children, creative inspiration, family, ice skating, kids, parenting

A Bright Orange Day

Often, when I was in second grade arithmetic, I would look up from my endless worksheets designed to discourage and disinterest would-otherwise-have-become astrophysicists, to wonder at my teacher’s hair. These were the sixties, and the ultimate goal of hair styling was ‘big as you could get it.’ My teacher sported a swept up bun which increased her head size to a degree that I would have recognized as volume times mass squared if that simple math formula had been known to me yet. I often watched her droning on and thought how much it appeared that she was wearing the wasps’ nest my Dad had smoked out and then detached from under the eaves of our house.

The nest, a bulbous, silver grey creation that swarmed dangerously with insects, was a deceivingly stable structure, as big as cotton candy at a state fair, formed by the spit and labor of the insects and built to survive the elements for multiple seasons. Considering that the aptly named beehive hairstyles were achieved at beauty salons once in a blue moon and meant to last out the month, the construction goals were remarkably similar. Both were painstakingly built to last. The nest survived because of a network of hexagon paper shells, formed from spit and wood mulch, the hairstyle resisted gravitational pull with the clever use of ruthless teasing and enough aerosol shellac to make a bed sheet stand up in a heavy wind. And while only one was designed to house insects, the likely hood of entomological habitation in the hairstyle was not so farfetched. It might not have been wasps, but odds were good that something was living in there. I would watch Ms. Whatever-her-name-was take a pencil and carefully insert it deep into the foamy depths of her bouffant and then scratch furiously. I never saw anything crawl out of it, but my desk was near the back, so I might have missed it.

But times were changing and hairstyles were being dragged along. Women began to opt for the down-with-a-scooping-flip-at-the-bottom style. This involved setting the hair on huge, hollow rollers, and then sleeping in a sitting position or baking under a dryer until the polymer set. It required hours of self-imposed torture, all endured for the sake of appearing in public perfectly groomed. To allow anyone other than family or beauty shop operatives to see oneself mid-process was unthinkable.

So imagine the shrinking of my soul when my mom appeared in the doorway of my classroom wearing rollers the size of coffee cans held in place by aluminum clips in a neat row over and around her head, leaving her looking like a load of sewer pipes strapped down by what appeared to be a shrimping net.

As I slumped low, desperate to appear as incredulous as any of my classmates that some loser’s mother was shameless enough to show up in public worse than naked, she crossed to the teacher and whispered an apology. A quick exchange ensued and then, to my horror, I was identified as the unfortunate offspring of this brazen crazy lady and told to gather my things.

My face burning with red-hot shame and unable to meet the eyes of my brutally judgemental classmates, I got my books and coat and joined my mom at the door.

As we walked down the hall, I kept my eyes on the floor. We passed other teachers and even the principle on the way out and I knew that I would be forever branded as the girl with the indecent mother.

My mom said very little but she seemed pleased. I, on the other hand, could not have been more distressed if she had been walking me toward a firing squad.

Now that I’m a mom who has had the opportunity to embarrass my girls on numerous occasions, I have a different take. Over the years I have had to find varied and creative ways to strike fear into their innocent hearts in order to back up a, shall we call it a…behavioral adjustment.

And the worst thing I could ever threaten them with was public embarrassment. Not theirs, mine. I could threaten, yell, give time outs, devise punishments, but nothing ever worked as well as warning them I would do one of two things; sing or dance in public.

So the other day, when my oldest daughter and I were out having lunch and she showed me a little video she had taken of her boyfriend that morning, I had to smile. The two of them share a small house by the beach with three other guys, all of them surfers. Every morning the first one up quickly bikes or skateboards to one of the nearby beaches and gets a take on the wave conditions. Most days are what they call ‘yellow’, smooth, easy waves, but some days, some very special days, it’s orange.

Orange means waves, it means excitement, it means unexpected and unusual fun.

So when he came on my daughter’s little screen, the boyfriend was singing and dancing, “It’ an orange day! It’s an orange day!” as he went from room to room in the hall, knocking on doors. “Get up! It’s orrrraaaange!” and he did a little dance step on his way to reverse peel himself into gortex, or whatever it is they make those suits out of now.

And I thought, ‘How wonderful, an orange day.’ We all get them sometimes, though not often enough. An orange day could be one that brings an unexpected turn of events, weather that sings for a special event, or opportunities knocking on your bedroom door that weren’t even in the neighborhood the night before.

