Living Better (Or “A Short Post About My Health”)

Although I’m writing this sitting on my couch, and I have yet to work out today, I can say with 100% certainty that I’m in a much better place health-wise than I was a week ago.

For about a month, I’ve been trying to slowly add more running to my workouts (which generally consist of walking 30 minutes a day, four or five days a week). Up until last week, the most I’d run was about 3 minutes out of my 30 minute walk. Not a bad start.

But this past Wednesday, I was a having a really crappy day and I needed to let the negative energy out in a positive way. So when I got home from work, I got on the treadmill and said to myself, “okay, we’re gonna go for ten minutes today.” I borrowed the Couch to 5K strategy of running for one minute, walking for two, and before I knew it, the workout was over and I had spent ten minutes of it running. Surprisingly, instead of feeling the pain I usually feel from my knees, I felt great. So I tried it again on Friday, with the same result. The only thing that hurt was my ankle, so today I went out and bought more supportive running shoes. I’m also pushing myself to walk for at least 15-20 minutes on non-workout days, even if it’s just down the block and back, so I can say I did something every single day.

Aside from changing up my exercise routine a bit, my mom and I have been doing our best to eat better. Instead of relying on going out, or on frozen dinners when we get home from work and/or school, we’ve been making more fresh meals. We also haven’t been keeping snacks in the house, and when we feel like snacking, we’ve both been drinking tea instead (I’m drinking some Constant Comment as I write this).

Right now, my body is starting to feel better than it has in a long time. It’s a slow start, but it’s a start. What I definitely have to work on, though, is my mental health. I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression in 2009, and although I’ve found ways to manage it on my own, there are some days that make me realize I have a lot further to go than I thought. I’m hoping that, if I get accepted to Disney, the change of scenery and working in a place I love will help — it did last time. But I need to find ways to remain in a good mental state at all times, not just when things are going really well.

I’m hoping that a lot of my stress will clear up once DCP decisions start to go out (assuming my process goes the way I want  it to, of course). But until then, I need to figure out ways to keep myself distracted and keep my stress levels from taking over my life. The exercise is a great start. But there’s still a lot of work to be done. I feel better because I’m taking the steps to get better, instead of just passively waiting for life to get better on its own. Taking an active interest in my own health instead of doing the bare minimum just to get by is exactly the start I need to get on track.

The Waiting Game (and Getting My Thoughts Out)

When you apply for the Disney College Program, you spend a lot of time waiting.

First, you wait for applications to open. Then, once you submit your application, you wait to see if you got a Web Based Interview. For me, that wait was an hour or so. For others, it could be days. Then, if you get the Phone Interview, you wait to schedule it. Then you wait for the actual interview. 

After the phone interview, arguably the most agonizing wait begins — the wait for a decision.

I’ve been “In Progress” for almost a week now. Being that I only had to wait four days for my previous acceptance, a week feels like forever. 

(I know I’m being a little dramatic, but just remember, if I get offered a position with the Disney College Program, it will be the first stepping stone into a career with Disney.)

While I’ve been waiting (and refreshing my email about 300 times a day), I’ve been thinking about what exactly it is that I want from a job with Disney. Getting such a positive response when I requested a work location has me completely convinced that what I need right now is a guest-interactive role. A role where I can make Disney magic, in a Disney theme park, for Disney guests. While there were many opportunities to do that on my last College Program, Downtown Disney certainly was not the most magical place on earth. I want a new and different experience, preferably in the Magic Kingdom. I want to learn how to handle whatever kind of guest situation is thrown at me.  I want to pick up shifts in new and different areas. I want to learn as much as I can, and make magic while doing that.

Will that be what I want a year from now? Maybe, maybe not. But a year from now, I’ll have the opportunity to pursue something different, if I want (and if Disney wants to keep me). 

The issue I’m finding with my initial plan, which was to apply for a CP but also Professional Internships, is that many Professional Internships aren’t guest facing. They’re in other areas of the Parks & Resorts, which is great, but isn’t what I want right now. I’ll be applying for a few, but even though I’m going to be 26 years old and will have a master’s degree, I want to find my fit within the company through a front line role first.

