America, beauty, creative inspiration, family, Life in General, Nature: Hiking, Wildlife & More, parenting

Just for You.

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My husband and I recently gave ourselves the gift of a few days in Yosemite National Park. There were jaw-dropping vistas, cliffs so dramatic they make you weep, waterfalls that remind you how mortal you are, and rivers and trees that murmur the blessings of Mother Nature to you, welcoming you home. All of it is so special and remarkable that you feel that you are the first, that this is a gift just for you.

The city smut sloughs off of you and you can clearly feel your exhaustion. You hadn’t been aware of how depressed and isolated you had become. The separation from anything real snuck up on you, seeping in insidiously until you had lost hope in this current, science-denying country of ours, and assumed everyone but you saw Mother Nature as a big ol’ whore to be pimped to the highest bidding john.

But you look again, and miracle of miracles, you realize there are others. Many others. “Oh,” you say with tears of surprise and relief in your eyes as you see that someone else cares, “I thought I was the only one left who gave a shit.” There are many who have come to be in this sacred space to remember who they are. People who realize that without wilderness, we can never know ourselves, or our place in the world. Individuals, like yourself, who value the world as it is rather than reducing it with their small-minded greed to a disposable commodity.  People who know that we have fucked up—big time—but it’s not yet too late, not quite, and they will not let her die without a fight. These people are the planet’s medics on the battlefield, the last line of defense against the disease of the uncaring ravagers and pillagers. We humans, meant to be the stewards of nature, have instead wounded the world, lost our way, but there is a path that leads back. It’s a sobering thought that the world will not be healed in our lifetimes. Bringing back a healthy environment will take generations.

Which is one reason that, as much as I love my own experiences hiking or exploring or just admiring, I get a real visceral thrill when I see and hear children’s enthusiasm that matches, or even exceeds my own. I love sharing my meager knowledge, or pointing out a deer in the trees, or maybe encouraging them to take off their shoes and feel the cold water and smooth stones of the creek on their feet. If they don’t know it, they can’t love it, and if they don’t love it, they won’t protect it.

When I was a small child, my mother said she had to get a hold of me if we ever went somewhere high with a view because I would race to the edge with my arms flung wide and scream at the top of my lungs. Every daring glimpse of the cosmos was a gift, just for me, and I took it.

My mom called it energy, and it was, but it was something more than just my personal energy, more even than childish unbridled joy. It was a few precious seconds of connection with the swirling, glorious infinity of nature and the universe. I know that feeling, I remember it. I still get it, though people freak a bit if, as an adult, I launch myself to the edge of a precipice and scream. I don’t know why—just one of life’s many mysteries. So I’ve learned to temper my reaction, sadly, but my husband still gets a hold of my belt when we get close to high, open places. He is wary of my impulse to be out in that air, to experience sitting in the twenty story windowsill or on the edge of bridges. Both of which I’ve also been known to do, feet dangling over the width and breadth of San Francisco bay, or the lights of a city night.

In that same spirit I have twirled on rooftops, waltzed on the Eiffel tower, whooped with bliss on the African Savannah, hummed with the crickets in the forest at night, leapt from a rocky cliff into the chill of the magnificent Pacific, and laid down in the rain with my face up to the sky, watching the water fall. Note, it’s important to squint when you do this, it makes it easier to keep your eyes open.

And why? For life, to feel the whorl and tides of unmitigated force and vitality. It’s a precious gift and I damn well am going to open it every chance I get.

Possibly the only thing I enjoy as much as gulping in bliss and nature is watching and hearing kids do it. Their enthusiasm is endless, not unlike my own, and their expressions have not yet been tempered or their unchecked joy corrected, limited, and restrained. Their awe is unbridled and infinite.

Sometimes, probably unfairly, it makes me nuts when people treat an outing to someplace like Yosemite as a photo shoot for their kids. Reining them in from the hugeness of the experience to try to contain it in a few thousand pixels. I get it, we all want to document our experience and to share it, but not at the cost of the kids discovering it while they’re there.

So it’s nice to find a balance. I was at the base of Yosemite falls and a mom with two boys, very young, maybe 3 and 5, was trying to line them up for a photo, drawing them away from the toddler-mind-blowing reality in front of them. Away from the now for a future reward. The younger boy slumped, hands hanging almost to his knees as he moaned, “Why do we always have to take a picture?” His older brother, no doubt sensing the inevitable and wanting to get it over with, threw an arm over his little brother’s shoulder and drew him close. Turning their backs on the object of delight to pose for mom, he explained, shouting over the roar into his brother’s ear, “Because these are memories.” As he said the word ‘memories,’ he stretched the last syllable, turning the eee sound, into a big smile, which he turned toward the camera. Click, and they were back to the moment where they belonged, exhilarated at the sheer thrill of the explosive power of falling water. They leaned over the stone bridge and screamed into the crash of impact and danced in the magical mist that engulfed them.

