Acting & Experiences, Entertainment, family, Life in General, parenting

A New Window of Opportunity.

Image

Good morning and Happy New Year! The champagne bottle is in the recycling, the caviar has been consumed, the candles extinguished, and, I admit it, I didn’t even make it to midnight. And now I’m up, before eight, my brain churning with all the things I want and need to do.

But it’s not like the panic of past years. I know now, at 52, that even the annoying stuff will get done, no matter how much I put it off and sweat over it, so I might as well just get to it. The difficult things will be endured, passed through, and learned from, and I’m looking forward to the challenges.

I’ll have books being re-released, new ones coming out, ideas still unformed to spur me on to new, unimagined novels.

I have daughters to care for, laugh with, hold when they cry, encourage, remind to be ladylike, kind, brave and fair, tutoring to arrange, school functions to chair, and so much to learn about parenting. It’s an ongoing process.

And I have a movie to produce and act in. I’ve done so much theatre in the last few years, but I’ve taken a break from film and TV to raise my daughters. Now, with one in college and one going into high school, I can finally spend part of my time back on a set.

I’ve already started working on the character and emotional life of Miriam Jones for “Scream at the Devil.” I’ve been immersed in research about schizophrenics, mental hallucination disorders, and the effects of the medications used to treat them. The physiology of these things are fascinating and the torture these people endure is both heartbreaking and profound. Equally fascinating are the dynamics of their relationships with the people who love them. All of these will be explored in the film, with a sinister twist—What if she’s not crazy?

What I’ve discovered is this; whether or not the fear and depression are real or not, the emotions that accompany them definitely are.

Which takes me to my next step. How does fear affect me? I notice a tingling on the back of my hands when someone cuts in on me on the freeway, a tightness in my neck that won’t go away when I do sensory work on seeing things moving under the rug, things that want to hurt me. My whole body senses the exhaustion from the constant voice in my head telling me that I’m not good enough, that someone, or something, wants me dead.

It’s one thing to watch and observe, it’s quite another to take on the emotion and the weight of mental illness. As actors and writers, we do these things, we have to. If we don’t feel them in our very cells, then they won’t be true.

And then, by the grace of all that is creative, we can put them away and go back to our ‘normal’ lives. Take a bath, shake off the evil, find something to laugh at until our strength is restored.

My New Year’s wish is this ultimate release for those who are suffering from depression and paranoia. I can imagine what it might be like, because I have to, but I can also put it aside. They cannot. Science is making big strides in helping these people, and that gives me hope. It also makes me wish I had gone into medicine so that I could contribute. Who knows, maybe I’ll go back to school. That’s what a New Year is for, possibilities.

Me in college. Ha! Wouldn’t my daughter just love having a new dorm mate. “Hey Roomie!”

The thought makes me laugh, but she might not be so amused. She loves me dearly, but I don’t think she wants to share a bunk bed with Mama.

So raise your glass of orange juice, and say a January first morning toast to 2013. It will be filled with joys, sorrows, fears, excitement and the great unknown.

Bring it.

Shari, January 1st, 2013

family, Life in General, parenting

A Premium Perspective.

IMG_0017IMG_0008

Last night I spent the evening helping out with my charity, the Desi Geestman Foundation, as we hosted a party at City of Hope hospital for the pediatric patients and their families. It was a wonderful evening, I saw so many of the families we’ve worked with before, met lots of new people, and stood by in wonder at the joy I saw around me. Every patient and each of their siblings, receives pajamas, slippers, toys, books, a visit with Santa, a yummy dinner, fun and games.

Aside from the families, one of the things I enjoy most is seeing the transformation in attitudes of the people who have come to volunteer. By far the largest percentage of these is a group called, “Assisteens.” This is a very active civic group of, yep you guessed it, teenagers! In a world filled with kids who sometimes have little opportunity to care about much of anything other than material things, it is beyond wonderful to see these thoughtful, outgoing young men and women serving dinners, decorating, playing with the kids, handing out gifts, and generally participating in something bigger and more important than going to the mall, or excelling at a video game.