People have voiced their opinions on this, but ultimately, right now, I’m going to pursue a role that right now, from afar, feels fulfilling to me. Things may change. Plans may not go the way I anticipate they will. But ultimately, if accepted, I plan to use the CP as a networking tool to work my way to finding what I want. This is only the beginning of what I hope will be an amazing journey.

But for now, until a decision comes through my email, I continue to wait. And wait. And speculate with other hopefuls about when acceptances will start (my bet is sometime on Monday, February 1st). I’ve refreshed my email six times while writing this post. As soon as this post is live, I’ll probably get back on Facebook and mill around in the DCP group with the other hopefuls. 

It’s only been a week. But if the I don’t hear back soon, I’m sure there will be a lot more rambly blog posts from me.

And if I do get accepted? Well then, I’ll be writing while I’m waiting to leave, of course!

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#NotGone – The Wonder of Deaf West’s Spring Awakening

After seven visits to New York City to see Deaf West’s Spring Awakening on Broadway, I think it’s safe to say I’m somewhat obsessed.

I’ve been asked countless times, “why do you love this show? Why do you keep spending money to go see it? What is it about Spring Awakening?”

I’ve written in this space about the show before. But I don’t think I’ve ever been able to truly capture what Spring Awakening makes me feel. I don’t think there are words for it. All I can really say is that this production made me want to keep coming back over and over again.

Back in December, I brought my brother and sister to see the show. It was my fifth time. And as I was sitting in the theater, sometime during the second act, I thought “this cannot be the last time I see this show.” The next day, I bought two tickets for closing night. I couldn’t believe they were still available, a month before closing, at regular price. But there they were, and within minutes, I had the tickets in my email. 

On Saturday, Winter Storm Jonas dropped MAJOR snow on the northeast. For the first time that I can remember, Broadway shut down. As I watched 33 inches of snow fall in my yard, I kept my fingers crossed that things would get cleared up for Sunday so that Broadway could reopen and Spring Awakening could get the closing it deserved. While they lost two performances, the show was back up and running yesterday, and able to go out with a bang last night.

My mom and I woke up yesterday morning and trekked outside to clean off our cars in the hopes of getting into the city. The roads were fairly clear, up until right before the Helix of the Lincoln Tunnel, which for some reason wasn’t plowed. But we made it in. 

  
The city after a snowstorm is one of the craziest things I’ve ever experienced. Where do you even put that much snow? It took us longer to get to our parking garage than it did to get into the city. We were constantly re-routed to other streets as the plows worked diligently to clear the streets, but I’ve never seen that much slush in my life.

After an excellent dinner at Becco, my mom and I made our way to 47th for the show. At 7 pm (the show had a 7:30 start time), the line to get into the theater wrapped around the block, almost all the way to 48th. Finally, at about 7:15, the line started moving. I think there was some kind of ticketing issue, because we got to our seats at 7:34 and still had about 15 minutes before the show load finished.

  
For those who have not experienced the show, I should note that Spring Awakening had a “pre-show” where the cast got into their costumes and warmed up on stage. Usually the audience doesn’t seem to pay much attention, but last night, as each actor walked onstage, every single one of them received thunderous applause (with a lot of ASL “applause” mixed in). 

As the show began, I was full of sadness, knowing that this was the last time these actors would be performing this show on Broadway. Though the pre-show was filled with hugs and a few tears, the cast gave it their all. Applause between each number lasted about 30 seconds longer than it usually would. Scenes that normally moved very quickly from one to the other had to be paused to allow the audience to get their applause in and settle in for the next one. Most notably, the scene between “My Junk” and “Touch Me,” which normally leaves no room for applause, went for the transition and then had to stop; lead actor Austin McKenzie started his line, paused for the applause, and then picked up his line right where it left off. These actors are pros, after all, but you could tell they were loving the energy.

At intermission, everyone around me was gushing about how incredible the show was. I ended up talking to some people who had been at BroadwayCon, and one hearing girl who is fluent in ASL and was signing as she spoke. She was so blown away by the show, and gave me some resources to start my own ASL learning journey.

