Mandy Boyle

NEPA-er with Moxie. Writer. Sometimes Actor. Nerdy Girl.

Creative Non-Fiction | Curtains

The final curtain call of a performance holds a mix of sadness and relief. You can take off your costume now, wipe off the makeup, and finally eat the bag of curly fries that’s been calling your name since you arrived for call 5 hours ago. You get to see your loved ones again. You don’t have to say, “No, I’m sorry. I can’t. I have rehearsal.”

But once there was a curtain call that changed my life.

In May 2013, I watched Conor, one of our leading men and Pride & Prejudice’s producer, address the sold-out audience after we made our bows. My smile was fixed in place as he rattled off his thank yous to the men, women, and teens hoping to get extra credit in English for attending our 1960’s take on the Jane Austen classic. It was funny and heartwarming. There was a good energy. I was tired, but the beehive itching on my head was well-worth the sacrifice. My cast mates and I could go downstairs to the after party when this was over. There would be chips, champagne, and finally, some time with my boyfriend, Brent, who hadn’t seen much of me in the past 6 weeks. My ears perked at the flat creaking with Conor’s turn toward me.

“Mandy, can you come up here for a minute?”

Um, what? Was I getting thanked for laying out the program? Reaching out to sponsors to fund this thing? Shit, I mean, it was InDesign and email but it wasn’t like it was rocket science. He reached out for my hand as I stepped toward center stage. We, and the audience, laughed. Conor was smiling at me but said nothing. This was awkward.  Bingley holding hands with Charlotte? Was it some kind of joke?

I heard a stray, “Wait a minute!” and frantic whispers from the back of the stage. All eyes turned to the back of the set: an open doorway. Brent walked through it.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we have more more quick special announcement.”

Were they thanking us together? Me for the program and him for the promotional photos? He was dressed up, clean shaven but there was the unmistakable sheen of nervousness on his forehead. Then he spoke.

Before you pass out, your heartbeat sounds loudly in your ears and the whole world gets quiet. That slowing of time you saw in the movie “Big Fish”? Yep. That’s real. For a moment and longer it was me and him and the floating particles of dust in the spotlights.

“For the past five years you’ve been my confidant, my partner, my best friend and I…can’t imagine life without you. Mandy Leigh Boyle, will you marry me?”

Two sentences took hours, days, months, years, a lifetime. Inward, I was smiling and screaming and jumping up and down but I couldn’t say a word. All I could do was cry and nod. He’ll tell you that I made a noise like a motorboat.  The answer was always, “Yes.”


 

Building Better Habits

Photo by Alice Achterhof

Photo by Alice Achterhof

 

My normal system of organization can be a little all over the place.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a margin doodler. I make notes and references to other things in the margins of my notebook pages and worksheets. Sometimes, I draw things – shapes, poor approximations of people, flowers, stars. Notebooks I’ve filled don’t flow in a linear sequence. I hop around from corner to corner, writing on slants and edges. I circle and connect lines. If you tried to read it, your eyes may glaze over (and not just from my poor penmanship).

Notes notes notes.

A post shared by Mandy (Boyle) Pennington (@mandybpenn) on

Lately, I’ve been trying to make myself more diligent with my lists. Sure, I make them all the time, but my follow through can be a little lacking. I put off errands or I make Saturdays a productivity binge, which isn’t much fun – or in some cases, isn’t as productive.

Keeping my organizational energies up during the week is tough, but I’m trying out a few strategies to see what works. Here’s what I’ve been doing:

1.) Using more of my Google Calendar to map out tasks. I do this in my professional life all the time, but rarely have I used it for my personal life. Instead of limiting my calendar space to conference calls and meetings, I’ve now been scheduling focus blocks alongside appointment reminders.

Because I rely on my calendar so much at work, it was easy to adopt this habit. I can’t believe I didn’t do this more before! Now instead of worrying about whether or not I’ll forget something, I set reminders and pop up alerts to keep me on schedule so that I never get caught off-guard.

 the to do list GIF

Scheduling things out also helps me manage my time better, so I can be more realistic with when I can be somewhere or when is actually a good time.

2.) Using Google Keep. I am a prolific note maker. If you look at my desk at work, you’ll find stacks of post it notes with lists. I have a Post It open on my desktop all the time with a list. I make lists in text files. I write lists on scraps and envelopes. I text and email myself reminders. It’s a little unweildy.

So, to rein in my list-making tendencies, I’m testing out keeping lists ONLY in Google Keep. I’ve used Google Keep before for lots of different things, but my list-making bleeds outside of technology all too often. I’m hoping that this will cut back on me remaking the same lists (and also checking off the boxes are all too satisfying!)

 app google now more use GIF

Also, how freaking great is this Google Keep gif where there’s a book about a dog named Crouton?!

