30STON

Well #YR30 finally arrived a few weeks ago along with spring…and things are going well so far. Arno – being the most thoughtful and romantic man he is – surprised me with an amazing birthday weekend in Boston. As two epicureans, there was only one way to celebrate this milestone properly: an out-of-this-world 7-course dinner and wine pairing at No. 9 in Beacon Hill. Go there the next time you’re in Boston. It is fab-u-lous!

Click here to see a few photos of my surprise adventure from Montréal to Boston the day before my birthday and a few pics from the big day, i.e. photos of our food.

Champagne wishes and sea urchin and caviar dreams!
 

30_cake

We spent the rest of the weekend visiting a few touristic spots, eating (of course) and enjoying the nicer weather they were having at the time. This was the first time I really got to enjoy Boston as a visitor and I must say I really, really liked it. Boston is quite charming with all of its historical landmarks sprinkled in among cute neighborhoods with amazing restaurants, cafes and shops. More photos coming soon!

New York, New York

“New York, concrete jungle where dreams are made of… There’s nothin’ you can’t do… Now you’re in New York… These streets will make you feel brand new… Big lights will inspire you… Let’s hear it for New York, New York, New York…”

There is no real purpose behind this post other than to confess my love for New York City. When I knew I was going to live and work in NYC, I literally cried tears of happiness – a phenomenon that doesn’t happen often with me. Even more than LA, I had always dreamed of living in the Big Apple and felt a connection to the city that I’ve never felt in any other place I’ve lived or visited. The energy and vibe of NYC is real and I felt it – and still feel it when I go there. It’s magical and holds a special place in my heart. I <3 NY.

Leah_TimeSquare_2009

I wear my sunglasses at night…in Time Square at approximately 1am or so during my first week in NYC.

Living in NYC really was an experience of a lifetime. If you ever have the opportunity to live there, even if it’s short term, go for it. It will change you and the way you navigate every other city in the world. I lived on the outskirts of SoHo in a cute 400 sq. ft. studio on the 6th floor with no elevator. Every day that I stepped outside of my apartment felt like a new adventure. Walking to work took me 10 minutes with options to grab coffee at a Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, or corner deli on the way. Talk about convenience.

The moment you step outside in NYC, $20 flies out of your pocket. I barely saved a dime living there, but it was worth it. Keeping food at my place became a problem when the mighty mice infestation began in the spring and, well, let’s face it – going out to eat in NYC is much more exciting than eating a cheese sandwich alone in your apartment.

Mice in NYC are like traffic in LA: it can’t be avoided and you just have to deal with it. And you’re not really an adult until you’ve had to trap a mouse (or 5) by yourself, right? That was the worst part of it all. Well that and having a mouse run out from under my pillow at 2am. It didn’t help that I lived above 3 restaurants and the building was 100+ years old. My property manager’s response when I complained? “At least you’re not alone.” Oh yeah, sure – these little guys are just like roommates: leaving their shit everywhere and eating my food.

Unfortunately, mice weren’t the worst of my problems in the big city. I came home one night to find my place broken into. Lots of memories were stolen along with a bottle of wine from the fridge. The cops were quick to respond and provided some comedic relief as they dusted for prints. For about 2 hours that night, I felt like I was in a movie from both the shock of the break-in and the stereotypical-ness of the NYPD with their heavy east coast accents, sarcasm and directness. This was another grownup moment to realize that you and your belongings are not invincible. This is also when I learned about rental insurance…and that I didn’t have any.

Despite these more unpleasant situations, I still loved living in NYC. I used to run along the Hudson, where I could see the Statue of Liberty off in the distance. My go-to hangout was Rockwood Music Hall in the Lower East Side. There was never a dull moment in people-watching and entertainment. And the food. There is amazing food everywhere. You can find whatever you want, any day of the week, nearly any time of the day.

It is truly the city that never sleeps, but that still let’s you dream.

I left NYC in 2011 in pursuit of another opportunity thinking that I might return one day. Since then, I’ve found myself in a few other cities across the world, but still hold NYC near and dear to my heart. I’m not sure if I’ll ever live there again, but visiting is always a pleasure. It’s nice to go back to places where you used to live and experience them as a guest – especially since you don’t have to pay the rent or kill the mice.

los angeles

7 years ago today I experienced one of the most exciting days of my life. I flew with a one-way ticket from Detroit to Los Angeles. With one giant suitcase and my acoustic guitar, I stepped foot into the City of Angels, while taking one step closer to realizing my dreams.