And that’s our life, sometimes we take the gift of now, and sometimes we wrap one up for the future into a tiny computer file to look at later and bring the memories and the sensations of something grander than ourselves back to us when we sit at our desks or in the carpool lane. A gift of now for the future, just for you.

I suppose that’s what a great family trip in nature is, a gift for now and for later.

“Please,” I pray to Mother Nature, “please let the children remember. Let them love you so that they find the courage to protect you.”

And she whispers back to me, “It is in their soul now, it always was, but here they have found it again.”

Then, being Mother Nature and a bit unpredictable not to mention snarky, she adds, “And it’s on mom’s cellphone, so…you’re welcome.”

Then she winks and fades away with the most glorious sunset that ever was, to work her magic on the twilight.

 

Just for me.

 

 

Shari, April 11, 2018

 

acting, Acting & Experiences, America, authors, beauty, creating character, Entertainment, film, Life in General, men

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

 

beauty, Life in General, makeup, men, Shakespeare

Skipping Middle Age

 

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older and softer

Recently I posted a picture of myself with no make up or photo shop tricks, and a fan from my movie days commented, “Wow! You look so different.”

Really? I look different than I did thirty-five years ago after teams (meaning multiple people in each) of hair and wardrobe and makeup and lighting and camera experts worked on me for hours to get that perfect shot?

Shocker.

Now, I don’t think he meant it meanly, but it gave me pause. Should I be insulted? No, because he’s absolutely right. Should I be amused? Oh yeah, because it feels much better (and is much smarter) than feeling hurt and indignant for denying the superior forces of gravity, time, and ‘nature’s changing course, untrimmed,’ as young Will would have put it in a sonnet.

Face it. Or should I say, Wrinkly face it. I look different and you will too.

Because it goes like this—and really quickly by the way.

You’re young, you’re naïve enough to get away with stupid mistakes, (live and learn, you shrug as you laugh off getting called out for pretending to be an expert on some shit that turns out to be some stranger’s dead wrong opinion you overheard in a coffee shop) you’re healthy, you’re gorgeous…

and then you aren’t.

Why stretch that excruciating transition out over thirty or forty years? Why torture yourself by denying the inevitable? Why beat yourself up at every one of those learning curves? All those middle aged ‘firsts’ that smack you upside the head because you were actually delusional enough to think you were going to be young and cool forever.

I’m talking about firsts like:

The first time you realize that cute guy or girl doesn’t just not notice you, they don’t even see you.

The first time you go to your doctor and instead of offering solutions, she just says, “These things happen as you age.”

The first time you get that AARP packet, (and it won’t be your last, those people are ruthless!)

The first time you realize you’d rather sit your ass down and watch kids play instead of challenging them to a race across the monkey bars. (Although I do still love a good playground!)

The first time you meet a twenty-year old who says you remind her of her grandmother. Her grandmother! And you realize you could easily be.

Take some advice from 56 year old who had a really good run in the young and stupid years, and who is now happier than any other time by a factor of at least 10.

Ready? Now focus because this is profound, I mean this is some seriously deep shit. Here it is.

When you get to about 40 say, “Fuck it. I’m old.”

Skip all that bemoaning and worrying, and suffering for the loss of your figure, hair, mind, sexual attraction, ability to blame your youth for your ignorance and/or bad behavior, and being able to read anything smaller than the top line of an eye chart in noon sunshine. And you get to enjoy all this while you gain weight, forgetfulness, jowls, and wrinkles that look like a compressed trail map of Yellowstone National Park complete with accurate topography. And let me tell you, if you’ve never hiked Yellowstone, there are thousands of criss-crossing trails, glacial ridges, mountains, valleys, and not a few geysers.

Brace yourself baby. Your ego is going to take a hit.

You used to eat spicy food, now you can’t. You used to drink all the tequila you wanted and bound out of bed the next day. (Can I get a white wine spritzer?) You used to be able to wear a bikini with pride, now it takes a certain amount of denial verging on belligerence, or at the very least a tankini.

Prescriptions take the place of most recreational drugs. (Notice the use of ‘most’ wink wink. CBDs rock for menopause and arthritis!)

For some unknown reason, you will need to blow your nose all the time. Sure, I had the same problem when I was 18 and 19, but when you snort a gram or two of cocaine every day that can happen. Now, the only white powder I use on a regular basis is Dr. Scholl’s moisture absorbent foot powder.

Dancing until two was an every night occurrence. I’m still up every night at 2 am, but now it’s to go pee.

You have to be on LSD to pretend you are still 29 and expect other people to buy into it. Your thought process there approaches the hallucinatory and the odds are strong that it will be a bad trip.