Right now, I’ve got two lists: things to read and things to do. Over the next couple of weeks, I’m hoping to segment and expand more so that I can use it for things like my grocery list or household chores. We shall see!

3.) Scheduling fun. No, really! I have this desk calendar that features tips for happiness every day, curated by one of my favorite non-fiction writers, Gretchen Rubin. One of the tips that was shared was the idea of scheduling fun so that you always make times for the things that bring you joy.

 football fans form feel troy GIF

As I’ve moved from winter to spring, I find myself marking dates on the calendar for day trips and adventures, cups of tea with a friend, and brunches with people who make my heart sing. I have things to look forward to, even on the busiest of days.

I’m all for the spontaneous and sure, I’ll indulge in going off the plan, but this at least gives me the structure I need to really make time for things I love – rather than filling up my free time with things I don’t.

4.) Weekly meal planning. I love cooking, but I often find that on nights where I’m too tired or too stressed, I’ll opt for takeout instead of actually cooking a meal. It’s a bummer, because I’m denying myself of the joy of making something while also giving my body stuff that isn’t always good for it. It’s particularly hard to avoid takeout when I’m in a show or wrapped up in some project or another. To combat the desire to turn to takeout, I’m trying to do more meal planning.

 south park cooking randy marsh kitchen GIF

 

Each weekend, usually a Saturday, I sit down and come up with a list of ingredients I need from the store and ideas on what I can make that week. I check in with the Mister to see our schedules and we settle on items that we think will work for each night. Then, I’ll go to Wegman’s…on a weekend.

 the hunger games elizabeth banks effie trinket 74 hunger games hunger games 2012 GIF

Sometimes, I’ll do a crockpot meal or a big Sunday cook to stretch out our options. It’s not 100%  foolproof – we’ve still opted for sandwiches or burgers on a particularly rough day, but I feel better knowing we’re making an effort for the other weeknights!

This system isn’t perfect. Heck, I wouldn’t even consider it much of a system – more like a collection of random tactics to solve my organization stresses – but it’s something. We’ll see how it goes. And like all things, the beauty is that if it doesn’t work, we can go back to the drawing board. :)

Creative Non-Fiction | Carnegie Hall

At my college’s orientation weekend, we were put into groups to do an icebreaker game.

“Say something unique about yourself,” said the orientation leader, who looked to be as uncomfortable as the 12 sweating freshmen sitting around him. “A fun fact or something that sets you apart from someone else.”

I paused to think about what I would say. The first thing that popped into my head was that I’ve sung in Carnegie Hall. My own self-doubt and self-consciousness over being insufferable got the better of me. I clamped my hands onto my plaid short-covered knees and said, “I get frequent nosebleeds.” Carnegie Hall was too impressive, too indicative of someone who knew what they were doing.

I can’t read music really well. When I went to a music and theater camp as a freshman in high school, I got put into what was basically remedial music theory. Bored kids who just wanted to sing or act their little hearts out sat in a stifling classroom that summer. Our teacher was a guy with a ginger beard and a newborn who had too little patience and too little sleep to teach us what the hell the key of G was or how to read what everyone was singing for our choral performance that week.

From Faure’s “Requiem” to Edvard Grieg’s “I Himmelen”, each afternoon I shrunk and made the voice I boomed so proudly in my school’s chorus class too small to discern from the talented musicians that surrounded me. The chamber music instructor was exasperated.

“If you’re going to keep up, you have to understand music theory.”

I felt every missed note. My “pitchy” quality was on display. Musically-illiterate. 

It wasn’t like I hadn’t had any training. Sure, I can clap out beats and read something in the key of C if you give me enough time, but sight singing? No way. Not on my best day. I was surrounded by people who could pronounce the Italian, German, and French we sang with ease. They could just look at a piece of music and sing it beautifully. I couldn’t do that. And yet a year after that miserable remedial music theory class, I was standing on the same boards where Billie Holiday, Judy Garland, Mark Twain, and The Beatles shared their talent with the world.

It’s a humbling experience, singing in front of other people. You’re so vulnerable and once you’re there, you can’t lie. You can’t fake singing well. You either hit a note or you don’t. So when my chorus teacher announced that he was taking a group of selected singers to New York to perform in a festival, there was a part of me that shied from the opportunity. Yeah, it was Carnegie Hall, but did I even deserve to be there?

