America, Life in General, RV life, trailers

The Courage of Kindness

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The longer I live, the more I realize that only two things really count, Kindness and Courage. Frame it anyway you want to, if you just make those two character traits something you give a fuck about, it will change the world around you.

Take today. We had to move our thirty-seven foot trailer across the RV park to a spot for long term use. While this isn’t storming the beach at Normandy, (deep respect for those who face real danger every day) it is still daunting when you’ve only had a chance or two to figure out how to turn a 90 degree corner while backing downhill into a space with giant redwood trees on both sides. Everyone has been very nice about our fledgling attempts, “You just need practice!” they say reassuringly. To which I reply, “But where can you practice?” Unless you have a grocery store parking lot to yourself for a few days, the only ‘practice’ you are going to get is doing. Oh, did I mention it was raining and hailing? Just a little plus.

My husband and I are pretty good at taking on challenges. We adjust, we study, we learn, we are generally not afraid of much in the realm of trying new things. On the flip side, we try to be helpful whenever we can, and both of us have taken on mentoring younger people in our respective fields and we’ve been able to pass on some amount of confidence to others, generally we try to be helpful, we make it a goal to be part of the solution and not the problem, we act brave even when we are afraid, and we try to work from a genuine place of eagerness to be of service. I have no fear of not having done enough, for us or for others. Yet there is this one overwhelming fear I have yet to conquer.

I’m terrified that we will crush someone else’s dream.

It’s not us I’m concerned about. We’ll be fine. We’ve had plenty and we’ve had less, and we’ve been happy with both. We’ve worked through messy family situations, divorces, our own insecurities, (that last one’s ongoing of course.) but, just like the time we rented a 50 foot twin engine boat and went cruising around the coast of Washington and Canada without a single day’s working knowledge of boat operation, I was afraid that we would make a mistake that would cost some innocent bystander their life’s savings. Every time we had to park (sorry, dock) that massive, multi-ton twin-screw ship, I couldn’t help but worry that one mistake could literally sink some really nice people’s retirement dream.

I would see them, these gracious retirees relaxing on the back decks of their lovely boats with names like ‘The Serenity’ or ‘Seafoam Two’. A glass of wine in one hand, they would watch us with growing concern as we clumsily made our way through the port slips. By the time we were finally at our slip, about six to eight of them would have surrendered their cocktail time and come to stand by, ready, holding ropes, shouting advice to my dry mouthed husband as he tried to back into the space. Yep, back in.

After our second such foray, once we had thanked everyone profusely, offered bottles of wine as consolatory thank yous, and gone back inside I turned to Joseph and said, “That was distinctly not fun! This is supposed to be fun, I’m on vacation!” So we found a captain who teaches boating, and Joseph took a half-day lesson. After that we could dock without having to face the blank horror of encroaching doom on the faces of Memaw and Papa.

Then we decided to anchor off an island, which means drop an anchor and run a line to a tie-off on the shore, like, say a tree. What we didn’t know is that the ropes they had given us with the rental boat did not float like they are supposed to do. They sank. So while we were jockeying around in the bay, the ropes got twisted tightly around the propeller. Now we are in near freezing water off the coast of Alaska, but God bless my hubby, he strips down, puts a kitchen knife in his teeth and dives in. Okay, first he hid the boat engine keys just for his own piece of mind because if I had started the engine, he would have been sliced to pieces. So there he is struggling under the boat, coming up for gasps of air and clearly not having an easy time of it. I see the lady in the only other boat, which was anchored about thirty yards away, very quietly get into her dingy, and row over. When she was close, she just sat there and waited. Ready to help if Joseph got in any trouble.

So kind, and we have tried to do the same in return every chance that comes before us. Sometimes all we do is stand by, ready to help if needed, sometimes we chip in and help tow the line, figuratively or literally.

And here’s the deal, we’ve learned one, very important thing.

Ask for help when you need it.

You won’t always get it, but on this trip, it’s been fairly remarkable how great people are. People with lifetimes of experience and knowledge that you don’t have and are willing to share it.