I’m not a surfer, I’ve done it a few times and liked it very much, but I grew up in Atlanta, far from the surging shore. It was unlikely enough that I became a competitive ice-skater. There was only one undersized rink in town until I was around 12, so everyday, up I would get up at four-thirty and go to the rink for a couple of hours before school to train, and every afternoon I was back, practicing falling, and sometimes learning to defy gravity myself for a few seconds. I loved it.

But since skating was not exactly a regular pastime in the heat and humidity of the deep south, we had only one teacher, and no champions to look up to. No Dorothy Hamils trained at my tiny patch of ice and no Nancy Kerrigans ate Milk Duds with me while the Zamboni smoothed the surface.

My childhood hero was Peggy Fleming, Not only was she the former Olympic champion, but she had these awesome TV specials that I watched with rapture, studying both her style and technique. A Peggy Fleming special was every holiday wrapped up in one for me.

So just imagine my amazement when my mom, saying very little, drove me to the rink in the middle of a school day where some of my fellow skate-o-philes were waiting, and then shocked me to my core when the door opened and in walked Peggy Fleming, in the Fleming flesh.

Turns out, she was in town with Ice Capades. She practiced everyday, never missed one, and since the show was at the stadium and the ice wasn’t in yet, she had gotten in touch with my little Igloo to arrange some private practice time. The owner had told my coach and my coach had chosen a small handful of her students to be there.

When she came in, we all burst into applause. Basically a shy woman, she looked completely taken aback, but she said hello politely and then went to change into her outfit and skates.

Needing to use the restroom, I went to the back and pushed open the door. There, seated on a bench, lacing up her skates, was Peggy Fleming, but not just an Olympic gold medalist I idolized, but an Olympic gold medalist who I idolized in her bra.

Her bra. I saw Peggy Fleming in her underwear.

Why she put on her skates before her top was a mystery to me, but I remember walking toward the mirror and smirking to myself, embarrassed but oddly thrilled to have seen the great woman in her skivvies. Later what I mostly remembered was how tiny she was, I didn’t find out until later that I was far too tall to be a skater, at nine, I wasn’t yet oversized.

But even though I was shorter, that was one of my most orange days. I went back to school and faced the taunts of my classmates about my mother’s steamroller hair curlers with Peggy Fleming’s autograph in my hand. When I displayed my golden prize, they were awed, cowed, and envious. Oh how I loved that feeling. A most orange feeling.

Not everyday will come in a strong hue, some of them will be murky and dull. There will be days of blue or rusty brown. I’ve even had more than my share of black ones, but that day still glows with the brilliance of a sunlit field of California poppies.

My mother embarrassed and thrilled me to such extremes in a single day that I leaned a life lesson.

Things aren’t always what they seem. Sometimes you have to stop everything and embrace the risk, and sometimes, wonderful things happen when you least expect it, and even when wearing curlers the size of redwood tree trunks in front of a prissy private school classroom, moms can be the coolest ever.

Maybe that’s the reason I still haven’t stopped trying to devise ways to embarrass my girls into living a fuller life.

I probably never will.

I will get up early some days, check the metaphoric surf conditions, find them exceptional, and run dancing from room to room singing, “It’s an orange day!”

And they will cringe first, and smile later.

Just like I did.

Shari, April 11, 2019

art, authors, divorce, Life in General

The Infinity of Opinion.

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The narrow path.

You are absolutely alone. No one will ever understand you completely. Muhahahahaha. (that’s my evil laugh.)

And that’s just fine.

Because…you are also a part of everything, every molecule in the universe, every other living and non-living thing is made of the same stuff. The next time you feel superior for being human, bear in mind that you and dog poop are, in their basic makeup, the same thing. You have the same ingredients as a magnificent sunset, a nova, a star, a virus, and a slug. All of it is energy, moving spinning atoms, that constantly flow and change. Every time you take a breath, you inhale air that has been produced by trees and circulated through the lungs of the rest of humanity. I once read that the average glass of water has already passed through a human body seven times. Unappetising as that may be, it should remind you that we are all giving and taking every second of our lives, and even in our deaths. Nothing comes from nothing, and no energy ever dies, it’s just redistributed. Sorry royalty, elitists and republicans, life and energy are socialists, it’s our natural state.