Let’s look at this from another angle. I’ve always been mystified why women lie and say they are younger than they are. The logic is lost on me. If you are, say, 50, and you lie and say you are 42, you risk people thinking, “Damn, she is not aging well at all!” The best you can hope for is someone complimenting your plastic surgeon. But if you are 50, but tell people you are 59, it’s far more likely someone will think and even say, “Wow! She looks fantastic!” Of course the unspoken finish to that comment is, ‘for her age.’ I mean, if what you’re worried about at my age is people notice that you’re aging—which translates, let’s be honest, to being vain—then you need to think this mo-fo through.

What are you grieving? Oh no, boo hoo, as you age you’ll loose the leering, sleazy admiration of jerks who think you exist solely for their sexual gratification. How ever will you survive the loss? “Alas I confront the gaping void! Such tragedy befalls me! Oh woe, calamity, the end of all I hold dear! Darkness descends, beauty fades and my worth is ended!”

Can we just take a moment of silence for your mental sanity, and your values?

Of course that’s what we get as a country for equating youth with beauty and beauty with happiness.

Talk about setting yourself up.

The moral of the story is; get the f’ over yourself. You are going to age, and as you do so you will begin to disappear more and more in the eyes of youth and a societal ethics you helped to create by valuing your own youth and beauty above things of actual importance. Will you panic and cling to the illusion that you can stop the clock? Or will you relax and enjoy the easy fall into shorter walks and birthday cakes that increasingly resemble burning man less the fun drugs and nudity? What is your option to aging? I’ll let you think about that for a minute.

Got it? Yes, the option is death. And whether you take the longer way or the express, your ticket disembarks at the same destination, so you might as well enjoy the ride.

You get to choose when you make your wish. Will you use that flame to set yourself on fire and end the shame of, dare I speak the word, unattractiveness? Or will you use the light of experience, of years, to be enlightened?

Is there an up side to living to be less physically attractive? What can we learn from all these bonus years on the planet?

Lots. You don’t have to impress anybody, and you learn to be fine with that.

You learn to say, “I don’t know,” and be fine with that.

You learn to be fine, in a completely different way.

You get to be who you are.

Finally, at long last,

You can be who you want to be.

Hello old friend!

Oh, it’s me.

 

Shari, August 19, 2017

 

 

Acting & Experiences, art, authors, beauty, creative inspiration, Life in General

Relevant

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Who I am Now!

What makes us relevant in life? Social media is a funny thing, so many people use it to try create some sense of worth about their ex-careers or their current lives, but it doesn’t really change the fact that if they aren’t— they aren’t. That’s a bit convoluted, so let me explain.

If you had any kind of celebrity, even for a minute, as an athlete, an actor, writer, musician, business owner, then there are most likely people who would listen to what you had to say or look at what you posted for that reason. That kind of interest is superficial and wears off fast, but to continue to be relevant, you have to have something else to offer.

Sure, it’s easy at eighteen to be valued for your looks and your sex appeal, lots of people make a career out of that, then as they age, (and you will too) and they lose their sense of worth. Suddenly they’ve gone from being admired and envied to criticised and shunned. I’ve watched so many people struggle in desperation to try and maintain a level of public interest when they no longer have anything legitimate to offer, and that’s because what they were offering didn’t have true value.

As you age and grow, your priorities must mature and grow. I can’t imagine having the same values I had decades ago. How sad would that be? I’m fifty-five, do I really need people to tell me how sexy I am? (I have a husband who does plenty of that, and that’s great, don’t me wrong, but I don’t need it from anyone else.)

You see, having been on the cover of a magazine, or acted on a TV show that no longer exists, made some people think I had some kind of  social relevance. The truth is, those things did nothing to help anyone. They left no mark on the world. I didn’t cure any diseases by getting that attention or showing up on a set. I didn’t feed hungry people, provide shelter to the homeless, nothing. Even when I was doing those things, I wasn’t any more important than anyone else, less so in many cases, but that’s a hard concept to grasp in a country where youth, fame and money have been shoved down your throat as the best things you can ever achieve.

I love beauty. I love art in all forms. Personally, if I see a beautiful woman of any ethnicity, weight or age, I usually make a point to tell her so. Sometimes, they look surprised, but more often, the women I admire have so much more going on than looks that they get it. They have confidence, style, class, intelligence, purpose, and kindness. That is what I find beautiful.

As a writer, my purpose has changed. Thankfully, looks don’t enter into it, so I can return to what I always loved the most, creativity and communication. I strive to find a subject that can help people see themselves and others in a new light. That’s our job as authors, to shine the light on the inside. You can’t judge a book by it’s cover, and you can’t judge a person by the size of their breasts or the rip of their six pack. I mean, you can, but it says way more about you than it does about the person being judged.

