The Rookie

The other day a rarity happened to me.  I had a day, it was actually the first one in 37 days and only the third one since January 1st, that I didn’t have anything scheduled outside the house.  No rehearsals, no auditions, no travels, no filming, no workshops, no errands to run.  I couldn’t believe it when I saw the break in my schedule.  I am very grateful for all the activity but sometimes just having an entire day uninterrupted is so needed and welcomed.  I allowed myself to sleep in, relishing that I didn’t have to answer to an alarm in the morning.  Even when I awoke, I didn’t jump out of bed, instead I flipped on the TV to see what the weather was offering for the day.  I surfed for a while and ended up on a movie channel showing the film The Rookie.  It’s based on the true story of Jim Morris, a high school baseball coach who, due to injury, failed earlier in his life to make it in baseball.  At age 35, in an effort to inspire his players to win their divisional championships, he said he’d try out again and went to the open tryouts of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.  That day, he was able to throw a dozen 98 mph fastballs which earned him a spot in their double-A farm team.  He soon went up to triple-A and before the season was out, was called up to the bigs.  His first fame was in his home state of Texas with his family and friends watching him as he pitched for a win.  He was able to pitch for 2 years before he old injury returned and he retired to teach once again.

The story really hit home.  I’m always on the lookout for examples of people who made career switches late in life.  Those people that had the courage to take a huge risk when they knew how far they could fall.  Perhaps I’m looking for more like me.  Examples that were successful.  Leaders that came before me and conquered all odds to follow their dreams. I’m not as scared as I once was but that doesn’t a little encouragement goes a long way.

29 months

As I’ve been known to say, Holy Macaroley.  I was talking the other day with my career coach, Kristine Oller , whom I’ve been working with for a while.  I started with her when I wasn’t happy with the way my acting career was progressing and some of the things I’d heard her say at a conference really resonated.  As they say, when the student is ready, the teacher appears.  So I contacted her and on my next visit to Los Angeles sat down with her.  Her forte is organizing but one of the things she said that struck a chord with me is her favorite space to organize is the mind.  That really hit me.  I felt so helter skelter in my career planning.  I was going at fits and starts and really not gaining any traction.  It was at that first meeting that we started to map out the transition I could make from full time day job/part time actor to full time actor.  That day was was pivotal to me as it was the first day I really considered acting as a full time career.  It was the first time I’d allowed myself to entertain even the possibility of giving up the career I had worked at for over 2 decades to take on a new challenge.  Over the months that ensued, she and I reviewed my progress and set new targets for the next steps to take.  That arrangement continues to this day.

But purpose of our conversation on this particular date was a coffee date she was recording for her new venture and she wanted me to tell my story for those that were contemplating the switch to a full time creative.  In her introduction she mentioned that we’d begun working together in October 2007.  That stopped me cold.  We had only been working together for 29 months.  29 MONTHS! I couldn’t believe how far I’ve come in so short a time.  I was amazed at my progress.  All too often I bemoan the fact that this or that hasn’t happened and certainly nothing was happening at a pace that was fast enough for me.  I am so grateful Kristine happened to mention that date.  If she hadn’t I wouldn’t have taken the time to look back and see how far I’ve come.  I know I have so very far to go but I am so encouraged by my progress. And proud of myself.  Who knew I had it in me?!!  And who knows what lies around the corner?

