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

 

 

 

authors, creating character, creative inspiration, family, Life in General

The Waiting Room.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll be waiting for you!

Shari, June 4th, 2016.

art, authors, creating character, creative inspiration, Life in General

Gods and Heros, Sprites and Humans.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your archetypes?

 

Shari, May 23, 2016

 

 

 

authors, beauty, Entertainment, Life in General

Between.

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We call them goals. Those things we work toward and sometimes achieve. These ‘goals’ can be benchmark moments, work successes, projects finished, even amount of money made, and they can be good to have, but they are not now. What is now is everything in between, now is life.

I’m thinking about that today because I just finished a first draft on a new book. That doesn’t mean anywhere near done, but it’s a goal reached. I need to give it another day or two before I can go back and edit more because I need some space from it, I need it to be new when I read it again. And I have a movie out, which means some promotion, but though the film is new to viewers, it’s two years old to me. (Yes fledgling filmmakers, it can take that long for post and distribution.)

If you think about it, we’re always between something. School years, relationships, holidays, vacations, meals, moves, birthdays, work projects, and even, or especially, the big one—birth and death. Now, being between doesn’t mean we’re waiting. If you think about it, there isn’t any such thing as waiting, you just are where you are doing what you are doing right now.

Me? I took a wonderful hike along a stream, made breakfast, will spend most of the day catching up on reading for fellow authors that I’ve promised notes to, snuggle with my husband, work in the yard, and right now, I’m talking to you. All of these are things for which I’m grateful, the book is waiting to be read, critiqued, edited, changed, and smoothed, but it is hovering out there, and while it floats, while it waits to be morphed into final form and read, I’m doing something else.

Mostly breathing, which is good.

Someone asked me in an interview recently what I liked specifically about acting and writing. My answer was the same for both—connection. I write to offer others a ride into a world they would never experience, and when someone grabs on and feels the wind in their hair, then I’ve done my job. When I’m on stage and the audience is leaning in, breathing with me, they are sharing the emotions and struggles of my character. It’s magical.

So with a film out and a book pending, I do not rest. Or rather, I gather my strength from nature, family, my husband/lover, the joy of cooking, planting, creating a life of beauty and happiness. Like everyone, I have had times when it was hard to be happy, when there was stress and pressure and people trying hard to tear me down, but they never do. At fifty-five I’ve been through enough crap enough times to know that that will pass. I know now that I will move on to something else, that all my worrying and unhealthy responses do not make the difficult times pass more quickly. All it does is make it seem to take longer, and I’m busy with right now.

When I first moved to LA, I was so broke I couldn’t afford a bed. I slept on a couple of coats piled on a hardwood floor. But everyday, I would take a walk, I would find a flower, even a pretty weed, and take it home and put it in a clear glass bottle that had once contained some fancy soda. I would watch the light through the windows move across the room. I would let the elegant notes of Billy Holiday and Sarah Vaughn dance through my apartment, and write, and revel in the time alone. That’s when I first learned to meditate, and that has enriched my life beyond measure.

I may have been between jobs, between friends and relationships even, but I was glad to be there. I remember one day in particular, I went to the grocery store with about twenty bucks for food and started singing along to the music they were playing. An older man joined in, and next thing you knew we were dancing (with our carts no less) in the aisles of Ralph’s. It still brings me joy to remember that moment.

That’s why I’m ecstatic to be here. It leaves me thinking, what adventures come next? What quiet beauty or exchange with someone will I experience today? At what do I choose to look? And more importantly, what do I see within it?

Look for the moon on the water, see the wind tremble the pines, enjoy the mischievous smile on a child’s face while they play, notice someone taking a moment to be kind, strangers conversing, laughing together, take in compassion and love and humour.

You have an infinite number of choices, but really, to be happy, what choice do you have?

 

Shari, April 3, 2016

 

 

 

 

acting, creative inspiration, Life in General, New Novels, writing

Leap of Faith

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Jumping in.

