“Earlier this week, I sat down Sharon Washington, a writer and actor based in Milbrook, NY but with deep roots in New York City. Let’s jump right back in where we left off.” – Michaela
You’re a Native New Yorker now living in Millbrook, NY (which is such a lovely town!). As somebody who also decamped for a more pastoral location, I’m always curious about what my fellow expats miss most about the city? Like where do you make a beeline for when you’re back in town?
Yes. I will ALWAYS be a Native New Yorker no matter where I end up living! My husband and I talked about moving to the country for a very long time.
Over the years we’ve spent many, many weekends as guests of friends who have homes on both sides of the Hudson River Valley, so we were fairly familiar with the turf, but not Millbrook specifically. It really was the house and countryside that drew us to this particular spot – and the bonus is that the Village of Millbrook has so much character and a strong sense of community, as well as a world-class independent bookstore and beautiful library (must-haves for this former little-girl-who-lived-in-the-library!)
What I miss most about the city are the small local stores and gathering spots. My New York City is a series of neighborhoods like small villages. The first library I lived in was the St. Agnes Branch on the Upper West Side, so I grew up a couple of block away from Zabar’s. I miss trips there for bagels, rugelach, rye bread, salmon, and whitefish salad. We lived in Manhattan Plaza on 43rd Street in Hell’s Kitchen for over 20 years so that neighborhood has some of our faves (although a lot are getting pushed out because of the exorbitant rents.) There’s the Greek grocery on 9th Avenue where we’d get fresh feta cheese – (they’d always slice off a sample of whatever you’re buying!) – grape leaves and dried beans and international spices sold out of big barrels. My husband is of Italian-American heritage so we’d head down to Rafetto’s in the Village for fresh raviolis and dried salami (bread was bought in his home state of New Jersey – lol!) And Stile’s vegetable market is a great option for reasonably priced produce in the neighborhood. Actually a lot of the street vendors got better in the past several years for their varied selection of ready-to-eat ripe fruit. The guy who sold from a cart right downstairs from Manhattan Plaza always got the BEST cherries during the season.
Bouchon Bakery for AMAZING croissants and a baguette. And I miss meeting folks for dinner and/or drinks at the WestBank Café which is right downstairs from where we lived and a theatrical watering hole for pre, post, or in-between show get-togethers. I miss that camaraderie because you never know who you’ll run into. One or two of these are required stops whenever I go into the city.
What advice would you give yourself at a trying time in the past that you’ve since overcome?
Trust your instincts. Believe in yourself. Stand up for yourself. Don’t be afraid of asking “too many” questions. Don’t be afraid to make the hard decision because putting it off won’t make it go away. And once you’ve made it stand by it and live with your choice, don’t second-guess and “what if” it – that’s just a waste of valuable time and energy. Be clear. You can’t please everybody. Don’t be afraid to fail, you’ll live through it. You can’t do something halfway because if you don’t do it “full out with great conviction” you’ll never know if it was a good idea or not. Art (and comedy) come from the scary places.
Remember to eat and get enough sleep, “tomorrow is another day.” Don’t skimp on self care. Make time for yourself to do something that brings you joy. And breathe. Because that in today’s world is a revolutionary act.
What traits do you value most in your circle of friends? What traits do you most value in yourself?
Honesty and timing. Being supportive sometimes means disagreeing with a friend’s choice. So I cherish a friend’s ability to be honest with me, but also their ability to know WHEN to do it. Knowing when to step in and offer advice while also knowing when to shut up and just be supportive is key. A sense of humor – one that’s not always PC – is a must. And a knowledge of current events outside our spheres of expertise so we can have a lively discussion and keep each other sharp.
And we always wrap things up with some hopefully fun rapid fire questions. What is your opinion on:
A morning at the Museum of Natural History or an evening at Lincoln Center? A morning at the Museum of Natural History.
Hidden gems in Dutchess County, NY? I don’t know if these are necessarily “hidden” but I’ll take a shot: Bannerman Castle on Pollepel Island; Zoe’s Ice Cream Barn in LaGrangeville “from cow to cone i just 3 days”; Athena Gyro LaGrangeville; Merritt Bookstore in Millbrook.
A bagel from H&H or a bagel from Tal? H&H!
Favorite place to escape reality? A Twilight Zone or Star Trek (original series) marathon binge watch.
Pre-show or writing rituals? Before every performance I always run through all of my lines for the entire show very quickly preferably on a walk outdoors (with headphones in so people don’t think I’m crazy!) I think the proper theatrical term is “an Italian Run”.
Pre-show physical warm up to gospel/praise music. The theater is a sacred space to me and I’m forever grateful to be allowed to tread the boards.
I’ve yet to find my writing ritual. It still feels new to me. I do know that I get the most work done when I have uninterrupted time – so one, preferably two-week residencies are when I get the most accomplished. It’s such a gift to not worry about cooking or cleaning up and simply being able to write and think.
Oh, and wherever I am, I do love starting new writing projects in brand new old-school, black and white patterned style composition books. I like beginning the process long-hand and then going to my laptop for the first draft. Writing long hand curbs my perfectionist tendency to edit as I write (deadly)
I have conceded and now use composition books in various colors so I can grab the right one quickly. But whatever the color, I love cracking open the spine on a first page. Those lines on the crisp and clean paper waiting to be filled. Oh, the possibilities…
You can keep up with Sharon on Instagram and on her website. I also wanted to note that the NYPL, the place that served as such an inspiration in Sharon’s life is in the process of gradually re-opening in the midst of this pandemic. Libraries are vital community hubs and the importance of staying curious and reading for all ages goes without saying. If you’re able, please consider making a tax-deductible donation to the NYPL.