At the ripe old age of still under 40, I felt like I had a mid-life crisis of sorts in 2013. This was the year my outside frustrations and internal conflicts collided and I found myself becoming a bit cynical, bitter, and angry at things I couldn’t control and at complete strangers who I assumed were total jerks because they refuse to use their turn signal when switching lanes. Mid-year, it began to dawn on me that I was becoming the very person I was used to showing the middle finger to, and that scared me. I didn’t like being “that” person and I began taking steps to change. As 2013 comes to an end, I am pleased to announce that my mid-life crisis has ebbed and I am on the road to an existential recovery. And DC itself has been a great therapist in helping me sort out my personal predicaments and move forward towards a more positive me.
I spent the first three months of 2013 outside of DC. I had been cast in two shows at a theatre in a different city and was very excited to leave the winter weather, the hustle and bustle of the beltway, and enjoy some time in a place where the weather was warm and the pace of life a lot slower. And to be honest, I really did enjoy my time away. A break from the rat race of the District was a nice change of pace. The people I met were lovely, the food was amazing, and the lack of traffic was heavenly. But being away also helped me gain perspective on the city in which we live. I learned, first of all, that our local DC theatre scene is awesome! Not only do we have theatres in a rather large abundance (the city I was in had only three professional theatres in the entire metropolitan region), but the quality of shows is incredible. I have worked at a number of phenomenal union and non-union theatres in the DC area that are 1000% better than some of the union theatres I’ve performed in outside of DC (to include the city I was in earlier this year), both in quality of show and professional work ethic. The performing artists I know in DC, both in the union and outside of it, appreciate the work they have and take pride in making each production something special. Being in another city and working with performers who were lacking that same ethic was frustrating. So many times, I remember confiding over the phone to my best friend that I knew at least 100 DC actors who would kill for the opportunities those locals were given, but refused to appreciate. Hence, when my time came to return to DC, I was very grateful. I did have a great time and am so glad for the experience I was given to perform in that city, but coming back to my hometown where professional artists are truly dedicated professionals was divine.
In addition to being an arts writer here, I do have other jobs (shocking, I know) and one of those is as a licensed tour guide in DC. When I returned from my three month performing venture, I jumped right into tour group season. Spring is the time of year that (as you have no doubt noticed if you are anywhere near the National Mall between March and June) the school groups from all over the USA who have been studying American history all year perform their requisite pilgrimage to their nation’s capital. For us locals, this means a million tour buses and 14-year olds infiltrating every nook and cranny of the museums and monuments and it can be overwhelming, annoying and frustrating. Spending four months, though, leading groups of people around our beautiful city helped me realize that we live in a freaking awesome place! Most of the school students who come to DC spend between $1000 and $1500 each to spend three days cramming in as many sites, smells, sounds, and experiences as they can before returning to their small towns where they will relish the memories and someday tell their grandchildren that “once upon a time, they saw the ACTUAL Lincoln Memorial.” How often it is that I drive over the 14th St bridge, past THE Jefferson Memorial without looking at it, or sit at the red light at the intersection of 16th St and H St NW, and not even think about the fact that THE White House is right in front of me. So for me, being a tour guide in DC is a wonderful reminder that I live somewhere special. Nearly everyone in the world knows where DC is and we are one of the top tourist destinations in the world. And yet, so few of the locals ever take advantage of the fact that in our backyards, any day of the year, for free (mostly), we can visit more than 100 museums, monuments, memorials, famous buildings, streets, restaurants, and other places that are of vast significant importance to our past, present and future.
True, there are also more than 100 sucky things about living in our urban sprawl, but I had spent so much time focusing on those things that it wasn’t until this year that I realized that DC isn’t going to change. It is what it is and I wanted to see the good in it instead of the bad. The fact that there is legislation regulating the height of buildings in the District means that we can’t build our city up (thus creating one of the worst commuter areas in the USA), but it also means we can enjoy the openness of the city and see the sky. The fact that an open parking spot near U St NW on a Saturday night is rarer than Superbowl wins for the Redskins also means that our city has a growing vibrant night life, with a plethora of incredible restaurants, great bars, and exciting night clubs. The fact that my small non-metro accessible one-bedroom apartment cost more than a large 4-bedroom house in the previous stated unnamed city means that my property values are only going up and I will have no problem selling it if I ever move because DC is pretty recession-proof.
The fact that DC can be both astounding and awful, depending on one’s perspective, is why it’s been such a good therapist to me. I was a pessimist for too long, only seeing the long lines at Marvin, the steep ticket prices at Arena Stage, the claustrophobic crowds at the Natural History Museum, or the metro delays. Spending time outside and inside DC in 2013 is turning me into an optimist and I’m excited to ring in 2014 standing in those lines meeting people from all over the world, seeing exceptional theatre at those prices, exploring the amazing museums that don’t have the huge crowds while appreciating that even the ones that do have some cool things to see, and happy to be on the metro platform because it means I’m going into the city to see or do something fabulous.
Thanks for being my couch in 2013, DC. You saved me a lot of money on therapy.
A friend came to visit me here once, and as we were driving down 14th Street toward 395, we stopped at the intersection at 14th and Pennsylvania. “Wait,” she said. “THE Pennsylvania Avenue?!?!” Um, yeah. The White House is over there, I said, sort of waving my hand. Her eyes got huge. And I resolved to never take any of it for granted again.