I’m sure I looked like your stereotypical mid-westerner: getting off the plane with a big ol’ smile on my face, picking up my rental car talking with everyone – confident that I was going to make it in Hollywood.

Leah in LA

Everything was lined up: a manager and an agent. I just needed to get a permanent place to stay and a part-time job before my acting career took off. I got new head shots and went on a few auditions. I honestly thought I was on my way to the big time.

But within a month, everything fell apart.

Taking advice from others, I consulted a lawyer who reviewed the proposed contracts from the manager and agent and we decided to ask for a few adjustments. That led to the contracts being canceled. C’est la vie.

So, I did the best I could to keep going without losing hope. Los Angeles taught me what it means to be resilient.

I took some acting classes, did a little ‘fit’ modeling, and worked as a hostess and bartender. I even had a two week gig at a Chinese VC group, but decided to quit after they wanted me to go to China for 3 months and move to NYC to manage their east coast offices. The money would’ve been pretty nice, but it was a little too far off from my original plan. I befriended Sonny and Cher’s manager and had other odd LA experiences, like hosting the World Series of Beer Pong. Makes for a good conversation over coffee. Or wine.

Using the resources available to upcoming actors at this time, I submitted myself to hundreds of projects and landed a few. Some for students, some for local TV. Eventually, though, I landed a full time gig as the host and producer of Mahalo Daily. This happened approximately 1 year after my move. A new door opened.

I never thought about – or knew too much about – online media at this time. But once I got in, I felt like I ended up exactly where I was supposed to be.

Working with Mahalo gave me some amazing experiences and insight. I interviewed celebrities at red carpet events, met a lot of interesting people, and visited very cool locations. It is an experience I am truly grateful for and remember fondly.

Unfortunately, a few things changed for Mahalo between 2008-2009 and they had to cancel the daily show. I started looking for the next thing and applied for “the best job in the world” as the island keeper in Queensland, Australia. 35,000 people applied from across the world. I made it to the top 200. Since that didn’t work out, I kept on searching and eventually learned of an opening at Rocketboom in NYC. I applied and got the job as their lead director/producer in 2009.

So, in July – two and half years after moving to LA – I packed up my bags again and moved to the big apple. A friend captured this photo after she dropped me off at LAX.

Leah's Last Day in LA

I would be lying if I said I don’t regret how things went in LA. I often wonder what would have happened if things worked out with the manager and agent. Maybe I’d have an established acting career by now. Maybe I’d be dead. One can never know. What I do know is that I’m very happy with where I am right now and the woman I’ve become. None of this would be possible if things had gone another way. I lived everything with purpose and intention. And for that I’m grateful.

At nearly 30, I feel my value is not based on appearance or ability to make the right first impression – such is the life of an actor, unfortunately. I have had both amazing and challenging experiences during my entire life, especially during the last decade. But, everything has contributed to the perspective I have on life and my perspective makes me quite happy. I’ve invested in my mind, enriching experiences, and good people. And these are all ‘things’ no one can take away from me.

Will I ever return to Hollywood to pursue my former dream? Who knows. Dreams change. And that’s okay. Maybe I’ll be back one day, but as a writer or director. I’ve lived a few good plot lines already.

Cheers.

Higher Education

As part of my self-reflection series, we’ll start off with higher education since that is what I was pursuing when I started off my 20s. Thanks to AP classes in high school, a summer in Italy, and my drive to finish university as fast as possible, I was able to complete my Bachelor of Arts in 3 years. When I turned 21, I was 2 months away from graduating and already starting graduate courses. At the time, this all seemed extremely important and I guess it was for helping me get the thing I wanted most: complete freedom. I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do at this point in my life, but a career as a university professor seemed pretty appealing, so I pursued my Master’s immediately following my BA and felt I was one step closer to being in complete control of all aspects of my life.

