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Sexier than Thou. An Effed-up Value.

Mein Herr, chair

Tired of being compared to a barnyard animal for those extra pounds? Sick to death of being ranked against every other woman at your office, school, or neighborhood? Infuriated by the fact that men routinely troll strong women of amazing quality, intelligence, and skill with hateful rhetoric based on physical appearance? Then why, when women are more than half the population, do we put up with it?

Beyond that seemingly simple concept, there’s more. Somebody please explain to me why, as sisters who can only benefit from raising our sex as whole, do women perpetrate this crap? Why are we encouraging our country to stay this adolescent?

I don’t want to sound too harsh, but…a nation where the value of half its population is commonly and frequently ranked according to our ‘fuckability’ by the less enlightened of the other half is clearly a country that should be sent packing from pre-school with a note. “Until Sam can treat his classmates with respect, he needs to stay home.” The things we teach our children should make us hang our sexist heads in shame. It’s like our entire adult population never got out of junior high. Sorry to reduce it so far down, I know that there are many terrific men out there, I know that tens of thousands of women and men are working hard to change this mentality, but this is an essay, not a novel or a dissertation, so I only have so many words to make a point.

I’m not saying that admiring someone’s appearance or appreciating sensuality is bad. It is not bad. It’s human, and feeling lust is in our DNA. Procreation is a powerful engine. I am a big fan of all things sensual, from fun flirtation to up against the wall, sweaty, growling like a bobcat passion. I can look at a gorgeous woman or man and think, “Damn, she/he/she-he/whatever, is hot!” and appreciate the moment. That’s not what I’m talking about. What I am talking about here is being reduced (read that as—demeaned, lessened, lowered, relegated, otherwise ignored, or any other version of being put in a lower place) to existing solely for someone else’s gratification. I’m talking about perpetrating the myth that the most important thing a woman can be, the thing that women envy her for the most, is attractive to men.

Frankly, it pisses me off.

And this isn’t new. From the time I was a very young child, I was taught that being pretty was special, it was valuable. Television, magazines and the people in my life backed this up again and again until I was sure I had absolutely no right to ever be unhappy or feel lonely, even as conventional thought isolated me more and more from what I knew in my heart and soul was the truth. So, I’ve been pissed off for a few decades now.

The truth is that while looks are fun, they are not important. Being handsome doesn’t uplift or sustain you in any way. Being considered attractive can have its place, like making people smile, or showing off this year’s fashions on the runway but as a value it isn’t real and it certainly doesn’t form a foundation for anything worthwhile.

I’m older now but I think I have a reasonable grasp on this subject. Yes, I was on the cover of Playboy several times, yes I made a lot of money modeling lingerie, and then being the actress with the ‘good body’ in many films and TV appearances, but it wasn’t always comfortable for me, I was more than tits and ass and I knew it. A glance at my resume will not tell you how many jobs I refused because I thought they would be degrading, not to me, but to women in general.

We’re guilty too, we girls. Come on ladies, buck up and admit it. We perpetrate this ridiculous shallowness. Not by choosing to dress or act ‘sexy’, that’s our right damn it!, but because we allow men to make us compete with other woman in this very limited arena. And, more insidiously, because we actually buy into it, convincing ourselves that we are better than someone else for something so shallow. Men have been using that weakness to make us fight against each other since the days when man caves were a primary residence—their bad. But when women willingly climb into the ring—our stupidity.

Talk about setting ourselves up for a fall. There is always someone hotter and younger coming along behind you dummy. And no matter what, you will age and no amount of money or plastic surgery will keep you 22 and your butt high. I mean, what the hell ladies? Talk about setting yourselves up for a fall. Not much job security in putting your eggs in that basket.

I don’t even want to go into the political aspect of this right now. The fact that women vote for men who would dismiss them as worthless and disgusting based on their faces and bodies is a whole other subject that leaves me wanting to bounce from one side of my living to the other smashing my fists through the dry wall, and since I’m living in a rental right now, I’ll reserve that rant for later.

Just because a woman is ‘attractive’ or ‘sexy’ in your opinion does not mean that she does not have other worth, or even that she appreciates or invites your assessment. If you want to feel smug because a woman your boyfriend once leered at has gained weight, go for it. Just remember that it’s a tiny fraction of who she is, but your need to put her down there is a huge part of who you are.