This apple fell far from the tree

If you live outside of the Chicagoland area, I bet you don’t know where O’Hare Airport got it’s name from or why the ID letters are ORD.  ORD came from it’s original name Orchard Depot Field.  The O’Hare part came from a local boy, Butch O’Hare, who was first flying Ace of WWII and was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroics.  While born in St. Louis, he didn’t grow up in here as his parents divorced and his Mom moved the family back to St. Louis.  His Dad lived here and became part of the city’s notorious past.  He was an attorney who started out running dog tracks and ended up working with the notorious Al Capone.  Capone and Chicago are forever linked.  When I studied in France during college, they’d never heard of the state of Indiana so I’d say it was near Chicago.  They’d inevitably reply with their Pepe LePew accent “oh Sheecahgo, bang bang” with thumb and forefinger extended.  Ah-the French.  But I digress.  Butch’s dad eventually turned against Capone, testifying and providing evidence to bring him down.  He was murdered by the Capone gang for his efforts.  But before that happened, Butch entered the Naval Academy and upon graduation, completed flight school as a Naval aviator.  There was speculation that Butch’s dad turned states evidence to get his son into the academy-he certainly wouldn’t be the first parent to want better for his son that he had.  Whatever the reason, Butch was awarded the first flying ace ever for the US Navy, until then a branch of the military not thought of in a flying way.  A Medal of Honor soon accompanied the Ace.  At the height of WWII, Butch was shot down by the Japanese leading the first nighttime mission ever off an aircraft carrier.  His plane and his body were never recovered and he was declared dead a year later.  Orchard Depot Field was renamed O’Hare International Airport in 1949 in honor of his courage and bravery.

I’m one of those geeky people that reads every plaque and sign I find along a path.  I love collecting random factoids about stuff.  What I took out of this besides a really cool part of our history, is that Butch didn’t let his parentage get in the way of becoming the best he could be.  He didn’t whine or moan that life wasn’t fair because he wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth.  He made the best of what life dealt him and while his life was cut short, he excelled in the short time available to him.  He made the most of every minute available to him.  Makes you think doesn’t it?

Tour De Force

Yesterday was the 60th anniversary of the premiere of the epic Civil War saga, Gone With the Wind.  Turner Classic Movies played the film in it’s entirety with no interruptions.  I happened to catch it just as Atlanta was falling to those Yankees.  So I missed some of my favorites scenes with the prettiest dresses at the beginning of the movie.  After all, what girl didn’t imagine herself at the barbeque in that beautiful green dress that her mammy deemed so inappropriate because it showed her shoulders before evening.  On top of that, she was surrounded by all the handsomest beaux in the county.  Truly a dream!

I promptly sat down and watched the remainder of the movie.  I still turned my eyes at the most difficult to watch scenes of war and suffering and this time turned the sound down.  But this time around, I was struck by how amazing the film was.  I don’t know if you know any of the history of this movie and all the difficulty that happened in trying to get it made.  The short end of the story is they went through multiple directors, many rewrites, budget issues, casting challenges.  You name it, they experienced it.  They even started filming before the role of Scarlett O’Hara was even cast.  But through it all, what remained was one of the most exciting, visually engaging and well produced films of history.  I’d forgotten how much I loved this movie.

I’d also forgotten the incredible writing that the film contained.  My favorite line comes at the end of the movie.  No not the one Clark Gable is remembered for, the classic “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn”, but instead the one that Scarlett says after he leaves.  In her grief and sadness as she is trying to figure out her next step, she makes the statement that is my favorite-“Tomorrow is another day”.  I love this.  Tomorrow is another day, it is a new beginning, a new start, an opportunity to do the right thing and take the next chance.  That is the promise made to us.  We will have another go at it.  If we are lucky it will happen with beautiful clothes and fabulous lighting but if that isn’t the case, grab at it anyway with both hands and make the best of it.

Putting yourself out there

Ah, vulnerability.  The word just sounds nerve wracking.  Webster defines it as capable of being physically or emotionally wounded.  For the most part I think of it in the emotional sense.  Going out on a date with a new guy, plunging into a crowd not knowing anyone, submitting to a new agent, joining a group.  I’m pretty good at the initial stuff, the meeting and greeting.  Years of working in sales provided me with that skill.  It’s when you get past the first blush, the shiny new feeling, that it gets nerve wracking.  First dates (and I mean that in the broadest sense, not just the for real dating sense but that applies too) are pretty easy, it’s all about where you grew up, your family, college, experiences, recent travel.  The second date, if it gets to that, is where the hard part begins.  You’ve learned the surface info but don’t know the other person well enough to let down your guard.  You know you are still being evaluated, after all you are evaluating as well.  But the fact that someone is looking at you and scrutinizing you has a higher priority than what you are doing simultaneously.  You are laying it all out there hoping the other person will say “hey I like you, come join me for …”  Your emotions, weaknesses and frailties are on display for all to see.  And boy is it a palpable feeling of fear.  What if they don’t like what they see, what if the reaction is “meh”, what if I like them more than they like me?  What if?  That fear of rejection never goes away, we just get more capable of managing it.  We realize that if we give into that fear, we’ll miss out on some pretty amazing people and experiences.  Our lives then become a series of “what ifs” not incredible memories and great stories.  And we forget that no matter who the other person is, what success they’ve achieved in life, how confident they appear, they suffer from the same fear of being rejected and discarded.

