which I went to many times this year. BEST PANEL: a nonfiction panel at the New Haven Public Library with John Jeremiah Sullivan (literary crush). BEST BOOK: A Little Life. Or maybe Lumberjanes. 


This year in my marriage involved a lot of late nights talking about our business, Sea Tea Improv. It also involved what it always has: good talks in the car, covering for each other, forcing each other to relax, and pushing each other to not waste our passions. I'm really lucky to be married to the most ethical person ever born, who watches a lot of depressing movies with me against his will. In return I listen to a lot of Star Wars analysis. Truthfully, Greg probably was the most important part of my year, as he always is, but the steady presence is hard to compare to these other bursts of joy. He allows them all to happen by being so supportive.


We taped a live podcast this summer that was just a delight. We've been disco-ing for years now, and even though I see them only once a year or so, Rider and Tod have become lifelong friends. Meeting the fans always stuns me and hanging out in the Last Bookstore in Los Angeles was wonderful. 


It was a hard year for my family in some ways, with a death in the family right off the bat in February, and then a death that affected my sister very much right at the end of the year. And yet, there were so many beautiful little moments with everyone: singing bawdy tavern songs at funerals, swimming quietly up to loons, riding on carousels, cooking turkeys, camping in Maine, bringing my grandparents to the Martian, celebrating my niece's first birthday, cat sweaters for Christmas. The sadder these years get, the happier they get also. It's very strange but I'll take it.


Sea Tea Improv developed an Improv for Dementia Caretakers program this year-- I couldn't be prouder of that. I also taught improv to a gazillion fifth and seventh graders in the Hartford Public Schools. I've seen a lot of kids pretending to be octopuses. It's great every time. Also fantastic is getting kids who have trouble sitting still to stand up and channel their energy into theater games. 

9. DEBT:

I paid of an obscene amount of debt this year. Since September 2014, I have paid and kept off $22,000 of credit card (terrible, I know) and student loan debt. The way I did this was very simple: every single dollar after bills I made went to this. Huge chunks paid at a time, every time I got paid anywhere. No budget. Just paying it off over and over again. This, by the way, was my New Year's resolution. I didn't quite kill my student loans like I wanted to, since I quit my job, but I will be doing that soon. 


At one point this year I was standing in the woods of Keney Park, shivering because I'd forgotten my squirrel tights for the Night Fall dress rehearsal, and I watched a puppet come out of the trees and felt sincerely terrified. That was fantastic. I was also given the opportunity to perform as Princess Leia in a Star Wars sketch show, play the Ghost of Christmas Future in an improvised Christmas Carol, play an empathetic judge in an improvised Spoken performance, got yelled at onstage by Terry Withers, wrote Jurassic Park parodies... all amazing. And I loved performing with my all women's team with my best friends, Romantic Baby; performing the show I'm most proud of in my lifetime with Greg (an improvised musical about veterans), and building the world's smallest theater for Hartford Parking Day. 


This year, as usual, weddings and improv festivals took me all over the country. I bought cowboy boots in Austin; stood on a cliff in California as a friend got married; ran that Disney race; took a Segway tour of Chicago; hiked through a holly forest in Cape Cod; submurged in Diana's baths in New Hampshire; camped in Maine; ate a deli sandwich on the beach in Ipswitch; danced in a barn in Vermont; walked through a garden in Tarrytown; heard radical wedding vows in Brooklyn. I feel so lucky to always prioritize these little journeys, and even luckier to live in New England where these experiences are so close to each other.


A friend said to me in July, "when's the last time you went Hot Turkey on something?" Meaning: jumped all-in on something you have no idea how to do. That afternoon I signed up for sculling lessons. I thought, "maybe I'll be Olympic-level good at this!" until the moment when I first slid into the boat and realized how much balance, patience, calm, and strength it takes just to move the thing through the water. It was extremely challenging, beautiful, and calming, and gave me a completely new perspective on the city where I live. 


Technically, I went freelance beginning in February, when I cut down my hours at the Twain House and started to try and get more outside work. But it wasn't until the early fall that I decided to leave completely, striking out on my own and spending my days as a one-woman writing, sales, marketing, and accounting team. I was hired as a contributor for Book Riot, Connecticut Food & Farm, United Way, and LEGO Systems; I submitted a piece to Creative Nonfiction that I'd been dragging my heels on forever; I wrote a ton for WNPR; I was asked to join a secret freelance writing group full of people I respect. The most fun thing that happened in a very fun year of writing was the Hartford Courant publishing a received Op-Ed of mine on my birthday (coincidence). 


Damn, this was the best. We decided to open a theater, and I spent about a month writing what I hoped would be a convincing pitch; in the writing of it, I fell back in love with my own company and the dream of the theater. That kickstarter ended up being the most successful improv-related kickstarter of all time, raising over $60,000 and winning us a tremendous amount of excitment over the project. Since then, I and my improv colleagues have been working on lease agreements, HVAC, plumbing, electrical, and architectural plans, signage design, a new business plan, restructuring our workforce, forging connections with the city, increased sales, and new classes. It has felt slow day to day, but realizing that we had very little at this point last year makes me so proud of all we've done, despite still being such a ragtag bunch of individual artists. Sea Tea more than anything else I have ever done has given me confidence, negotiation, and leadership skills that I am extremely proud of. I think I'm a boss bitch now and I love it.

3. Neighborhood Studios

The teen program I taught at the Twain House this year was extremely challenging. The kids came in with terrible stories and challenges, high emotions and an unwillingness to bond. But on the final day, every one of them cried, including me. The high point of the experience was reading an essay on behalf of one of the young writers, a letter to her father forgiving him for his suicide attempt, during our final performance, in front of her parents. It was emotional beyond description and I was so proud of her for writing it, and honored to read it.

2. WNPR Internship & The Radius Project

Last February I began as an intern at WNPR, Connecticut's public radio station. I absolutely loved it: answering phones, producing shows, writing news items on Barnum and Bailey, Harper Lee, and an octopus who had learned to use a camera. I blogged for the Beaker and I collected as much vox as I could. By summertime, the newsroom staff had hired me to work on a new podcast about Hartford. It drops this month and I couldn't be prouder of it. I spent most of the fall ice skating with refugees, eating cannoli for research, interviewing barbers, and lots of other things you'll hear about very soon. Why does this rank so high in such a great year? Because it felt so difficult. This was the thing that challenged me most, the thing I wanted to instantly be great at but had so much to learn. I'm still a complete radio baby. I get tangled in the headphone cord and my edits are way too long, but I'm learning. And the learning is the joy of it. That, and realizing that every single day is abundant with news. 

1. Galapagos

Nothing will ever beat nature. Nothing. Last January, Greg and I climbed volcanic hills, identified finches, counted dolphins, plodded among giant tortises, approached sharks, felt nothing but wonder. Sometimes when I feel overwhelmed and frustrated, like I'm terrible at everything, like I don't know why I'm doing all this, I think, "somewhere on the other side of the world there are thousands of sea lions lying on that beach." It was so beautiful. Stunning beyond my imagination. Inspiring. And the best part of the trip was swimming with penguins-- once we learned to jump in and out of small boats with confidence, trusting that whatever was in the water would be more exciting than never getting the courage to leap.