And so…I find myself beginning a new book, which leads me to the question, “Where does inspiration come from?”

The truth is I don’t know. I don’t know who the characters will be, what they will say or do. I don’t know the plot yet, I don’t know if the message I want to get across is worth a plug nickel. Hell, I don’t even know what a plug nickel is.

Which means that the simple answer is— The best place to find inspiration is to start with what I don’t know.

Powerful words. “I don’t know.” That simple phrase means that the world is open, that you are ready and eager to learn. It means that you have questions and curiosity, that you are still open to be filled with wonder, to be surprised, delighted, to not judge, to wait and see.

To take a leap.

If you already know everything, or pretend to, you can learn nothing.

In truth, those words, “I don’t know,” have been a game changer for me. Earlier in life it seemed so important to know everything, to be right, to be knowledgable, to appear wise. Which meant, I wasn’t. “I don’t know” set me free.

I know of one author who titles every new work, “Shitty first draft.” This gives her license to just get it all down, then she can go back and make it an ‘acceptable first draft’ and finally, ‘a really good first draft.’ After that, well, as we writers know, the editors will have at it.

I don’t label my drafts, I’m still too timid to put the word ‘shitty’ at the top from fear it might seep down into my work. Silly, I know, but there it is. Words mean something, they have power, so when I start listing ideas for a new novel, I put them in a file titled, “The Best Book Ever.” A girl can dream.

I learned so much from the acting process about improving, enriching and ‘fleshing out’ characters that I don’t fear my first tentative, feeble efforts will not improve. As I learn a part, let’s say, Viola in Twelfth Night, I begin to understand what the words that were written by the great bard really mean, to me anyway. As I go through the rehearsal process, I absorb the emotions and feelings of the other actors and as their characters come to life, they inform mine. My homework and history inform me, the stage informs me, the words themselves inform me, and mostly, the emotion takes hold.

It’s the same with writing. Though in this case, it is the emotions that are finding the words and story to express themselves. Either way, I must leap, dare, jump and throw myself into the ether, from which all things come. And I trust that, while I might hit the ground really hard and roll, I’ll probably land safely, in a new place, unknown to me before now, and if it’s a good place, a place worth visiting, I will share it with others.

This is like life, whenever I think I need to change or try to understand someone and their (to me) bad behavior, I have to remind myself that I haven’t lived their childhood, I haven’t woken up from their nightmares, I haven’t listened to whatever abuse was heaped upon them, ergo…I cannot, ever, understand them. All I can do is honor their journey, understand that their limitations are not the same as mine.

We all want to connect, to be understood. It’s why most of us write, or act, or play music. We want to connect, to be heard and understood. But in truth, we don’t. We relate, we appreciate, we sympathize, but we do not ever fully understand. Our adventure belongs to us, it is unique, and so is theirs.

And that’s okay. It’s better than okay, it’s brilliant. It’s what makes us unique and more than that, it’s what makes us need each other. Our journeys and our paths are different, but our need for other humans binds us all.

We are alike, but we are not the same.

Isn’t that wonderful? It feels like it to me, but then I don’t know how you feel about it.

Shari, October 15, 2014

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

Acting & Experiences, creating character, creative inspiration, mental illness, writing

Trigger Happy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hey, maybe you should write your story!

Shari, September 11, 2014

Acting & Experiences, Life in General, New Novels, writing

Hiding Behind the Real Me.

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The lady behind the ARC’s of Invisible Ellen

So…last Wednesday, I’m booked to do a radio show. It’s been set up by the Putnum publicity department in NY, and communicated to me by email. The show, “Connie Martinson Talks Books” is ‘taping’ in Santa Monica at 11:00 and she’s featuring me and “Invisible Ellen.” So, I put on some jeans and a comfortable, very wrinkled shirt, throw on some mascara at the last minute, (I hate makeup, but I don’t want to offend anyone) and make the drive. Parking is tricky, and I go the wrong way, and have to run back to make it to the studio on time. I rush in, sweaty now, and look around.