Take Jay. He’s the manager/owner at the RV camp where we are now huddled down for three months. The other night, someone who was supposed to arrive had a breakdown on the freeway off ramp. They called to let Jay know that they would be arriving late, that they had a tow coming for their truck but they would have to leave the trailer by the highway until the pickup was fixed. So Jay got his ass out of bed at 4 a.m. took his truck, picked up their trailer, and had it in place by the time the unlucky campers finally got their repairs done.

During the recent flooding here in Santa Cruz, Joseph and I went to the fire department, Sheriff’s office, and two churches trying to find somewhere to volunteer and help out with anything from sand bagging to bringing food to evacuation centers. The response at each place was the same, they were guarded, then surprised, and finally grateful, but they had it pretty well covered, being used to this sort of weather every seven or eight years. So we left our number and went to breakfast.

It was weird not be able to help out. That’s just something we do, it doesn’t require thought or decision for us, we are part of a whole, a community, and while we are in it, we will try to make it a better place. Some people think you need a church, or an organization of some kind to work through, and, while group assistance is great for big disasters you can help others with any small thing that comes your way. It isn’t religious, it isn’t noble, it does not require godly approval, it’s just human.

So when we knew that our inexperience with camper relocation could damage some very old trees not to mention someone else’s mansion on wheels, we turned to Jay. He’s kind of a scary dude. Six-five, I’d say, white hair and perfect goatee, looks a lot like the quiet yet dangerous member of a biker gang. But we bucked up our courage and asked. He quietly got up from his desk, put on his coat, climbed into the driver’s seat of our pickup, and whipped that massive hunk of metal, wood, furniture, everything including the kitchen sink, into it’s exact position. One of his workers stood by as pilot and the job was done in five minutes, to within an inch of where he wanted to put it. Even the squirrels were impressed, but they chittered insults and mockery at us. I’m pretty sure that’s what they were doing, anyway, they were definitely hurling something, possibly redwood cones.

Best of all, Joseph and I watched what Jay did, and though we might not be able to do it now, we at least have some idea of the geometry of it. We learned.

That was kind. That was brave. Jay is one of many who are really good at something we are not, and was willing to share his experience and expertise even with the risk involved in handling someone else’s property. That is both kind and courageous.

What a difference it made, to us, to the people around us, and hopefully to Jay. We were sincerely awed by his ability, and he was no doubt relieved to end the day without bodily injury or a lawsuit.

Are you brave? Help someone else.

Are you afraid? Ask for help.

Are you afraid and there is no one to help?

Act brave, it might just get you through it.

Even if the squirrels do laugh at you.

 

With deep gratitude.

 

Shari, March 6th, 2017

 

 

acting, beauty, Life in General

Clawing my way to Happiness.

 

Wow, it’s been a tough couple of months. This election is insanity itself, and as someone who is fascinated by human behaviour both individually and societal I’m having a hard time staying positive.

It’s not the politics, it’s not even the supposed policies, it’s the anger, the loathing, the fear, and the virulence spewing from seemingly sane people that has me down. We live in a world where people believe different things, have different visions, and—call me crazy— I think that should be okay.

In the last day or so, I had to come to terms with the fact that I am actually, clinically depressed. My anxiety has been through the roof. It’s major life changes for me as well, selling a home we have built and loved, moving to a new life, the last kid leaving for college, etc, but I’m someone who usually embraces change, in fact, I’m enthused and energised by it!

So why am I so tired? Why do I feel like crying for no apparent reason? Why do I find myself wilting on a step or a rock and holding my head in my hands without knowing how I got there or if I can get up again?

Because I started to lose faith in people. I see people who should be trying to make the world better doing nothing but spreading hate and fear. I see supposed ‘grown-ups’ posting things that are cruel and juvenile with no intention of creating discussion or change, only to insult, hurt, and lash out.

What the hell is wrong with us? And how can we keep hoping and trying when there is so much narrow-minded selfishness and narcissism being shoved down our throats?

My immediate response to this kind of negative personal reaction is to do some good, to empower myself and the world around me with kindness or generosity or charity even. Something, anything, but even that effort has been difficult to muster. We feel so helpless when we continually see people behaving as though their goal in life is to make the worst possible choices for the overall good. When did we become this race that cared for nothing but ourselves?

