art, beauty, children, divorce, family, Life in General

Losing Diamonds, Finding Love

 

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getting it right

 

We were in Hawaii when my sister’s first husband proposed to her. She didn’t know it was coming, but I did, so I took my four year daughter and followed them out to the beach where we could watch from a discrete distance. Creason was so amped up with keeping a secret that once he dropped to one knee she took off running toward them before I could stop her. After a quick glance at her aunt’s hand she turned and came running back. As soon as she was within shouting distance, she yelled, “He gave her a ring with three sparkles!!”

Sparkles. Call it like it is kid, three sparkles.

My first two husbands didn’t bother to get me a ring. The first marriage was over in a year or so, and I was glad to be clear of it. An expensive ring wasn’t that important to me as a ‘thing’ to own, but as time went on with husband number two and I gave up career opportunities to grow, deliver, and raise two beautiful girls, I realized that it would have been nice for their father to have taken the trouble to maybe make me feel like he noticed the imbalance of that equation with an effort at making me feel appreciated. It didn’t have to be anything expensive, even though he could easily have afforded it, just having him put the thought into trying to make me happy would have been nice.

So for twenty something years I bought my own diamonds while I was working and attending events where I could justify wearing such a thing, even if that justification is as weak, lopsided and pathetic as a two-legged table. Come on, nobody needs a diamond, the money would be far better spent feeding hungry children or a college education. (He didn’t pay for the college either it turned out, if only there had been some clue!)

Yet most women—well, privileged American women—expect a diamond as an engagement present. Out of three marriages, only my third, current, and final husband bothered to observe the tradition, and he, in classic Joseph style, did it right. Popped that little black velvet box open in front of my eyes while we were making love, thank you very much. My ring is a very special piece, and it only matters that I know that. I do not wear it to impress anyone else. He could not have found anything to make me feel more like his treasure.

See, there are big-but-flawed diamonds, there are the ‘we got money very recently so I have this impressive looking but lower quality yellow’ diamonds, mostly favored by women who bling their cell phones and carry tiny trembling canines, and then there are the only thing I wanted. A pre-blood-diamond, brilliant color, flawless quality, uniquely framed by a magnificent filigree nineteen-twenties Cartier setting. It brings me joy every time I look down at my hand, because of what it represents, love, romance, commitment, and most importantly, that I am a precious to a gem among men.

So, when I recently left a rope of diamonds necklace in a hotel in San Francisco and realized it wasn’t coming back, it was a twinge, but not worth hysterics. It’s just a sparkly thing after all. Okay, about fifty sparkly things, but nobody’s ill or dying, I won’t go homeless or not eat, and the looser my neck skin becomes the more I wonder about the wisdom of accenting it anyway.

Then, in the same week, I went to pick up a prescription and was told that my health insurance had been cancelled. Surprise! The promise of medical care is a much scarier thing to lose than diamonds, trust me, just ask the millions of Americans who will be joining that group soon. Phone calls to find out what had gone wrong and why I hadn’t been notified were fruitless, or went unanswered after holds exceeding an hour, so I set out to find the physical office and people whom I hoped could explain.

Three locations, two building complexes and several waiting rooms later, I was told that my insurance should actually be valid, the only problem was that no one had finished the paperwork transferring it from southern California to Central California, though it had been ordered over a month before and was ‘on someone’s desk.’ So, I was currently uninsured due to a clerical error. If I had come down with a staff infection, been shot by some NRA sponsored mental patient, or been hit by a drunk driver, I would have been shit out of luck and financially ruined. Ah, America is number one, I do NOT think. ‘Oh well,’ seemed to be the general attitude of those allowed to screw us for profit. I was informed that I could call tomorrow and try to get someone to fix the situation, (remember I was already on hold for over an hour more than once with that very same number before finally giving up) or I could wait among the several dozen people in the waiting room for someone who could finalize it today.

