To my sister...

I come from a truly remarkable family. My mother is a former model, a business woman (she's founded, owned and operated her own small business for 20+ years!) and super human, my father is a successful contractor and can drive around my hometown saying he built virtually everything, and one of my older sisters (there are 2) is a lawyer and negotiator for one of the largest entertainment companies in the world. No pressure for me, right? Not one to hang in a shadow, I worked tirelessly throughout high school to achieve accolades for performing and singing, as well as my academics, and landed myself acceptance letters to some of the most prestigious conservatories in the country, including The Boston Conservatory at Berklee. Now I mentioned above that I have 2 older sisters, but only talked about one of them. My other older sister, Jaimie, was accomplished too. My other older sister, Jaimie, was a semi-pro surfer, state-ranked soccer player and extremely talented musician and artist. My other older sister Jaimie lost sight of all of this, though, at 16 when addiction began to consume her life. My other older sister, Jaimie, passed away last month, suddenly, at 28 years old. 

Growing up witnessing my big sister's entanglement with this demon--that can only be described to those who don't know what it's like as a cancer--was surreal, intangible. At just 10 years old, I knew there was something happening to Jaimie, but at that age, it was hard to tell what exactly it was. I watched her experience such serious anger that she would scream at the top of her lungs, hit my parents and try to peel her skin off of her body as if she were trying to escape from the tentacles of an octopus. She lost so much weight that she had times when she was down to 80 pounds--literally skin and bones, and she was in and out of jail and rehabilitation multiple times before the age of 21. She lied, stole, and hurt my parents and me and my sister so deeply that it was unfathomable to think we were even related. And it was all so confusing to me. How was I supposed to feel? How was I supposed to think? How did my best friend, the person who dressed me up and twirled me around the living room become someone I feared for and someone who scared me? 

By the time I was preparing to graduate high school, I noticed that it wasn't only Jaimie in my hometown but so many others too. It's like there was this evil black smoke unfurling throughout my quiet little beach town with these drugs and the weird power they had. I could not wait to find a new world unburdened by addiction. I thought that by moving far away from home, diving into a focused environment and living in a more accepting and busy community I could get away from it all. I was wrong. The issue that ultimately took my sister away from me, that infected my hometown and that here in Massachusetts steals thousands of loved ones haunted me.

 

Respite was distracting, but the ghost of my memory would always be there. I needed to do something. I realized it’s not something to escape. It’s ok for it to be part of my story, and to embrace the reality. Pageants get plenty of flack, but one aspect no one can negatively criticize is the philanthropic voice each delegate gets in the form of a "platform", and that has been my vehicle for action, for embracing my reality. 

 

I don't know what the antidote to addiction is. It's a chronic disease, and I don't think there is a single answer to the issue. The genesis of my sister's relationship with substance abuse has been linked to a childhood trauma, but I've heard stories of so many different ways people get into it--some are injured playing sports and were prescribed painkiller medication that triggered their addiction and others just think they are trying the chicest new thing to take the party to a higher level. So my "platform," Drug Abuse Prevention and Awareness, has not taken the shape of promoting a single charity or honing in on one specific point--it's a forum, a conversation, a resource. It is multi-faceted because addiction is multi-faceted.

 

