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.

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!

Just what is a no?

No is a pretty powerful word.  When we are growing up, it stops us from putting our hands on a hot surface, keeps us from eating all our candy at Halloween and as a teenager, creates wails of agony, foot stomping and cries of “you just don’t understand” when it follows a request to hang with the crowd.  We learn pretty quickly that no is not a good thing.  Avoiding a no becomes an eternal quest.  Anything to feel that disappointment or shame from hearing it.

When you choose to become an actor, no becomes in intrinsic part of your world.  It’s not often expressed verbally but you know the no is there when you don’t get that call back or the shoot date comes and goes and by golly you weren’t on set.  Or heaven forbid, you don’t even get the call in the first place.  Ugh.  It’s hard not to take that personally.  Especially when the product you are behind 100% is yourself.  And if you hear, or don’t hear but it’s implied, no often enough, you start to believe it.  I’m not right.  I’ll never get hired.  I’m just not good enough.

I had an AHA moment recently when I heard something about the word no and it hit like a 2 x 4 between the eyes.  No is just a result, it’s not a judgement of me or my talents.  So while it’s not the result I wanted, it is nothing more than a result.  And I can take that result and refine whatever it is that I’m doing so I get closer to the result I do want.

Taking the judgement and rejection out of no really helps dull the sting.  It is merely a notation in the grand experiment of life that gets you closer to the yes you want.

No More Bush League

What’s this?  Another sports reference?  But what can you do when sports are so much a part of our lives?  Deal I guess.  The term bush league comes from baseball and means amateur, unprofessional, unsophisticated.  I recently came back from a gathering of voiceovers that happens not quite annually but often enough to merit attending.  This time I came back with a different perspective, one that had started building a few months ago but was solidified at this gathering.  A lot of my friends and colleagues were there along with a lot more newbies and wannabees.  In attending all the various meetings and addresses at this conference, I realized that I had started to top out with what I could learn at any given workshop or symposium.  It was a funny realization.  When you get started in any venture, you are a sponge soaking up as much knowledge and expertise as you possibly can.  You read every book, take every class, listen to every podcast, join every online group, practice every moment you can, seek out any coach that could possibly teach you something.  Anything to get you closer to expertise and success.  This stage exists for quite a while until it feels like this is how it will always be.  Not so.  After a while, all this new found knowledge gets absorbed and settles in and becomes your new default position.  You continue to add to your knowledge and your expertise level continues to grow.  You think this will go on forever, that you’ll be learning things about your craft and it’s business ad infinitum.  Until you pay to attend something and you realize that the meetings you went to and actually learned something new were few and far between.  That you actually learned more from hanging out with your fellow professionals and pals.  Wow.  Is that a jolt.  You suddenly realize you are on par with these professionals and have to rethink how you see yourself.  And your training.  You’ll have to be more selective about who you give your hard earned dollars to in hopes of furthering your craft.  It’s a whole different way of living in your dream but an equally as exciting way.

First time for everything

With every new venture we undertake in life, we learn new things.  And as our proficiency grows, we add new skills and new accomplishments.  As our competency grows, the confidence we gain allows us to push ourselves even further.  We hike a more challenging trail, tackle a plumbing problem, ski a black diamond trail.  Our first attempts at these loftier levels are pretty shaky at first but as we continue to push forward, our footing becomes firmer, more directed.  As the muscle starts to remember what we did before, the task becomes less conscious, more organic.

But you have to take the first step.  I did that recently.  I was given the opportunity to audition for a pilot for a comedy that is being put together out of Michigan.  It was my first pilot audition, heck my first television audition.  The script was pretty straightforward but because it was a comedy, the words were written very specifically so the comedy came out the way the writer wanted it to.  I have a not-so-good tendency to paraphrase and make things my own which doesn’t serve the script very well.  So it had to be memorized very specifically.  I had an idea of the character as I saw her but since I didn’t have the full script, I had to take some liberties.  I didn’t really know how to break down the script so I wisely hired a coach to help me accomplish that.  Which is what I would do if I were trying to tackle a mogul field, I hire a ski instructor.  We spent an hour going over things and practicing.  Interpreting the sentences, finding the funny behind the obvious.  It was recorded so I could go back and review my progress.