The second act was just as perfect and high energy as the first, with an almost 1 1/2 minute long standing ovation after “Totally F*cked,” the show’s “11:00 number.” For those of you unfamiliar with the show, the second act deals with some pretty heavy themes of death and suicide. Despite the audience’s high energy, there were moments where you could hear a pin drop. 

At the end of the show, the cast comes on stage to perform “Purple Summer,” the closing number. The ending of the number is just one person signing as they walk offstage, giving the audience about 30 seconds of silence. Every time I have seen it, I’ve found myself holding my breath. Last night, I could hear a few sniffles as people (myself included) cried through it. But again, it was pretty much silent until the lights went out. It was a perfect, beautiful ending for a perfect, beautiful show.

  
After the curtain call, director Michael Arden came onstage to thank literally everyone who had contributed to the show. He spoke about the show’s transition from Los Angeles to Broadway, and thanked the producers for taking a chance on the idea. Then, Steven Sater, one of the composers/writers of the show gave a brief history of the show, and shared some powerful quotes about closing a show on Broadway. Overall, the entire night was one of the most moving experiences of my life.

Though Spring Awakening was only on Broadway for a short time (about 20 weeks), having the opportunity to watch it seven times between previews to closing night was such a blessing. In all of my years of following Broadway shows, I have never seen such a tight-knit, interactive cast. Every single one of them is so beautiful, graceful, and professional (I was fortunate enough to meet most of the cast at the stage door back in October). The brought so much to Broadway, and I hope that this show will start a trend of Deaf West Theater doing more Broadway productions, making theater accessible for d/Deaf and hard of hearing audiences. Though ticket sales weren’t stellar during the beginning of the run, seeing sold-out performances over and over again  at the end was a wonderful thing. 

I can’t say enough great things about Spring Awakening, but I will say this: In 2015/2016, this show is exactly what Broadway needed. And you all know that as soon as this show’s tour crosses the Florida border, I’ll be there. I hope that everyone reading this gets the chance to know the wonder of Spring Awakening as it embarks on its tour in 2017.

Thank you, Deaf West. Thank you, Spring Awakening. Thank you for inspiring me to break out of my comfort zone and pursue a new language, and thank you for inspiring me to learn about a new culture. Thank you for turning my favorite musical into something so important and special. And thank you, for seven wonderful, unique, beautiful visits to your stunning performance. You’re #NotGone. You will live in the hearts and minds of all who know the wonder.

Disney College Program – Phone Interview

2016 has been a whirlwind so far.

I wasn’t anticipating Disney College Program and Professional Internship applications to drop until February, so I’ve just been biding my time and preparing for school to start.

So imagine my surprise when DCP apps opened on January 12th.

I got home from work, filled out the application, and played the waiting game for a couple of hours. My web interview showed up in my inbox right after I got in bed — go figure. But I budgeted out time the next evening to get it done, and was immediately selected for a phone interview. As my dad put it, “well, this is all happening very fast!”

I just finished my phone interview a little while ago. I’ve done a handful of phone interviews with Disney, but this was by far one of the most fun. My recruiter, Susan, has been in her role for ten years, and her experience shows. She made me feel completely comfortable right off the bat as we joked around about the weird spelling of my last name. 

My interview lasted 21 minutes. Susan started by asking me about my previous role with the company, and where I worked. On her sheet, it said Downtown Disney, “Pleasure Island Ticketing,” but as she pointed out, Disney hasn’t sold Pleasure Island tickets in a very long time! I explained to her that I was actually on the West Side doing ticketing ops for La Nouba and DisneyQuest. 

She then asked if I was receptive to Disney Look. I told her that I was, and we discussed my tattoos and how I plan on covering them. Next, we briefly discussed housing and general role requirements (standing, temperatures, etc). Then we got to the questions about some of my work experiences. She asked me about a difficult guest situation, and since I was feeling confident, I went with the story about the guest who lost her car. Susan was in hysterics over this story, especially when I got to the part about “Well, if you can’t find my car, how am I supposed to find it?” After a good laugh about that, she asked me about an emergency situation I handled, and then we jumped into talking about roles.

