Acting & Experiences, creative inspiration, family, Life in General

Thirteen going on Thirty-eightish.

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Not me of course. This is a blog about one of the very special people I’ve met in my travels, and accidentally, through being an actress. I guess she started out a fan, I call her friend. It won’t be long now until I’m back in my favorite city, this time for five weeks. My daughter has gone to Florence, Italy for a study abroad quarter, and next week my husband and I will settle into a friend’s apartment in Venice a few hours north. We have several projects to work on while we are there. My youngest will come over with a friend during a school break, we’ll all visit, so everybody gets to eat great pasta and feast our eyes on art, dwell in living history, and wallow in the brilliant colors of Italy.

Okay so, can I tell you how great it is to have friends with an apartment in a 16th century Palazzo on the grand canal who are spending winter in Southern France and are like, ‘Take the apartment, we won’t be there!” Sweet. Cause there’s no way we could have afforded this trip right now on top of college and private school fees. My husband and I are excellent producers, so we know how to get the most from the smallest budget, (Can you say air-miles?) but this is special, because of the people who made it possible and how we met.

Back in the old days, when I was still on TV and my ex was on the number one rated show in Italy, (a soap opera, weird, I know)  I received a fan letter from a young lady who was 13. It wasn’t your typical letter. I could tell immediately that this was a very intelligent, aware person. The letter was smart, sensitive and engaging. So, instead of responding with the standard signed photo, I wrote back.

And we kept writing, this was pre-social media days. A few years later, when my ex was shooting Bold and Beautiful on location in the Lake district of Italy, both the young lady and her sister came to meet me. They were about 19 and twenty at the time. And they showed as much class as I had expected from them, which, let me tell you, is a relief when you’ve been dealing with tens of thousands of fans screaming, “But you must!!” about their every request for photos and autographs. (Really weird, and not fun at all, by the way.)

My friend and her sister are both lawyers now, the one who wrote me the letter at 13 is an international human rights attorney who is currently working in Brussels.  We’ve stayed in touch all these years. Then, when I was able to travel to Italy sanely with my husband Joseph, we met again, and again, and again. We stayed with them in Vincenza at their family farmhouse on one of those visits. My friends have grown into beautiful women who work tirelessly to help make the world a better place for everyone, not just clients who can afford it. 

I knew from that first letter that that young lady would amount to something, something special. And believe me, becoming a successful female lawyer in a country that is still very much a man’s club is extra exceptional. She once told me that when applying for a job, the first question from the Italian men was always, “What about if you want to have a baby? How are you going to work then?” That question would basically be illegal here. So I salute both sisters doubly for striving forward through it. (Not surprisingly, they’ve both stayed single.)

All over the world, countless people work hard for the good of us all. You may not see them, they may not have a reality show or a webpage, but they are out there, quietly and determinedly changing the world for the better. Fighting those stereotypes and antiquated doctrines. As an american woman, it’s good to be reminded that other women suffered and paved the way toward the relative ‘equality’ we have today. And every day I try to remember that the vast majority of humans really are good, even if they don’t get the same attention as the shitty ones.

So next time you talk to a teenager, really listen, maybe offer up a bit of information about the possibilities that lie ahead of them. If it’s a girl, and they say they want to be an astronaut, or a physicist, or president, applaud them. (Cheer for the boys too actually.) It’s important to realize that they can choose a tiny life where they learn no more than and never move forward from the life their parents knew, (which admittedly might be amazing) or they can do…

…well, anything.

Why are we going on this trip when funds are low? My cousin Laurence and his lover Michael had to make a decision. They were both HIV positive, but my cousin has beat it since the eighties, one of the few. So, when it came to choice between re-roofing the house or taking a trip to Paris, they decided to take a trip to Paris.

When they returned from that trip and it would rain, they would put out the pots to catch the dripping water, make some tea, get cozy, and look at their photo album of their French trip.

Two short years later, Michael passed away. Laurence sold the house and moved on with his life, but they will always have Paris. That is why we are going now, living our life, meeting up with lifelong friends and celebrating every day with our girls. When rain comes, we will have Venice.

Even as I wrote this blog, I was sent news that another lifelong friend of mine in Amsterdam just passed away in the arms of her son. Through my tears I tell you I will not wait for life to take me, I will go there.

Bouno viaggio, I’ll write you from the city where I can walk on water.

 

Shari, January 6th, 2016

Life in General

The Most Beautiful People.

 

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One of my friends with a kitten.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That was Paul’s final gift to them. 

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

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

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

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

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

You might even make a friend. 

With love and respect, 

Shari, July 10th, 2013