One area of prevention I passionately believe in includes instilling self-esteem, confidence, and self-love in people at all ages. My sister always was insecure--she was bullied in school, and not just by the mean girls. She actually had a teacher once tell her in a classroom full of other students that she was nothing like her accomplished older sister. So she always felt down about herself, and when her addiction was triggered that insecurity intensified. When you come out of your second or third rehab program at 21 years old, and all of your former friends socialize by telling stories about their sorority events and drinking where your only stories from the past couple of years are about wiping out your bank account or trading sex for drugs--its a little hard to relate and feel good enough about yourself to press onward. And she had a lot of tattoos and was bi-sexual, characteristics a small conservative town certainly judges people for. So knowing how much self-esteem affected Jaimie's experience, I've worked with various programs promoting self-esteem and confidence like The Elegant Way Foundation, founded by Loretta Neff, which teaches character development and education to Title I schools (schools that have a higher than average percentage of low-income students, and get additional funding from the federal government under Title 1 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act) and children in low-income communities throughout the country. Teachers and administrators have reached out to me after I've spoken and just hung out with these kids at one of the Foundation's book-readings or other events, and will tell me of the significant shift in the classroom dynamic they observe and that through these light-hearted, sheer fun, interactive sessions (activities I would never have otherwise thought could be so truly impactful), these kids have a better sense of self. And it's not just The Elegant Way Foundation. I've worked with Macaroni Kids and the D.A.R.E. program, speaking on acceptance of others regardless of differences. I tell the kids (sometimes who listen and others who I have to just hang out with and be more subtle and "cool" to get them to listen) that it will never hurt you to go sit with the kid, or person who is sitting alone. Ask them questions you would be excited to answer, and respect that they may think or act differently than you. This goes for people my age, the generation above me and the generation above that! To target more mature audiences, I also actively promote the #statewithoutstigMA (use that hash!) campaign funded by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, which is an initiative to dissolve the stigma attached to addiction. Stigma is kind of a strange word so for those who aren't as familiar with it--when someone is struggling with addiction openly, that person instantly becomes prone to judgment, ridicule, and the ignorance of others. I believe this stigma, this negative attention towards those who struggle with addiction, which is NOT a choice, but a disease, is what kept my sister socially isolated. She was treated with shame and people were constantly judgmental or just outright mean. Jaimie's lack of self-esteem lead to her loneliness and her loneliness only further sunk her self-esteem. Sometimes I just wish someone would have, out of pure kindness, asked to take Jaimie to lunch in these later years when she was so deep into this world that she had lost all touch with society. It would have made her feel so good to think someone just wanted to be her friend, and I hope anyone I speak to or who reads this is motivated to do that for the person sitting alone.    

So that's me right now, in this moment. That's my story. My sister was in a world of physical and emotional pain, and I know she is finally at peace and would want me to share her story. I have been so well-supported by my pageant family in Massachusetts through all of this, and am so excited for what may come in the Miss Massachusetts pageant next month, but beyond all of that I hope that this story, my work on all of this (in or out of the pageant world) has a positive impact on at least one life. It's hard to talk about it but I know it's important, and should anyone reading this want to reach out or share or have someone to talk to about it, please feel free to reach out via my contact information below.

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How it Feels to be Cut and What It Really Means

Growing up in school, or in sports, you would never want to hear your name called. If it was, there was fear of reprimand or god forbid, the principal's office. Now that I'm older, and involved in industries like pageantry and theater, I want to hear my name called. Whenever I'm at an audition, I want my name or number to be announced for a call back or dance call. However... more times than not, you won't hear your name. Or there will be instances when they do call your name, and the excitement might build, but you are released or cut. 

HOW IT MIGHT FEEL

Not good, but keep this in mind...

Now getting cut or released from an audition is never really "the end". What I mean by this is that your relationship with the artistic team and staff of the theater is not tarnished or ruined because you are not asked to stay. For example, I auditioned for The Addams Family at an Equity house, I was asked to stay and dance, but did not move past that round. The artistic team was still gracious for my time, and 9 times out of 10, they will encourage you to return and try a different show or season. Me being 5'9" and tan was not maybe the best fit for that show, maybe I was too technical of a dancer, or not enough... and that's ok. It may feel like when you get released, it's a measure of your talent or ability or appearance, and in some cases, maybe, but those are only circumstances within the realm of this audition, NOT your life. Usually, the artistic team already has this picture in their head and sometimes you may stand out too much, or not enough. That is not an evaluation of your skills, but more so what this team needs for their production. 

Emotionally, getting cut or released can be overwhelming. It may feel like "why should I even try?", "What do I get out of this?" or "why am I not good enough?". Those are questions that answer themselves with perseverance. You should try because you believe in yourself enough to get yourself to that audition and do your best to showcase what you can do. What you get out of going through the audition process is priceless. You become more familiar with what makes you most comfortable in an audition on top of connecting with others who are doing the same and the theater staff and team. These are relationships that will help you professionally and, a lot of times, personally. You are good enough. Cheesy, I'm sure, but being an artist is hard regardless of medium. Rejection is everywhere and there will be some that are harder to get past than others, but you are pursuing this for a reason. Find your reason.

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Something I like to do is write down the date of when a show was going to take place. For example, I was cut from a call earlier this week where the show was going to run in April/May of next year. I wrote the dates of the run down and I'm looking forward to seeing what opportunities I can take advantage of at that time. Maybe I'll land a role in an even bigger production. There is not meaning in everything, but when what you do is your everything, there has to be. This is an industry you have to be passionate about and there is a plethora of ways to go about it. 