And as I watch all of them giving, and my own daughter fearlessly charming a sick child with her special brand of humor and fun, my cynicism melts away. Yes, I think, the world is full of hope and good.

These teens won’t all turn out to be movie stars or millionaires, but they will be something better, something stronger than that. They will be people who can look back at their lives and smile. I believe that’s because they will know the value of being a part of something larger than yourself. It’s called community, the word hidden in there is commune, definition—Sharing of thoughts and feelings with others, especially on a spiritual level. Not religious, mind you, but spiritual. My girls have no association with a church or religion, but they are among the most moral and giving people I know.

The trick here, of course, is to turn the attention away from the petty problems and tiny focus of our own lives and be of service to someone else. I can’t even explain it, but I know that it feels so right, that this is something we are meant to do, something that is missing in too much of our modern life. This world where everyone is trying to get ahead and make a million and be envied by others is a lonely one. I’m not saying I’m not guilty of those things too, mind you, hey, I’ve got a house payment, but my attitude has changed over the years. And so have I.

Bottom line, I’m happier now. I divide my time and my efforts much more fluidly than I once did, and guess what? The flow is far more gentle, I find myself moving freely through the mid-stream of life instead of snagging on the branches at the edge of the river.  When I think about what I have, and how I live, I realize that it is enough. I don’t need more jewelry, or a fancier car, or a bigger house. It’s lovely to have those things, of course, if they are important to you, but ultimately, I believe that you will find they don’t make you any fuller or more important than you truly are inside.

Because everyone is already potentially magnificent. Every one of those teenagers left there last night with a new point of view, and a bigger, more shining soul.

Look at that, I already got my first Christmas gift, probably the best one I’ll receive.

Wishing you all the peace and joy of a Community Holiday Season.

Shari, December 8, 2012

Acting & Experiences, family, Life in General, parenting

Mistakes and Successes.

gioia_cover_jpg  The cover of an Italian magazine called, Gioia

 

I once had someone send me an email, I can’t remember what they were commenting on, but they asked, “Why don’t you include your Playboy cover on the list of your accomplishments?”

My response was, “Because it’s not an accomplishment, it’s a modeling job.” One of hundreds. I flew to Chicago, shot several cover options, was paid my normal modeling fee, and went home. Months later, I got a call saying one of the shots had been chosen for the April cover. I said, “Oh, that’s nice.” No big deal.

Then it came out. It was shocking to me how much everyone else responded to it. You would have thought I had reached some apex, I had this big ‘success.’ It was very confusing to me.

I  mean, it’s a photograph, and not even one of my favorites. Yes, I prided myself on being a good model. I was known as one of the ‘smart’ ones. I understood the layout, the lighting, where the text would go, how to create a mood and not just a pouty look, etc. No matter what I do I want to do it well, but to me, that was so much less important than what my sister did everyday. She taught kindergarten. I admired her, and others like her. People like her are the ones who change the world, who make a difference every day. Models seldom do.

All my life, I think I’ve been confused about the way looks and fame are valued by people, for this simple reason; It doesn’t connect proportionately to any feeling of real value inside.

Looking back, I can safely say this is the reason I had trouble with drugs and relationships early on, (not to discount the relationships themselves, I made some bad choices.) I had no allies, no one who really knew me for who I was, I had no real sense of self-value, I was too busy pursuing what everyone else thought was impressive. Bad choice.

I remember, at one of my lowest points at that time, telling a good friend that I was so depressed and lonely, I felt that no one really knew me, that my life was without substance, and his response? “How can you be unhappy? You have what everyone else wants!” My heart fell through the soles of my feet. I was a ‘successful’ model, therefore I didn’t even have a right be sad, to be human. The immediate cure? Another hit, numbing myself for another night.