Oh sure, who am I to talk? I did plenty of nudity in films, but I never took a part that was just me taking my shirt off for the titty count. The ‘titty count’ is how I would refer to the fact that, when I was a working actress, a movie had to show tits three times to get a foreign distribution deal. Often with smaller movies that’s where filmmakers made their money, and I didn’t begrudge them that, but I wouldn’t be only that. The role had to be worth it in some way, an acting challenge.

Don’t get me wrong, I know it’s awesome fun when you keep the power of your sexuality, but it’s soul crushing when you are expected to give it away.

In my first starring role there was a huge, fight-slash-attempted-rape scene that was written to be played completely naked. I felt helpless and dirty about it. Not because of the nudity per se, but because of the insinuation and context. I had it out with the producer and director and told them that I would not do that scene naked, they screamed and hollered and threatened to sue me, but I held my ground. A week later, when the mandatory prison shower scene was being filmed, I stripped down to skin, climbed in under that luke-warm water and dutifully lathered up. The producers had been expecting me to refuse to do the scene, they even had a lawyer on the set. I remember the confused, but happy, look on the director’s face when we finished shooting the scene and wardrobe brought me my robe. I said to him, “Do you understand now? I have no problem with nudity or sexuality, but I have a serious problem with using rape as an excuse for nudity and arousal.”

And you should too.

Conversely, there was a moment in ‘Caberet’ when, dressed in very skimpy black lace and thigh high boots, in the middle of the outrageously sexual song ‘Mein Heir’ I would pause, nail the audience with a sly smile, then rise onto my six inch heels leading with my pelvis while raking, no, daring the audience with my eyes. I didn’t even think about it until the choreographer came backstage and said, “Do you have any idea how powerful you are in that moment?” It hadn’t occurred to me to look at it like that, but after that night, it got better. Yes, it was fun to own my character’s sexual prowess, but it was way more fun to belt the songs, to dance with talented dancers, to act the scenes with emotion that wrenched and exhausted me until the show finished with me a depleted heroin addict close to death.

But enough of me justifying and rationalizing, back to the point. Women are wonderful, soft and sexy and strong and ruthless. We are smart and kind and cruel. We are doctors and authors and teachers and politicians and even murderers. But still, any time someone feels the need to be negative about a woman, deserved or not, the default insult is almost unfailingly about her appearance.

Time to rise my darlings. Enough of this BS. I appreciate a gorgeous woman in a sexy setting as much as anyone, because I’m not homophobic and women, all kinds, shapes and sizes of women, are sexy. And while I appreciate a gorgeous man as well, I don’t have the need to reduce them to sex toys either. I get it, my darling romance writer friends, it’s our turn to objectify men the way they have us, but do we need to? Hopefully the answer is no.

If you won’t put your foot down and refuse to enter that bogus arena for yourself, do it for your daughters. If you don’t have any daughters of your own, do it for everyone else’s.

Stand up for us all by refusing to put a woman down for her appearance. If you need to criticize someone’s appearance, check to be sure why you feel compelled to do so, and maybe find a more intelligent thing to say.

Maybe the world deigns that you are ‘attractive’ and maybe it doesn’t. Who gives a shit?

Not me. Not any more. I gave up that competition and started to look for what was worthy inside of people long ago. I not only saved my sanity, my life went from a mirror to a kaleidoscope of light and color and heartfelt connections.

I’m not buying into that bullshit I was fed for one more minute.

Because people are remarkable.

Even the good-looking ones.

But not just them.

Look deeper.

Love more.

Because you’re worth it.

Shari, September 13th, 2017

 

The Waiting Room.

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I finished a draft of a new book and got it out to my agent this week, now he submits to publishers and we wait. This is always a strange limbo-time for me, when the book is picked up, I will go back to work on edits with the editor, about a six month process on and off. It’s time, I know, to start a new book.I’m not person who can not work or create constantly, but I don’t yet know what that story will be. Right now it’s a fleeting suggestion, a chalky outline, a wild bird without a cage. I think I see it! No, it’s flown too high. There it goes, disappearing into the thick tangle of my mental forest, where tangents shoot out in a thousand directions like tree branches, and vague concepts are still dripping with Spanish moss and the path is overgrown with ferns and lichen. I cannot sneak up on it. I cannot trap it, I can’t even see it clearly yet. No matter how hard I peer and strain, no binoculars will be able to pick that avian idea out  and watch it preen until it’s ready to show itself.

