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.

A quivering vulnerable mess

Several weeks ago I wrote a post that I thought long and hard about publishing.  It was about the difficulties I was unexpectedly having with a transition I’d made quite a while ago.  The reason I hesitated to publish it was I laid myself pretty bare, exposing a vulnerable side I usually lock away in a deep dark secret place where no one can see it.  I sat on the post for quite a while wondering what to do.  That of itself is unusual because once I write something, I’m pretty sure about what I’ve written.  I just proofread it, miss all the spelling, punctuation and syntax errors, hit publish and never think about it again.  Until someone points out all the spelling, punctuation and syntax errors.

This time was different.  I was really shaken by the whole insurance thing and the anxiety it had brought on me.  I didn’t know if I wanted to let the world know how I’d been affected.  But once I stopped making it all about me and how I felt (never any easy thing to do because deep in my recesses I think it should always be about me) I realized that I may not be the only one going through an experience like mine.  There might be others out  there who were feeling the same way I did and having the same anxieties.

So I hit publish.  And waited nervously for my 4 readers to comment on what they saw.  A wonderful thing happened, I got only encouragement and support for the post.   It was very heartwarming to say the least.  I’m glad I took a chance and shined (wrong tense I know…shined?, showned, sheened?) a little light on the quivering mass of fear that is my vulnerability.  People can be pretty wonderful if you just let them.

 

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.

Living Through It All Again

It’s been a really tough couple of weeks.  My focus has been awful, sleep has been interrupted at best, my emotions all over the place, I can’t write anything for lack of concentration and my productivity non-existent.  It started in a subtle way and was hardly noticeable but before I knew it the wheels had come completely off the bus and it was a train wreck of chaos.   I couldn’t figure out what was wrong.  Maybe it was the change in the seasons.  After all, we’ve been living with tropical storm winds for over 72 hours now and it was starting to get on my nerves.  Maybe it was my moon was in Virgo and Pisces was in retrograde.  Maybe it was my biorhythms (remember those?!)

Whatever it was I kept plowing ahead feeling like I had a lead shoes on my feet and a kryptonite helmet on my head.  Nothing was coming very easy.  Everything was a challenge.  It was really starting to get to me.

But last night I was awoken yet again at around 4:09amish but this time I remembered the dream I was dreaming just before I woke up.  I was being laid off all over again.  There were a few minor details that weren’t the same, like for some reason my Mom was with me and what I was cleaning out of my files included lots of bags of vegetables and a squashed PB&J sammie which I never took to work, but everything else was the same.  Except for one vital thing, this time I wasn’t happy to be leaving to start my new life, this time I was anxious and worried.

AHA!  Finally some enlightenment.  You see the past several weeks I’ve been looking for new health insurance.  I stayed on my old plan because it was really good and surprisingly wasn’t super expensive.  But now I’m making the last break with my old life and it’s a biggie.  I never realized how difficult it is to compare and select plans because for so many years I just picked between the 2 plans my job offered.  Now I’m having to do all the leg work and evaluation by myself and apparently I’m a lot more anxious about this than I thought I was.  What a relief to finally realize what was holding me back and to identify the dark cloud in my mind.

I think I’ve found a few plans that I’m interested in.  Once I get that done I’ll be able to get back to my new life with excitement, hope and energy.  It’s funny how something can weigh on you and you don’t even know it.  But it sure is great to figure it out and take the boogy out of the boogy man.

Fail Magnificently

A project I recently worked on was an audiobook called Majestie, a biography about the King James of the King James Bible .  I really didn’t know much about this particular royal and the book, by David Teems, was written wonderfully.  It made the reading and directing it a bit of a dream.  The book dealt with the conflagration of events and people that came together at a particular time in history to shape not only the Bible in the title but the English language as we know it today. And this was all spearheaded by a misshapen redheaded king from Scotland who had a keen mind and a vision beyond his horizon.  As I was reading the epilogue this evening, in the last few lines, the author comments on how grandly King James thought, saying “when he dreamed, he dreamed big, like a king.  Where he loved, there were no half measures.  Where he failed, he was absolutely magnificent.”