I had a friend who was a very famous comedian when I modeled in New York, at the time he was often subbing as the host on the “Tonight Show.” We would walk along the street and people would shout out. “Hey Dave! Hey Buddy!” they’d slap him on the back and shake his hand like an old friend. I said to him, “It’s like they think they know you.” He answered, “They think they do know me. I’m in their living room, every night!”

Of course, the comedian who was always ‘up’ and made them laugh was not the whole man.  In life, this man was very intelligent, quite serious, filled with old pains, and a gentleman of impeccable taste. He had stayed loyal to his friends from his very poor upbringing because he knew that they were the ones who truly ‘knew’ him and it kept him grounded, with all of his success. It was a valuable lesson.

We all need accomplishments, I think, to be content. And the athlete who wins the medal and the business person who lands the big deal have every right to feel exhilarated by the experience, they worked for it! But what I’ve learned over the years is that just as important, just as real accomplishments are the small things, the felt things.

Oh yeah, I’ve been down, way down. And I’ve had a lion’s share of exhilarating moments. But all these things have passed. And here’s the most important thing I’ve taken from all of it:

I learned so much more from the mistakes. The most valuable moments in my life have been the bad ones. Not the absolute lows, I don’t mean the frustrating moments when desperation weighs on you so that you can’t lift your head, much less get out of bed, but the second right after that, when I made the decision to snap out of it, to buck up, to get over myself and be of service to someone else.

So what is a success to me? Writing a book I’m proud of, certainly, creating a character on stage or film that resonates, of course. Those things take effort, learning and determination, and are therefore more fulfilling than someone thinking you look nice. But more important are the other successes—seeing my daughter fight through a conflict at school, tears streaming down her face, but holding her own against unfairness or bullying, the light in a parents eyes when my charity is able to help their desperately ill child through a terrible time, the level of trust and love that my husband and I have earned, and any moment of gratitude. Gratitude for a sunset, a spider’s web on a hike, the fact that I can skip down my sidewalk from the shear joy of being, the moment I can turn a stranger’s mood around with a few moments of patience, a joke, or even a smile when they didn’t expect it.

That is success to me, because that is what connects to my heart.

As for the ‘success’ of being in magazine pictures? It was living, but give me the triumph of a breakthrough smile from a waitress having a tough day when I commiserate with her over that any time. Playboy cover? Bah. But if I can get my favorite waitress at Coco’s, who is raising four kids and putting herself through college, to laugh about the rude, complaining SOB at table four, that warms me. Her smile makes my day.

Because that kind of beauty connects me to something deeper, truer, more human. That is what’s important. That is a success. It might not appear on any resume, or any website, or any other public forum, but it means so much more to me than any magazine cover.

And I’m trying to pass some of my painful learning experiences on to my daughters. Someone telling them they are gorgeous is very nice, but it is not an accomplishment. Visiting with a child at the hospital and lessening her boredom and fear, that is something worthy they both do. The difference of those values is something I’ve tried to make clear to them.

I’ve also tried to let them learn the hard way sometimes. It isn’t easy, letting your children makes their own mistakes and watching them feel terrible. It’s hard to insist that that they earn their kudos, that they fight for what they think is right, with or without the support of their peers, to value themselves for actually doing something in this world, but it’s crucial to them becoming the amazing women that I know they will be.

What I wish for for them is a  sense of value that will carry them through their lives. They will fail sometimes, of course, we all do, it’s what makes us better writers, actors, parents, salesmen, bosses, hell, it makes us better people.

I wish you all the eyes to see that every small kindness you do, every bad mood you work through, every difficult moment that you make better, is a success bigger and far more important than any ‘beauty’ photograph in any magazine.

See how successful you are? Yes, you are amazing.

Shari, December 1st, 2012

 

 

Life in General, parenting

How to be the Favorite Aunt. (or other relative.)

I love Christmas, mostly the getting ready for it and making it special for others. Don’t know why, but I’ve always been more comfortable giving than receiving. So, a few years ago, I got the idea of making an advent calendar for my girls, nieces and nephews that would actually allow them to open a small gift every day.