What I need is more patience, and I need it right now!!

So, I’m waiting, kind of. I’m waiting even as my brain works, sorting ideas, paying attention to the world around me, watching behaviours, feeling empathy, mixing traits into characters, mentally testing words and scenes.  I think of this time as an empty space that needs to be filled. We can fill that time and space with junk and busyness, or we can be zen and keep that brain space open with meditation and different creative endeavours. I try to do both, which is so me.

I have kids, husband and extended family, so a certain amount of my time will always go to their needs. I like that. I love to cook and care for my home, volunteer at school, and plant in the garden, and I’m grateful for a small bit of open time to do those things, but it’s so easy to  get overrun with a thousand errands and little activities, that pretty soon your are like a hoarder, with your ‘house’ filled with junk that isn’t of any value. Having a list of things to do, and getting some of them accomplished,  gives you purpose, of a sort. But writers, who regulate their own time must be vigilant! It’s far too easy to let your life be hijacked by those week-eaters, those endless tasks, those…we’ll call them mandatory or flippant activities. Some of them are must dos, some of them are fun, and some of them are great little goals, I don’t deny that, but they aren’t what we do.

Like most very active people, I suck at waiting. If I have to stand in line I recite back monologues, or entertain the people who are getting old near me. It gives new meaning to the phrase captive audience, they can laugh at my jokes or leave, which moves me closer to the postal worker. Either way, it’s a win! I have to fill that time and space with thought and laughter, or at least a few isometric butt tucks.

Then there’s that position that sends a thrill through us, when people lose that glazed, I hate my life expression, and perk right up. That, of course, is when you are NEXT. “I’m next!” you start shifting your feet, and feeling special, like a dog who hears the lid of the treat jar. You start salivating, I’m almost there! Sometimes I let someone else go ahead of me so I can still be next.

The best thing about waiting is finding an opportunity to explore. Whether you are exploring an idea, a space, a neighbourhood, or a period of time, there are always options for the curious. Which…I am.

That’s why this floor invited me to skate. Would I slide in my socks? Do I risk a jump or are the lighting fixtures too low? What can I do right  now with this space and time?

Anything you want. Dance, hum, make up a limerick, ask someone to tell you something about themselves, relate, share, but most of all…fill it, even if it’s with silence and stillness.

We’ve got this one life this time, never wait, BE.

I’ll be waiting for you!

Shari, June 4th, 2016.

Gods and Heros, Sprites and Humans.

IMG_6553When someone asks you who you admire, do you choose wisely? If I were to sit you down and ask you to name four archetypes that you try to exemplify in your life, would you have them ready? Would it be a rap star or Mozart? Betty Boop or Venus herself? Saint Francis or Captain Kirk? Each has their own strengths, each has their own meaning that is exclusive to you.

An archetype, in this blog, means a symbol of something bigger, a very typical example of a certain person or trait, or a recurrent symbol or motif in literature, art, or mythology. An archetype can be the underdog, the warrior, the healer, the trickster, the lover, the fool, etc.

Which legends do you relate to? What stories feel true to you? Who are the characters you most admire? When you answer these questions, you learn a lot about yourself, and help strengthen your choices in life. We all need a mirror, and why not choose from the best? Also…and this is important—you can choose.

It’s kind of like shopping for good qualities. Sometimes it’s staples. We need more courage or patience or energy to fill up the bare personality pantry. Other times we’re upgrading to better quality or even more gourmet items. We’re working on tolerance, bliss, playfulness, inner calm, physical strength, anything that will take extra effort and focus. It’s like adding varied, spicier ingredients to our fridge full of ingredients that each of us uses to prepare the smorgasbord that is our lives, words, and actions.

Some common examples of archetypes are based on gods and goddesses, animal spirits, heroes, athletes, even characters in books and movies, as long as they have the basic characteristic you admire and want to strengthen.

Let’s take mine for examples. It’s important to have a balance of male and female, as we all have both energies in  us, or we should.  Very often certain ‘traits’ are credited to one gender or the other, but not necessarily always along traditional lines, so mix it up.

I try to keep four at a time, this keeps me dancing on my toes with the wind in my hair. They remind me what’s important, what I need to learn, and who I want to be.