I have no idea how I did.  I don’t even know what they were looking for as the information provided was somewhat sketchy.  But I felt good afterwards.  Happy that I’d invested the time and money to work with someone so I felt confident when the camera started rolling. Plus it was a lot of fun.  On top of that, I learned some good habits that I will call upon for future television auditions.  You have to start somewhere.  Just make sure you don’t blindly step in, give yourself a chance to succeed.

Not now, thank you

One of the most frustrating and undefinable parts of this business I’ve chosen to be in is the casting process.  So many times, getting cast in a project has nothing to do with your talent.  I know that doesn’t make sense because off all the training and workshops and coaching we actors continually invest in.  Those things are very important and shouldn’t be ignored.  But all that training and coaching isn’t for those who are casting but for us the actors.  It continues to inspire and inform us.  Those who are casting assume you have what it takes to do the job or they wouldn’t have invited you to the audition.  That’s something we as actors always forget.  You wouldn’t be there if you couldn’t do the job.  We need to remember that first and foremost.

What it comes down to so many times, more times than we can even imagine, is are you the voice they heard in their head or are you the face they saw when they wrote the script?  Most times the answer is no.  And that’s not easy to accept.  After all, we know we can do the part, voice the script.  We did a great job at the audition.  Why weren’t we picked?  ARRRGH!

Sorry…I digress.  What is actually happening isn’t a “no” but a “no thank you, not now”.  You just don’t fit what they need at the moment.  But that doesn’t meet that they won’t be calling on you soon for a different project.  A no in casting is rarely a forever no.  It’s just a no for now.  Eventually it will be a “Yes!  Thank you!”  Eventually.

Cinderella Story

It’s March Madness time again.  The selection show was just the other day and the hopes and dreams of many a small school were either rewarded or dashed.  Even though I grew up in roundball crazy Indiana before they totally wrecked the high school tournament by going to a class system (sorry-editorial comment), I really don’t watch much college basketball during the year.  My sport is the NFL.  But this time of year, I become a devotee of NCAA hoops.  There are 64 teams that on any given day can emerge as a giant killer.  Yes there are top seeds that are expected to do really well but as any bracket picker can tell you, there’s always a #12 seed that just slays a #5 seed and then goes on to win the next round.  The key is that #12 believes that they have every right to be there and why wouldn’t they win?  After their victory, they look around in confusion wondering at everyone else’s surprise.

Watching these teams win, and there is at least one every year, I’m constantly reminded of the overnight success phenomena.  The actor struggling just on the edge of success, the inventor tinkering in his basement every night.  Suddenly just the right conditions come together at just the right time and people start to notice what was in front of their eyes all along.  They just weren’t seeing it.  The anonymous actor/inventor/whatever is a bit flummoxed at all the attention because he/she hadn’t really changed what they were doing, the only difference was  their efforts were now getting noticed and applauded.  It’s the Cinderella story of Caddyshack fame.  Maybe I won’t make it to Augusta to play (although I’ve been there several times as a spectator), or to a final four in basketball, or even on stage at the Oscar’s, but I believe I have every right to be there and that’s going to carry me closer to achieving my dreams.

It’s in the hole.

Let’s Hear It for the Girls

The Oscars aired last night.  I’m probably in the minority but I liked the telecast this particular evening.  I even liked to 2 co-hosts.  I think they did a good job of keeping it moving forward.  The idea of celebrating excellence in my chosen field is pretty amazing and something I aspire to.  This was a groundbreaking awards, not just because it ended pretty much on time, but because for the first time a woman Best Director was awarded and her film was awarded Best Picture.  For me, I was brought to tears by the acceptance speech of one of my idols, Sandra Bullock.  I am a huge admirer of her talent and her business acumen and to see her work rewarded finally was wonderful.  Her acceptance speech was one of the best I’ve heard in years-funny tidbits, gracious thanks and almost tears.  It brought me to tears.  I don’t think I would have been as composed as she was while accepting the highest creative honor awarded.  I would have been a blubbery mess.  But as she was thanking her mother, a very poignant moment, one of the things she said was how her mom made her practice every day when she came home from school, be it music, dancing, voice or whatever they were focused on that day.  What wonderful discipline was instilled in her very early in her life.  It obviously has paid off as her work has gotten so much better over the years.  And it was a reminder that I could use the same kind of discipline in my life as I strive to achieve the heights awarded last night.