Usually I write about how we are all connected, but today I want to talk about being different, unique, and separate, because well, I’m funny that way.

Just as no one person in the world is an entity unto themselves, no two people on earth agree on everything. In fact, we don’t even perceive concepts and ideas in the same way.

Perception of a concept as you absorb it into your brain is like light through a kaleidoscope, color and thought bouncing off of thousands of angles, each of those prisms created by every experience we’ve ever had. Every single person interprets a movie, book, issue, even people,  differently. Every time two people read the same book, they write their own, unique version of it. Reading a book is as creative an endeavour as writing it. And no! I am not sharing my royalties! Love you.

Basically, we’re drawing our own cartoon and some are wackier than others. Mine has lots of little blue birds and singing flowers, faeries too, but it hasn’t always been that way. I used to also hear scary music and see danger in the wooly woods. Then I decided I didn’t want to watch that cartoon any more. I wanted to live my life to the happy flute music.

The science behind making that change is miraculous.

Think of it like this. Look at a tree, now close your eyes. Can you see the tree? The answer is yes, but the fact is no. What’s happening is a series of electro-chemical reactions in your brain that aren’t visual at all, but they are recalling that image. The best example I can think of for this is when you and a partner both vehemently remember the same conversation, would swear on your life that you said one thing and he or she said another, and they are equally prepared to die for the cause. It’s a duel to the death, ten paces, turn and fire! Oops, now you’re both dead. That was fun! Maybe we should have decided to go for a coffee and a laugh instead. Just a thought.

Because the irony is that both perceptions are right. Because each person understood the situation, heard the words, and experienced the emotions about it from different point of views.

Now, when an author describes a tree in a book you are reading. Guess what? You see that tree as best you can, based on your personal, individual, and completely unique idea of what any given tree might look like. A kid who lives in a concrete bound urban area might think trees look like something from Dr. Seuss, a logger might immediately think of a pine or a redwood, an islander would immediately picture a palm tree. Is it becoming clear? That’s okay, it never really is.

So why do we get so upset when someone else doesn’t understand us, or sees any issue differently than we do?

A rancorous political campaign truly brings this uniquely human trait to the forefront. Your ‘opinion’ on any candidate or topic is based your filters created by through your specific mindset. Here are a few of those filters.

1, Every piece of information and explanation that’s been rammed into your head since birth. Parents, teachers, books, movies, etc. Some influences will be subtle, say, Mom making a face when someone uses food stamps. And some will be as harsh as a jackhammer breaking concrete, i.e. everyone you know believing in a church and the men who run it telling you there is only one God and one truth and if you don’t embrace that truth you will burn in hell, and funny—these men always know exactly what the truth is! What an amazing coincidence that their ‘truth’ is what someone hammered into their head when they were young. No wonder Jesus called people his ‘flock.’ When it comes to opinions and judging right and wrong, we are sheep, following that lead ram with the bell straight home to the barn, or to the slaughter house.

2, Every criticism or disapproval you have received for voicing any given opinion in any impressionable point of your life, (i.e. all of it) Peer pressure and the people you find yourself surrounded by in school, work, and relationships, basically, anyone whose approval you need or rely on for your self-image. Try telling your fifth grade teacher that it’s rude to do the limp wrist gesture when showing your class a picture of a famous male dancer. The kids threw crabapples at me all day. And, by the way, I met that dancer later, he was anything but gay, with a bevy of legendary, beautiful women lined up in his romantic past. Take that you beehive-headed bitch!

3, Whatever news outlet or information you take in, every conversation you hear. What sources of information do you pursue? Comic books or Time magazine? Fake news shows or the internet? These things shape you, they imprint in your brain and affect you physically as well as emotionally. You probably notice now that if you listen to someone giving an opinion different from yours, your heart speeds up, and you get hot, you don’t want to listen to them! Idiots! Fools! Stupid! It is very difficult to say, ‘Oh, that’s a different way of looking at it,” and not take it in emotionally.

4, How strongly you attach yourself to the emotional need to be ‘right.’ This is ego, and ego is not who you are, it’s what your brain tells you is important and is always external. It is entirely based on how you think others will view you, and as we’re discussing here, you will never know exactly how or what others think. So why do we waste our precious love and time trying to make others see it through our very narrow binoculars?

