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.

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.

Transforming

Transformers 3 is filming in Chicago at the moment.  It’s a really big deal because they’re going to be here for about 7 weeks and they’re putting a lot of industry people to work during that time.  They’ve really taken over the city and they’ve infused an unmistakeable excitement all over town.  Not just the tourists are getting excited.  Even the hard calloused natives are enjoying the ooh and aah factor of it all, even if only because it gives them something new to be snarky about.  The stuff these guys are doing and the stunts they are co-ordinating is rarely if never seen in these parts.  Explosions, base jumpers, helicopters, real ammo (albeit loaded with squibs), cars and buses on fire or flipping upside down.  And they aren’t relegated to the hinterlands of the city.  All this is happening downtown at the intersection of Michigan and Wacker right along the river.

A few days ago, I wandered into where they were storing the cars in their non-Autobot state.  It wasn’t long before I was hustled out of the area by a young, but well meaning production assistant.  Seems I wasn’t supposed to be there.  Imagine that!  I was curious about the PA, how he got the job, was he local, how many days he’d worked, how long were his days.  Turns out he was local, this was his 7th day on the set and the longest day he’d worked was about 15 hours.  Most of the days were well over 12 hours as the locations they had were high traffic areas that couldn’t be shut down for long so the crew needed to maximize the time they had.  I spent about 45 minutes asking him all kinds of questions which is something I can’t help but do.  I’m a question gal.  He was a student at a local college studying film and wanted to worked in production design which sets up all the non human parts of a film.  Even on a 90 degree day when the closest he was getting to where everything was blowing up was standing 500 feet away guarding cars under tarps and answering the same silly questions from throngs of tourists, his enthusiasm for his job and the chance to be part of this production was palpable.

I have no doubt this guy will one day be working in production design.  And even when blowing stuff up becomes an everyday occurrence, he’ll still get excited about doing it because that’s the great thing about working in this business.  We get to do things everyday that people only dream about or see on a screen.  What’s not to love about this business?

My New Favorite Place

It’s been a brutal summer in Chicago.  We’ve had 9 days over 90 degrees and the forecast is for 90’s through the next 8 days.  I really don’t like the heat at all which is why I live as north as I do.  I always say, you can put on a sweater if you get cold but you can only get so naked if you’re hot.  As a result of this heat and the accompanying humidity, I’ve become a bit of a hermit.  Really not going outside unless I had to.  But tonight I ventured up to my rooftop deck to water my plants-BTW if all these flowers are going to become cucumbers, I’ll be eating cukes until they come out of my ears.  And while it had only dropped into the mid 80’s, the humidity had dissipated and the wind had picked up.  As a result, it was unbelievably pleasant up there.  I brought my book up and read for while and then as the sun went down, plugged in the icicle lights that encircle my deck.  It’d been a long time since I’d done that so only about 30% were working.  I spent the next hour checking each strand and replacing bulbs, replacing strands that were beyond repair and reconfiguring the remaining ones.  Once finished, my deck was glowing quite nicely.  It was too dark to read so I brought up my laptop to see if my wi-fi reach this far.  I’ll be dog-goned if it didn’t.  I spent the few hours surfing and writing and listening to life in my neighborhood.  It even got chilly and I had to put on a sweater (see reference above).

It sounds silly to get jazzed about sitting outside but I’m not used to this kind of heat.  It really impacts my enjoyment of the wonderfulness that is Chicago in the summer.  I’ll make a deal with you Mother Nature, if you insist on pushing the mercury above 90 during the day, please provide me with nights like tonight.  They are truly magical.

Talking Elephants

One of the cool things about radio is Chicago is several of the stations are owned by the major networks.  So are the big four TV stations.  In the vernacular of the business, these stations are called O & O’s, owned and operated, because that is exactly how they are owned and run, by the networks.  And sometimes the programming crosses over.  So the CBS radio station here, WBBM-AM, will run programming from the TV station, WBBM-TV.  They mostly run news shows like the Face the Nation and CBS Sunday Morning but they also run 60 Minutes every Sunday night.  WBBM-AM is one of the oldest stations in the country and they have a special type of broadcast license thats let’s them broadcast at 50,000 watts.  That means the signal travels pretty far.  I can listen to them all the way home to my folks house only getting static the last 20 minutes or so of the drive when the corn is high and blocks the signal.  On Sunday nights, I try to time my trip back so I can listen to 60 Minutes at some point when the signal is clear.  It sounds strange, listening to a TV show on the radio, but with a show like this, the whole theatre of the mind thing takes over.

Last Sunday I was driving down to my parents house (holiday weekend and all) and I tuned into the show.  One of the segments was about a researcher in Africa who’s been studying elephants for 20 years for Cornell University.  Actually she’s been listening to elephants.  Turns out they have a very complex language that we are only beginning to understand.  The really cool thing is they say a lot of things in a pitch we humans can’t hear.  They’re having these entire conversations right in front of our nose and we don’t even know they’re talking.  Makes you wonder about the commentary on the people they see gawking at them at the zoo – look at that guys haircut…what was she thinking wearing those shoes with that outfit?…will someone please find that kids pacifier?!!