Cameras. In the back of my mind, a little buzzer is going off, Not Radio. Television.

I look down at my wrinkled shirt and almost clean jeans, realize I’m pale and shiny, will be totally washed out by the lights, my hair is frizzy and snatched back with a plastic clip, and all I can think is…. Perfect. As I’ve said, I’m an everyday philosopher, meaning that I say, ‘Oh well,’ a lot. And this one has an exclamation point at the end.

Oprah has her “Aha” moments. I have my ‘Oh Well’ moments. So I get miked up for sound, sit in the hot seat, chat with Connie, who, it turns out, shares an ice skating past in Lake Placid with me, (small world) and then we roll. We have a delightful thirty-minute conversation about my new book. She’s so complementary, has me read a page, ‘to show how well-written it is’ which is delightfully flattering, and then asks me to sign a book for her at the end.

I couldn’t be happier. After years of soaps and movies and modeling, to appear on a TV show where nobody gives a crap how I look, but is interested in how and what I write, is a major milestone for me. Not because of my attitude. I have always preferred to not wear makeup and be liked, or disliked as the case has often been, for who I am. I have spent a life time with idiot men telling me I was “smart for a women” and thinking it was compliment when I was twice as smart as them. And too much time dealing with and diffusing  women  feeling competitive with me because of how I looked. Insanity. Unworthy. Ridiculous.

We count as people. Our actions must speak louder than the surface. They don’t call me Shari Action for nothing. If something needs to get done, I’m usually the first to pitch in. Be it as a mom at school, or my charity, or speaking up for someone who can’t, I’ve just never been able to stop myself.

So much for that. But there is more to this story. As soon as I saw her, I realized that I had been on Connie’s show once before, years ago, and thank goodness, she did not remember either. It was for my third book, “The Man She Thought She Knew,” and the only reason Connie had me on was that she was friends with the publicist. I answered her incorrectly when she asked about a character, telling her that they weren’t in this book, (wrong) thanked her at the end of the show by calling her Colleen, and she definitely didn’t ask me to read from the book. Shhhh. So when she asked me this time, before filming, if this was my first book, I answered, “No I have two series, one is a woman named Calla-….uh, it’s a crime series.” Cutting myself off because I’m embarrassed that the light will dawn and the flattering, soft-filtered veil will fall.

It always does, eventually of course, but sometimes we find a few moments of forgiving grace. Yep I’ve got a past, and it’s back there,but as one friends said to me, “That’s what pasts are for.” We don’t need to wear our learning curves, but we can use them for traction.

‘Oh well’, and ‘Aha!’ They make a good combo, and both are welcome in my life now. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for those other moments, those mistakes, those embarrassing scenes, those times I fell on my butt on the ice in front of twenty thousand people. But you know what? I’m glad I did. I lived to tell the tale, as it were. And most likely, as it shall be.

So embrace your fundamental imperfections. Be human, let the wrinkles on your shirt and your face show. You earned them. And if, in spite of all that, you can hold up your book—or better yet, your life—and be proud, then you are a success.

In my case, it’s a success with some pretty scathing memories behind it. That’s me, Shari Action. If my life were a race, I’d look back and see lots of hurdles laying on their sides where they were knocked when I didn’t quite clear them. Look closer and you’ll see my cartoon outline in the brick walls I sped into and crashed through. You’ll see the indents where I gave up for a while and curled into a ball to rest.

The more I think about it, the more I think that the word ‘imperfect’ describes me best. It describes us all.

And isn’t that wonderful?

Shari, June 19th, 2014

Acting & Experiences, creating character, Entertainment, writing

Walking on Water.

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So, you want to write a book or make a film? Welcome to two of the world’s most popular clubs! We’re so pleased to have you as a member!! Ours is an inclusive club, one where the process means as much as the result. Where the novices are every bit as respected as the ‘successful.’ Are you ready?

Did you know that water represents the subconscious in your dreams, and in this blog, by the way.