Ego is the one problem I’ve found we pretty much all need to work on these days. I grew up in the south with republican parents, went to all white schools, and lived in a rarefied world of steadily increasing wealth and privilege, so it was not to surprising that, even though it felt fundamentally wrong to me,  I was trained to be anti-immigrent, conditioned to feel deeply wronged that the government took taxes out of my hard earned money and handed it over to those lazy bastards.

Then I moved to LA. There’s a lot in between there, but let’s jump forward. I came to LA with no preconceived prejudices against hispanics for the simple reason that when I was growing up, there wasn’t any hispanic community of note in my suburban Atlanta world. Very quickly, the establishment and general news sources in Southern California had me believing that Mexicans were all violent gang members or welfare users who had dozens of children and fed off ‘the system.’ As a result, I watched youths in white t-shirts with suspicion, resented children going to ‘our’ schools, (how insane is that?) and judged people I knew nothing about.

I didn’t know any Mexican-Americans.

And then I met some and began to see that I was missing as much as a blind person wearing mittens and ear plugs. I remember one day specifically that I found myself standing in the deep end of my own ignorance and sad limitations and realising that I would drown in the bullshit that had been heaped on me. I knew in an instant that I had been paralysed, robbed of my ability to think for myself, to listen to my heart. I was shooting a commercial in a rented house. Verizon, I think it was. And the owners were a lovely young hispanic couple with two beautiful children 5 and 7. I was talking with them, not even thinking about my prejudices, (because when we are prejudice, we don’t know it and certainly won’t admit it) and I asked if they had other kids. The dad said, “Well, you know us Mexicans!” then he laughed, and said, “No, two is all we are having, we’re done.”

My face went hot and red. I was so ashamed to realise that I had this preconceived notion of an entire race of people based on propaganda from my political party and, let’s be honest, rich white people who had made up most of my world.

So I made a concerted effort to make friends with people who were ‘different’ than me. People who were different colors, nationalities, religions, and especially those with different incomes. I believe that money divides us more than anything. I invited hispanics and asians, and minimum wage workers, and every kind of American to my house, my kids played with their kids. This caused my ex a good deal of stress, as he prefered to invest his time in people who had fame or money, or could do something for him, which was one of many red flags. Eventually I left him, because as I eagerly moved to embrace people of quality, he pursued people who had things. Hanging with only the ‘haves’ is just too small a world for me. And so, I left his influence behind as well.

Becoming friends with people who were ‘different’ changed my life. The next leap was working with a charity that helped people who had lost limbs and vision, or might be  emaciated by devastating treatments and illnesses. That brought me to another light speed jump in basic comprehension. I stopped feeling sorry for people, because nobody wants your pity!! Every single person is getting through life the best they can, we all have pain, we all have suffering, it just comes in different forms. I used to feel pangs of pain for someone with a limp or a speech impediment, now I admire the hell out of them. I love that their walk is unique, that their voice is the sound of a new instrument. It makes me proud that we humans are so varied.

And last, (last so far, there’s always more,) I gave up organised religion. I believe in an awesome, unifying creative energy, I believe that we are all connected, I believe that if I do bad to someone or something, I do it to myself, because we are all one. How hard is that? What, in God’s name, (snort, get it?) makes me think that I know the truth and everyone else is wrong. Why do I even need to feel that way? The answer, of course, is that we’ve lost our way and we need  our group of bullies around us to confirm our anger and our fear and make us feel artificially safe in numbers. It’s great to get with other people for the sake of community and helping improve our world, but it sucks when it’s all about separating us into us and them. That is a lie.

Stop being one of the numbers. You are unique, alone, and part of everything.

I mean, I’m probably wrong about most of this, I look forward to changing my mind…again. Cause baby, I’ve done it many times, and I get happier with every step forward.

 

Get out there and love. Happiness is who you really are.

Shari, June 25th, 2016

 

 

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 & Experiences, Entertainment, family, Life in General, men, New Novels, parenting, Theatre, writing

Who am I NOW?

As the evil disney queen in a book video a few months ago. It suits me.
As the evil disney queen in a book video a few months ago. It suits me, fantasy and literature.

Who am I now?

I haven’t been on my website for a week or so or posted anything new, and so I was surprised to see that I had 3000 hits in a single day hits a few days ago. This was, to quote Zoolander when his message machine tells him he has 12 hundred messages, “A little above average.” and I wondered why.