So what makes me relevant now? The fact that I may have something to say, some words of encouragement, good ideas for how to break through a writer’s block, a helpful hint about mothering teenagers, or even a recipe or two, and that only makes me relevant to those who can use those things. I do a good bit of charity work, and if I can make some other people aware then that’s helpful. Unfortunately, for charity to be successful, people have to be in need, and I find that a sad irony. I’d much rather have no charity work to do, if you look at it that way.

Everyday, I try to make a small difference. I take the time to distract the toddler who is on the edge of a tantrum while their parent is trying to get through the shopping. I smile and crack a joke to try to make stressed people smile back, to share something. I pick up trash when I hike, I stop and say hello to the homeless guy who reads in the parking lot where I shop. I bring him some lunch and we discuss books. He has a nerve disease and it’s hard for him to get the words out, but he’s smart and literate, and I know it makes a difference to him that I see him as a person, who has so much to offer.

Because we all do. My question is in what way do you want to be relevant? I can break it down for you. It’s easy. Do you want to be envied or helpful? You can of course, be both, but your intention cannot be split. You can love the art of acting, and want to be successful at it, to elevate everyone involved, that’s helpful! I’m not discounting that but there’s more. When I compare my having acted in a sixty million dollar movie to the importance of the work the oncology doctors I know do, I blush with insignificance. When I see a great teacher getting through to kids enough to inspire a love a learning, I rejoice for that great success.

By all means, pursue your love, act on your passions, take those chances! Whatever you do, do it well. The reward should be that you tried and learned. Leave a trail of smiles and encouragement in your wake. The smartest life choices include all that will make you and those around you truly happy. The hollowest choices  are those you make because you think they are what someone else wants. That is a mistake I see happening again and again. It’s a mistake I made again and again.

So why am I relevant now? I’m not, but if I can remind one of you that you really count, or that I am awed by your everyday kindness and patience, then I’m happy, because that’s what I want now. Not to be relevant, but to make you feel that way.

Because you are. There’s always someone prettier, younger, smarter, more talented, or richer, and there always will be.

But there will never be another you.

Isn’t that wonderful?

Shari, March 22, 2016

acting, Entertainment, film, makeup, mental illness, movies, New Novels, schizophrenia

Sometimes I Scare Myself.

Not my best day. photo by John Dlugolecki

This image of me is a work of art featuring makeup by an incredible artist named Devan Weitzman.  I realized when I looked at this picture, how my priorities have changed over the last trio of decades, and all I have to say is…what a relief!

I spent my teen years as a competitive ice skater, so I understood that hard work, and artistic ability were things that fulfilled me, that moved and motivated me. But then the day came when modeling, and then commercials, became my bread and butter, my entire value was suddenly based on how I looked, not necessarily by me, but by the people with whom I worked. In that business, it was a somewhat understandable—if horrible—place to have your self-worth centered. I remember how important it was to always look ‘sexy’ and ‘attractive.’ I was proud to be the one on the cover of the magazines, on the billboard, or the one who turned heads when I walked through a restaurant. I was proud, because it’s all I had to be proud of then. Without realizing it, I became more and more discontent, distressed, and unfulfilled. But, of course, since I had what others wanted, I was not allowed to express any unhappiness. I didn’t even understand that I was unhappy, and certainly not why.

And then I went on a remarkable photo shoot.

There was a model in Atlanta, I cannot remember her name! because she was a few years ahead of me. When I was starting out, she was winding down. I’d heard about her, and seen her picture everywhere, but we had never worked together. Then one day we were booked to do a swimwear ad featuring us on a bicycle built for two. We shot together, and then each had a turn alone. I was so interested, (and yes, invidiously so) to see why everyone thought she was so great. I was ‘a model with a brain’ so I was well known for using the area, theme, space, movement, and being creative, but I always, of course, focused on looking ‘good.’ So I took my turn and then she was up. I stood in the dark behind the photographer to watch and learn, like the Chinese stealing trade secrets.

She did a few shots of standard smiling or pouting poses and then she did something that shocked me. She pretended to have slipped and hit her crotch on the cross bar, and she did this ugly, ugly, pained face.

And it was fabulous!! In that silly moment, I realized that there was so much more to being a contributing talent than just looking ‘good.’ It was clear to me that because she was less inhibited, she was just plain better at it than me!

Now, no one’s ever accused me of being inhibited, mind you, that was just a step up to being able to see the value of being a character, instead of a face/body.   A realization, in fact, that ‘unattractive’ could be brilliant!! That producing something from the inside out was far more rewarding. And—here’s the secret—It’s much more fun!!! When I came to LA, I deliberately worked on characters in class like the Hunchback of Notre Dame, or one of the witches from Macbeth. And it was really terrifying for me, as it would be for so many women and girls who equate ‘ugly’ with bad. We who were told when we raised our voices, or argued with authority, that we were ‘acting ugly.’ And God forbid we were deemed unattractive by a society that worships beauty.