Feeling strangely untrusting, call me crazy, I opted to wait so I could vent at someone’s face. The building also housed a clinic and the large waiting room in which everyone had been given a number that came up on a screen when the powers that be deigned to see you—much like the DMV, was filled with melting down children, parents clinging to their last nerve, hacking coughs, angry and frightened citizens with issues like mine, and a sprinkling of the homeless who were there for some agency of some sort.

It was this last category that fascinated me. I watched as one man, probably in his early seventies, carrying a huge, dirty backpack, greeted several other of this forgotten tribe. Without exception hugs were given, concern was expressed, help was offered if possible, but more often it was condolence or sympathy. Things are tough out there on the street and, no matter how much people like us pretend not to see the suffering, it doesn’t make it any less brutal for them.

The elderly homeless man started a conversation with a nice family sitting near him. They looked a little uncomfortable but were very polite to this cheerful, well-spoken elder who primarily addressed the son, a young man of maybe 14. I truly wished I could remember all that was said. He talked about how lucky the boy was to have a family who loved him. I started to listen when I heard him ask the kid if he knew he was loved. When the boy said yes, the older gentleman said, “That makes me so happy. That makes me all waggily in the tail.”

The phrase caught my attention and I started to pay closer attention. Here was this man with nothing, literally, but the clothes and the pack on his back but I’ve seldom seen a more positive person. I wish I had written down all he said, but it went something like this.

“I know I’ll find love today and everyday, and when you know that, it gets easier and easier. When I get something to eat, you know what I do? I go out and find someone to share it with. It might be cold by the time I find someone but that’s what makes my day, I know I will find love.”

After a few minutes he was called in and stood up, bracing himself to shoulder that heavy pack. I stood up as well.

“Sir?” I called. He stopped and turned. I opened my wallet, pulled out a twenty and said, “Please get yourself something to eat and find someone to share it with.”

I was so moved by his grace and plight, that I had to turn away quickly to hide my tears. But he followed me and when I sat down, he bowed graciously. “Thank you, thank you,” he said, with a huge grin. He turned to the family and bowed slightly to them as well. “Wonderful to speak with you,” he told them, “You are a beautiful family.” Then he turned back to me. “Bless you,” he said, but before he could say anything else, my number was called and I escaped before openly weeping with shame that in this country of obscene wealth, so many people sleep on the concrete in the rain.

The administrator who helped me was wonderful, kind, patient and we shared some amazing stories while she completed the paperwork, I thanked her for the help and the conversation and went on my way.

As I climbed into my car I thought again about the diamonds that I lost, and felt nothing. Yes, they cost money, yes they are gone, but I would not waste life looking for them or regretting their loss.

So this week I lost some diamonds permanently, my health insurance temporarily, and I found someone who lives with the conviction that he will find love if he looks for it. I found someone who believes that love is ever-present, even in the darkest of situations.

A man who will never have diamonds or gold.

Or even a warm, safe place to call his own.

His smile and his clear-eyed kindness woke something in me.

It gave me a gift, a treasure, a memory.

Of this amazing human who spends everyday looking for love.

And today, like everyday,

He found it.

 

Shari, January 3rd, 2018

 

authors, creative inspiration, Life in General, New Novels, writers, writing

Categorically Wrong Again.

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Just a few words.

Whenever someone finds out I’m a writer, (because I tell them) their first question is always, “What do you write?” by which they mean, ‘what genre?’

How do I sum up my work in a word? I wish someone would tell me. If you’ve read “Invisible Ellen” you’ll know why. It’s comedy, it’s drama, it’s fable, it’s reality, it’s socially conscious, it has story and it’s character driven, and while it’s primarily about two women, it’s not ‘women’s fiction’ perish the narrow-minded dismissal! I understand why people ask, they may prefer cozy mysteries or violent thrillers and are jonesing for their next hit, but I can’ t help them there.