Sure, I have a new book out and “Invisible Ellen” is doing pretty nicely, but that couldn’t be it. And then I remembered that my girls told me my ex had done this show called “Celebrity Wife Swap,” and I thought, “Oh, it must have aired.” I knew about the show, but only because he and his wife had wanted the girls to be on it, which caused some friction, but my daughters had the sense and the backbone to refuse. Neither of my daughters are fans of ‘reality’ TV, and—though admittedly I’ve never watched CWS—that show seems…uh, let’s just say…not exactly creme of the crop, and they didn’t want to be associated with it. Bless their classy little hearts.

Now, I didn’t see the show, don’t ever intend to, so maybe it’s a steaming pile of art and I would be sorry to have missed it, but my instinct tells me no.  I have never once looked at either my ex’s or his wife’s websites and I definitely steer away from anything involving them in social media, (I know, I know, I’m writing this, but I’m trying to make a point!) I know I won’t like what I see, so why go looking for it? To be honest, I don’t really know them, and have only the barest of contact since he announced with a smug smile that he wouldn’t be contributing to college, then drove away in his Porsche. He tells a different story, no doubt in his public version of himself and has an image of himself to maintain, as many people do, but I deal with the reality, usually damage control, and that’s plenty. I do my best to disassociate from that whole, publicist-generated, artificial world version 2.0.

So it interests me that people would see that wife swap show and look me up. It’s a weird interconnected web out there. It feels remote to me and my everyday life. I think of how I’ve tried to focus my life away from that kind of negativity and on doing work that is worthwhile to me. That’s not to say I wouldn’t work on a show for the money if i really needed it, the key to avoiding that is to keep your cost of living down so that having to prostitute yourself is kept at a minimum. From someone who once starred in “Death Spa” that may seem a bit bogus, but hey, things have changed.

You see, at first you want the things that everyone else envies, I don’t know why, but that’s often what our society teaches is desirable. You want to be sexy, and famous, and beautiful and rich, and then you grow up and want to be valued for something real. Well, some of us do anyway, others get caught in the cycle. For me, after living by my looks modeling in New York and ending up a cocaine addict, which I beat myself at 22, I had to come to terms with the fact that being valued for what is on the outside is very, very lonely and untrue. Then I wanted to be famous, because that impresses people, right? But when I got a dose of that, It just felt just strange. When many people meet someone they’ve seen on TV or film immediately there is a veil, an artificial wall, that separates you because they think you are something you are not and, falsely, feel different from you. I hated that. You give up privacy and often even the ability to spend time in public with your family comfortably. I’ve had people put their kid in my lap while I was eating at a restaurant and start video taping. I love meeting new people, but that was just invasive, (especially since I was eating spinach). Now I have many wonderful friends, who I first met as ‘fans’, don’t get me wrong, but there is a difference between meeting people on an equal footing, and people wanting to document meeting you as a trophy for being on a show or in a movie that you don’t even think is very good.

That didn’t feel right to me. It’s lovely to have people like and respect your work, and name recognition as a novelist is important as well as for an actor, but when you have to constantly pretend to be what you’ve created, meaning some kind of public persona, it is, for all but a few, confusing to the point of soul-crushing. Egos get all out of whack. But I did love acting, the art of it, making an audience breath together or laugh as one, and since the film and TV roles of quality weren’t coming to me, I turned to theatre where I’ve done my best work, respected the writing and myself, and felt the joy of working with an artistic community that betters the many, instead of the few.

And writing has always been my first love. Though I’m proud of all of my books, I don’t think there’s any question that “Invisible Ellen” is the kind of book I’ve always wanted to write. Hopefully, it’s original, funny, heartwarming, and uplifting. Those are qualities I feel good about.

So, one day soon, maybe I’ll get thirty thousand hits on my website because my new book, “Emerging Ellen” is hitting the stores. I certainly hope so, but for me, that’s a different kind of attention, one I can spread around and share. Oh, and it would go a long way toward helping me pay for private school and college, which would be lovely, and for my charity as well. Meanwhile, I’ll drive my used Ford Escape Hybrid, give what I can, and laugh and love with my girls and my family, support my friends’ many endeavors and try to create something new and worth reading or watching.

Because that’s who I am now.

Who do you want to be? Go get ’em baby.

