One step away

Recently I had the opportunity to join some fellow actors in preparing a meal for some of the underserved in Chicago.  Now you should know that I grew up learning to cook for  large family, in fact I always make too much food when I do cook as it’s all I know!  But we were expecting anywhere from 50-150 people for this lunch so we had to be prepared for any contingency.  To say I was impressed with what the organizer planned and what we turned out of that kitchen is an understatement.  But we had enough food for everyone to get seconds if they wanted it and still had lots of yummy leftovers to send to a nearby shelter.  I kept telling the customers that if the food was good I made it, if they didn’t like it, that guy over there made it.  But it was indeed yummy as I sat down to share the meal with them.

Talking to strangers can be a dicey business.  You never know what you will encounter so I try to stay aware of the circumstances and keep my personal safety foremost in my mind.  But I felt very safe in this situation and wanted to get to know the clients a bit more.  Making eye contact, asking questions about their lives, laughing with them and sharing a bit about my own struggles were simple things to do.  It’s what I do all the time.  Sometimes I feel like I lapse into interviewing people I ask so many questions!  I’m working on that.  While I helped send them away with a full tummy and an orange for when they got hungry later, I realized they sent me away with a renewed gratitude for the support I receive and the gifts and skills I’ve been blessed with.  I was at a pretty low point not too long ago, both financially and personally, and felt like I didn’t have anywhere to turn.  It was an awful and desperate feeling but I was able to work my way out of it.  Hearing the stories of my fellow diners, I realized we are all pretty much one accident, crisis or fiasco away from joining them in their struggles.  Maybe I’ll be slower to put my guard up next time.

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What’s In Your Toolbox?

Recently I reread The War of Art by Steve Pressfield and picked up things that I didn’t catch the first time around.  If you aren’t familiar with the book, it’s about the resistance every creative feels as they pursue whatever discipline they’ve chosen to work in.  For writers, it’s the infamous blank page syndrome, for actor’s it’s the always prepping-never doing syndrome, for all of us it’s the getting ready to get ready to think about doing something problem.  In fact I was so impressed by my second reading that I immediately went to Amazon to purchase the follow up book Do The Work.  So I logged on to Amazon and put the book in my cart.  When I went to check out, Amazon gently says “Ummmm, you’ve already purchased this book”.  I did?  I don’t remember getting it as I didn’t recognize the cover art in any of the books I owned.  So off to my past history of purchases I went and doggone it, there it was in my Kindle books.  Seems I’ve owned this tome for almost 2 years.  Boy did I feel foolish.  It made me wonder what other great tools I’ve purchased or obtained one way or another and haven’t made use of.

After pursuing a career for many years, we accumulate resources, contacts and guides that may get lost in the shuffle of the everyday of our business.  Pulling out long forgotten notes from a conference or weekend workshop is a great way to mine new tidbits of knowledge that may not have resonated when we first heard it.  It’s like cleaning out your closet of clothes you don’t wear anymore and finding that awesome pair of shoes or jeans you totally forgot you had.  Bang!  New outfit and it didn’t cost you a dime.

So I’m pulling out my notes from various conferences and workshops and seeing what I can glean from them before I sink another dime into buying that awesome thing guaranteed to push me to the next level.  I wonder what else is in this toolbox?

It All Comes Into Play

Working in the entertainment world in a secondary market means that you will work with and come across a lot of people who eventually move to either New York or Los Angeles.  Sadly it’s kind of a given as there isn’t enough work in a secondary market to financially sustain most people full time.  So most will make the move to the factory town, either New York if they are interested in theatre or Los Angeles if their goal is film or television.  Even voice artists may have to make the move.  While being able to work anywhere due to advances in technology, if you wish to pursue voicing animation, gaming or looping, you kind of have to be where it’s being created and that means LA.