The answer, of course, is that most of us haven’t. Yes, there is a huge portion of the population, especially I think in our country, who respond from ignorance and fear, I understand that, but what hurls my heart into darkness is watching people make those choices knowingly, gloatingly, gleefully.

The sheer mass of meanness has been overwhelming to say the least. So much so that in the last few days, I’ve actually been feeling tired of life. I’ve been scrabbling and scratching my way up for a breath of decency and hope. Just forcing myself to stand and step forward, to go a little further, to lift my chin a little higher, has felt like pulling a locomotive uphill with a fraying tow rope.

Usually, I’m the one offering a smile or a joke or a compliment. I spend a great deal of my energy trying to make others feel good, and that, much like compounded interest, gives me even more energy and happiness. I’m selfish that way.

So it was interesting to have a day where on my usual errands to the bank, the grocery, the post office and other neighbourhood places, to discover how many people not only noticed I was sad, but went out of their way to make me smile. I now understand the expression, ‘many happy returns of the day,’ because my bonus came in. At the coffee shop, one of the servers made a special effort to call me by name, to sincerely ask how I was doing. The checker at the grocery store who I always chat with came around the counter to give me a hug when I shared that I was suffering what I call, ‘the reds’ (extreme anxiety). The bank manager, who loves my books, actually got teared up when I explained that we were moving away.

And then, with all the perfect timing of the universe, my daughter sent me an essay she wrote for college about me. Here’s an excerpt.

My mom is a truly adventurous person. She will try any food or challenge that comes her way, excluding of course anything that would involve cruelty or is not within reason. Some of my most vivid memories of my mother and her adventures include my sister and I taking the role of the worried parent as my mother attempts some dangerous feat. “Get away from that bear” we would say, or “mom the ice bridge isn’t safe, please don’t… oh god no there she goes.” For all the times she has made us incredibly nervous for her well being, she has also pushed us to always be brave and never shy away from adventure.

What’s funny is that in the end the only thing that really makes me feel in danger is putting myself out there emotionally. Caring. I am not a person who can look away from bullying, cruelty or suffering, and that makes me vulnerable. It takes all of my courage sometimes to stay open, to care, and to not look away from those things.

And it’s true, I am seldom afraid, I always look for the beauty and positivity around me, but lately I have felt utterly drained and sad. Not sad for myself, but for humanity as a whole.

But I realise now, again, that it is time for me to be brave. Time to lean into the fear, the hate, the ignorance, and smile. To cross the ice bridge.

I look at it like this. I’ve said it before…We are all one. Now, if that’s true, then we can look at ‘us’ as ‘me’ and each of the billions of people on this planet are different aspects, emotions, thoughts and traits that make up the whole. If you look at it that way, it seems to me that things are becoming, just maybe, a little bit better. More of humanity is waking up to the fact that we are not alone, that we are not any better, nor more important than any one else. Needing to feel superior is one sure sign that you are not.

So, most importantly, I must be brave in order to be kind, not only to others, but to myself. I must remember that so many of ‘us’ are working hard every day to make the world a more loving place, in so many different ways. Even, or especially when I feel so tired and disappointed, I must make every effort to look up.

Or…I can remember what I saw at the zoo this morning when I was chaperoning my daughter’s class on a field trip.

Two lovely young women, both moms, were there each with one child. A small boy, maybe 18 months old, and a girl a few months less. Both babies were teetering about in that toddler, diaper-between-my-stubby-legs walk, and as I smiled down at them, the boy leaned forward, put a gentle hand on the girls head, and then kissed her on the mouth. Both the moms and I gasped in delight as the little girl clapped her hands and then laid her head against his arm.

That is who we are. That is where we start. Where we go from there, that loving, happy self, is up to us.

Choose well my friends, you are me, and I am you.

None of us are getting out of this world alive, or alone.

Spread some happiness.

What your option?

Shari,  November 3rd, 2016

Life in General

Gorillas in the Mists of Venice

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A view of the filming from the bridge.
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And what I see when I’m ‘alone.’