Susan asked me what my top three role choices are, and I told her attractions, merchandise, and Photo Pass. She then asked if I wanted to request a specific location, reminding me that, while there are no guarantees, she could make a note on  my file. I told her I wanted to be in a park, and that if I could get more specific, I would love to be in Main Street Operations or park entry at Magic Kingdom. I think my want of Main Street stuck, because when she asked me about merchandise, she used The Emporium as an example of a merch placement.

Next, she asked me about Photo Pass and my experience with digital cameras. I told her that much of my photography is a hobby, but that I usually photograph the Disney Parks. I also told her that I got a new digital camera for Christmas and I’m excited to try it out. She then asked me a couple of questions about other roles I’m interested in — Seater (formerly Full Service Food & Beverage) and Character Attendant. We discussed a couple of scenarios for each role.

At the end, she told me about what to expect in the coming weeks. She also encouraged me to keep an eye out for Professional Internship applications, because she wants to see me put my writing skills to use. However, she said the DCP can be a stepping stone for those, too. I then asked her about her experience with the company, and we talked about her advice for CP hopefuls who want to turn the CP into a career — network, network, network!

Overall, I feel incredibly good about this interview. While I’m definitely applying for Professional Internships once the applications open, I would definitely be okay with another College Program.

So now the waiting game begins. Most people are being told that they’ll hear something by late March, so it could be a while. But the process has started, and I am SO EXCITED about where this journey will take me!

  

The last day of 2015

Another year, come and gone.

Last night, I spent a little while re-watching a vlog I had made one year ago yesterday, in which I stared at my iPad camera and talked about my DCP for 19 minutes straight (it’s super awkward so I’ve only shared it on Tumblr; if you REALLY want the link, just ask). 

It’s interesting to me to see where I’m at now versus where I was a year ago (I started my “end of 2014” post with almost the exact same sentence). A year ago I was gearing up for a two week long Disney trip, and getting ready to start my second “full” year of grad school. I was still feeling the post- Disney feels, hard. And I was having a rough time letting go of 2014, which, despite its ups and downs, was one of the best years of my life.

In my post last year, I wrote about how I had rung in 2014 with my cat, who was not doing too well at the time. She defied all odds, though, and we had her until October of this year. I do miss my purrful girl sleeping on my pillow, but I have no doubt that she, like my grandma, is in a better place and no longer suffering. She did pretty well for only having one half of one kidney functioning for the better part of a year! 

But possibly the most significant thing about one year ago was that my grandma had gotten news that what they saw in her lungs “might” be cancer, but she hadn’t gotten the official diagnosis yet. We were all keeping quiet, trying to stay optimistic, but we knew what was coming. Most of my 2015 was filled helping my mom take care of my grandma. It feels like ages ago that she did chemo and radiation, when in reality it was less than a year ago. Though the chemo and radiation helped for a little while, in August, my grandma ended up in the hospital. She was there for 38 days before we moved her to a hospice care center, where she died four days later, on October 2, 2015. The whole thing, from diagnosis to hospice, was, quite literally, one of the hardest things I ever had to go through. But, as cliche as it may sound, it’s better now that she’s no longer suffering. Because the suffering was the worst thing to watch.

But even among these losses, I was able to live my life and do many the things I had planned. I finished two heavy semesters of school. I ended up taking four Disney trips, all of which were excellent. I visited my sister, who started her first year of veterinary school, on St. Kitts. I had a great Seaside Park trip. I spent a lot of time visiting NYC and seeing Broadway musicals. And I spent a lot of time with family. 

I don’t even know what else to really say about 2015. It was a rough time, balancing school, work, and family stuff, while still trying to have some semblance of a social life, and get my act together in preparation for my big life change coming in 2016. But here I am, at the end of it, and I have what could possibly be the best experience of my life straight ahead.

Coming up, I’m starting my last semester of grad school. It’s been a wild run, but this semester will be fairly calm, academically;  I have one class — Capstone — for my major. I’m also planning to audit an American Sign Language class, and I’m very excited to start learning a new language. My graduation day is May 23rd.