Taking my ‘ugly’ characters out in public showed me how differently people treated me, though i was the same person inside, and that inspired me to write “Invisible Ellen.”

Thankfully, things are changing, women are increasingly being valued for who they are and what they do, but we have a long way to go. And girls, you all need to get on board! Don’t let men make you compete with yourself or others, and instead of tearing other women down, build them up!! Root for them, cheer for them, chant their name as they go in on the same audition as you are! After all, we’re all on the same team, and isn’t it great to celebrate a thousand victories than to hoard a few of your own and resent everyone else’s?

Theater and acting helped me change my center of self-worth. I was desperate for substance and creativity as opposed to surface appearance. I learned to work in a company, a group, be a part of a whole, and be proud of my talent and hard work instead of my blonde hair and athletic body. I got my worth back.

And now, full circle. In “Scream at the Devil” I play a schizophrenic who is anything but concerned about her looks. She recedes into madness until she’s terrified by every sound and flash of light, and that is what’s important.

“Scream at the Devil” opens Oct 24th at the North Hollywood Laemmle, and plays through Halloween. If you want to check out the theatre page and watch the trailer to see just how far down I can get, here you go— http://www.laemmle.com/films/38650

This character and her pain aren’t pretty, and that’s why I’m so proud of it.

And now I am happy.

Shari, October 9th, 2014

Life in General

The Most Beautiful People.

 

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One of my friends with a kitten.

 

Yesterday I watched a short clip of Dustin Hoffman speaking at AFI about the making of Tootsie. He told the story of asking the movie studio to do makeup tests before they got into production, he said that if he couldn’t look acceptably like a woman, there was no point in making the movie. So they did, and he saw the result, and it was acceptable. Then he went back and said, “Okay, now make me a beautiful woman,” because he thought that was important. If he was going to be a woman, he needed to be physically attractive, right?  The answer was, “That’s as beautiful as you get.” 

And he began to cry, because, as he explained, he realized that he had discounted unattractive women for years, because of some social stereotype that being good-looking makes women valuable, and he knew that he had missed out on a huge portion of love, knowledge, and human connection. 

While this is a wonderful story—and yet another crystal clear example of how we should always put ourselves in another’s shoes before we judge them—it doesn’t just apply to women. 

It applies to anyone that you discount for physical, racial, or sociological reasons. They are not the ones who are lacking. 

Here’s something I learned long ago. Everyone knows something you don’t know. If you will only get past your pre-concieved idea of someone, you will find out that there is more to them than you expected. 

When I was a teenager, one of my best friends had a father who had gone down in a fighter plane in WW2, he was so badly burned that his comrades left him for dead and he laid there for 3 days before a rescue team got to him. The result was that when I knew him, many years later, he had no face. Or rather, his face was scar tissue, with slits for nostrils and the rutted, pore-less skin of a reptile. 

And he was one of the most wonderful people I ever met. Larry Clayton. He was gentle, smart, funny and entertaining. He had lived through so much, given his very identity to defend not only his country, but people who were suffering that he would never meet. He would do anything to help someone out. I’m glad and proud that I knew him and called him a friend. 

How could anyone judge him badly? Yet in our youth and beauty society, it was only his remarkable spirit that kept him from being shunned and ignored. Would you stop to have a conversation with someone who was initially hard to look at? Would you fear your own reaction? 

There are so many children I’ve met through the work with my charity, The Desi Geestman Foundation, who go through terrible physical trials, not the least of which is often the loss of their ‘cuteness’ or attractiveness. This is hardest on the teens, of course. I’ve met charming kids with bald heads riddled with tumors, three year olds whose faces are swollen and covered with fine black hair from the steroids, and quite a few who have lost limbs or even facial features. And I have seen the amazing beauty in them all and been blessed to know every one of them.

I talk a lot about perspective, because I think it colors and changes everything. My friend Paul, who I knew from age 9, when he was diagnosed with bone cancer and lost his left arm, until he died just after his 18th birthday, was the best hugger I ever knew. The last thing the charity did for Paul was to send him with some friends up to Big Bear, because he had never seen the snow, and we knew he didn’t have much longer on this earth. That was our final gift to him and his family. 

Paul had the voice of an angel and we were honored to have him sing at a few of our black tie fundraiser events. To see this cancer- plagued, bald 12 year old with one arm belting out “You are the wind beneath my wings” is a treasured memory that leaves me in tears even as I write this. I will never forget him, or the faces of his pallbearers, all of them were 18 or younger. I know that the lives of his friends who knew and loved Paul through it all are forever changed, they will never be young men and women who judge others by their physical appearance the way most teenagers would. 

That was Paul’s final gift to them. 

It’s a horrible way to learn a crucial lesson, and some small part of me believes that those kids came into our lives to show us what is important. That we don’t control everything, that life and death are neither to be feared. 