Well, I could. it might be much easier for me to stick to a genre, write the same kind of book again and again. For publishers, it’s easier for them to button hole a writer into a small, easily promotable group. But the entire idea that anyone’s entire body of work can be filed under one word is lamentable. Not to say that writers like Rex Stout aren’t masters of their genre, practically creators of their own library sections, but that is because their work is so complex and compelling to start with, they are anything but simple.

Full disclosure, I have written books based on a label by contractual agreement. In fact after my first book “Loaded” was purchased, the publisher ordered two more books described thus: “Mystery thriller with a romantic entanglement.” So…at least that was two labels in one. I always bucked the identity of ‘romance writer’ not because I don’t love a good romance as much as the next red-blooded, sex-crazed female with a penchant for tactile mental imagery and the well-described monkey noises that accompany them, but because I know so many writers who write romance so much more deliberately and, frankly, so much better than I do. Romance is just not my passion, if you’ll forgive the awkward juxtaposition of nouns.

Which sends me spinning off on one of my tangents; I do this a lot. I’m just cruising along on a big merry-go-round of topical reasoning when something suddenly snags my mind’s eye, I lose my grip on the painted pony of focus, and the centrifugal force slings my thought process into free flight, tumbling my head over my ass off into another part of the zoo. I might return to my original point but I might also spend the rest of the essay admiring the zebras, sorry.

Anywho…speaking of herd animals, isn’t it a relief to sometimes be one? I mean, to just say, “Yeah, I’m not even going to try to lead the pack in this field, So-and-so is so brilliant at it that I might as well not bother.” Giving up on the aspiration to do something or be something you respect and admire is sort of life’s version of screaming “Uncle!” while simultaneously enjoying the experience of having your arm folded up your back like a dislocated chicken wing. There are so many amazing vocations that I would love to conquer, like painting, or astrophysics, but—even making the wild assumption that I had the talent and propensity—without at least one more lifetime of devotion to the cause, I’m not likely to give Monet or Neil deGrasse Tyson a run for their money. Therefore, I content myself with gazing covetously at the transformation of pigment into emotional impact, and listen with rapt reverence to the simplified explanations of a superior intellect.

Not everything. Never give up on everything. Keep something, I say. Find a couple of things you love and even if you stink, you will find fulfillment in the doing if not the adulation that may never come. There’s a lesson in that, is it the proficiency or the laurels you crave? Do you want to act or do you want to be famous? Those are two very different goals, and it is the latter inclination that makes an artist. But then, you never know, maybe your first novel will be ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.’ I mean, hey, you never know until you try.

Meanwhile, let me climb back onto the carousel of my original thought process here. Why do we feel the need to pigeon-hole everyone and every thing? Okay, maybe it works for some things, like B movies and restaurant types, if I feel like pasta I won’t go to a BBQ pit, but people and creativity? That’s just nuts.

Because I don’t want to be chained to any one thing. If I do something for a while and it works for me but I weary of it, I’ll move on. I’ll write books on topics and characters that interest me, I just don’t have the time and energy for a project that isn’t worth six months to a year of my life.

And here’s something I’ve found out not from writing, but from reading. The books I love the most, the ‘break-out’ books, are almost always true originals, impossible to stuff into a cubby-hole with a computer-printed genre-label gorilla glued on the cover.

Screw that. There are true examples that fit any given description, but there is no description that is true about every example. White people aren’t all racist. Politicians aren’t all crooked, (well, a few aren’t!) Blonde women aren’t all vapid. Not every athlete is a bad student. Some mysteries are magical. Some dancers are clumsy. Good people die. Bad people do kind things sometimes.

Life, like literature, is a whirlwind of variety, constructs that grow or crumble, even things we build on foundations that can be washed away in the worst of a storm. If you look at the sum of someone’s work like a house they are putting on the market, before you buy, you need to see more than the real estate agent’s brochure. And while it takes extra time and energy to walk all the way around and through a house, judging the structure by the curb appeal alone leaves you ignorant of the floor plan and no understanding at all of the possible lives and loves that would be constantly changing inside. And don’t forget that everyone has the potential, at any time, to redecorate and redefine.