In about a month, I’ll be applying for jobs at Disney, to start in June. I’ll be making the big move to Orlando sometime in June, probably as a CP or Professional Intern (PI). I don’t want to assume that I’ll get hired — it’s not a sure thing — but I’m also not granting myself the benefit of a backup plan. I’ll cross that bridge if and when I come to it. But one thing’s for sure — this is my dream, and I’m not giving up. Faith, trust, and pixie dust. 

This is a fairly quiet end of the year recap in comparison to what I wrote last year, but really, I’m tired. I’m ready for change. I’m ready for 2016 to be a great year as I finish my MA and pursue my career goals of working for Disney again. 

2016 is going to bring a lot of changes. But I’m ready for them. If all goes according to plan, I’ll have a lot more to say in my 2016 recap post. And, with any luck, I’ll be writing this post from as an Orlando area homeowner and Disney World cast member. 

  

A Quick Trip Recap: WDW (October 22-28)

Six days at Walt Disney World will do things to you.

In my last post, I was lamenting the fact that I never lived in New York City. I also said that I hoped my upcoming WDW trip would spark my dreams again, and oh, it did.

This trip was a couple of “lasts” for me — it was my last trip as a 2014-2015 WDW Annual Passholder, and it was my last trip before I pick up my life and move to Florida to pursue my dreams of working at Disney World. But it was also a trip of “firsts” — it was the first time my mom and I had a vacation, just the two of us. It was also our first trip since my grandma died. 

I knew that there would be a lot of “oh, Bunny LOVED this” on our trip. What I didn’t anticipate was the feeling of complete calm (no sadness) when I thought of her in the parks. Though there were things in the parks that she never got to experience, she did experience so much on our previous trips. And I truly believe she was with us every step of the way, smiling because she knew I was in my happy place, and smiling even more because she knew my mom was getting a much needed break.

Our trip was practically perfect in every way. Mom and I experienced some new-to-us things, like dinner at California Grill (that view is incomparable); the Epcot Food & Wine festival; and Magic Kingdom in the fall. Though I had a brief trip to WDW last October, it was nice to spend a full six days immersed in the fall atmosphere, even if it was 90 degrees nearly every day!

I also got to see my mom experience some new-to-her things, like Be Our Guest, which she adored. She also somehow had never experienced a fully rainy day in Florida, and we ended up with a day and a half of rain. But a little rain didn’t bother us; we donned our ponchos and ate our way around the world in Epcot anyway.

I have said for years that WDW is truly full of magic, and I experienced so much of it on this trip. When it poured during our two last days in the park, I came to terms with the fact that I wouldn’t be seeing Festival of Fantasy, my favorite daytime parade. However, on our very last day, right before we had to leave to get on the bus, the clouds disappeared, the sun came out, and we got a parade. That little bit of Disney magic was the perfect way to end our trip.

I also saw some of the most incredible cast members. While many of them are my friends (and therefore I’m a little biased), I met others and made new friends, and having conversations with each and every one of them reminded me of exactly why I want to be a Disney cast member again. So thank you to all the wonderful CMs who made our trip spectacular. 

Applications for the Disney College Program (and I’m assuming Professional Internships) for Fall 2016 will drop in February. While that’s only a couple of months away, and I have a LOT to do before I apply, this trip has made me so excited to pursue my dreams again. 

I’ve got the drive. I’ve got the passion. Now I just need to get the job. :-)

See you real soon, WDW… hopefully as a Cast Member!

 

“My Manhattan” (Or, “Why Yesterday Has Me Thinking”)

In 2012, about a month before I was set to graduate from Lock Haven University, I visited New York City with my dad and stepmom. I don’t remember what show we were seeing (probably Jersey Boys or Rock of Ages, our family favorites). We stopped in a coffee shop right off Times Square called CaffeBene. Since we had some time before the show, we decided to take our coffee up to the upper level of the shop and sit for a while amidst the sweater-wearing, laptop-using students. Something in me clicked: this was it. This was my atmosphere. That, coupled with the New York City literature class I took during my last semester, got me thinking. I suddenly got it in my head that I had to do graduate school in New York City. 