That last part really struck me.  King James so committed to whatever project he did that if it succeeded, it was going to be huge.  Undertaking a translation of the Bible so the common man could understand and read it was no small task when books were so rare and so few knew how to use them. Hundreds of words were introduced to the English language that are still in use today.  It was monumental in it’s scope.  But in doing this he also took the chance that it was going to be a monumental failure and he might be dethroned or worse, as was common in those days, beheaded.  It was a big risk but he took it anyway.

I’m in the process of creating and producing a project with a colleague of mine, Maritza Cabrera.  It involves writing in a form I’ve never done before and using lots of dialogue something I’m unfamiliar with.  I was so panicked at writing my first episode that I thought and thought about it for over a week. I knew what I wanted to say, I was just afraid I wouldn’t know how to say it.  I finally gave myself a good talking to, saying that no one was going to mock and ridicule me, much less behead me, for attempting to write a web series.  At the very least, they would applaud the effort.  At long last I was able to put fingers to keyboard.

Reading those words about King James made me realize that in whatever I was going to attempt, there was always a chance of failure.  But if I hedged my bets, only sorta committed to it, kept my fingers in other pies, I’d produce mediocre work.  If I fully committed, it would be a magnificent success or a magnificent failure but either way, it would be magnificent.  And you can’t succeed magnificently if you don’t take the chance you’ll fail magnificently every once in a while.  I’ll take my chances.

Just waitin’ on the world

I had a bit of an epiphany today on my walk.  You probably already know this but the word epiphany harkens back to biblical times when the revealation of God in human form appeared in the person of Jesus.  Now I’m not saying Jesus appeared to me on the 4700 block of Lincoln Avenue but the clouds in my brain parted a wee bit to let in some clarity and light even on this beautiful, albeit windy day.  I’ve been frustrated more than I care to admit about the progress of my career.  It seems I can’t get any momentum going forward or solid ground beneath my feet on which to build.  The eureka moment I had was when I realized the problem was, the world didn’t know what to do with me yet.  I’m not a typical type, easily categorized and cast, not the ingenue, the Mom, the old lady.  So that requires more work to find my niche.  My voice isn’t the quirky teen, raspy seductress, assuring expert.  Again, more work.  The thing is I’ve been trying to fit into a category, any category and this hasn’t been serving me very well.  I’ve been trying to make myself fit in when in reality, I’m in my own category.  I don’t mean this in an egotistical way, more in a practical, reality way.

So the epiphany was, I just need to wait for the world to catch up with me.  Once they do, then things will start to go my way.  Once they figure out how to place me, the bookings will come.  In the meantime, I’ll just keep making myself a better and better version of me.  The world’s pretty smart, they’ll figure it out.  I’ll be here when they’re ready.  I just hope it’s soon.  I’m not the most patient of people and I’ve got things I want to accomplish.

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.

Not a success? Sez who?

I have entered a field where the odds are stacked incredibly high against achieving success.  Especially at this stage in my life.  Just ask any number of so called friends, former boyfriends and “‘supportive” colleagues that give great face when I talk about my ambitions but snicker behind my back at the first opportunity.  But they determine success in my field, acting, as achieving that $15 million per picture paycheck.  That’s like telling every computer or IT major that unless they achieve Bill Gates’ status they are a failure at their chosen profession.  Or every finance major they must achieve Warren Buffet’s wealth in order to be successful.  Sure it would be great, but why must we insist that actors are failure’s unless they are an Oscar nominee, in the tabloid’s on a weekly basis or pulling down 7 figures for each project?  Acting is a craft and a skill to be mastered like a plumber masters the art of pipefitting.  That’s why it’s in a trade union.  Plenty of people earn an honorable living each and every day working at their craft that they happen to love.  They aren’t stinkin rich but they are able to meet their obligations, provide for their families and enjoy a nice standard of living.  Perhaps it’s because we do it out of love that people put such ridiculous expectations on an actor to succeed.

It’s important to define for yourself what success means to you.  It’s great to dream dreams that may seem out of our reach because you never know.  But in the end, only you can decide if you are successful at what you are trying to accomplish.  No one else can do it for you.