What’s that? There in the fog? Look closely, that way, in the near distance, a movement, a murmur, the wildlife stirs.

Oh, that’s us. We’re shooting a film here sans the rest of our crew. The whole big scene, assistants, grips, FX team, assistant directors, catering, etc, will all be hunkered down for a few weeks of intense group participation back in LA, and that will be tons of fun, no doubt, but today is a very different animal.

Because for this segment of the film, probably the first three minutes, it’s just me, the director, and the director of photography. It’s a raw way of working, but let me tell you, it has its definite advantages.

First, as an actress. Yes, I’m doing my own makeup and hair, and keeping track of my own wardrobe, not very well, by the way, I won’t look as pretty or be as well lit, but that’s okay, this film isn’t a vanity piece, and on the other hand I don’t have a team of people in my face picking and fussing at me with spray cans, lint rollers and brushes right up until the director says action, which, when you are doing a scene where you are beginning to see the devil in your real life, helps I think.

So much of acting is about just being able to be alone in a crowd. Being capable of not seeing what is right in front of your eyes, but instead what you imagine and mentally produce. The more I think about it, the two most valuable qualities to have as an actor are probably a fantastic fantasy life, and emotional detachment.

Here’s an example. I’m shooting a scene in my hotel room in Venice, it’s a very intimate phone conversation with my estranged husband, (played by the fabulous Eric Etebari, who will shoot his part much later back in LA) I don’t have him giving me the lines, and the director is busy, so I have to just memorize my part, and ‘hear’ his lines in my head. Meanwhile, the DP is constantly checking the focus on the camera because the camera is panning and moving in as the scene continues.

Do you have any idea how hard it is not to look at someone moving suddenly in your eye-line? To stay fixed in a tense, emotional moment when someone is waving a hand a foot from the camera? The combination of ‘forgetting everything’ and ‘being in the moment’ is a dichotomy that is extremely unnatural.

But, hey, that’s what I do.

A huge part of being a good actress means being technically good. By that I mean that you know what the framing is on the camera and visualize how to best fill it, you match your hand and head movements so that the editor can cut between the master and the close up. You make sure you are in your light, even if that means a fraction of an inch turn of your head. You are careful not make any unnecessary sound that might mess up the audio. You sit into the shot and place your face in the exact inch that means you will be in focus. You pause when a boat in the canal outside sounds it’s horn and then repeat the line so that it is ‘clean.’ All in a days work.

Now add to that, shooting in a city packed with tourists with nothing to do but try to see what’s going on, and locals who try to get in the picture. It’s hysterical really. We got to the point where we would set up the camera facing the wrong direction. The Italians, always on the phone, would find a place to settle themselves directly in the shot, then, when they were ensconced, at the last minute we would swing around and I would move to the other side so that we could get the shot even amidst the indigenous flora and fauna.

And there you have it, Gorilla filmmakers in the mists of Venice.

And if I must say, we got some amazing footage. Atmosphere and emotion and history that we could never have achieved back in good ol’ Hollywood.

So for you actors out there, my message today is “be flexible.” Don’t expect everyone to be completely silent and still and cater to you. It won’t happen, not even on the biggest sets. Other people have jobs to do too, and you need to respect them as well. When the sound guy lowers the boom to six inches over your head to catch your whisper, don’t look at it, and don’t even think about it. Yes, you will see the grip angle the reflector card as you step in to your close up, yes you will see the first AD cue the extras to walk behind you. But you must stay in your own dream.

Forget them all, and remember everything. Be in the moment emotionally yet intellectually perform a thousand tiny physical tasks. That’s my advice for today. Whether you are shooting with two people on a busy street, or a crew of hundreds on a sound stage.

You will never be alone, but we must believe that you are.

Meanwhile, back in the jungles of Italy, in between shots, I smile at everyone, help the elderly man down the stairs of the bridge when our camera is blocking the railing, listen to the bells of the cathedrals tolling in their fullness, and remind myself again how lucky I am.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Shari Venice, Italy, March 10th 2013.