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.

My Dad

Today is Father’s Day.  It’s a bittersweet holiday for me now that my Dad is no longer on this earth.  The avalanche of advertising that accompanies this holiday started becoming an irritation and a sad reminder of this fact.  Not that I don’t think about him every day and wish I could once again pick up the phone and hear his voice.  As I was sitting in church this morning, I was reminded of all the funny emails he’d send along in our daily correspondence.  They were usually tales of the latest exchange between he and my mother.  I’ve saved all of those emails and often go through them to laugh once again.  My thoughts then turned to his funeral and some of the great stories that were told.  Yes I know, I should have been paying attention to the priest but I have the attention span of a gnat.  There is one story in particular that always makes me laugh and my Mother is going to kill me for telling it.  But I’m pretty sure she doesn’t read this so unless one of my siblings tattles, I’m safe.  I should tell the story about bananas and how my mother used to send Dad to the grocery store with a list that included 5 bananas.  He would stand over the banana display looking and looking for a bunch that had 5 bananas and 5 only.  One day to his astonishment, he saw a woman walk up, rip 3 off a bunch and continue on.  What an epiphany!  He never knew this was a possibility in his world.  Yes this was a man with an advanced medical degree.

Instead I’ll tell one of my favorite stories, this one from the OR.  Dad had a wonderful relationship with the nurses, a rarity between nurses and doctors.  For all of his pseudo-chauvinistic comments, he truly liked and respected the nursing staff and the vital jobs they performed.  He treated them as collaborators and equals, which unfortunately doesn’t often happen.  And they in turn respected and had a lot of affection for my Dad.  So on this particular day, he was in the OR performing, yes, a hemorrhoidectomy which is exactly what you think it might be.  The patient is positioned butt high to the sky for this procedure and the workspace is rather, forgive me, tight.  The funny thing about surgery is TV gives the feeling of vastness when it portrays an operation when in reality it is really close working environment.  I once watched Dad take out part of a lung and was amazed at how all those hands were able to fit in such a small space.  Anyway, back to our story.  Light is very important in an operation and the key light that was pointed on the field kept drifting off mark.  Dad kept having to tell the dirty nurse (she’s not sterile so she does all things outside the sterile field) to fix the light, move the light, adjust the light until he finally reached a boiling point.  Without raising his head he yelled “The asshole.  Shine the light on the asshole!”  Well that poor struggling nurse with the light took one look at one of the other nurses, shrugged her shoulders and promptly flashed the light right at my Dad’s face.  And he just cracked up.  He knew he’d deserved it.  She got him back perfectly and he had the grace to accept it.

That’s one of the things that made my Dad a truly wonderful person.  Not only was he a passionate and gifted surgeon (spelled it right this time Dad!), he had a great sense of humor and a humility about what he did.  He treated people as equals and had no time for those who thought themselves better than everyone else.  A lesson he passed on to me.

Forgive me for rambling on longer than I usually do.  I just thought you’d like to know a bit about the hero in my life.  And sorry Mom.  Next time I’ll stop at the banana story.

The Clunk Heard Round the World

Last night was the final game of the NCAA tournament for 2010.  Unless you really don’t give a hoot about basketball, you probably were aware that mighty Duke played an unexpected and underrated opponent by the name of Butler University from my home state of Indiana.  In any other year I would be cheering for Duke which I know invokes strong responses from most people.  Duke is a team folks either love or hate, there’s usually no in between.  I happen to like Duke, I respect their coach Mike Krzyzewski, I respect the fact I could spell his name correctly-ok so I looked it up-shoot me, I like the fact they are a perennial threat every year, I like how passionate their fans are.

But this year was a different story.  This year their opponent was none other than Butler, a small liberal arts university that I’d previously known for having a good dance school.  Oh and their gym, Hinkle Fieldhouse, was one of the gyms used in Hoosiers.  Butler was an improbable finalist in the tournament, rising from I think it was the 5th seed to almost win the game.  It was one of the best basketball games I’ve watched in recent history.  Both teams were neck and neck with each other, their defenses were tight so the score was relatively low and the excitement in the stadium was palpable what with Duke’s passionate fans trying to outshout the home field advantage Butler had.  Duke ended up winning by one point but not before one of the Butler players launched a mid-court buzzer beater shot.  You could hear the collective intake of breath as time slowed down and everyone waited to see where the ball landed.  It not only made it to the basket, it hit the rim with a loud clunk that CBS replayed over and over.  Alas it didn’t go in.  What a story that would have been.

So Duke won the game.  But I couldn’t help thinking throughout the celebration and press conference afterwards, that the real story was what Butler had accomplished.  That they were the real winners of the night and we were the better having watched them.  They never doubted they had the right to be in the finals, never apologized for their presence, never made excuses for their ascension, never wavered in their belief they would win.  That team should be so proud of what they achieved.  And what they taught me, not that I matter anything to them, is something I will draw on in years to come.

I do loves me some Hoosier basketball!

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.