If you just want to be famous, well, that’s a different organization. Not much value in the process there. I do not belong. You will pay dues for this club as well, make no mistake, though the monthly newsletter, “Pay Attention to Me!” is unreadable for anyone with creative aspirations. But, I digress.

There are two perspectives on ‘creative success’, at least two. The first is how we define ourselves to others, and the second is what brings us contentment.

So, if you are just starting out in…say filmmaking, you will probably be more focused on the world view of you, being recognized and lauded. Outward gratification. If you’ve been in the business for 30 years, you are more likely in a position to pursue projects that truly mean something to you, you may have more freedom to express your uniquely creative voice and not care as much how the world will perceive it. Inward gratification.

Ironically, perhaps, it is almost always those pure expressions and visions from the inside that strike us as an audience with the most force, and go on to stand as classics or examples of the highest quality.

If you want to make a film, write a novel or a screenplay, produce a play, or any number of other creative projects, what’s the first place to start?

Precisely because you are starting out, the tendency is to look out. What is popular? What will people like?  What will make me look good?

Whoa, put on the breaks, screech to halt, back up and let the engine idle for a minute. If it were possible to  know any of those things, every single book, film, play, and song would be a smash best-seller.

But they aren’t. Mmm…it’s a mystery.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. All you have to offer is you. The only thing that you can give—that no one else has to offer—is your voice, your vision, your work. Trying to reproduce someone else’s style, art, or visual expression will only create a cheap, and most likely inferior, imitation.

Obvious, right? So, how do you begin? Some of the best advice I ever got when I was first writing was, “Write what you would like to read.” Frankly, I didn’t have the skill to write what I truly loved at first, because I loved some of the very, very best. A good goal, but a difficult place to begin. So. As a warm-up, I chose to write what I loved on a lighter, entertaining level. My first books are designed and written to be fast-paced, exciting, funny, and page-turners with complex characters.

Now, what I want to write is different, I want it be original. I want to get into the brain of my characters and share their lives, thoughts and feelings, their very unique view of the world with you. And I want to do it with language that speaks beyond the definition of the word. I want to write mountains and tantrums and storm clouds and fits of laughter. I want to express the embracing arms of your own bed after a difficult day, the screaming inside when a bully gets away with it, a feather caught in an updraft.

So what is your goal? What do you want to read, see, hear? And more than that, how do you want to say it? I’ve offered exercises for writers, on starting characters, scenes and stories in different blogs, and some of them really work for me. Just scroll through my past blogs and you will find them.

Screenwriting/filmmaking is a different beast by nature of outlay. By that I mean both monetary expense and group participation. You need equipment to make a film, you need a crew, you need to feed that crew, you need to rent expensive editing facilities and experts in color correction, the list goes on and on. And, you may have a very clear vision of the shots you want and how to put them together, but you will still have a director of photography and an editor with brains and visions of their own. To ignore their contributions would be wasteful. Qualifier— though there must, on any film, be someone with final say. Too many cooks…. But be careful, very careful, not to let your ego deprive you of what your team has to offer.

You begin the film process by  writing—or finding—a script that resonates somehow for you, something that offers, maybe not a new or unique story, but at least a unique point of view. Next, you interview people until you find the ones who understand your vision and will support and add to it. That’s how you begin the long road of film production. And when you find those people, keep them close, pay them fairly, let them contribute, and  give them the credit they deserve. Conversely, if they moan, complain, talk behind your back, or otherwise hamper the overall production, cut them loose—with blessings. Just like in your life.

Both the arts of writing and filmmaking begin with a vision, one that should be your own, not a compilation of other’s people’s ideas. Learn from, borrow suggestions, and practice examples of the greats in your chosen field that you admire, of course!! If it weren’t for Tom Robbins, P.G. Wodehouse, and Jane Austin, I wouldn’t be a writer, because I wouldn’t love books and words so much. But I can’t be them, I can’t write them, I can only admire and gently reflect some of the things I learned from them.

Study your favorite filmmakers, directors, photographers, writers, set designers, and include them all!! Of course.