Number one archetype for me—at this point in my life—is Athena, Goddess of wisdom, handicrafts and war. This mythogical goddess is patient but strong, very strong. She does not shy from a fight, but she is equally able to make peace, or a beautiful home and fill it with meaning. While I detest war, I have the heart of a warrior, someone who will fight for others. Gets me in trouble, but keeps me honest and with purpose. Most important trait for me to emulate? Patient wisdom.

Number two. Grandfather Shaman, keeper of secrets, wielder of light, maker of magic, he lives in total harmony with nature, and sees all mankind as part of the great whole, one of many creatures sharing the planet and the amazing life force it contains. The Shaman is loving, non-judging, a healer, and comes and goes as he pleases on the material plane. For me, this is the quiet of dawn, the love of twilight, the moment of communion with a wild thing, the acceptance of our role as stewards of our planet. Most important trait? Healing.

Number three. Mab, queen of the Faeries. Once again, a strong leader of both men and women, but intertwined in equal measure with nature and magic. To me, she represents dreams, the awesome power of the feminine, and unbridled passion for all things. Important trait to me? Magic.

Number four. Puck. The little lover of chaos, the imp, the playful sprite, the trickster. he represents the randomness of life, the constant of the unknown, and the joy of letting go. For me, he is acceptance of all things, the ability to laugh at confusion and drama, and just plain happy to be alive. The trait I love most in Puck? Joy in chaos.

So those are my current four. All of my four, you see, come from different cultures and ideologies. Greek, Native American, and two from pre-christian Europe. At different times in my life, I have made different choices depending on my current weaknesses and needs. For instance, for a long time, Mercury (Hermes) was one of my main archetypes because I loved the idea that he connected the Gods with the earth, which to me meant higher consciousness. Some would call it, the will of God, but I always hesitate to use that phrase because, well, there are so many Gods and far too many people who claim to have an exclusive knowledge of what his or her will actually is.

This relating to role models or heroes starts when we’re little. We imagine ourselves to be soldiers or teachers or Tarzan or The Little Princess, or even Bugs Bunny. We find an archetype that resonates with us and it shapes our lives to the degree that we try to bring this energy into our own lives from the pages of books, history, or current day folklore. I cannot tell you how many vines I tried to swing on when I was a tomboy, or how many smart-ass comments came out of my mouth trying to be as funny and witty as Bugs himself. I still love Tarzan and that pesky wabbit.

Having these archetypes doesn’t mean I wrestle lions, hold fertility rites on Midsummer’s Eve or rush into arguments brandishing a short sword, shouting, “Athena, grant me victory!” (But maybe I should try it, it would freak people out so much, I’d probably win.) It does mean that I admire certain characteristics and energies in those legendary figures that I would like to have more of in my life. They are representations of traits that I want to buck up in my own personality arsenal. Tools of learning, loving, and growth.

Often I look to these archetypes when I want to create a new story. What do I want to say? What do I want the reader to leave with? This is why Puck is such a favourite, the little trouble-maker, he shakes things up, makes fools of us all and then makes us laugh at ourselves, all while having an irrepressible good time. Ah, I think he’s my favorite right now.

It is a good thing, I think, when we shore up our bond with nature and myths alike, one reminds us of our true place in the universe, the other exemplifies humanity in all it’s glorious originality. We create these legends, these gods, these spirits, to explain things to ourselves, to put a name to something unknowable—mystery, creation, drive, soul, our world, and life and death themselves.

This is as old as the hills, which used to be the bottom of the ocean. So, while I won’t be wrapping myself in a buffalo cloak and calling down the rain, I will think of my Shaman to remind myself to be patient, that I am a small part of the whole, that each and every thing in our world is connected to each and every thing else. I may not be living in the mists of Avalon, but I can find a world of imagination to share the magic of rain and flowers with children, the same magic that I revelled in when I was young. It reminds me to revel still, and I still do.

So, just for fun, give it some thought. The next time you feel at a loss for a direction, pick up a book of animal spirit guides or Egyptian gods and goddesses and see what clicks. You embody everything, you and your choices shape your personality from mud into marble and inevitably to dust again.

If you were a statue in a museum, a thousand years from now, what would it be?

Yeah, that’s what I thought. I’m the unidentifiable one next to you.