What it means for me is I have a lot of friends and colleagues who now reside in LA.  I had the chance to catch up with one recently.  She made the move 2 years ago after graduating from college and was living the stereotypical actors life, waitressing to sustain herself while pursuing auditions and meeting with managers and agents.  You know the drill.

She updated me on what was going on in her life as we hadn’t spoken for quite a while.  She’d just left a long time waitressing job at a chain to move to a different restaurant.  It was a difficult decision as she truly felt like her co-workers were her family.  But this chain didn’t support her idea of living responsibly which included only eating what you really need and not serving huge portions that either go to waste or to waist.  Instead she found a place that supported her lifestyle choices of sustainability.  Even then, it wasn’t an ideal situation as she was being over-scheduled and she hadn’t as yet established many solid relationships with co-workers.  But she felt this was a temporary situation that was getting better every day.

It made me think about my last corporate job I held.  I was there for 12 years which is almost unheard of these days.  I stayed for various reasons, first because I liked and respected my co-workers.  Then because the environment was so healthy.  After all there weren’t many places that actually treat you like a grown up and let you do your job without second guessing every move.  Finally I stayed because once I started acting, I realized that my longevity and seniority gave me the flexibility I needed to pursue this new passion without sacrificing the quality of work I did for my day gig.

Hearing my friend discuss her decisions helped me to realize that everything we do, every choice we make about how we live, work and even eat, comes into play with our careers.  If we have a good paying but toxic job that sucks energy and passion from our quest, we may pay the rent but our progress will be slow or maybe even stalled.  If we work at a place that encourages overeating, you may find yourself being not so camera ready before long.  Taking care with all of the choices we make, even the seemingly non-important or non-related ones will serve us well as we go forth.

The Plan

I just finished watching The Adjustment Bureau on the recommendation of a friend.  I’m surprised I didn’t see it in the theatre as I’m a big Matt Damon fan and I think Emily Blunt is fantastic to watch.  Most likely I just got busy doing other things and it was out of the theaters before I made time to see it.  For whatever reason, I missed it’s general release but on a recent trip, this was the movie that was being played coincidentally westbound and eastbound.  Turns out maintenance hadn’t put the correct film on the westbound plane loading this one instead.  So I was kind of getting the message that I should be watching this film.  I’d put it in my Netflix queue but it was in the middle of the list.  Alright, alright, I’ll watch it.  Sheesh.

The story was very well done, with exciting twists and turns, love, dance, politics, religion, loss.  You name it, it was in the film in a well crafted way.  I most definitely can recommend it’s watching.  But because of our descent and arrival at our destination, I missed the very last scene of the film so I was very happy to have it replayed on the journey home.  And it holds up well to being replayed.  I picked up things I’d missed before.  Anywho the VO at the end, and I don’t think this will ruin the story for you, spoke about The Plan.  The Plan for each of us.  And how we have a choice.  No matter what or how many obstacles are thrown in our path, we can choose go along with them on path of least resistance, or we can to plow right through them to achieve what we want.  The second option isn’t going to be easy, but it’s going to be worth it.  Just watch.

Myopia

A long time ago, I was diagnosed with myopia, also known as nearsightedness.  It started about 5th grade when I couldn’t read the signs on the road when I was in the car with my parents.  I started squinting to compensate and bring into focus what I couldn’t see. Glasses were prescribed to be followed by contacts when I also needed braces and my Mom had my back by saying “she can’t have braces and glasses at the same time.  It’s too much to endure both at once.”  Whew!  Dodged that bullet.

Fast forward after many years of sticking round concave pieces of polymers, plastic, in my eyes.  Technology has advanced to the point where a 10 minute procedure fixes this condition and I no longer have to deal with not being able to see the alarm clock in the morning.  Of course, now I’m dealing with dry eye syndrome that seems to happen post lasik.  But that’s another story.