Ain’t too proud…

Not to beg as the song intones.  But recently I’ve been hired by a fellow voice talent to direct him on several long form projects.  For those not in the Voiceover business, long form in narration could be anything from an audiobook to e-learning to a documentary.  These scripts can be very dense and very often contain complicated language.  Usually the project needs to be sent to the client in an edited form with all the correct pronunciations.  Another set of ears on the audio and eyes on the script allow fixes to be made right away, eliminating the need to go back and insert a fix, all the while trying to match the sound and flow of the original recording.  It’s much easier and better to correct as you go.

Anywho, Bob Souer is the voice talent who hired me.  In the midst of this big project he was being interviewed by Kristine Oller for one of her wonderful coffee date interviews.  His VO business has grown so much he’s had to reach out for help and I was fortunate to be the one he contacted.  He was telling me about the call and said that while he talked about the assistance I was providing, he’d kept my identity anonymous.  His reason for doing this was he wasn’t sure if I wanted everyone to know I was directing him.  While I appreciated him protecting my privacy, my thought was I have no problem with people knowing I was working for him.  I am a big believer in there is dignity in any work and if I can help a fellow VO meet a tight deadline, I’m more than happy to do so.  Besides I’m learning a lot, not just about the stuff he’s recording, but also how he records and tells the story.  And he is paying me for my time.  We used to say in my former television sales life when a piece of biz would come in from a less than marquee client, that their money was as green as everyone else’s.  It spends and saves the same way.

Do I want to do this all the time?  No, that wasn’t my purpose in leaving full time corporate work to pursue a freelance creative life.  But part of that freelance life is that work will come from many different sources at different times.  That’s the exciting part.  And if part of my work comes from directing and not performing, that’s perfectly fine with me.  I’m not too proud to accept that work.  Actors who direct always get better as actors.  This serves my learning process as well as serving my financial process.  In your quest to create a new business life for yourself, don’t overlook adjunct ways to earn and learn that push your  success even further.  Be wise in how your spend your time as it is a limited resource but don’t let pride get in the way of a good experience.

Just say “Thank You”

I’m not good at complements.  Let me amend that, I’m very good at giving out complements, often stopping a stranger on the street when she looks fabulous to let her know her efforts are recognized and appreciated.  But when it comes to receiving them, I stink.  I push them aside, diminish them , pooh-pooh them.  I don’t know why I do this.  Maybe it’s my fear of not getting too full of myself, to be perceived as arrogant or cocky or just plain standing out in the crowd.  So I’d do my best to downplay whatever was being complemented about me, be it a new outfit, a good job at work or kindness to another.  What I didn’t realize in doing this was I was completely insulting the complementer.  This person had gone out of their way to remark on something they found agreeable about me.  They’d made themselves vulnerable in doing so.  My dismissal was complete negation of their actions.  I’d dismissed them, their taste and their kindness with my attempt at being self deprecating.  Wasn’t that nice of me?!!

Realizing what I was doing mortified me.  My attempts at humility were completely backfiring.  Not exactly what I’d hope the outcome would be.  So now what I try to do as I feel the dismissal forming in my throat is to take a deep breath, smile and graciously say “Thank You”.  That’s it, nothing more.  And the appreciation I see in the complement giver’s face is reward enough for me.  I just have to keep remembering do it.  Thank you, I’ll keep trying.

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?

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.

Lean on me

My iPod contains over 3500 songs on it.  I purchased my iPod used inheriting the music already on there.  I’ve also added quite a bit of music on my own. I usually listen to podcasts when I am running, multitasking as always.  Lately I’ve started listening to music.  And not to pre-planned playlists.  I’m playing the list alphabetically, never really knowing what I will hear next.  The juxtaposition the songs afford makes me laugh sometimes.  This morning it was Beyonce/JayZ followed by My Fair Lady.  And yes, I’m usually singing along louder than I realize, as evidenced by the looks I get.

Then the classic Bill Withers song, Lean On Me, with it’s opening organ chords came on.  I was immediately transported back to my teenage years, Summertime at the swimming pool, golden couple Crash and Susie and all the really cool kids hanging about.  The radio blaring much to the disdain of the golfers teeing off on the first tee just yards away.   I’m always amazed when music takes me back.  It was like it was yesterday.

This time though I listened, really listened to the lyrics.  And they blew me away.  I’ve gone through some very challenging times recently both personally and professionally.  There were moments it seemed as if I wouldn’t endure them.  Most times I felt really alone and scared.  Still do every once in a while. Especially the scared part. Hearing those lyrics made me realize I had some amazing friends and support that I’d been leaning on pretty heavily.   I’m not good at asking for help, fairly sure my tombstone will read “I’m fine”, even worse at admitting I need help and accepting it when offered.  Swallowing my pride isn’t on my list of skills.  This time around though, I’ve been leaning on whomever will let me.  I realize the lyrics could be referencing a friend, family member, God.  Who knows?  But the fourth time I’d replayed it this morning, the first verse really stuck with me –And if we are wise, we know that there’s always tomorrow. I’ll get to tomorrow, safe in the knowledge I’m not alone.

Oh and the song that followed?  It was also by Bill Withers and was called Use Me.  But that’s an entirely different type of post for another day!