So…if anyone can help me with a quick phrase to sum up ‘what I write’ please, I’m begging you, I’m down on my scrubby knees chanting for clarity. Share it! As far as summing up my life and divergent personality in a simple adjective, give it up. It can’t be done. Not by me, or you, or anyone. Not about me, and not about anyone else. There is always more, layers on layers, basements and attics and add-ons, carpeting over hardwood floors, recessed lighting with a couple of bulbs burned out, a backyard filled with weeds on one side and a garden on the other. You can choose to live in a mid-century modern, mission style, or Victorian. You can occupy living rooms, bedrooms, tiled kitchens, and even spend time completely away from that home, possibly in the occasional muddy camp-site. Hey, I’ve done a bit of wallowing, every one occasionally makes a lateral move to our lower selves, so wipe that gunk out of your eyes and follow me to the showers.

But for heaven’s sake, stop limiting your vision, there is so much more to see.

If you want to change, do it! But be ready for resistance.

Because people don’t like it when you change.

It’s easier for them if you stay the same.

And nobody does.

So grow.

Dare.

Be all that you are.

Some one will read it.

 

Shari, November 7th, 2017

 

 

 

America, family, Life in General, Nature: Hiking, Wildlife & More

The Fowl Revolution

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General T stalks the evil beast

 

For the last couple years, every time I visited a certain area of my daughter’s campus, my car was attacked by a turkey. He was an angry, brave little dude, darting fearlessly into the street and pecking ruthlessly at the tires on a mysterious mission that we may never fully understand.

This local wild turkey had for some reason decided that he had had enough of these fools overwhelming his homeland. The many students hurrying to class or studying on the lawns of the nearby library had grown accustomed to the aggressive fowl, barely taking notice as cars seeking shelter in the nearby parking lot were forced into gridlock when confronted by the university’s very own, and very real, angry bird. He comes out charging, head down, feathers slightly ruffled so that his stunted wings looked more like spoilers on a coupe, as he fearlessly holds his own against two ton hunks of motorized metal. He was almost as persistent as the metered-parking enforcers that lurk amongst the trees wielding citation pads. Almost.

And now, after a good year or two of breeding and gene transference there are no less than eight attack turkeys. General T has taught his family well. An avian army is mustering. One has to wonder what’s in store for these rebels as they continue to reproduce, passing on the DNA of aggression to the next year’s generation. What will it be like over at the Engineering department next year, or even a decade from now? I envision students and faculty in shin guards, riding in armored campus buses, or hurrying fearfully between buildings and lecture halls while turkeys with bandana covered faces chant, “Humans will not replace us!” while brandishing pine cones and twigs in a menacing manner.

Hey, I don’t blame the birds for their random acts of violence. They live all summer, as they have for thousands of years, in this pristine forest filled with redwoods and ferns, and all of a sudden here come seventeen thousand humans in the fall, reeking of tea tree oil shampoo and melon scented deodorant, their limbs are stained with ink pictographs, they carry noise makers and are draped in brightly colored costumes that clash mightily with the environment. Come on, you can almost hear General T saying, get it together dude, unless it’s mating season your plumage is supposed to blend in! Camouflage, hello? Stealth? And what right do they have to bring these nasty, greedy, black-smoke-belching predators right though our ancient breeding ground! They don’t even eat what they kill. Forest Justice for all poultry!