I’m a small statue, a creature really, neither feminine or masculine, young and old, striding forward into whatever may come with a look in my eye that says, “I learned so much, but I lived so much more.”

And slung over my shoulder will be a bag of tricks, smoke bombs or truth bombs or illusions to be shattered, just to shake things up a little bit.

What are your archetypes?

 

Shari, May 23, 2016

 

 

 

But What I Really Want To Do Is Write.

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                    In between laundry loads.                                                                Gussied up.

So here we go, a new novel out tomorrow in stores and on line everywhere!! So I’ve spent many hours on FB and twitter, or addressing postcards or arranging speaking engagements. Of course on Saturday I’ll be at Vroman’s in Pasadena at 4 for the book signing, so, it’s been distracting from my usual routine.

I generally spend about 40 hours a week working, not in a row, of course. I break it up and try to spread it over time that I haven’t reserved for my family. Sometimes I can actually get in 6-8 straight hours, but other times it’s two hours before I go to bed, three hours before everyone else gets up, or, like now, forty-five minutes over a quickly snagged burrito while I’m out buying detergent and other important things for family, like…oh, I don’t know…food.

Meanwhile, my next book, isn’t receiving the necessary time and concentration and is therefore resisting my efforts to keep it progressing steadily.

But writers, let’s be honest. Unless you are a super freak or an automaton, you don’t sit down everyday and write forward 4 to 12 pages. You squiggle around a bit, start a character but aren’t totally sure who they are or what they’ll say yet. You have a basic story line idea, or plot layout, but in truth you’re not working from a blueprint or IKEA instructions, (which to be fair require special tools and a keen understanding of fourth dimensional math.) Writing requires time just thinking, doodling concepts and character traits on napkins, watching people behave badly at the grocery store, talking to the homeless guy reading novels on a bus bench, (to be fair, my homeless reader-friend prefers, ‘domestically challenged’) even screaming at the moon to inspire you.

The book, the idea, and your thoughts about it are incomplete. And no amount of forcing words into the computer will congeal it into one of those pretty molds with sliced fruit suspended in a cake-shaped gelatinous mass.

That’s why I love editing, especially with a great editor. The basic form is already there and all you have to do is fluff, like a designer backstage at a fashion show. The main work is done, just a tug at the hem, a twist of a scarf, and you can shove that creation out onto the stage.

As much as I love writing and the books I’ve produced, I have a major problem with promoting them, and here’s why—besides making me feel vaguely braggadocios, (Mom, mom, mom, watch me, watch me!) getting myself out there involves makeup and an attempt at coordinated clothing, even possibly, god-forbid—high heals. Three things I’m able to avoid on a daily basis for months while I’m writing.

One of the big problems with being a writer is that people assume you are available at the drop of a hat, you are not ‘working’ at a job, so you must be able to go to lunch, answer their emails within seconds, take care of their kids when they are busy, and chat for hours on the phone.

Wrong. I’m not a chatter, I turn off my wifi when I work, I love your kids and will take them to the space center when I can take an afternoon off, and if I eat, it will be on the run. My family has learned that they may interrupt me when I’m writing, but I reserve the right to say “Not now.” (One major exception was when my 8 year old daughter put on her Sailor Moon costume, complete with star-wand and stood next to me saying, “But mommy, I want you to come help me save the world.” I mean, come on, I had to go. The future of the planet was at stake.) My friends—who aren’t writers—don’t get it.

And then a book comes out and everyone says, “Oh, you’re so busy, you have so much going on!” Not really. I’m busier when I’m home trying to focus on my story plot in my torn T-shirt with unwashed hair while simultaneously trying to keep a decent house, do the gardening, prepare delicious meals, and spend time with my husband and my daughters.

So when you think of my recent ‘success’ remember this mental picture of me at home, moving cats off my keyboard, jumping up to check the laundry, the crock pot, the sprinklers. It might not seem as glamorous as speaking in front of a group of people wearing a nice skirt and blouse holding my shiny new hardcover, but it’s the bulk of my life, and frankly I prefer it.

Because, while I appreciate and am eternally grateful for the friends and readers who say lovely things on line, re-tweet my good reviews, and actually take the time to come out and support me… what I really want to do is write.

What will you do today?

Shari, August 10th, 2015

Trigger Happy

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Did you know you have pathways in your brain? Learned reactions to physical and mental stimuli? Isn’t that fascinating?