For a while, I spoke of nothing but post-graduation in New York City. But that dream faded away when I was rejected from NYU’s prestigious graduate writing program. Instead, I ended up at Montclair State University, 20 miles from home, with a beautiful view of the NYC skyline. I settled into the idea that I never would have made it in NYC anyway — I’m too introverted, too socially anxious, etc. Plus, I would probably have missed my opportunity to pursue the Disney College Program. Everything fell into place, and that was that.

I’ve lived just a thirty minute drive from Manhattan nearly my entire life. Even when I was living in Lock Haven, PA for college, I’d make the three hour drive home on weekends to go into the city and see a show. I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to see more Broadway and off-Broadway shows than I can even count. I have a stack of Playbills well over a foot tall. There have been times (recently, actually) that I’ve gone into the city two weekends in a row just to see shows.

And with each trip, I’ve fostered my love-hate relationship with the “city that never sleeps.” 

Almost always, a Chciuk family trip in to the city goes like this: go in -> go to lunch or dinner -> go to the show -> leave as fast as possible. I know the theater district and Times Square like the back of my hand. On the rare opportunities that I venture away from Broadway, it’s to visit family members; two of my cousins live in Brooklyn, and I’ve explored the Chelsea area a handful of times with them. So I guess I can say”my Manhattan” is the theater district, and not much beyond that.

As faithful readers of my social media know, I am currently obsessed with Deaf West’s Broadway production of Spring Awakening. So when my mom asked me if I wanted to go see Daddy Long Legs, a show currently running in the intimately-sized Davenport Theater, my response was, “Sure, but can we stage door Spring Awakening after?” Despite the fact that my mom doesn’t get the appeal of standing at the stage door and waiting for performers, she said yes.

Yesterday was a beautiful day, despite the wind and 45 degree temperatures. For those of you who have never been to the city in the fall and winter months, it becomes a bit of a frigid wind tunnel. But with the day we had planned, I was in high spirits. I walked on autopilot from the parking garage on 47th, across from the Brooks Atkinson theater (where Spring Awakening is playing), to John’s Pizzaria, a staple lunch location on our last three trips. Afterwards, we had some time to kill before the show, so mom and I walked around for a while. I found myself feeling the same way I had in the upper level of CaffeBene just a few years prior: I love this city, and I want to live in it.

Now, of course, that’s not going to happen. I’ve got things set in motion to apply for jobs and move to Florida in June. Don’t worry, it’s not likely that my plan will change. But this is the first time since I moved home from Florida in 2014 that I’ve doubted my plan. And it’s an interesting feeling.

I have a list of people, places, and things that I will be sad to leave when I head to Florida after graduation. I’m going to miss my Jersey bubble and the things that have been home to me for the past 25 years. But now I can add “my Manhattan” to that list, the parts of the city that I cherish. The places that, even on brief visits, feel like home. 

I wish I could explain what it is about NYC in the fall that captivates me year after year. The weather isn’t great, but I bundle up in my winter gear and brave it anyway. It’s crowded. It’s loud. It’s all the things I don’t normally enjoy, but like Disney World (which is also crowded and loud), it somehow works for me.

Yesterday was a picture perfect day. Daddy Long Legs is a spectacular show (and the reason I keep saying “My Manhattan” – I wish the lyrics were available so I could quote it). The stage door of Spring Awakening, and getting to meet the cast I adore so much, was an experience I will cherish for the rest of my life. These are the things I’ll miss about “my Manhattan” — driving in for these little bursts of unforgettable eperiences; being able to book Broadway tickets a few days in advance and drive in at our leisure; having access to some of the world’s most incredible theater.

I’m going to Disney World for a brief trip later this week. I’m hoping that being in the place I’m uprooting my life for will remind me of why Manhattan isn’t an option for me, and why I want to uproot my life to begin with.

Because, if I’m being honest, I think it’s going to be very hard to leave New Jersey come June. And NYC is much closer than Florida.