It’s those special and courageous people who inspired me to write “Invisible Ellen.” That’s why I think the story of a lost human, ignored and unobserved by society, is important. More than important. Their eviction from society is a loss of spirit and life, of talent and goodness, of potential for friendship, learning and connection that is wasted, not by those who are classified as “different’ or ‘unattractive’ but by those of us who limit our relationships to what is comfortable. We learn so little by embracing only what we know. 

I’ve had quite a few difficult life lessons, and I’m grateful for them all. Of course, I would much rather that Larry hadn’t been so horribly disfigured, or that Paul and the other children never had cancer, but they did, and they do, and I shall not judge the outward effects of their fates, I choose to see the spirit within. 

So, I know this isn’t the happiest blog, but I guess what I’m saying is this—the next time you see someone who is not a person you would go camping with, let’s say, challenge yourself to look them in the eye, to see the person beneath who is just surviving and living like the rest of us, and smile and say hello. Maybe ask how their day is going. And I promise you this. Soon, you will not have to challenge yourself anymore, you will realize that we are all different, we all have struggles, pain and faults, we all have so much to give, we just come in different forms. 

You might learn something you didn’t know, you might even let go of some irrational fear. Freedom is wonderful thing. 

You might even make a friend. 

With love and respect, 

Shari, July 10th, 2013

Acting & Experiences, Life in General, mental illness

The Now on which the Shadow Stands.

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Loving life…all of it!!

This is one of my favorite quotations. As far as I  know the author is anonymous, and this poem is inscribed on the base of a sun dial at a University.

The shadow by my finger cast
Divides the future from the past:
Before it, sleeps the unborn hour, 
In darkness, and beyond thy power.
Behind its unreturning line, 
The vanished hour, no longer thine:
One hour alone is in thy hands,-
The NOW on which the shadow stands.

The reason I’m sharing this today is that I’ve had a sort of time warp jump illustrated to me in my life, perhaps in a way, a very external one, that few people will experience.

It’s been over ten years since I’ve done a film or TV. I have no regrets.  I’m so glad I took the time to be with my girls, and there’s no question that the theatre I did in that time has made me twice the actress I was before, but what an interesting thing to see myself on film again with a decade jump.

Now, forty to fifty is a big leap, and Scream at the Devil is far from a Vanity piece. You don’t play a woman tortured by schizophrenia with full make up and fake eyelashes. Not if you want any kind of reality, and I certainly did. Actually, I’m fifty-two now, so call it a dozen years. And I look different. I’m in good shape, but I have cellulite, and a few more pounds. I have the same cheekbones, but the skin is a big looser around my mouth. My eyes crinkle when I smile, and let’s face it, extreme emotion is seldom physically flattering.

And I’m all right with that. Of course, editing is a strange process, you can, and often have to, change the tempo of scenes, choose shots that make the scene work or fit into the other actor’s improvised lines, it’s not anything like choosing the best still photos from your vacation or head shot shoot. What I’m hoping for here is a performance that moves those who see it, and that honors the suffering of those affected by crushing mental illness and chemical imbalance.

I know, though I don’t care all that much, that people will judge my appearance in this film, and compare it to my much younger self. Why? I don’t know. I suppose as actors and performers and even as a people, we have allowed judgement of physicality and age to so infect our perceptions that even the judged have bought into it.

Big mistake. And here’s why. I don’t care how young you are, how beautiful, how sexy, or how much you place your self-value in those traits, you will age. And I wish for you the same joy in it that I have found.

I’ve never been happier, or felt more beautiful. It makes me so sad when I see women who are in their fifties still trying to sell themselves as ‘sexy.’ Not that they aren’t, of course, they are, but it’s a different sexy, it’s a confident, feeling sexual and contented on the inside instead of counting on others feeling that you are what you want to be.

Does that make sense? Once when I was in an intensive scene study class, a very attractive blonde young actress was struggling to do a scene from “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” and the coach was trying to get her to embrace Maggie’s sultry, seething sexuality, but she just coudn’t. Finally I said, “I can help her!”

David, the coach, looked at me and said, “Fine, Shari Shattuck wants to tell someone how to play sexy. Please, yes, be my guest.”

Instead of speaking up in front of everyone, I left my seat, went down to the stage and whispered in her ear, “It’s not about ‘acting’ sexy, it’s about feeling turned on, feeling sexual.”

She nodded, started the scene again and virtually slithered over furniture and the actor playing Brick like a cat in heat.

David turned to me and said, “What the f*ck did you say?”

I just winked at the actress and said, “It’s a secret.”

But it’s not, or it shouldn’t be. Ladies, gentlemen, embrace your age, be the best you can be, and smile at the fact that the twenty-somethings will get more attention than you. That’s okay, it’s a relief really, to stop being thrown into the arena of physical competition. Don’t let anyone do that to you anymore, and don’t, please, I’m begging you, do it to yourself.