I had no idea what I was getting myself in for. There are eight kids in my immediate family, they each get 24, tiny, individually wrapped gifts, one for each day of December through Christmas eve, making a grand total of 192 presents.

Here are the basic rules, and then how I’ve learned to make it easier on myself.

First, do not spend more than a dollar on any item. You can do a couple of two or three dollar ones, as long as you keep most of them in the 25 cent range. Second, start looking for next years stuff in January. I keep an eye open for fun little knick-nacks all year, mostly toys. The trick here, is keeping them small. Here’s a sample of what would go into one gift.

Image  or:  Image

Technically, there are two gifts in each, but I do love to spoil my babies!

Now, the first couple of years, I tried to find tiny gift boxes and wrap them all with gift wrap paper. Then cut ribbon and try to tie tiny bows without the ribbons falling off. It was crazy making. Forget it. Do you have any idea how many pieces of tape it takes to traditionally wrap 192 miniature presents? Insanity will set in before you get the tree up!

So, there are two easy ways that I’ve found. One, get a whole bunch of tiny gift bags, the downside to this is, you have to label each one with a number on some kind of tag that won’t fall off when it’s kid-handled. Added work. The kids go to their advent calendar every morning and find the gift with the correct number to match the date. Great way to help little ones with learning numbers and dates, by the way! The second way, which I’ve employed this year, is to get some tissue paper, cut it into four parts in stacks, and buy a bunch of decorative pipe cleaners. They take two seconds to put on, they stay on, and you can twist the ends into fun shapes!! Then use a red, green or gold marker to write the number on the tissue. It won’t get lost or separated from the gift.

Now, line up all your gifts. I have households with two kids each, some both boys, some boy and girl, and my two girls. So the gifts may need to change a bit, and it will get confusing as you wrap and number them. For my brother’s two boys, who are close in age, I make sure they each get the same thing every day. This will eliminate stress for their parents.

For the girl-boy or large separation of ages in the households, I line up two lines of gifts, one row for each kid, across from each other to make sure it’s ‘even’ and wrap as I go. First, day one for both kids. They get put into bags, marked with each child’s name, so that I know which is which later. You will not remember, trust me, even if you are far less frenzied than I.

Make a nice cup of tea. Find a place to put your tape, pen, and other supplies where you can find them repeatedly. Start wrapping. My next advice is this. Deli wrap. It saves time and you only need a single piece of tape for each gift. Start with the paper diagonal, fold up one corner, fold in the corner to the right, flip once, fold in the corner to the left, tucking in excess, and then roll up and tape. Add twisty, use the pen to put on a number with the date, presto!!

Image

Here you’ve got one present. The next picture is about halfway through with the nephews’ batch. I only do one household at a time or I lose patience, and that’s no fun. You can see all the ones I haven’t wrapped beyond the pile. Notice that they are lined up to be the same for each boy, each day. If you have kids, you will understand why. If not, you will learn.

Image

And finally, you will have the finished result. I gave each of my beloved children a small tree and a tiny tree skirt. They set them up in their rooms, (with lights) and place the presents around the bottom. It’s a miniature Christmas, that helps build the excitement for the big day!!

Image

Another mistake to avoid. If you have a small one, say two or so. Don’t give candy on day one. I did this one year and my sister called me. “Great,” she said. “Now everyday when he doesn’t get chocolate, he has a hissy fit and I have to give him a time out.”

Whoops.

Babies are only worth doing if they have a sibling, who will very much enjoy opening the little packages of socks or tiny books and sharing with their little brother or sister.

It’s a lot of work, and no small expense, but in the end I know it’s worth it. the kids love to get this, it’s become part of their holiday tradition. And when my sister in Charleston called me to say they got the package and told me, “You would have thought the holy grail was in that box,” well, my heart beamed so brightly that the Christmas star came early that year.

Start early, this is something that needs to be done before December first.

Whatever you celebrate, may it be a joyous holiday for you, and may you feel the excitement of childhood in every day of your life.

Shari, November 28, 2012