I hope this is helpful. It's nice to be reminded that, although very personal, theater and performing, is an industry. It's better to think of yourself as an asset to a business: what can you provide? What can you gain? Carry those questions with you to auditions. Best wishes to all! 

WHY travel 10 hours for 10 minutes?

Today I'm taking 3 buses, a train and an Uber. Today I'm traveling across five states for maybe 10 minutes in front of a camera? Do I sound crazy? That's not even the best part. Today I'm traveling over 10 hours for an audition that may turn into nothing, that may turn into a wasted 60 dollars... or today could be the beginning of my career in film.

This all sounds dramatic I'm sure, but this is the reality of trying to break into a business that's selective and exclusive, but for good measure. I don't know what drew me to this line of work except for the fact that it kind of fell into my lap. If I was equally as talented at math or economics, you would find me in school for that, however, my talent is performing and singing and acting. If I was pursuing another field, you would find me doing the same thing though. If it was economics, I would work tirelessly to ensure I worked at the most prestigious financial firm, or if it was physics, you would find me working at NASA. I was dealt and different hands of cards though and now my goal is to share what I was given through the greatest vehicle we have for that, film.

From what I've noticed, people who are not familiar with the performing arts or the lifestyle of it, think that we actors are incapable of making a commitment. Well gee, I wish that was true. I could have hit snooze this morning, I could have smiled at my Boston Conservatory acceptance and chosen a safer route, where I could lead a normal, college life; however, the past two years of my life have been 12 hours of class every day, hours of practice, constant fatigue, yet a constant hunger to prove myself. 

So to say, this "hunger" has me traveling countless miles to prove myself to whoever will watch my outtakes this afternoon. There's no fear that comes along with these auditions, but more so an excitement. Some day, I'll get lucky. I'll get in front of the right person at the right time and my career will take off in another direction. Until then, I'll be traveling, training and committed to myself and my career. What a whirlwind this will be. 

Life Isn't a Narrative

Life has taken a new meaning for me recently. Days used to pass by and I'd be fine with that; however, I lost someone I loved, and I lost that person too soon. Now I'm reminded every morning by this ache in my chest, this pounding in my head as a result of an accumulation of "passing by". 

Time used to be so daunting to me. Even two months ago, I'd tell myself, I have so much time. I can do that tomorrow. Yesterday I woke up and my first thought was 'why do that tomorrow when I can do it today?' I'm sure that seems simple, but there really are enough hours in the day. I used to think that multiple tasks meant a stressful week or an unproductive environment for myself, but I have gotten off my phone, (tried to) steer clear of too much time on social media and I've found a different presence in my life. The more present I am, the more I get. 

I'm thankful I competed in Miss Massachusetts America last month. When I lost my sister, I thought to myself: 'you can't do this'. I kept saying that in my head over and over again. I kept thinking of how I would have to share my story continuously without time to properly grieve. I kept doubting my ability to find the joy in the pain of this situation. What I do know, is that I have an addictive personality. It must run in my family. I'm addicted to service. Service as in working with the platform and the #statewithoutstigMA campaign. I'm addicted to normalizing drug abuse and alcohol abuse in conversation. I'm addicted to spreading the joy of recovery and preventing children and young adults from ever walking down that path. I thank whatever higher power there is that I could share my story. Coming 1st Runner Up was an honor. I doubted myself a lot during Miss Massachusetts week and thought I would maybe make the top 5. What I will say is that I have never worked harder for something. I had a lot of emotional drive, so that was my advantage. This is an experience that was so positive in such a dark time of my life and I won't forget it.

The next stage of my life is a little blurry. I've decided I am not returning to The Boston Conservatory for personal reasons. I think my life is taking me down a different road. I will still be singing and performing, but I feel it is my obligation now to volunteer and speak publicly about addiction and children's character education. I am still pursuing my education and will be returning to a university in the spring. I always wanted to take a gap year to explore and audition and these next 6 months will be the chance I get to do that. 

Life can't be explained. I could not tell you where I see myself in even a couple of months, but what I can say is I will be even closer to pursuing my career. I will be even closer to shifting my reality to resemble my dreams.