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.

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?

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.

I’m Having Difficulty…

All too often, I really don’t pay attention to the words I use when I speak to myself.   The language I use isn’t the kindest or the most encouraging.  I say things like “shame on me” and “I can’t”.  The shame on me is pretty harsh and brings down judgment, regret and well, shame.  I’ve been working on this as I used to say it with frequency, not even registering what I was telling myself.  Shame on me.  Wow.  Slips in before you know it.

Then there’s the insidious “I can’t”.  Boy oh boy does that one creep in faster than a speeding bullet.  It’s not always verbalized but it’s there nonetheless.  It’s there when I fall short of a goal and don’t keep trying to meet it.  It’s there when I think it’s too cold/hot outside to work out.  It’s there when I don’t get hired for a VO or On Camera gig and I rationalize with I can’t be the voice, or the image they have in their mind.  It’s there more than I realize.  And I’m not one to give up easily on things.  Remember I’m the queen of “me do it”.  But it still exists in my vernacular anyway.  Saying “I can’t” is saying there’s absolutely no way to make something happen.  And there’s always a way to work around a problem or figure out a solution.

I’m not asking for superhuman efforts or perfection of myself.  What I’m asking for is a rethinking of the language I use to talk to myself.  Instead of saying “I can’t” I’m going to try to start saying “I’m having difficulty”.  It may be semantics but I think the way we talk to ourselves and to others has a far greater impact than I’ve realized in the past.  And it’s not one big change that will make a big difference but the thousands of little changes I make in my everydayness that will help me achieve my goals.

Bruises

Did you ever go through your day, just doing what you do everyday, then get home that night and when you are putting on your pj’s you look down and say, now where did I get that bruise?  I don’t remember banging into something.  Did I get hit in passing?  It’s going to be an ugly one, going to stick around for days.  Hmmm.  That’s a puzzler.

Those are the bruises we can see.  We don’t remember when we got them but we know we have them.  They’ll go through their phases of healing, first black, then green then this putrid yellow, finally just fading into nothing, no trace it was ever there.  It occurred to me, as I looked at 2 I swear got from a virus in the air, that there are other bruises we can’t see and may not know are there.  Like the one I have from the oh-so-wonderful fellow castmate, who as I was about to step on stage for my first line, said “please stop stepping on my lines”.  Wow. Talk about sabotage.  Then there are the ones that are long buried, the ones from the nasty kids at school that shape how we act with others.  Or the ones from our family that were meant to help us (in their minds) but instead cut us most cruelly and undermined our self confidence.  Or the partner whose idea of supporting you is to mention how few feature films ever get made and how many more porn films are made, so maybe you should go into that field.  These are the ones that are the hardest to heal.  Oh we’ve buried them, but they come up at the most inopportune times and smack us right between the eyes with their fresh, ugly purpleness.  Healing those takes a lot of patience, understanding and forgiveness.  And knowledge that it may come around again to smack you with a 2 x 4 in the gut.  But they get better.  And easier to deal with and dismiss.  Hopefully they’ll one day just fade into nothing.

Recalculating

If you own a GPS, you know that word.  I don’t think the person voicing it meant to be as accusatory as it sounds when you make a turn contradictory to the directions the computer feels you should be following.  Sometimes you know where you are headed so you aren’t complying with the preset path, you just need the computer to keep you up to date on what your ETA will be.  Other times, you remember you need something and make a pit stop on the way.  Sometimes you genuinely get turned around and go the wrong direction.  Either way, you get the GPS all discombobulated and she’s clattering away, “recalculating….recalculating…recalculating”  I know! I know! you want to scream.  Just chill out while I get myself back on path.

It often seems this way with accomplishing our goals.  We think there is only one way to achieve them but then something or someone bumps us off that path and before you know it, your internal GPS is saying “recalculating” as you get your bearings and get back on track.  Being flexible enough to take this all in and not let it deter you from continuing on is key to making progress and not quitting.  There’s never just one way to get to your destination and knowing you just need to recalculate your way takes a lot of the anxiety away from those bumps and bruises.  And hearing a less obnoxious voice in your head certainly won’t hurt!

Security in Silence

No I’m not referring to the fact that it’s been such a long time since I’ve posted anything.  That is for another day.  This phrase came to me in a wonderful note from a friend, Jenna Johnson, who’s moved to LA and is trying to make a go of it there.  She meant it differently than I’m using it here but the the phrase was powerful enough to stand out on it’s own.

Finding the security in silence isn’t an easy thing to do.  So often as talent, creatives and simply human beings, we are very uncomfortable with silence.  How many times have we experienced the awkward silence in a conversation?  Or when someone falls silent, rushed to fill a perceived void with meaningless words that sometimes end up doing more harm than good?  Or when you think that nothing is happening in a situation, tried to make something, anything happen by forcing an action?

We are not comfortable with silence, especially in today’s world.  There is so much stimulation visually and aurally that this has become the norm and silence is almost abnormal.  I’ve really tried to make an effort to embrace silence when I work from home so I can let flow what needs to flow without the scattered focus interruptions these noises bring.  But it’s a never-ending battle against a very strong tide.

The even more difficult silence to handle is when you feel there is silence in your career.  You haven’t had an audition in weeks so you must be blackballed at the casting office.  Or your agent is on the verge of dropping you.  You haven’t done a voiceover in you don’t know how long so obviously your voice isn’t hirable.  You had no response to your latest marketing campaign so that was a big waste of time and money.  What you don’t know is what is happening in the silence.  What is transpiring behind the scenes in the big picture of things.  Trusting the silence, being secure in the knowledge that no news may really be good news, that you have planted and are are continuing to plant seeds of success is not easy.  It’s takes a lot of faith, trust and discipline to not try to make something, anything happen because of course that’s the only way progress is measured right?  Visible action must mean progress.  Not always.  Sometimes there’s plenty of action going on, you just can’t see it.  Just know that it’s there and find security in the silence.