Here’s how it works. When your senses perceive something, (and perceive is the operative word, as we all perceive things differently) Certain chemical and electrical responses trigger in you brain and receptors open up, creating a kind of path that becomes the path most traveled. These receptors create different physical results, fear, tension in the neck, nausea, well-being, whatever it may be. We learn these responses, in fact, we memorize them, and if we don’t alter them, we loose the ability to take the path less traveled.

Now, I’ve reduced this to a ridiculously simplified version of the science, but being neither a physicist nor a neurosurgeon, I have to use the cliff notes, as it were. And here’s where it gets interesting for writers, actors, and well…humans.

For both writers and actors, these reactions to stimuli are what we would call ‘character traits.’ As an actor, you can use this to develop a much more rounded character to fill out your role. As a writer, you can actually explain, or intimate how past reactions control your character now.

For a human, to change those patterns we have to un-program and retrain ourselves. And this is difficult, we’re dealing with long term chemical and behavioral training. Pavlov’s emotions, let’s call them. In the case of the famous doctor, he would ring a bell, and the dog salivates. In someone who was abused as a child, the sound of people shouting may trigger an intense panic that has nothing to do with the actual situation at hand.

Our triggers are many, but every once in a while, we hit one that rests at our core. For me, the idea that I never can do enough, be good enough, that I should have to take care of everyone and everything that comes up, and if I don’t, I’m not good enough, that I’ve failed, is a biggie. Of course, it’s impossible, I’ve set the stakes too high to ever win at that one, so that particular ‘bell’ is no longer useful to me. This response is too ingrained to fix with conscious reasoning, knowing I have this issue doesn’t stop the reaction. I’m a puppet and the strings are tight.

So I went to someone who could help. I worked with a woman who does a procedure called ‘tapping.’ She is a therapist, and versions of this therapy are used to help soldiers with PTSD and people with childhood traumas. We talk about what the frustration or feeling is, identify where it is in my body, name it, and then she proceeds to talk about it, by having me repeat and reaffirm a different thought process while ‘tapping’ at different random spots on my face, hands and arms. The tapping interrupts the programmed response, allowing new pathways to open.

It was amazing. And I think it helped me quite a bit. But the point of this blog is to talk about those pathways and how they define characters, just as they define us as people. Isn’t that what we want from our performance or our fictional characters? I know I want them to ring as true as possible, and to be distinct from each other.

Let’s take some examples. Let’s say I’m playing a character who has a certain phobia, say, fear of dogs. Now, something, at some time, triggered and trained this character to behave that way. So, when I create my history of the character, (and this is acting homework, it has nothing to do with what is written in the script) I would include one or more experiences where I was bitten or other wise frightened by canines, and my body learned the response of breaking into a sweat and tensing for battle every time I hear a dog bark.

Or…let’s say….I’m writing a character in a book who is loving and motherly. I create a history for her where she grew up around lots of siblings and extended family and there was constant laughter and noise. This woman would sit at a restaurant and hear children bickering at the next table and it would create a real warmth in her chest because her conditioned response to the sound is happiness and safety.

Those are simple examples, but do you see how this kind of thing is influencing your life? How can you use mental triggers to round out your characters? Try an exercise where you have two people meet, and they both have very different reactions to something that happens to them. If you stick with the ‘why’ they behave this way, you will find that they are distinct from each other, and it will open new avenues of how they understand, misinterpret, or relate with each other.

This process will also help you deal with difficult people in your life. On of the hardest things to do is to not take it personally when other people treat you badly. But it isn’t about you, it’s about them.

When people can sense the restrictions that their emotional past puts on them, they can sometimes, through exploring it deeply and feeling it fully, change it. This is called an epiphany, and it is one of the peaks of a character driven story. And that is a very useful tool. But stay aware, it’s not going to happen just because someone else tells them they are wrong. Oh no. People will die rather than be wrong, so they will fight to justify and prove they are right, even if it means continuing to be deeply unhappy. People have to come to life-changing revelations on their own, from inside.

So for today, be quiet for a moment and feel what’s going on inside, then ask yourself what that is, the first answer will not be the one, keep asking, and you’ll find it. Then notice how that reaction, physical sensation responds to different situations as you go about your day.