 

Shari, July 25th, 2014

 

 

 

 

Life in General

The Shari Action Doll

 

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Here’s me in my NY modeling days. That’s Fifth Avenue I’m crawling across and a row of traffic coming right at me!! Let’s get Shari, she’ll do it!!

That’s me! ‘Shari Action’ is a nickname that a modeling friend gave me when I was sixteen. I was always moving, talking, jumping, taking chances, trying new things, and filled with energy. Always ready to try something new, and constantly busy creating or doing. Modeling was only fun when I got hang off the edge of a building or dance thru traffic on Fifth Avenue. (See above)

In fact I remember when a particular hairstyle was in vogue, it was a basket weave, very labor intensive. When a client asked a hairdresser who worked with me often if he could do that on me, the stylist responded, “Sure. Give me two sedatives and a neck brace and I’ll have her out in an hour!”  

In other words, I could not sit still. 

But my hyperactivity didn’t start then. As a kid there wasn’t a tree I wouldn’t climb or a fort I wouldn’t build—and sleep in! Now? I travel, cook, direct, produce, act, write, mom, volunteer and clean my own damn house thank you!! And I love all of it. I love driving carpools, cleaning up after my girls have wrecked the living room with their friends, brainstorming story ideas with my husband, helping to build sets, gardening. What do I love most? What I’m doing right now. In fact, writing this blog has given me a burst of energy and enthusiasm to get back to my new book. Can’t wait!

I’m lucky to still, at 53,  have a ton of energy and enthusiasm. And I love my life now, whatever that may bring. The more I do, the more energy I have and I fall asleep every night exhausted and excited for the next day. 

What I don’t do is live on past laurels. Ironic, perhaps because I used the above picture, but that’s because it’s from the time I got my nickname and illustrates it pretty well. Past laurels aren’t real anyway, you know that right? Memories are elastic, they don’t freeze in time like some event popsicle that never changes or melts. You can’t keep a six pack of accomplishments and pop one open to drink with dinner. It’s over, you drank it, your part in it is done. Memory is 50% recall, 50% invention, and 50% projection. (Yes, that’s 150%, we tend to add a bit as the years go by.) The only thing worthwhile is what you are doing now, and it only matters how it effects you, not what anyone else thinks of it. I know people who actually define themselves by some ‘success’ from 30 years ago. Really? What does it matter if you won a trophy or had a hit song or made a million dollars…then? What are you doing right now? How are you contributing? What do you give back? Do you enjoy it? Are you more concerned with how, or if, you will be remembered than you are with seeing the beauty and opportunities around you now? 

Look again. 

My experience with the children I’ve known with terminal illness has changed so much of my perspective. No one but their family and friends will ever know their names. Some of these kids won’t live long enough to rack up a list of ‘accomplishments,’ yet they show more bravery, life and courage than so many people I know who live to be one hundred, star on a soap opera, live in huge houses, are pursued by paparazzi, or any of the other superficial marks of ‘success.’ 

Yet those children leave a remarkable legacy, worth far more than being ‘known’ or having six million FB likes. Their legacy is one of courage and love and the priceless reminder to live every single moment with joy and kindness. 

Now that’s something to be remembered for. And something to remember.

I gave a lecture a few nights ago and afterwards an elderly lady approached me and complimented me on my energy, speaking and enthusiasm. That was nice, I love connecting with people and seeing what they know that I don’t, but what struck me was when she said wistfully, “I wish I was young.” 

I don’t understand that. I don’t want to go back a single day. I’ve done many things, good, bad, crazy, and even scary, and I enjoyed almost all of it. But the point is, I did that. Now I want to move on and do different things. I look forward to getting older, to giving myself permission to do nothing, to watch the sun set, to take a nap, to read all damn day if I want to. It will be a different stage of my life, and I hope to enjoy it as much as all the other acts.

Of course, I do understand wanting to be young for the sake of health. Nobody likes to be sick or in pain. That, I get. To quote Woody Allen, “I’m not afraid of dying, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” 

But I agree with the sentiment. I don’t think I’ll mind dying. I mean, what’s the alternative?  It’s not like I’m gonna get out of it.  Neither are you, by the way, so you might as well step up when it comes. And I believe that if you live your life desperate to be remembered, to create some kind of immortal sense of yourself, you are living a wasted life. 