It is, after all, an institute of learning known for activism. Just ask my Republican family, they’ll snort derisively and snidely imply with a condescending tone of voice that it’s a hippy school. Never mind that this University produces more top scientists, biologists, astrophysicists, and business leaders than Harvard, nevermind that it’s an academic education that far exceeds their own, it’s in Northern California, and to my republican siblings and parents that means the dirtiest of dirty words. Liberal. It’s the one word with no S’s that they can still hiss. Three syllables that make their ears bleed, not unlike what they think of my heart. The very idea of learning to evolve as a species seems to scare the hell out of them. So those turkeys would feature in their worst conservative nightmares, no doubt causing them to wake up sweating, trembling and gobbling, “Fowl!” Before they turn on their Tiffany’s bedside light and start muttering, “Why can’t those damn turkeys go to their own segregated college like God intended. Next thing you know, women will be allowed to play professional golf with men! This country is going to hell. God Damn liberalsssssss.”

What would they think of that one damn indigenous bird fighting for his turkey rights? “Who the hell does he think he is objecting to having his world paved over? Damn turkeys should be grateful to be smushed into American pavement! It would be an honor for him to be eviscerated and stuffed full of stale bread in our country!” Friggen’ wild turkeys stealing jobs from our factory farms!”

Okay, my family isn’t quite that bad, but it’s fun to poke back at them when they laugh at me for not believing I’m as entitled as they are, and I can’t really think of a nicer way to put that. I deleted quite a few other versions of that sentence.

When you send your kids to college, you never know what added benefits will come from that higher education. This is one time that trickle down is actually a factor. I consider my new knowledge of Meleagrididae, of the genus Meagridea, (aka common wild turkey) worth the tuition. I was also horrified to discover, while doing research for this very scientific blog, that the third most asked question about this bird is sadly this, “Is the country of Turkey named after the bird?” Yep, higher education is pretty desperately needed right here, right now, in this country. “We’re number one because one is higher than two!” I can just imagine these uneducated citizens chanting. I’m guessing those same people think the Ottoman Empire is the name of a furniture factory. The Ottoman Empire, by the way, is also commonly known as the Turkish Empire and they invaded Europe around 1354. Maybe this current day college turkey has transcontinental empires on his tiny brain too. It would explain the antagonistic tendencies and the increase in his military.

A few other fun facts; Did you know a very young turkey is called a poult? I guess the birds who live on this campus earn their ‘RY’ when they complete their degree, or reach eating age. It’s a title they are granted at commencement. Theresa Poult, RY. Major in delicious with a minor in entomology. Or did you know that turkeys eat small animals? Who knew your holiday bird could be fattened up with slugs and rats? The knowledge you can acquire at a top-rated University for half a million dollars is really pretty amazing.

So moving on; since we have now learned that turkeys will eat meat, do you think those turkeys will attack a vegan on campus as decisively as a meat eater? Do they discriminate? Do they prefer the taste of cannabis-smoked freshmen to beer-poached sophemores? Does wild muscadine grape pair well with organic graduate students?

I’m being silly, I know, but evolution is a funny thing. And there is a strange parallel here. Creatures learn to adapt in order to survive, our kids learn for pretty much the same reason. I wonder if those turkey chicks pulled-all nighters memorizing the strike zone on Volvo tires. I imagine the extra credit question on their finals; “Which area is most likely to puncture through the inner tube? Draw a diagram of the layers of steel belted radials and a short essay explaining the pros and cons of attacking a whitewall.”

That first attack turkey, General T, sent his chicks off to scratch out a living and fight the man in spite of all the scary changes to his world. We send our kids off to college to learn to deal with authority, scary real life, and apparently, uh…turkeys?

You never know what you’ll have to deal with in life, but one thing I think I can promise you is that if you educate yourself about it, you’ll do much better—and be far more entertained—than if you remain ignorant. So let me close with some fun facts to know and share.

The country of Turkey was not named after the bird.

Ottoman is not the name of a low, upholstered stool.

Education is not your enemy.

Look it up.

You have a dictionary in your hand.

Learn something.

Evolve.

Or be devoured by wild turkeys.

Poultry justice!

Life is full of funny choices.

 

 

Shari, October 18th, 2017

 

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.