I’m very excited about my life now. I’m calmer and happier, and more fulfilled and focused than ever before. I have as much, maybe more energy than I did in my twenties, I am so much better at dividing my time and knowing what I want and who I want to spend my time with. What a gift!

Take that gift, reach out and grab it. Unwrap it and smile and rejoice. The gift of now, the culmination of all your work, realizations, epiphanies, emotional growth, and wisdom.

Who could ask for anything more?

With love and contentment,

Shari. June 30th, 2013.

Life in General

Cities of Lace and Glass.

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The colorful island of Burano, where the world’s most beautiful lace is still made by hand.

 

 

Though I have visited both islands many times, today was the first time I’ve visited the museums on Murano and Burano, two unique places that share the lagoon surrounding Venice.

On Murano, which has produced some of the world’s most fabulous glass, the Museo de Vetri, (glass) works in chronological order. The first room holds glass from the ancient Romans. I was immediately arrested by a large, thin, clear vessel, maybe twenty four inches high, bulbous and tinted with clear blue marbling, which read on the small card, “dal I secolo.”

From the first century.

That’s a year that doesn’t even have a one in front of it, our century has a twenty begins with a twenty.  

That’s a piece of glass twenty centuries old, my friends. Twenty times one hundred years, this delicate, hand-blown piece of glass has survived, intact. Our country is two centuries old, this fragile, graceful pitcher has survived ten times as long as the United States of America, which we think of as so solid, so superior, so unbreakable.

Later, on Burano, we saw lace as old as five hundred years, incredibly intricate, woven of silk-thin fiber into patterns of birds and flowers, angels and demons, saints and martyrs. Still, in the light from a window, old women sit and work, twisting fibers so frail into art with infinite patience that will soon be beyond the skill of those who will come after them.

I was stunned by the honor of standing witness to these precious things. Speechless that these objects, so seemingly fragile and delicate, crafted by hands and eyes that died so many generations ago, could still be seen by my living eyes today, things you thought too frail to imagine surviving even a lifetime, have persevered for millennia.

Yet, sometimes it’s the way of the world. That which we consider the most fragile is in fact, stronger than we know, capable of weathering the most inconceivable tests of time.

Just like life. For often the most delicate of things are the most enduring—love, innocence, hope, these things continue in spite of all the cruelty, bullying, the crushing blows dealt by ignorance and violence, brutality and indifference.

A lasting relationship is not so different from that lace, it is woven of so many threads, every smile, wink, every individual glance of compassion representing one of those threads. Sometimes, when handled by the unskilled or the unknowing, they grow tangled, knotted and gnarled beyond repair, but sometimes with care, attention, and infinite patience, they can be unsnarled, and still other times even the mistakes can make a beautiful pattern, a new, yet enduring one.

And our years on this planet are not so different from that glass. How long we have is as uncertain as the strength of that melted sand, shaped in fire, and molded by intent.

As for the glass, and the lace, they will one day crumble, be crushed or dissolved. The cities that treasure them will be drowned, the world will change, life will evolve or pass out of existence.  That too is not so different from us, we are after all, all part of the great evolution. We shall die, turn to dust, be forgotten, everything passes, people, buildings, countries, even stars burn out.

But maybe, just maybe, those threads of connection, those reflections of real emotion will endure, spinning a lace of fineness in a universe of unimaginable grandeur, sparkling with the reflections of all that was good.

A museum of us, of our lives, of every tender moment in humanity and of all that was good in the universe.

A Museum of Eternity.

At least, I hope so. Perhaps, if we knit the thought together and put it under glass, it will be so. 

Shari, February 28, 2013

Life in General

The Incredible Beauty of Age.

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My husband Joseph and I were on the Grand Canal in Venice watching the palazzos slide by and I commented that it would have been remarkable to have seen it in it’s youth, when the buildings were covered in frescos and mosaics of gold and brilliant color glinted in the sunlight.

And he smiled gently and said, “It’s remarkably beautiful now.”

He’s right of course. Spending time in a different culture is beneficial in so many ways, the food, the history, the art, the language, all of these fill me with a sense of hugeness, and of the rapid passage of time. The diversity and unfamiliarity offer a sense of perspective that what we value in one small part of the world can often be incidental, or even distasteful, in another. This is important to realize and crucial to remember.

Even the faces here are different. One thing I noticed right away was the handsomeness of the elderly, especially the couples. There is a distinct difference in what is considered valuable here, and as a result, I have not once seen a woman who has destroyed her identity with plastic surgery.