Oh that sound you hear?  It’s my knees knocking and my heart pounding.  You too?

Pearl Harbor, 1941

I happened to catch the movie Pearl Harbor the other night.  I know it was panned by the critics but every time I see it, I am transfixed by the images.  My family has a very strong connection to Hawaii and to Pearl as my Mom, her parents, Nana and Grandpa, and her 2 siblings were living there when Pearl was bombed.  Grandpa was an electrical engineer employed by the government to set up communication systems for the territory as it was then.  Nana had a full time job working in the phone company which was unusual for women in that time.  She was the head operator and used to roller skate up and down the switchboard line helping out the other girls.  I always get a giggle when I think of my 4 foot 10 inch Nana on roller skates.  In fact, Nana was working the morning of December 7th and got the call from Fort Shafter that they were under attack.  You may remember that the timing of the Japanese attack was supposed to be simultaneous but there were some glitches in their plans.  Fort Shafter spotted the incoming planes before the other 2 targets, Pearl Harbor and Hickam Air Field, were bombed.  She called Grandpa to find out who she should notify as he knew all the admirals and generals on the island.  After Grandpa gave her the information he scooped up my Mom, her sister and brother and headed up to a high point overlooking the Harbor with his camera.  They watched the attack from there and Grandpa snapped away at the devastation.  Being an amateur photographer he usually developed his own film but he wanted a professional to handle this precious cargo.  When the developer saw what was on the film, he called the OSS and they confiscated the film.  We’ve never gotten it back.  I often wonder when I see pictures from the hill overlooking the harbor, if those were taken by Grandpa.

As I watched the movie with all the chaos and destruction, I am transported back to what it must have been like for my family.  My mom was too young to remember all that happened, she just remembers how wonderful and idyllic their life was on the island.  I can only imagine the fear my grandparents felt for themselves and their children.  Nana was pregnant with her fourth when all civilians were ordered back to the mainland.  They endured a month long journey by ship back to the States where one of the other transports was hit by a Japanese torpedo and everyone had to be offloaded onto the other ships.  All while being pregnant, seasick and dealing with 3 kids.  When I used to ask her about it, she’d brush it off saying “it was what we had to do” but I doubt if I would have been as strong or courageous as she was.  When I feel life is difficult for me, I think back to what they endured and help myself to a big dose of perspective.

Reaching for the stars

In my past life, one of the advertising agencies I used to work with was Leo Burnett.  The very famous story about this man and his eponymous agency is that he started it at the height of the Depression of the 1930’s with one client.  His contemporaries thought he was crazy and a Chicago newspaper columnist predicted he’d be selling apples within a year.  Well history has shown how good that prediction was.  Instead he gave away apples and on every reception desk in his now global ad agency to this day, there is a bowl of apples there for you to help yourself to.  I used to say when I was going to make a sales call there that I was going apple shopping.  I like the fact that 74 years later, the presence of a lowly apple  is a gentle “oh yeah, I’ll show you!” to those that didn’t believe.  One of the other iconic symbols of the venerable agency is a hand reaching for the stars.  Leo used to say that “when you reach for the stars, you may not quite get one, but you won’t come up with a handful of mud either”.  Striving for goals that seem beyond our grasp is how we keep pushing ourselves a little closer to achieving them.  It’s how the sprinter shaves a second off her time, a 40 year old QB annihilates his old team, the 20 year veteran who’s been struggling in obscurity wins an Oscar.