In a weird way, I suddenly felt proud of the industry I’d chosen to be in.  Not that I’m ever going to be figuring out what a species is communicating.  But voiceover is all about communicating.  Sure I may be voicing an on-hold phone message or a commercial about the newest juice box, but I also voice e-learning projects so people can learn about new aspects of their fields, documentaries that inspire and inform, and audiobooks that transport the listener to another reality.  In communicating with my voice, I connect someone to something important.  Every species communicates in some form or another.  I’m just jazzed to be one of the communicators in my species.

From Worst to First

I don’t know if you heard about it, but the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup Finals a few days ago.  I know, it’s old news.  But in Chicago, where we don’t have much to cheer about athletically these days, the celebration lives on.  The players have been all over town with that massive cup and many a true and bandwagon fan has been able to touch or even drink out of the cup.  All I can think of when I hear that is all the germs that are living on it.  EWWWW.  But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t take a swig if given the opportunity.  After all, I wasn’t even born the last time this team took the cup and the only other team I can say that about is the Cubs.  With a 102 year drought, I don’t think I’ll ever catch their record.  Anywho, one of the things that’s come up is the fact that only 5 years ago, the Chicago Blackhawks were rated the worst team in the NHL.  Dead last.  And in 5 short years, the franchise did a dramatic turnaround that touched all areas of their organization from the top down.  The first big thing that happened was the elder Wirtz retired and passed the leadership on to first his son Peter and then to Rocky who runs it now.  The new generation had a different way of operating that was greatly needed.  Fans had been ignored, games not televised, star players dealt away or cast away, new talent recruitment was non existent.  It was clear changes had to be made.  Difficult changes.  I’m sure it wasn’t easy to tell Dad that his way of doing things was no longer the way of the Blackhawks.  Family dinners had to have been fun.  But time marches on and if you don’t evolve and reinvent, you become irrelevant.  Change is never easy but if you don’t ask yourself why you are doing the same thing the same way over and over, you run the risk of getting stuck in a rut and not staying cutting edge.  Turning around an entrenched organization must have been a monumental task but look at the rewards the Blackhawks reaped for doing so.  It all started with the thinking at the top.  This type of reversal can happen to any organization, company or person.  You just have to start at the top.

Finding Your Pace

It’s actually spring here in Chicago.  Surprisingly we are having the type of weather one would normally associate with spring.  We usually don’t get any sort of moderation, we go from winter wools to sundresses in about 4 days time.  But this year has been a lovely aberration.  So I’m back out hitting the pavement trying to get a run/walk in every day.  I’ve been trying to get my stamina and endurance up for quite some time and have been having very little luck.  I can walk to the end of the earth but if you ask me to run, it’s like a slow motion train wreck as everything starts to fall apart one piece at a time.  Pretty soon I’m back to just walking, albeit at a brisk 4.5 mph pace.  I listen to my bottomless iPod when I’m out to keep me engaged and on pace.  There’s a mix of songs from the 80’s that are fun to walk fast to.  Today I went deeper into my song selection and stumbled upon a run of power ballads from the early 80’s.  You  know the type of song, headbangers crooning their unrequited love while the lead guitar cries along and the drum bangs out the broken heartbeats.  Good times.  At first I skipped past a song thinking it was too slow but then I had an aha moment.  What if I used this slower beat to pace my run?  Eureka!  It worked!  It wasn’t pretty but I was able to run about 30% of the way around my usual route.  My IT band didn’t get all tied up.  I didn’t run out of breath.  I felt like I was paint drying I was moving so slow but I was able to string together many intervals of running and walking.  And I was still able to do this even towards the end of my route.  I think I might be on to something.  My problem is I walk so fast that in order to feel as if I was doing anything different, I really stepped up my pace but I was in no shape to be able to sustain that pace.

The funny thing is, slowing down is something I’ve been trying to do with my voiceover and acting.  I have a tendency to talk really fast when working both of these crafts and that hasn’t served me well at all.  Perhaps I’m finding a theme here, that I should slow down and smell the roses.  Be more turtle-less hare.  I think I’ll make a new playlist on my iPod dedicated to power ballads.  Who knew about the wondrous powers of these types of songs?

