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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The Recipe of Me

Writing, especially my blog posts, isn’t something I do every day.  I find it takes me quite a while to get into the groove of the words and the message I want to convey.  I may have a tidbit of an idea germinating in my head but it takes some cogitating before I’m at a point where I can put it down on paper.  I use other things to help this process move along.  Finding a quiet place is one way.  Which usually involves turning off all outside stimulation, TV, radio and internet.  That last one is becoming the hardest to do.  I think I’m becoming addicted.  Again, off topic.  Reading past posts is one way I get in the right space in my head to write my thoughts down in a cohesive manner.

Which is where found myself the other day when I had some things I thought would make good posts.  I started reading older posts and in the process realized something about the way I think and find ideas.  I’m greatly influenced by what I’ve recently read, seen, heard or otherwise absorbed.  My posts are littered with references to movies, books, articles, TV shows, news reports, documentaries, conversations.  Which made me stop and think for a minute.  Was I incapable of thinking for myself or was it more a case of being open to new ideas and new ways of learning things?  I’m coming down most squarely on the side of the latter case.  Learning for me is like breathing and I’m constantly seeking out the why and how of things.  The inane facts I have in my RAM memory would put anyone to sleep, or wow your socks off.  I’ll choose the latter on that one as well.

In looking over all these influences and their ensuing posts, I realized that all of these tidbits and ideas make up who I am and what I think.  After all, I didn’t just take everything that crossed my path as gospel.  I weighed what I read and learned and made up my own mind on whether or not I agreed and accepted what I was being presented.  My sister says I need three pieces of facts before I’ll accept something that I feel skeptical about.  This used to make me defensive when she said that but I’ve come to embrace it with open arms.  It’s what makes me, well, me.  Finding my own way to my truth and adding a little bit here and a little bit there keeps me current, involved, active, evolving, seeking, challenged, growing.  And I can’t think of a better way to create this piéce de rèsistance!

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.

Delaying Reality

I’m kind of funny when it comes to some things.  Take lottery tickets for example.  I, like I’m sure a lot of other people, purchase lottery tickets when the jackpot gets really big.  Then it’s worth my hard earned bucks.  But one thing I don’t do is check the numbers right away to see if I’ve won.  It’s kind of crazy I know.  But until I check the numbers and am given the final dash of cold water that I’m going to have to achieve my millions just like everyone else – one buck at a time and with hard work and diligence, I’m in a suspended reality that maybe, just maybe, I could have the winning ticket.  So I continue in my fantasizing of all the things I’m going to accomplish with all that cash and of course knowing all along that I’ll be able to handle it in a mature, intelligent responsible way.  HA!

This behavior bleeds over to other areas of my life.  I was out of the country recently (did I mention I was in the UK?  No?  Hmm, I could have sworn I did.  Here come sit next to me, I’ll tell you ALL about it!) so I missed the last 3 episodes of the Oprah Winfrey Show.  I have been a long time fan and viewer, going back to her AM Chicago days when I was in town for a friends wedding and she turned me on to the show.  Over the years, mostly because I was working, my viewing was hit or miss.  When I moved to Chicago though, I was back watching regularly.  The ABC station here ran it twice a day, live in the morning (she used to tape the show at the station) and then again after another of my favorite shows, Nightline.  Which meant I could watch at the end of my day.  I was back in the fold once again and my girl crush was full on.

I’ve been watching religiously, especially since she announced her retirement, collecting lessons and thoughts and memories, storing them away for the day when her wisdom and the wisdom of those she surrounds her with would no longer be a part of my daily life.  But I just can’t watch those last 3 episodes.  Because then the cold water of reality will be unavoidable.  Her show is over and it won’t be back.  I know she’s moving on to new adventures.  There is a time for everything and this time is ended. Avoiding watching them isn’t going to change anything.   I just need to sit down, watch the shows and move on myself.  But I’m dragging my feet every step of the way.

Standing on Their Shoulders

I mentioned a few days ago I’d spent some time in the UK recently.  I made a point to cram in as much of the history as I possibly could.  And history from all periods in time.  I went to Stonehenge with it’s mystical stone formations from people long disappeared.  From there to Stratford where Mr. Shakespeare was born and raised and returned once his success was ensured.  He was a climber of the first degree.  He built a then, and actually still today, huge 22 room house to show those townspeople what the glove maker’s son had achieved.  And in the meantime introduced to the world over a thousand words and hundreds of phrases still in use today.  Then to the palace’s and castles of the Kings and Queens of the Tudors, Stewarts, Hanovers and Windsors that led to the formation of the good ol’ USA and the eventual up-yours of the Revolutionary War.  Realizing I was standing on floors older than my entire country is a bit sobering.  And that includes the James Colony settlers.  Then to the only surviving original operating room (remember I’m a medical geek) and all the scary gadgets that passed for medical instruments back then.  Finally to the horrific and unrelenting conditions of the London blitz during World War II.  The smoke, darkness and confusion must have been overwhelming.

