I am a nerd who was born the third daughter to smart and interesting (but not remotely wealthy) parents, in Alexandria, Virginia.
Mom and Dad were both military brats, the offspring of grandparents whom I adored, and were truly the greatest of the greatest generation. They grew up on bases all over the U.S. and the globe.
After my oldest sister Erin died of leukemia, Dad, a real federal attorney, took a transfer that moved us from D.C. to Denver. From age 8 we lived in Littleton, Colorado. In this country of wide variety, nowhere outside of the Catskills has reminded more me of my Colorado home.
The best part of Colorado is that we were close to mom’s parents, who retired near the Air Force Academy. Grandma Nora, a Jewish immigrant to NYC, had joined the Navy as a nurse during the War and had met Grandpa Brock while he was on a brief leave from the European Theater in NYC. They were married shortly afterwards at City Hall. Nora volunteered for the Red Cross her entire life, and Brock was honorable, kind and patient to the core. Grandpa taught all of us how to fly fish, ski, and hunt – to be at peace in nature. Nora was a ball of energy who went to clown college at 64 just to have one more way to volunteer for sick children. Brock and Nora, now gone, are testaments to the fact that, despite where one is born, or into what circumstances, heroic lives, of any scale, are chosen.
I was never cool, nor popular, nor “pretty”, but I had good friends – who are still my friends. I loved to learn, I loved adventures and I also loved working. My first job was at 14 as a presser in a dry cleaners during the summer. Hot, stinky and fun.
Too uncoordinated for team sports (which I still played – badly, but creatively), I loved figure skating and skiing – the benefits of living in a winter wonderland. I wanted to be an archeologist, doctor, scientist, or corporate raider. My fantasies were Nobel Prizes, not Emmys. I graduated when I was sixteen.
Mom and dad, worried about my young age at graduation, sent me to the same college that my older sister Leigh was attending in Hawaii. Hawaii was a shock to my Alex P. Keaton wannabe system. I was a kid who wore crested blazers to public high school and shined the pennies in my loafers daily. Hawaii mellowed me out.
One early semester, my sister Leigh – who is smarter and more gorgeous than I could ever hope to be – entered me into a local modeling contest without my knowledge. I think they liked me because they’d never seen anyone so pale before. Ha! I will forever be grateful to her for that inspired move on my behalf.
Between working at the dry cleaners and working as a model full time I had a lot of other jobs -dishwasher, busgirl, short order chef (you want a loco moco, I got you!), store clerk. But modeling soon took over and gave me the opportunity to travel and live all over Asia, Europe and the Middle East. NYC became my base, my home.
I was still just a nerdy Girl Scout who used my free time abroad to explore museums and ruins, trek foreign climes, fish new rivers. I would talk to everyone, meet and dine with locals, soaking up everything I could. When I met people like me, they would take me to their homes on breaks from fashion. We would work their parents’ farms, milk their cows, prepare the hay, dig the peat for winter heating. It was a chance to experience humanity world-wide and at every level.
I went to Atlantic Theater Company Acting School in NYC. It’s not something I had ever thought of doing before, but someone put the school pamphlet on my kitchen table and I thought, why not try? I put my all energy into this new line of work. After a few years and thousands of rejections, I started working, a ton. And thank G-d, because I had been living in NYC on cash, supporting others. If I didn’t make what I needed to survive, there was no back-up plan.
My first long gig was as the new ADA on Law and Order: SVU. I chose it over other, more lucrative, offers at the time because it filmed in my home, NYC (not much else did), and did not require me to do things I had always turned down – nudity and sex scenes (no judgments on others, it just wasn’t for me). And the character was so close to my own with same overdeveloped sense of justice. I loved Casey Novak. I loved my crew.
I really love working. And the thousands of guest actors I have had the opportunity to work with taught me so much – from those with their first line on TV to Oscar Award-winning stars, I learned the BIGGEST lesson early on: that fame and money and fabulousness come and go. Take nothing seriously but the actual work. Don’t get too excited about yourself, because having a cool job does not make you any better than anyone else – it just means you have a cool job.
The best part about being on TV? Getting to do so much charity work. Seriously.
Years and shows came and went. While working, I started going back to school in 2009. Not needing a degree for my job, I just took everything I ever wanted to – archaeology, Egyptology, historical linguistics, political science, economics, environmental ethics, statistics, psychology, neuroscience, etc. It’s been a long go of it and there were breaks for things beyond my control, but nine years after starting, I’ll get to don a cap and gown for the first time in my life this coming May.
A few years ago, while in LA for work, my life changed again when an uninsured motorist ran into me. I’d never caused an accident or even gotten a speeding ticket in all the years of driving in Manhattan and Los Angeles daily, and suddenly I was not only dealing with a spinal injury, but also the legal mire that accompanies such things. Also, this happened during my divorce and my parents getting very ill. As Shakespeare said so well, “Sorrows come not as single spies, but in battalions.”
Despite the pain, I kept working– but it’s hard to go to physical therapy and get surgeries/procedures when work starts before dawn and ends well after dark. The badass chicks I got hired to play – characters that run and jump and shoot and get nearly blown up – required me to pretend I was ok, and I only let myself wince when the cameras were off.
Finally, it was too much. I needed to get better. I sold everything I could, and I found a familiar and peaceful place to live in Hurley, a town full of like-minded people facing the same challenges. My new friends and neighbors have always been willing to chat or lend a hand, and I am grateful for all of them.
I won’t lie – these last few years have been difficult, with so many losses in so many ways I cannot even articulate them. But I’ve learned that we all have these dark periods, whatever their form or duration. And I know that the key is to learn from all the sorrows and use that knowledge to help others. After all that I have seen and experienced, I am still a true believer in humanity.
Since I can remember, I have had a love of politics – not politics in the sense of games and the destruction of others for personal gain – but a love of the structure and history of our self-governance, a fascination with the beliefs and actions of other “true believers” throughout history that shaped the world for the better.
I’ve been around this planet, and this country, many times. I know how similar we all really are. I know that we all pretty much want the same things – safety, opportunity, a better life for our kids – but we just have different ideas about how to reach those common goals. We just need to talk to each other. To listen.
I play the characters I do because they are part of who I am – someone who seeks justice above all else, who seeks truth, clarity and common humanity; who works to defend those who cannot defend themselves. For the past year, I have thought long and hard about my home here, my fellow citizens here. I pondered the best, most honest, most helpful, way to proceed. I read and re-read every tome I had time to fit in and spoke to everyone I could about all the things that were important to them. I talked to many, many people who had run for office for both parties. I picked the brains of the people I knew who had worked in Government, on both sides of the aisle.
And after all of that, I made the decision that my belief in the American People and in Our Constitution outweighed any allegiance to any party or any label.
I came to the conclusion that citizens will make the right choices for themselves when told the truth by someone who genuinely cares for our democratic republic and their well-being. I made a choice to have far less money, far less help and no party backing me, but with the benefit of not being beholden to anyone but the people I live with here in the Hudson Valley and the residents of NY19.
I hope I make you all proud.