Fascinating stuff. I love acting and writing, but mostly I love being human and connecting with others. Wouldn’t it be lovely if we all understood the strings that bind and control us, because only then can we cut them and braid a stronger connection with ourselves and others.

If you stick with this, not only will your characters fill out, but you will begin the process of understanding that greatest paradigm in your life. You—and all that has gone into making you unique.

Hey, maybe you should write your story!

Shari, September 11, 2014

Building with Words.

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Searching for clues.

 

It’s great to have “Invisible Ellen” out all over the country, it’s great to have the sequel to that book written, turned in and accepted by the publisher. But now comes what I call the dreamy-between time, when I wonder…what do I write next?

I am asked quite often where I get my ideas for my books. I have no easy answer, but I understand the question, it’s an infinite universe, but that doesn’t mean we can see all the stars. Sometimes we need a telescope to find what’s out there, or turn it inward on our own thoughts. Sometimes vague thoughts for a new book sort of alight on my shoulder and mumble in my ear, but it’s only wisps of ideas, characters calling from some far away place for my attention, fragments of lines and scenes. Suggestions in the ether, that I put down and try to connect into something coherent and interesting by linking them with snatches of conversation, observation, imagination, and memories. Inspiration can come from many emotional sources as well, rage at hearing of a horrific and pointless crime was the primary motivator for my first book, but I was surprised to find that I had played that out by the end of the first chapter.

Before I start mixing my metaphors into a frothy lilac, sardine, purple chai latte, I think a better way to describe this unborn stage of a new novel, or any creative endeavor, is that it’s much like constructing a house without a blueprint.

The funny thing about this creative process is, I’m committing to a place I will live for at least a year, but I don’t know yet what I’m buying. I don’t know exactly how much work it will be, I’m not even sure what materials I’ll need, and what portions of the structure will need extra support or will have the best view. I’m building blind at this dreamy-between time.

The fact is that it takes a good amount of concentrated effort before I even begin to construct that house. And it doesn’t always come foundation first. Sometimes the first thing is a claw foot bathtub say, (a character for instance) which may be, ultimately the most important part, or something that gets thrown in the construction dumpster. A room or two (plot lines) may take shape before the plywood framing goes up. The truth is, I don’t keep track of where the ideas come from, but I know this, just as when building a dream house, it must fulfill several criteria.

First, as I said, I have to live there, and it will take a year of my life, so it must be worth building.

Second, It must be original with touches that are unique, exclusive to me.

Third, The inhabitants must have something to say and an original voice to say it in. They must take a journey, either physically or emotionally. There must be change.

Fourth, This house is entirely new, but it must have history, secrets and layers, basements and dark spaces.

And last, Those who eventually come to visit my finished house must leave feeling that they gained something they didn’t have before. It could be a new friend, a fresh point of view, a glimpse into another world, or a good laugh. It could be many things, but they must take away something!

So, today, and tomorrow and tomorrow, I will watch and think, and rest, and sort, and sleep, and let the fledgling ideas find some purchase. I will introduce them to each other and watch how they interact. I will stack them in my building site. From the heaps of raw material, I will choose bricks and beams and fixtures. I will build in doors and windows that offer different vistas and then I will go back in and take out extraneous space or discordant features, (plot lines that didn’t work, for example) then I will add the curtains, or the dust, and the subtle colors of afternoon light or leaky plumbing. And I will be certain, no matter what, that this house enables those who visit there to see far, very, very far, either in to, or out from, its many windows.

I don’t know what I will write yet, I don’t know what that house will look like when it’s done, but I do know that I will inhabit it fully, I will have lived there as surely as any of the homes my corporal self has lived. It will be part of my own history.

We all do this. We all create our new story, build our homes and our lives every single day based on fragments and thoughts and impressions. We might not know it, but we do.

What will you build today? Whatever it is, I hope that it empowers you to see very, very far.

Shari, July 10th, 2014

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I’m Write and You’re Wrong.

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Backstage at “Much Ado About Nothing” with three women who are terrific friends.

As the publication date of “Invisible Ellen” looms ever nearer, and the premier screening of “Scream at the Devil” is less than two weeks away, I find my focus turning to two things, reworking the book’s sequel, “Emerging Ellen,” and making time for my neglected friends.

I’ve been in a work frenzy for the last year, and I have a rather large family, who must, by needs, often come before friends. But now I find myself longing for that simple shared laughter and warm support that only a long time friend can offer. And friends, I realize, could sometimes benefit from some attention from me!