Being lucky enough to be able to see these amazing and important places and to have the thirst for knowing more is a gift I am most grateful for.  I realized somewhere along the way that all these things and many, many more, lead to where I am at the moment.  The struggle of early women for equality.  The rise of the middle class and the expansion of education for all.  The artists and performers that braved humiliation and sometimes persecution to bring art to all.  The formidable thinkers who saw far beyond their place and situation in time and created laws and institutions that protect and motivate todays leaders.  I could go on and on.  As I sometimes do.  But my long winded point here is that none of this happened in a vacuum for any of us and it ain’t a bad idea to get a little familiar with whose shoulders you’re standing on as you climb out of your current place on to the next rung in the ladder.  I know you’ll find my boob tube tuned to the History Channel a bit more in the future.

Finding Heroes

Reading biographies is something I truly enjoy doing.  I buy into the fantasy and believe these words just came flowing out of the authors mouth perfectly onto the paper.  Ghost writers?  What are those?  I choose not look behind the curtain to see the main moving the levers and pushing the buttons.  Reading about another’s journey and what got them to where they are today is very inspiring to me.  I usually pick up something that lights my fire and keeps me going in a forward direction on my own journey.  Usually these people have reached a level of expertise, celebrity or notoriety that would allow a biography to be written.

Every once in a while I come across a story that isn’t like this.  The subjects aren’t famous.  They haven’t climbed to the top of their field.  They may not even have a field.  They are simple people trying everyday to reach beyond their present circumstances.  And their stories are every bit as compelling and inspiring, sometimes even more so, than those of the celebrated.  Such was the case with a documentary I recently watched, Waiting for Superman.  It’s been on my video cue for several months but I kept pushing frothier fare in front of it.  But I found myself on a long flight and it was in my bag.  And let me tell you, it was gripping.  Several times tears were just streaming from my eyes.  My heart was breaking for these kids.  If you haven’t watched it, do yourself a huge favor and put in on your must watch list immediately.  You’ll thank yourself.  The struggle of parents to get a better education for their kids was heartbreaking.  And when things didn’t turn out their way, they didn’t give up, they tried another route.  Nothing was going to stop them from getting a better life for their kids than they had.  And you know this is going on everyday, in every home, with single or dual parents, rich or poor, PHD’s or barely GED’s.  Parents realize a good education is the ticket to success for their children and they were going to move heaven and earth to make it happen.

That single mindedness, resolve and quiet determination really hit home with me.  It’s so easy to point to the celebrity or sport elite for inspiration but the real heroes are those that just keep plugging away, day after day in their anonymity, doing the best they can with what life throws their way.  They are real heroes.

Coagulation

I haven’t written for a while.  At first it was a break because I was in the middle of shooting the web series I’m producing.  Then the holidays rushed in to take my attention with all the shopping, wrapping and requisite joy.  Once that subsided, I kept thinking I needed to get back to writing but never did.  So I figured I really didn’t have anything to say.  I would write when something came to me, but it never did.  I gave up trying to force it.

Three nights ago, I was researching insurance companies because I need to find health insurance.  This has been going on for several weeks as it is such an overwhelming process and I kept putting it off.  Going through it makes me long for the days when I was a corporate employee and I had to just pick from 2 choices that were clearly identified -HMO or PPO.  It’s enough to almost go back to the 9-5 grind…almost.  Anywho, this research extended well into the next day.  It was so complicated that I kept getting frustrated, stopping and turning to web surfing, email, TV, anything to get my mind off this monumental task. I kept having to pull myself back to the task at hand.   Which didn’t make my focus or my progress very good.  Finally by early evening, I had narrowed down my choices on 3 different providers and sent off a note to my insurance broker with my selections and a some questions for her.

Then a funny thing happened.  I truly felt a physical sense of relief.  I relaxed.  As I moved the now 2 inch file off my desk, I could feel my brain shifting.  For the first time in a long time, I felt like writing.  So I did.  And not just one post but two with ideas for 2 more.  And I started thinking of ideas I’d like to either produce, write or act in.  The creative juices started flowing again…finally!  I didn’t realize it at first, but when I noticed what I was working on, it hit me that I’d been so stressed about this insurance thing that it had stunted all my thinking.  The very nature of this insurance project and the fact that I’d put it off for so long, had taken all my energy away from everything I love to do.  My brain was just existing, it wasn’t thriving.  Creativity had slowed to a halt, and the insurance stuff had coagulated my imagination.

I’m not through this process yet.  And it’s an awful process.  But you better believe I’m going to attack the next step much faster and with less agita.  Peeling the bandaid off slowly just extends the pain.  Better to rip it off, feel the momentary ouch and move on.