I threw myself into practicing the pieces they gave us. I still can’t read music, but for months, I hummed, sang, shouted and shrilled my way through gospel hymns, a beautiful piece inspired by a Shelley poem (which happens to be my favorite), and a mournful Brahms. When we got there, we were prepared. Jill, a junior, got a solo in the performance. I saved my ticket stub and teared when the last note rang out. I couldn’t believe I did it.

My euphoria carried itself back to the school year. The voice that was louder and more confident than the rest in 2nd period? That was me. The overeager beaver who jumped at any opportunity for a solo, no matter how flat she was when she had to do it in front of people? You betcha. But the girl who didn’t get picked for District Chorus because her scores from the judges put her below the cut? Yep, that was me too – and it sucked.

I put the bravado away for awhile and only let it peek out for the spring musical, and an awkward, costumed duet I sang with a junior high boyfriend. I graduated and figured I was done, save for the occasional karaoke performance. What was left for someone who couldn’t read music?

I walked by Carnegie Hall this past winter. It took me a moment to remember that my skinny, long limbed self had been filled with so much joy when I looked out at all of those seats – some filled, some not – in a place that held more history than I could have ever imagined.

I turned to my friend as she walked beside me and smiled. “I sang there once, you know.”

Creative Non-Fiction | Flying

My husband, Brent, loves aviation. He sees a plane and remarks on how pretty she is or how it looks like it would be fun to take a ride in. He’s maniacal about checking weather reports. He speaks in airport names and 24-hour time. Growing up with a pilot in the house does that to you.

My relationship with flying is less exciting. While Brent and I share a wanderlust from time to time, I don’t see the beauty of a graceful craft silhouette or appreciate the roar of an engine. Aviation and I are acquaintances that see each other from time to time, but never really keep in touch.

When I board a plane, I’m equal parts joy, anxiety, and nausea.

Airplane photo by Freddy Castro

Photo by Freddy Castro

We take for granted our ability to navigate vast swaths of land by flying. The long, across-state-lines drives you took as a child are reduced to movie running-times, measured in a few hours and minutes. It’s awe-inspiring when you take a moment to think about it.

Louis C.K. has a routine where describes how people behave on airplanes. The miracle of humans mimicking birds. Really entitled birds. Who get mad about not having working Wi-Fi on a flight, never remembering where they are in the midst of their meltdowns.

“You’re flying! It’s amazing! Everybody on every plane should be constantly going ‘oh my God, wow!’ You’re sitting in a chair in the sky.”

I wish I could appreciate it at that level. Or altitude, rather. Sometimes, I do.

The first time I ever flew on a plane by myself, I was so proud. I felt very adult – even though I was already 19. Professional.  I imagined myself reading a magazine, looking all kinds of put-together as I swiveled my green (and borrowed) suitcase through an airport. I would sip tea and make conversation with some exotic and exciting stranger I would meet in the adjacent aisle. I was TRAVELING.  I was away from home.

Reality was different. I sat next to a man in a Steelers coat and threw up as we began our descent into Detroit. I had just finished a chapter in a book I was reading. One of the characters tossed his cookies after a helicopter ride. Fitting. My seatmate moved back a row for the rest of the trip.

Today, when I fly, there’s a tiny voice on my head that congratulates myself every time I make it from one destination to another. Most importantly, when I do it without pulling a Linda Blair in The Exorcist.

“YOU DID IT, BUDDY! YOU DIDN’T PUKE! WELL DONE, YOU!”

I spend my flights breathing deeply and eyes closed. I’ve gotten smarter. I arm myself with the right tools to soothe my pitching stomach: Dramamine, ginger ale, pretzels, and a set of headphones.

In between playlists, I tune in to the conversations happening around me. It’s thrilling playing tourist in someone else’s dialogue. I overhear where she’s going, what he does for a living, or the boss’s opinion on the new HR rules. Occasionally, I’ll get a seatmate who talks to me.

Airplane Photo by Suhyeon Choi

Photo by Suhyeon Choi

In November, I flew for a business trip and sat next to a delightful grandmother named Darlene on my return. She grinned as I took my seat, offering me a Lifesaver candy from her purse. She chuckled as we watched a seatmate across the aisle struggle with an overhead bin. We exchanged light smiles and glances. She broke the comfortable silence first.

“Are you from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre?”

Her voice was soft and even. In my head I prayed for the trip to be of the same tenor. I sipped on the bubbles in my ginger ale and thought about anything but my nausea. Darlene’s interruption was a welcome distraction.