As for the new book, I am doing something I’ve never done before, (though that, in itself, seems to be a theme in my life!) I am removing one complete story line and replacing it with another. Not because I don’t like it, not because it doesn’t have it’s value, heart and excitement, but because I think I’ve gone one plot point too far, and I want to spend the wordage on the building of character.

Sound familiar? They are both the same thing, aren’t they? I could continue to focus on work—which is to say, plot, story, complexities, etc—or I can balance it with time spent with friends—character, laughter, tears, and the arc of developing relationships. As always, I choose both, but my focus, and therefor my time, will be split more evenly.

There’s no right or wrong way to live your life, there’s no ‘supposed to’ or ‘rules,’ there is only what you can do with the strength and passion you have. There are only the choices you make. Do you spend your time seeking ‘success’? Money? Fame? Or do you give to family until there’s nothing left for you? Do you know that there’s a place in between? For us all, there are times, times of great sadness or stress, when we have nothing left to give, and that is when, hopefully, we can turn to others, for a little while, to cast the net that keeps us from falling. And sometimes, we are the ones who need to ‘spot’ our friends, to catch them when they fall.

One good friend just had a baby. She was not trying to get pregnant, did not particularly want children, but it happened and she embraced it, but now finds herself overwhelmed. She said to me, “I don’t really know who I am right now.” Everything in her life is being redefined. I will do what I can to be there for her, to take the baby for a few hours so that she can breathe and remember who she is. I will take her for walks in pretty places so that she not only remembers who she is, but also discovers the magnificent new person she is becoming. And I will devote some of my attention to lauding her for the strength it takes.

I have another friend whose husband passed away a month ago. He drank himself to death, and in the process of his destructive behavior, he left her in a legal and emotional battlefield which she must now face alone, deserted by him. I cannot bury my face in my computer and ignore her pain and need. I might not be able to fix all that, but I can remind her of her grace and class, buoy her up to face the legion of lawyers and the nightmare of uncovering the depth of her husband’s betrayal. I will talk to her as often as I can, I will take a day off to visit a museum with her and remind her that life is bigger, that there is more, that the future holds beauty.

These things take time and energy to do well. That time and energy will come from other areas of my life that will have to slip from fevered pitch to low idling hum. But I feel lucky all the same.

What more can we do? I cannot live others lives for them, they must do that, I am only a character in their story. Writing a book, I can change the story, I can effect the change that brings about the ending as I want it to be, and I truly believe that it is the same in life. We create our friendships and relationships in a different way, and to a different degree, but we can rewrite our story, we can be a strong supporting cast in the dramas that belong to others. And this, we must do, not because it’s the ‘right’ thing to do, but because it makes us complete.

I decided long ago, or perhaps ‘realized’ is more the mot juste, that I need balance to make a real life and be happy. Success to me, equals happiness, not fame or money, or the envy of others. I needed something besides the pursuit of stardom and big houses, that is to say, the things that other people tend to envy. What I needed was to contribute sometimes, and sit back and revel other times, in sunlight on leaves, on the victories of others. What use is a life lived only for how it appears to others? The greatest danger there, in this world of social media and constant exposure, is that people invent themselves to look good to others… and then they begin to believe it. And then they can’t live without that approval and admiration, because they have nothing else.

It reminds me of Michael Caine, when we were working on “On Deadly Ground.” We were sitting in the makeup trailer and I was laughing about a story I had read about myself in an Italian rag magazine that stated that I had been institutionalized for mental illness, overwrought with jealousy. I said, “It’s crazy, the Italians just make stuff up and print it!”

And Michael leaned around his makeup artist and said in that charming cockney accent, “The Italians have got nothing on the British. In England, they make it up…and then they prove it!” We laughed about it.

So, make up your own story, but live it honestly, and make the story about you, not about someone else. Do it for you, not for what you think others see. Give because it makes you better, spend time supporting and cheering for your friends, and even strangers, because it fills your heart and reminds you that we are connected and that without that connection, we are unfulfilled and no trip to the mall, no McMansion will ever fill that frightening void of separation. Remember only this, other’s lives belong to them, yours to you. Own it, fill it, live it, share it, and do it for love and joy.

Write your own story, so that when you read it back, you smile.

 

Shari April 23, 2014