People age here, and they do it gracefully. It would appear that they spend their lives living, experiencing what life has to offer with relish. What a wonderful reminder for me at 52, I have always preferred looking my age to looking desperate to be younger, it has always made me sad to see the artificiality that our society so often deems attractive. Of course, I live in Los Angeles, the city of surfaces. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying don’t take care of yourself, for goodness sake, wax that hair or have that mole removed, or maybe get a small tuck if something bothers you. Many of the older women here in Venice wear subtle makeup and dress exquisitely.  They look their age, and their best. I have several friends back in the states who have had ‘work’ done that makes them looks as though they just had a restful vacation. That’s not what I’m talking about, I’m referring to abusing the knife until the individuality is lost. In my humble opinion, it does not improve their appearance, only neuters it.

I’m not judging other’s choices or actions, to each their own. I color the gray out of my hair, because it isn’t flattering to my skin, but I’m looking forward to it arriving at a tone I can leave. I use creams and lotions and in a few years I may have my loosening jaw tightened, not because I want to look younger, but because I think being jowly makes me look mean, and if there is a way I want to look, it is kind.

The wrinkles can stay, I don’t mind them. In fact, I not only like them, I earned them. And for anyone to tell me that the results of the laughter and suffering in my life, the wind on my face as I walked in nature’s beauty or the storms I have braved for adventure, have made me ugly, shows that it is not my skin that is unattractive, but their superficial insecurity. I would not trade those experiences for any amount of beauty. 

How frustrating it must be to feel that you should look decades younger than you are. How positively awful to judge yourself by what someone shallow enough to place your value there would think, or for that matter, what anyone but you would think. And shame on anyone who judges only the outside, they are missing all that is important. 

I have, as they say in Italian, five decades, in a blink I will have six, and if I’m lucky, seven and then even maybe, eight.

And I want to look beautiful—and eighty. I want my eyes to shine as the crinkles radiate from them and my smile to deepen my laugh lines until the story of my extraordinary life is written on my face. No one but me will have my unique memories, will have seen and felt the experiences I have had. That is precious to me.

They have a saying here in Italy, “If you are fortunate, you will get old” It doesn’t matter what you do to try to hide it, you will age. Why not appreciate the value and beauty of that? When did we forget to honor age and the passage of years? To see it as something magnificent in itself? 

I will look at this ancient city and see the crumbling walls and the fading frescoes and listen to the secrets that they whisper and see the magnificence that stands, more graceful and vibrant for the time that has brushed them, and I will feel overwhelmed with life, with death, with the beauty of centuries, of ages, past and present.

Venerable Venice, it is always the same for me, I am awed. And the millennium that have passed over and through it make me smile with my heart.

We are not so different, after all. I will grow old, and I’m content with that. And I know that my husband will never look at me and say, how beautiful I was, wishing that he could see me then, he will smile softly at my old face and say, “You are amazingly beautiful now.”

And he will mean it.

Amore da Venezia

Shari, February 24, 2013

Life in General

Return to Venice

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How lovely to be back in our favorite city, and for a month. I have been many times, and I still get lost.

Just like life, you think you know now how to handle mistakes, rude people, even the psychopaths you deal with regularly, yet each time, you find yourself thrown off and disoriented when faced with the twisting paths of territory that is, not necessarily unfamiliar, not even unexpected, but somehow still surprising. You can know that a city is twisted, that a person is unreasonable, that a reaction is absurd, but they are what they are.

And yet, along the way, we find beauty, affection, and real connection and you draw enough strength from those to suffer the random insanity. On this adventure we are staying in an apartment on the top floor of a 16th century palazzo. I find that amazing. To be in a place that was built for a single family over 400 years ago. The view from every window is remarkable, historic, and awe inspiring. And I feel so honored to have this opportunity.

A large part of my heritage is Italian, and the food, the laughter, the passion—and the aggressive driving—are in my blood. They might not have cars in Venice, but on the way into the city on the water taxi, our driver was on a mission to beat out the other boats, my daughter, whose humor always warms my heart, turned to me and said dryly, “He drives like an Italian.”

Which he was. Which I am, though tempered with a good portion of British blue blood. We have been here only one full day and already we have connected with so many good people. There are no elevators here, of course. And our apartment is on the fourth floor, many wide marble steps, interspersed with magnificent mosaics on landings, mark our pathway home. An older gentleman occupies the only other top floor apartment and we arrived home as he was bringing his groceries up. Not having known he was going all the way up, when he arrived after us, I said, in italian, “I’m sorry, I should have helped you.” Then joked, “Troppi scale!” which means, “There are too many stairs!”

He looked at me with a bright eye and a yellow toothed smile and said with a laugh. “Troppi anni!”

Too many years.

Ah, the heart of the Italians. To have spent your life in a city of ancient and immortal beauty.

And an inimitable sense of humor, a love of laughter and life.

You cannot have too many years.

Con amori da Venzia,

Shari, February 18, 2013