I know it most likely sounds a bit far fetched, me getting an Oscar.  But one of my long term goals has been to walk the red carpet someday, and not on the other side of the velvet ropes, the skinny side, but on the big side that faces all the reporters.  And that means I’ve been nominated for something right?  Hey a girl can dream.  I gotta go practice now.

Fabulous Hair

I am a devoted reader of Seth Godin’s Blog.  I have it delivered to my inbox every day.  Which reminds me I need to let all my 4 readers know I have the ability to do that for them as well.  Anywho, I love how he looks at things.  He takes a situation, turns it upside down, inside out and backwards and helps me to look at something in a completely different way.  And in doing so, I break a little further out of the mold of “I’ve always done it that way”.  He’s also great at introducing me to new thoughts, new ideas and often new words. And you know I’m a word junky.  I love collecting them.  One of his recent blogs was about the word Sprezzatura, which is an Italian word meaning the ability to do your craft or work without visible effort.  In his words, it’s a combination of elan (another great word) and grace and class.  It’s the golfer finessing a shot under a tree but over a bunker to land on the green 4 feet from the cup, the surgeon who calmly and precisely opens a chest, inserts a pacemaker into a heart and restores normal rhythm to a struggling patient, or the film actor who take after take hits his mark exactly while delivering his lines slightly different from the take before, thus giving the director options when he edits the film.  Or for me, it’s my hairdresser Elizabeth who blows dries my hair so fabulously it has that come hither look about it.  I sigh in resignation each time I watch her at her task, determined to figure out what she’s doing that I’m not because no matter how hard I try, I just can’t duplicate her results.  One time I blurted out “Now why can’t I do that?”  She chuckled and said “well first of all my arms aren’t connected to your body” -good point for her as I have a hard time reaching the back.  She continued “And it could be the fact that I’ve been doing this for 15 years” which made me think, yes but I’ve been blow drying this hair for 3 decades and it’s the same head and hair I’ve always had so why can’t I do as well as she does?  I came to realize that the difference is how we approach the task.  She is a professional who is trying to please a client so she has learned the proper techniques and motions to create “Hollywood” hair as I like to call it.  Me, I just want to get it done and dry as I have 35 other things that need my attention once I’m finished so it’s a chore to get completed, not my passion.  If it was really that important, I’d practice over and over to get it right which is what I do each time I audition or perform.  It’s still not at the Sprezzatura point, but I’m getting there.  And now I know what to call it when I reach that point of effortlessness.

Not Letting it Slide

The Olympics have just ended.  It’s been so much fun watching the games that I’m kind of bummed they’ve drawn to a close.  Events like this always have amazing stories attached to them, stories of triumph over unbelievable odds, athletes that have toiled in obscurity for years that excel at the precise moment in time, goals that fall short of achieving them.  Early on in the games, the men’s half pipe was on.  I’m not a snow boarder, I’ve never tried it as I was bit too old when the skateboarding phenomenon hit and then the evolution of it to snowboarding.  I’m a skier from way back.  Someday I’d like to try snowboarding but that’s in the future.  But I love the feeling of the participants, the zen of the whole community.  It seems to be very encouraging to all it’s members, even while maintaining a competitive edge.

So I’m watching the men’s half pipe and Shawn White is coming up in the rotation.  He’s at the top of the leader board and the guy that has the best shot at catching him in the points just missed his landing.  His points won’t add up to enough to take the gold.  The camera’s flash to Shawn at the top of the pipe and he and his team realize he’s won the gold.  He pretty much could scootch down on his bum at this point and still win the gold medal.  Instead he decides to do a trick that’s never been done in competition.  A trick that will once again push his sport forward to the bleeding edge of innovation.  And he nails it.  His performance for that entire run was flawless.  He could have let it slide, played it safe as the win was in the bag.  But that wouldn’t satisfy an innovator such as he is.  This was a chance for him to pull out a show stopping move that wowed everyone watching.

It’s easy to play it safe, just phone it in.  But breakthroughs and innovation never occur when you play it safe.  Just when you feel it’s in the bag, that’s the exact moment you pull out a Double McTwist 1260 and nail it.  Watch how it changes you.