While my physical myopia has been dealt with, myopia can exist in many other ways.  It’s second definition is lack of imagination, foresight or intellectual insight.  So many suffer from this kind of myopia, doing the mundane, not seeing the big picture or failing to see beyond what they know.  Not believing that anything is possible ‘out there’, that the only truth is what is in front of you and this doesn’t change.  Having a vision that is small and close or having no vision at all.  That’s a scary outlook but I realized that there are times when I adopted this myopic viewpoint.  It’s easy to do, especially when you aren’t getting positive feedback on your efforts, you aren’t booking auditions or even getting called to audition in the first place.  Believing your efforts are for naught and it’s all a waste of time.  Not seeing that the seeds I’m planting today will bear fruit in the months and years to come.

Our instant gratification society adds to this myopia.  With instant results to be gained by the touch of a button it’s so easy to think ‘well that didn’t work.  I’m obviously not going to be a success.’ Because if it doesn’t work immediately, it must be a failure right? Being able to see beyond the myopia and embrace the fact that maybe you don’t know how prolific your efforts will be isn’t easy. Especially for this girl who has been known (allegedly) to skip to the end of a book to see what happens instead of letting the story unfurl as it should.  Find the faith to know with certainty that you will be rewarded for your efforts, even if there’s no evidence to back that up, at least that you can see at this moment.

That Apple Guy

No not Steve Jobs although I am a big fan of his products.  I’m referring that other apple guy, Sir Isaac Newton, who discovered these universal laws when an apple fell on his head.  Rumour has it.  I never took physics, pretty much avoiding science like the plague when I was in high school, but as I’ve grown older I realized how much I missed out.  I think I would have had a blast in physics.  I still may go back and take a class at some point just to do all those experiments.

So one of the laws The Newt came up with was his third law, that being “for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction”.  I’ve heard this bandied about over the years but never really gave it much thought until recently.  I’d always thought it was that whatever action I did, there was something out there that negated it or zeroed it out.  I had kind of an aha moment when I realized that what it really meant was whatever action or energy I put out to the universe, it generates an energy comes back to me with equal force.  So if I’m putting out negative energy such as “this will never work out” or “I’ll never be successful” or “that’s impossible to accomplish” then that is what I will get back, a whole lot of negative and nothing.  But if I put out positives “I’m going to have a great day” or “I’m going to be a success” or “yes I can” or “I’m going to book a job” then that is what I’m going to get back in spades.  I know it sounds all mystical and touchy-feely but hey, I’m talkin’ physics here.  That’s hard science right?  Can’t argue with a law that’s been around for over 200 years and still remains relevant now can you?

An Important Question

The other day I got to spend the entire day on set filming a short film written, produced and featuring a friend of mine, Grace McPhillips, who most wonderfully included me in this project.  It was a fabulous day indeed.  I was surrounded by a cast and crew that were inspiring in their creativity and professionalism.  It made my heart sing to be around these people.  It was a mix of wise veterans and enthusiastic students which made it all the more energizing.  The set was built from scratch and was incredible.  The creativity of the shots and lighting was spectacular.  I can’t wait to see the end product.

As I left after the end of a 14+ hour day, I was walking to my car in 93 degree heat (and it was almost 10pm at night!) I realized that I had so much fun and was so fulfilled from the day, that if I never made a dime from my efforts, I would do this for the rest of my life.  Realizing that made me stop in my tracks, no easy task carrying several wardrobe options, a rollaboard suitcase, lawn chair and bucket bag filled with overflow necessities.  Independent films are very tightly budgeted so I’ve learned to bring with me any- and everything I might need to get though the day, including bread and water and a place to rest my weary bones.

But back to our story, as I was driving home with a ridiculous grin on my face having acknowledged this wonderful day and the realization that it was indeed something I would do should no money every be offered, I had the thought that I should be asking myself this question with every endeavor I undertake.  If I can answer yes to that question, that is, would I do this if I never make a dime on it?, then it is a endeavor to be followed up on.  I’m pretty sure this qualifier will guide me well as I travel forward.