Examples of people reaching for the stars usually focus around sports and entertainment endeavors but I think it’s more about anyone who dares to dream a different life for themselves than they’ve been living thus far.  It could be going back to school at age 60, starting your own business, inventing a new gadget or starting a family.  You are never too old, too poor, too uneducated or more importantly too scared to find that dream that is your star and reach for it.  The key is to figure out what that passion is and then fire up the booster rockets to make it happen.  Think of how amazing that journey to the stars will be.  And make it happen for yourself.

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.

Fearlessness

Safely ensconced back in my abode after all the glitz and glam of my trip to LA gives me a great opportunity to reflect on all the fun I had and the wonderful people I met.  This trip was packed with some pretty cool events, an Emmy post party, a Santa Monica restaurant opening and a visit to a studio.  Plus lots of chances to get together with friends.  But through the entire weekend, I realized I’d packed some even more precious than the 8 pairs of shoes I’d brought.  What?  I was there for 3 1/2 days.  What do you expect?  Even more important that these fabulous accessories, I’d brought along my fearlessness.  My audacity.  And I pulled it out and put it on more frequently than my lipstick.  Because of this I didn’t hesitate to walk up to an unknown Emmy winner, ask to hold his statue (they really are heavy-probably 8-10 pounds), hear about his sound work on the show House and then have him offer to take a picture of me holding his award.  Which will most likely be my Christmas card this year!  I talked to and congratulated several other winners, among those were Cherry Jones, an actress who I’d admired for quite a while, to the point of writing her a fan masher letter when I saw her in Doubt.  And here I was congratulating her on her win.  I met the President of a major network and kidded him about some things he said.  I busted someone on her Chicago accent, something I am so aware of as I try to neutralize my own, and it was the lovely actress and animation voice Megan Cavanaugh and we proceed to have a great conversation on trying to get the “chicago” out of our speech.  Then there was the guy on the set of Chuck who so patiently answered all of my numerous questions about sets and shooting and props.  If you’ve ever been with me, you know I ask a lot of questions!  All of these things would never have happened had I let myself get all self conscious and fear being judged.  For some reason, whenever I go somewhere else, I pack my fearlessness and audacity along with me.

The tricky part is to not put them away with the luggage when I get home.  Keep these two traits with me at ALL times, not just when I have nothing to lose in a strange place and amongst strangers.  Charge forward fearlessly even when I know I may see these people again and they may laugh at me behind their smiles.  Forget being judged.  As Virgil said Fortune favors the bold and since I plan on having a lot of success in my future, I’d be better served with fearlessness as my guide.

I can’t believe I brought another Latin saying into this writing, my Dad is just hooting right now.  It’s still a dead language.

The back of the book

My nature is not one of patience.  I walk fast, process multiple things quickly, try to stretch my time to get just one more thing squeezed in.  These are all valuable skills when applied in appropriate manners and at appropriate times.  Quick evaluations on the lengths of the lines at the Costco can get you on your way to your next errand.  However these can also work against you when misused or not appropriate.  Or when the goal is to experience something fully, not just check it off your list.  When I am engrossed in a book for pleasure and the story is fantastic, the tension just keeps building beyond endurance, it is a battle of the wills to not look at the back of the book and see how it will all end.  It takes every ounce of self discipline I possess, knowing I have the answer in my hands, to not cheat myself of the full experience that book is offering me with the unfolding of the story.

I suffer from this in my daily life as well, particularly now when everything is changing faster than I can process and my level of confidence is waning.  I want assurances that the back of the book that is my life will come out just peachy, all will be well.  I don’t have the answers in my hands as I do when I am reading so I can’t possibly look, nonetheless, I want to know the outcome.  The bigger message I am missing in all this wanting, is I am missing out on the full experience that my life is offering me.  And experiencing the experience is what this life is all about, not the outcome.  Finding the courage to let go of the need to know what lies at the back of the book is the bigger battle of the wills.