Then let it go and see what bubbles up. The ideas are there,  as is all your attention and research, under the water you’ve peered into so intently, but you need to be above that, walking on the water. You are an amazing creative force, the Great Spirit, (however you define that, Creativity, the Universe, or that somewhat polymorphic entity, ‘God’) made you unique and it is your journey. If you choose a creative life, your path is to unleash your power and your talent. So that we can all revel in it, and thank you for sharing it with us.

It’s all there, just below the surface, trust it, swim in it, and let it hold you up.

Shari, October 20th, 2012.

Acting & Experiences, Entertainment, Life in General, New Novels, writing

A Legacy of Love.

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The fourth book in the Callaway Wilde series, “Legacy’ will be coming out in ebook soon. This one is a slight departure from the first three books because I break the first person narrative and visit the past. The subject is one in which I am very interested, war crimes during WW11. My uncle was one of the senior officers who was actually present at the surrender of the Germans to the Allied forces in Milan during that fateful war, and he worked for years before that undercover with the Italian resistance. So, much of my information comes from real letters and stories of people who lived it.Though my uncle is gone, his son sent me copies of letters, reports, and files that have been declassified now. The stories they hold, the drama revealed even within the factual, military reporting are inspiring and humbling. My uncle made it through that war unscathed and went on to become a Senator and then an Ambassador, but too many did not. We know this, but when we pay attention to the real stories we are reminded of what our current lifestyle cost, and who paid the price.

Which is why I do not think much of people who take from the world and give nothing back. No matter how talented, wealthy, beautiful or famous. When you go through that door, as our first lady said, you do not slam it behind you. You turn around and help others through.

Writing this book really got me thinking about the people that I admire in my life. While there are certainly actors or musicians whose work I adore, it is the intentions and contributions of people that matter most to me. There are artists who also do a great deal of good in the world, this separates them from the crowd of the self-serving to whom being ‘famous’ is the life goal.

I admire them and others who have made a choice to be of service to someone else. People  like Ileana and Bernie Geestman who founded the Desi Geestman Foundation. I have served on the board of this charity for 13 years and in that time we have assisted the families of children suffering through the cancer journey in so many ways. But what I do is small, it is Ileana and her family who truly perform the mission. To have lost a child, and then dedicate your life to helping others who are fighting that battle takes more strength of character and is far worthier of our admiration than any star of any TV show.

People like the doctors and nurses at City of Hope, where our charity is primarily instrumental. In my years of helping out, I have seen again and again the sheer relief of families when they know that  they have the full support and commitment of so many devoted professionals. There is a place on the grounds of City of Hope, the meditation garden, where the staff sometimes go when the stress and the sadness become overwhelming. And then they go back in. I am in awe of the hugeness of the human spirit in these people. Yet no one will ever write them a fan letter.

And so it was that in my research for this book, I came across stories of so many people, forever unnamed and un-lauded who acted with such bravery and selflessness. All across Italy, including in the Vatican, Catholic priests and nuns hid the hunted Jews, often at the cost of their own lives. How remarkable. This book tells some of those stories.

If I were asked what the most important traits a person could have my answer would be simple: Kindness and Courage. Those two things both compliment and balance each other.

Most of us will never have to face the horrors and heart-rending decisions that even the common citizens faced during that war or many others. We would like to think that we would act with courage and honor, but we don’t really know. I think though, that sometimes it is good to stop and ask yourself, would you help? Or would you save yourself and even, possibly, profit from the suffering of others? And if your own family was starving, could anyone blame you?

These were very real questions in that horrible time, often on a daily basis, but I believe that they are applicable even now. If only we would all reach out a hand, help in one small way, the world would be such a kinder place.

So, I like to remind myself, I always have a choice. Will I spend my life acquiring ‘things’ and glorifying myself? Or will I do what I do for the love of it, and include as many others in my success as possible?

I choose the latter. Here’s  my hand, take it. Now reach back and offer yours. See? We are chain, stronger than we are alone.

Shari, February 3, 2012