26.2 miles

Yesterday was the Chicago marathon.  The past 2 years we’ve had freakily, if that’s a word, warm weather, in fact, 2 years ago they had to cancel the race midstream due to the heat and runners suffering severe dehydration.  This year the weather was on the really cool side, perfect conditions for long distance runners and predictions were records would fall.  Sure enough the 10 year old course record was broken by 1/100th’s of a second with the winner finishing in 2:05:41.  That time just blows my mind.  In slightly more time than 2 episodes of 60 minutes, a man ran from downtown Chicago to the Motel 6 in Dundee Road in Palatine IL.  If you’ve ever watched a marathon, the elite runners appear to be mythical creatures.  They fly by in a group and you can’t even hear their feet hit the ground.  There appears to be no effort, no strain, no difficulty on their part as they complete their trek.  It’s all in a days work to an outsider.  But the truth is in what you don’t see.  These people train daily, watch every single calorie they intake, analyze every aspect of their stride and improve the minutiae that will enable them to take 1/100th’s of a second off their time.  That’s what a professional does.  They labor in obscurity for months and years perfecting every aspect of their chosen craft until they burst on the scene in a blaze of glory.  The proverbial 20 year overnight success.  So many times we see a person on the screen, or in an arena, or on the microphone and think “I could do that, it doesn’t look that hard”.  To achieve the appearance of ease while attempting the impossible makes one elite.  It’s something I struggle with all the time.  I’m smart, competent and trainable.  It just frosts my cookies when I don’t master something the first time.  Pretty arrogant of me.  I fall prey to that nasty vice of instant gratification.  Keeping the long term goal in mind and continuing to put one foot in front of the other, do one more audition, learn another monologue will keep those baby steps adding up and someday I’ll be proficient enough to run my marathon effortlessly.

Olympic Dreams

I live in a city that was almost the host of the 2016 Olympics.  We were THAT close to having the world come to our doorstep to see how amazing our town was.  Unfortunately we were not selected today.  I have mixed emotions about the non-selection, immense pride at being one of the final 4 cities, embarrassment at having been knocked out first (really?  we are despised that much?!) and relief because I’ve lived in this “city that works you over” for a long time and I know how ripe the situation was for graft and corruption.  But through it all, I have one overriding thought, at least we tried and we gave it our all.  If we never would have even made a sincere attempt, we never would have made it to Copenhagen because they don’t let dilettantes and pretenders that far into the process.  It was a good effort, one that we can look back on with satisfaction that no stone was left unturned, no question left unanswered, it just wasn’t our time.  Too many slights and old wounds still healing in the world.  There will come another attempt, perhaps by Chicago, perhaps by another US city, that will be more successful.  But we can not feel any shame or remorse for having tried and failed.  The motto of the Special Olympics points to the honor of trying “Let me win but if I can not win, let me be brave in the attempt”.  And if we had never attempted, we fail before we start.

Giving everything you have to an endeavor is the highest achievement any person can accomplish.  Trying in the face of overwhelming odds is the apex of courage.  Something to keep in mind even when failure seems to be the only consistent and summoning the strength to try again and again seems unattainable.  I’m not one to litter these posts with multiple quotes but I have to include this one from Teddy Roosevelt which is one of my favorites and always brings a lump to my throat “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotion, spends himself in a worthy cause; who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who have never tasted victory or defeat.”

We’ll get ’em next time.

Headwinds and Tailwinds

Holy mackaroly!  Fall came blasting in last night with bang.  Yesterday was absolutely beautiful, temps were in the high 70’s, low 80’s.  Sunny skies with with puffy clouds lazily rolling by.  Everyone in Chicago was out taking advantage of the unbelievable blessing Mother Nature gave us.  That is one cool thing about the people in Chicago, when we get good weather, everyone is outside enjoying every last bit of it.  The bars and restaurants were hopping with various and sundry NFL games on their big screens.  I was able to keep up with quite a few games on my run as they all had their windows and doors open to the day.  It was fantastic.

For once, the weather forecasters got it right in their assertion that things were going to change pretty dramatically that night.  Sure enough, as I was enjoying the Colts on Sunday Night Football, the wind picked up and the sideways rain started.  Sideways rain always fascinates me, but I usually only appreciate it when I’m indoors and dry.  The rain didn’t last for very long but the winds kept up all night long, bringing much cooler temperatures.  By the time I woke up the next morning for my run, it was in the low 50’s and the winds were still howling at about 35 MPH, gusting to 50 MPH.  Reason enough to blow off my run right?  Unfortunately the grown up in me did the right thing and ran anyway.  I hate being a grown up sometimes.  Anywho, according to the Worry Channel, the winds were coming from WSW so as I was getting ready to run, I figured I’d have the headwinds at my face for the beginning of the run, when I was at my freshest.  And even better, when I was tired, I’d have a tailwind to scootch me along.  A good idea in theory.  What I didn’t count on was when winds are sustained at 35 MPH, it really doesn’t matter which direction it’s coming from, I’m going to be buffeted either way.  And forget it when a gust hits.  It was all I could do to maintain my direction.  Like the good little soldier I am, I completed my 5.5 mile trek but the last mile was done with my head down and my upper body pointing into the wind, a pose usually observed during blizzard season.

I hope to high heavens this isn’t a portend of things to come.  I’m just not ready for that.