Now, that’s not to take away from those people who truly have done great things and certainly should be remembered. But if I look at what I want out of life, the truth is, I don’t care if anyone remembers that I wrote that book, only that they found pleasure and humanity in it. That a phrase or a character touched them, possibly helped them in some tiny way at that point in their lives. I hope they remember that, not my name. I don’t need my performance as Viola in Twelfth Night to be celebrated or lauded, but I’m glad I made people laugh and shared their joy. I want my friends to think of me as a good person and my daughters to know I loved them. That’s it. 

I’m still Shari Action. I still do a hundred things in a day. Let’s take today for example. I got up, reviewed the final edit for “Scream at the Devil” and made changes. I picked apples from my tree and made apple jelly. The sound of the jars sealing as I write is as pleasing a satisfaction as any film I ever made, because it’s right now and I love it. I have a huge pot of Gumbo simmering on the stove, because my kids liked it so much when I made it last week that they demanded at least three times as much. I worked on my new novel, did some gardening, and wrote this blog. That’s it so far, but it’s only five o’clock! I didn’t hike because I wasn’t feeling well when I got up, but the more I did, the better I felt. 

And now, it’s hubby time. I’ll have to lure him away from the editing bay because, he, like me, loses track of time when he’s doing what he loves. We will sit together and watch the sun change on the mountains, we will laugh and share, and plan. 

God I love my life. I’m so grateful for all the opportunities, for all the moments, even the ones that aren’t easy, even the ones that make me look silly or bad. 

And as for making a name for myself and being remembered by people who don’t know me? 

Well…that’s not something I’m going to put too much energy into. The Shari Action doll doesn’t think much of that. She’s too busy and too darn happy. 

 

And she wishes the same, or better, for you. 

Shari, July 30, 2013. 

 

 

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

Acting & Experiences, family, Life in General, parenting

Mistakes and Successes.

gioia_cover_jpg  The cover of an Italian magazine called, Gioia

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shari, December 1st, 2012

 

 

Life in General

Twisted.

Okay, so encouraged by many people who have liked my blogs or FB page, I went on twitter. That led to much advice about promoting books from other authors. That led to searches on the web for placement, advertising, google buttons, tag switches, reader tracking, https, .orgs, zfiles, QRSTs and WTFs, so that now, I have pretzel brain. Oh yes, that  malleable organ has been rolled out, stretched and put through  a complete twist and flip. If you’ve ever made a pretzel, or watched one being made, say at the mall, you know that they take this long, thin, piece of dough and twist it and flip it. That’s my brain on the internet. All that’s left is to drop it in hot oil and add salt. And, of course, some people like mustard. 

And here’s the thing. I like the social media for the social aspect of it. I love exchanging ideas with other authors, getting and giving encouragement to and from people I don’t even know, but many of whom are smart and funny and obviously good people. But I HATE promoting myself. I always have, it just feels like, “Look at me, see how great I am?” I was never comfortable with that aspect of being an actor. I just want to connect with people on a real level. And, while it’s great to have people like your work, it’s weird when that unhealthy level of ‘fan’ comes into play. I still get letters and contacts from people who think I’m whatever character they liked in a movie or show, or don’t realize that I’m a fifty-two year old mom, not the sexpot bitch in “Laker Girls.”  I’m just Shari, a vastly imperfect being doing my best to put something fun to read or watch out there. 

I know some people live for this. Some of them get so caught up in what they are putting out about themselves that they get addicted to it and have to try to create more. My word for that? Yucky. I learned early in my life that to put your value in what other people think of you leads to deep unhappiness. If you present only what you want people to see about you, then you can’t be upset when you find that nobody knows you. It’s a lonely place. 

Fortunately, the fame thing doesn’t happen so much as a writer. People understand that your work is what they like, they don’t confuse you and the character you are writing they way do with the character an actor is portraying. The main reason I shifted from acting to writing was my girls. I knew I couldn’t be here for them if I was always off on location, or dragging them around on shoots. The second reason was that I’m more comfortable working as a writer. Some people think it’s lonely, but with all these characters in my head, I have to shut the club down at midnight! 

Remember when people had publicists? Someone else to do all the bragging? I just can’t bring myself to retweet every nice thing someone says about me. It feels…false. I know, I know, I have to promote my own books, no one else will do it, blah blah, I get it. So now I have reluctance mixed with technology based on number codes and links and tags and blogs and social media, and so I’m gritting my teeth, appreciating the social interactions and the only other thing I can say is…

pass the mustard.  

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