I was an all-A student and involved with several university activities, including the speech team. This was the best part of my undergraduate career. It not only allowed me to practice writing and delivering speeches, but it also gave me the opportunity to travel and see more of the world. Not to mention the scholarships it offered that covered nearly 100% of my tuition costs. All of this helped me to secure a full scholarship and assistantship to graduate school. During this time, I also began working in local television. My schedule was busy, but I loved it. Life seemed pretty good and the possibilities of what could happen next seemed limitless. I completed my MA within one year with a 3.8 GPA and 0 debt. Mission accomplished.

BGSU

Dream BiG

What I loved most about university was being away from home and on my own to express myself. I was free to explore new thoughts and ideas, meet new people, and figure out who I was. I could come and go as I pleased. And as long as I took care of my grades and tuition, I had a certain amount of freedom – which meant, and still means, more to me than anything else.

Before I decided I would pursue a career in entertainment, I really gave life in academia some serious consideration. I also thought about the other opportunities a 22-year old with a Master’s degree might have, but nothing really charmed me the way acting did. By August of 2006, I knew I wanted to work towards moving to LA or NYC. I gave myself one year to get a plan together. Seven months later, I moved to Los Angeles. I move quickly when I know what I want.

Did my higher education prepare me for what I would do next? Yes and no. Would I recommend going to university immediately following high school? It all depends on what you want to do. At the time I thought my degrees would be necessary, but for a career in Hollywood, I probably could have moved to LA at 18 instead of 22 and had more success. I never really considered this at the time, as my family was rather strict and the expectation was that I would go to university and then I could do whatever I wanted. You see why I wanted to finish so quickly.

My pursuit of Hollywood led me to new media. I’ll write a separate post about that, but for now my focus is on education. There is one thing FOR SURE that my higher education did not prepare me for which was the technological revolution that was happening on the coasts. I felt like the entire midwest had been sleeping under a rock, while LA and NYC were bustling with new media and tech start-ups. I didn’t know anything about blogging or coding or why I should use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, etc. Unfortunately, the only solution to that problem would have been moving to the coasts sooner. Oh, well. I was thrown into the new media fire not even knowing what an html tag was and had to post our video content to share with our followers. There were many late nights in LA where I couldn’t get the embed code to work from YouTube onto our blog. This is funny in retrospect because it’s so freakin’ basic. But it seemed so advanced to me at the time. Eventually, I learned the basics of new media and changed my career goals completely.

Once I took my career down a few different paths, my degrees seemed to come in handy along with my ability to improvise and learn quickly. I’d say the combination of all that helped me stay on my feet and succeed. So I have no regrets about my two 8.5 x 11 tickets that have permitted me to work on other people’s dreams while pursuing my own. But I’ll never tell anyone they need to go to university. It really does depend on what you want to do. There are so many resources online for self-learning that if you are driven and disciplined enough, you can educate yourself and build a portfolio or business to get exactly what you want – minus 4 (or more) extra years in traditional school and the risk of unnecessary debt.

Oddly enough, I decided to go back to school this year, but this time for a one-year “certificate” in website design and management procedures. I’ve never been so challenged in my adult life. Thanks to my work experience and personal interests, the course on E-commerce was fairly easy, but HTML5, CSS3, JavaScript, jQuery and ajax have pushed me to new limits. The “fun” part is coming soon – Photoshop, InDesign, etc – but, I needed to learn the technical side first. I have a renewed respect for web designers and programmers. Nothing is magic, but the good ones sure do make it seem that way.

What I discovered along the way between my time in LA, NYC, Europe, Phoenix – and now, MontrĂ©al – is that degrees (unless you are practicing medicine, law, etc) – don’t really matter compared to your experiences and an impressive portfolio. Show, don’t just tell. Teach yourself the skills that will allow you to create things that are far more valuable than a university education.

My recommendations for a personal higher education?

  • Travel
  • Write
  • Read
  • Take an improv class or two
  • Learn how to do basic coding and design
  • Learn a second language
  • Learn how to cook 10 great meals
  • Know how to take great photos…and videos
  • Learn how to listen
  • Learn not to care what others think of you
  • Your mind is more important than your looks or charm in the long run. Keep it sharp.
  • Enjoy every moment: the simple and the complex.

My life in words and images. Sometimes moving. Sometimes still.