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.

Paying It Forward

Several days ago I mentioned an encounter with an actor who is consistently working in film and television in Los Angeles.  I found myself in the same elevator so the poor man had no choice but to endure my conversation.  At the time I didn’t realize who he was as I wasn’t the target demo for the shows he’s previously been on, I thought he was a sports anchor on a station I’d previously sold.  Anywho, he most graciously put up with my request to pick his brain and answered my questions for about an hour and a half.  The topics were all over the board from what he felt when a series was cancelled to are there any normal people in Hollywood and how do you tell if they like you for you and not for what you can do for them?  It was truly one of most seminal moments in my career to date.  The information he shared, the inside tips and the encouragement were early Christmas presents delivered at a time when I needed to receive them.  I had a smile on my face the remainder of the day that no lack of sleep from a red-eye flight could erase.

I don’t know if someone had done this for him early in his career or if he was just in a good mood and felt like talking.  I’m sure when he left to catch his plane back to LA he had no idea of the impact he’d left on me and of the ripple effect his words would produce.  I’m sure once he hit the terminal floor our encounter was forgotten as he moved into getting home mode. But I didn’t forget and I won’t forget.  I’ll think back to that conversation many times over the next weeks and months as I go forward.  And that’s the way it should be.  There is a saying that when the student is ready the teacher will appear.  I learned many lessons that early morning and am most grateful for the generosity and kindness shown to me by a fellow actor.  It was pretty amazing.

Just go

Serendipity is a pretty amazing thing.  Be it chance or luck or karma or the universe putting opportunities in your path, when it happens, it’s really cool.  I was traveling recently and had a layover from a red eye flight in Dallas.  Prevailing winds were so strong eastbound that we landed 25 minutes earlier than scheduled and I think we were the first flight into DFW that day.  I had a several hour layover so I headed to the lounge to freshen up, grab some refreshments and check my email.  Most airport lounges offer free wifi which is an awesome perk.  We were so early to arrive that the lounge still had a half an hour before it opened.  When the doors finally swung open, there were quite a few of us rushing them and the elevators were full with each trip.  I happened to notice the suitcase of one of my fellow stuffed in people.  It was from a now defunct network that was affiliated with several stations I used to sell.  I commented to the owner how much I missed that network and asked what station he was with.  He replied “no station” and I continued to babble on thinking all the while he looked like a sports guy I must have seen on a promotional piece somewhere.  So I then asked him if he was with the network and he replied no, he was on a show for them.  The elevator doors then opened, mind you all this happened in a 1 floor lift ride and we dispersed into the club.  Me to freshen up and him to parts unknown.

As I was de-stinking all my parts, I was thinking about the interchange that had just happened and what to do about it.  I’ve had several opportunities recently where I’ve been in the same place as a person of note but either because of nerves or shyness or respect for their privacy haven’t taken advantage of them.  And I’ve kicked myself each time.  So I wasn’t about to let this opportunity pass me by.  I left the bathroom and commenced my search for this person.  I soon found him relaxing with a cup of coffee and approached saying “can I pick your brain?  Feel free to tell me to go pound sand but I’m an actress and I’d love to hear your story.”  And he most graciously said sure and put up with my questions for the next 90 minutes.

So this guy has had quite a bit of success in his professional life.  Call it luck, call it earned, call it whatever you want but one of the nuggets he shared in a bucketful of nuggets is something his Dad said to do and that was to just go.  I think the puzzled expression on my face spoke volumes so he elaborated.  Even if it’s a job where you don’t think it’s right for you, or the character is someone you don’t connect with or the pay may not be what you’re used to, just go, do your best as you never know what may come of that opportunity.  Resist the urge to say “nah” but instead jump at the chance to work.  There may be people at that gig that will hire you, finance your next project or recommend you for something.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said “nah” in the past.  But in the future, I’ll be saying “yah” a lot more!

A Starbucks with no coffee

I know, sounds a bit ridiculous doesn’t it?  But that’s what happens when you don’t give yourself the tools to properly market yourself in your chosen profession.  Not too long ago, I had the opportunity to intern at a local casting office.  This is a very busy casting office with sometimes several different sessions going on all at once.  Working in the room was great but I also really liked working at the front desk.  I like greeting everyone, telling them which waiting room to head to and then shushing them when they got too chatty and loud.  Right up my “I’m the boss/big sister/know-it-all” alley.  When a talent would come in to audition, they present their headshot with a resume of previous work attached to the front desk so we could attach an info sheet for that particular casting.  I was continually amazed at how many experienced working actors would come in without a headshot, or the picture was in black and white still (meaning it was at least 5-6 years old) or they were bald and the photo clearly has hair.

Voice Talent does the same thing.  They sit on a demo that was produced back in the mid 90’s with a style that clearly is no longer current.  They don’t have a website.  They don’t promote or market themselves to those that can hire.

To me, this is tantamount to going into a Starbucks and being told they don’t have any coffee.  Really?  This is what you do for a living people.  Get the beans.  Grind the grounds.  Foam the foam.  Overcharge me.  Ok that last one wasn’t really relevant but I couldn’t resist.  Just so Starbucks doesn’t feel as if I’m picking on them, it’s as if McDonald’s didn’t have any burgers or the pretty Apple store with no overpriced Macs.  There I go again.

Having the proper tools, up to date and relevant to today’s work and world is a basic responsibility of a talent.  It’s hard enough to get hired, why make it harder on yourself by using old materials.  Do yourself a favor, lose the 10 pounds, think about the image you want to portray and get thee to a photographer.  Or not.  But no griping when there are no calls or coffee for you.