Like a symphony, I watched this kind-eyed woman in a gray fleece conduct her hands as she animatedly referenced her lasagna recipe, sparked into our talk from the magazine I had open. Only the staccato of a cleared sinus or two from the bald man in the row in front of me broke up her stream of consciousness.

She works from home in IT. 27 years she’s been at her job. On her way home from a business trip, too. Eager to get home but not excited about the hour she’d have to drive once she landed.

We talked about marriage and family, living in Northeastern Pennsylvania, and holiday recipes.

I was reminded of how good it feels to come home. The jetsetter my 19-year-old self I thought I would be shook her head. For someone who thirsted at that time for newness and the unfamiliar, I now felt comforted knowing that I was making my return.

This flight to AVP was filled with the best kinds of NEPA people. They smile and laugh. They ask about your family. They’re open. Between their naps they talk easily, their faces illuminated by the soft glow of a James Patterson novel they downloaded. A recommendation from a friend, perhaps – and one they’ll share with their newly friended seatmate.

When circumstances align perfectly with the right combination, these are the kind of people who will trade stories over seatbelts and airline snack mix, making any traveler feel more at ease – no matter how bad her motion sickness might be at that moment.

In their best of times, they’ll make you forget your discomfort – and remember why you love a place so much.  

“Be careful out there,” Darlene cooed as we said our goodbyes at the gate.

Beyond the TSA gate, a set of beaming parents held up a sign, “Welcome Home Eimy”. I watched them embrace their daughter as she returned home for the Thanksgiving holiday.

I sat on a bench in the lobby and called my husband. “Hey, you made it,” he said. I sighed relief and breathed in comfort, even though the bench was hardly a soft cushion.

“Yep, it feels good to back. Flight home was smooth. My seatmate was nice,” I replied. “So, what should we do for dinner?”

I wasn’t in my driveway watching my cat peer at me through the bay window as I unloaded my bags. I wasn’t in my living room with shoes off or tucked beneath my husband’s chin as he wrapped me in a hug. Not yet. But soon.

Soon, I’d be home and back on the ground again.

4 Podcasts I’m Listening To Right Now

Podcasting by William Iven

I’ll admit, I’m a little late to the podcast party.

Sure, I’ve listened to them before and on occasion, I’ve followed a show or two. But as I’m working, writing, or getting ready in the morning, I find myself wanting to listen to something other than news. Let’s face it – the news right now is anxiety-inducing enough.

I still read and listen to the news, but now I temper my listening with more music and podcasts. I find it keeps me a bit more balanced and focused. Plus, it gives me ideas.

Lately, I’ve felt a bit “stuck” creatively and I’ve been looking for things to loosen my brain up so that it can think through challenges effectively. So far, it’s working – the gears are – slowly – starting to turn again.

As for what I’m listening to right now, let’s take a peek :)

The Minimalists

I’ve read blog posts from The Minimalists and I admire their message. They’re absolutely right: we need to do more with less and focus our energies on what really serves us (hint: it’s not stuff). Earlier this week, I started listening to The Minimalists podcast after a recommendation from my friend Sam (who has a super cool dinosaur blog of his own).  I like how they keep things light in their discussion of some really big issues. And the Q&A they do is also pretty great. If you’re looking for insightful discussion on minimalism and simplifying your life, this is a great one to tune into.

Adulthood Made Easy

I first found this podcast while scrolling through Spotify of all things. As a Real Simple reader who appreciates their rounded approach to content, I was excited to see that their podcast mirrored that same style.

Dealing with difficult people, relationships, happiness, smarter consumption, learning new things, and practical living tips are just a few of the topics tackled. I loved the soup episode as much as I loved the one about wanderlust.

Suddenly, getting your house in order seems a lot more attainable.

Fresh Air

Public radio is awesome. I don’t care if it makes people think I’m 80 years old, but I freaking love it. I listen to NPR in the car all the time and I love the programming they put together.

One of those items I get to tune in to on my ride home on occasion is Fresh Air with Terry Gross. Her interviews with celebrities, politicians, changemakers, and innovators are always interesting. I’ve laughed, cried, gotten angry – you FEEL when you listen to these interviews.

Now, I don’t have to wait until my commute to tune in – I can catch it on Stitcher.

TecBridge Radio

Disclaimer: I’m an active supporter of TecBridge and a member of their marketing committee. When TecBridge Radio launched its first episode, I knew it was the start of something big. In only a few short weeks, this podcast and radio show has grown into an insightful discussion on matters that concern making our region a better place.

Economic growth, education, business, and entrepreneurship get tackled in a dynamic Q&A session. The big idea? Why not us, why not here, and why not now. Good stuff happens in NEPA <3

What are you listening to right now?

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