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

 

 

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 & Experiences, creating character, family, Life in General, writing

I’m Write and You’re Wrong.

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Backstage at “Much Ado About Nothing” with three women who are terrific friends.

As the publication date of “Invisible Ellen” looms ever nearer, and the premier screening of “Scream at the Devil” is less than two weeks away, I find my focus turning to two things, reworking the book’s sequel, “Emerging Ellen,” and making time for my neglected friends.

I’ve been in a work frenzy for the last year, and I have a rather large family, who must, by needs, often come before friends. But now I find myself longing for that simple shared laughter and warm support that only a long time friend can offer. And friends, I realize, could sometimes benefit from some attention from me!

As for the new book, I am doing something I’ve never done before, (though that, in itself, seems to be a theme in my life!) I am removing one complete story line and replacing it with another. Not because I don’t like it, not because it doesn’t have it’s value, heart and excitement, but because I think I’ve gone one plot point too far, and I want to spend the wordage on the building of character.

Sound familiar? They are both the same thing, aren’t they? I could continue to focus on work—which is to say, plot, story, complexities, etc—or I can balance it with time spent with friends—character, laughter, tears, and the arc of developing relationships. As always, I choose both, but my focus, and therefor my time, will be split more evenly.

There’s no right or wrong way to live your life, there’s no ‘supposed to’ or ‘rules,’ there is only what you can do with the strength and passion you have. There are only the choices you make. Do you spend your time seeking ‘success’? Money? Fame? Or do you give to family until there’s nothing left for you? Do you know that there’s a place in between? For us all, there are times, times of great sadness or stress, when we have nothing left to give, and that is when, hopefully, we can turn to others, for a little while, to cast the net that keeps us from falling. And sometimes, we are the ones who need to ‘spot’ our friends, to catch them when they fall.

One good friend just had a baby. She was not trying to get pregnant, did not particularly want children, but it happened and she embraced it, but now finds herself overwhelmed. She said to me, “I don’t really know who I am right now.” Everything in her life is being redefined. I will do what I can to be there for her, to take the baby for a few hours so that she can breathe and remember who she is. I will take her for walks in pretty places so that she not only remembers who she is, but also discovers the magnificent new person she is becoming. And I will devote some of my attention to lauding her for the strength it takes.

I have another friend whose husband passed away a month ago. He drank himself to death, and in the process of his destructive behavior, he left her in a legal and emotional battlefield which she must now face alone, deserted by him. I cannot bury my face in my computer and ignore her pain and need. I might not be able to fix all that, but I can remind her of her grace and class, buoy her up to face the legion of lawyers and the nightmare of uncovering the depth of her husband’s betrayal. I will talk to her as often as I can, I will take a day off to visit a museum with her and remind her that life is bigger, that there is more, that the future holds beauty.

These things take time and energy to do well. That time and energy will come from other areas of my life that will have to slip from fevered pitch to low idling hum. But I feel lucky all the same.

What more can we do? I cannot live others lives for them, they must do that, I am only a character in their story. Writing a book, I can change the story, I can effect the change that brings about the ending as I want it to be, and I truly believe that it is the same in life. We create our friendships and relationships in a different way, and to a different degree, but we can rewrite our story, we can be a strong supporting cast in the dramas that belong to others. And this, we must do, not because it’s the ‘right’ thing to do, but because it makes us complete.

I decided long ago, or perhaps ‘realized’ is more the mot juste, that I need balance to make a real life and be happy. Success to me, equals happiness, not fame or money, or the envy of others. I needed something besides the pursuit of stardom and big houses, that is to say, the things that other people tend to envy. What I needed was to contribute sometimes, and sit back and revel other times, in sunlight on leaves, on the victories of others. What use is a life lived only for how it appears to others? The greatest danger there, in this world of social media and constant exposure, is that people invent themselves to look good to others… and then they begin to believe it. And then they can’t live without that approval and admiration, because they have nothing else.

It reminds me of Michael Caine, when we were working on “On Deadly Ground.” We were sitting in the makeup trailer and I was laughing about a story I had read about myself in an Italian rag magazine that stated that I had been institutionalized for mental illness, overwrought with jealousy. I said, “It’s crazy, the Italians just make stuff up and print it!”

And Michael leaned around his makeup artist and said in that charming cockney accent, “The Italians have got nothing on the British. In England, they make it up…and then they prove it!” We laughed about it.

So, make up your own story, but live it honestly, and make the story about you, not about someone else. Do it for you, not for what you think others see. Give because it makes you better, spend time supporting and cheering for your friends, and even strangers, because it fills your heart and reminds you that we are connected and that without that connection, we are unfulfilled and no trip to the mall, no McMansion will ever fill that frightening void of separation. Remember only this, other’s lives belong to them, yours to you. Own it, fill it, live it, share it, and do it for love and joy.

Write your own story, so that when you read it back, you smile.

 

Shari April 23, 2014

Life in General

It’s All in the Details.

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On set with Tony Todd, a great actor who understands.

It’s all the same. In acting, writing, life, the real indicators, the emotional movers, the things that forward the story and touch our hearts are the little things. 

Here’s an example. The scene above from “Scream at the Devil” was a culmination scene. That means of course, that a great deal leads up to it. This scene begins with Detective Johnson, played by Tony Todd, finding me huddled, trembling and emotionally destroyed in a small closet. What leads up to it is a night of delusion and horror that have reduced me, and my mental health, to a quivering glutenous mass. My home is completely destroyed, everything in it is upside down, closets are emptied, dishes are broken, suffice to say that when Det. Johnson’s parter, (played by Kiko Ellsworth) comments. “She’s not much of a housekeeper, but we can’t arrest her for that!” he is making the understatement of the film. (And he’s really funny.) 

So that’s the set up. Now,  as they can’t find any evidence of a crime other than destruction of my own home by me, they have to go. But Det Johnson is not convinced, he sees a woman who is truly afraid of something. He sits down to try to talk me into leaving with him, to getting help, but I refuse. I cannot go back to a mental institution. 

Following the script, we act out the scene, I tell him I won’t, can’t, leave, he gives me his numbers, and tells me to call him if I need anything. Then he stands to go. 

Then he does something that was not in the script. He pauses, looks around at the devastation that is my living room, then leans down, picks up a candleholder on its side on the coffee table, sets it up right, gives me a sad but hopeful smile, and heads for the door. 

And I began to weep.

This film was very emotional for me, so I was already very raw, but that simple move, that small action of righting something in a world so topsy turvy, just said so much. He didn’t say, “If you clean this place up, you’ll feel better.” He didn’t get out the vacuum cleaner, he didn’t do or state anything obvious, just that small, simple kindness that illustrated to a broken woman that she could begin to heal with tiny, baby steps. 

Wow. What a wonderful actor, to find that moment.

And it’s the same for writing.  When my new character Ellen is reminded of one day in her horrific childhood, the day she was rescued from starving alone in a halfway house, she remembers only one thing clearly. The taste of a packaged cinnamon bun, though she has no idea why. Back in real time, Ellen’s reliance on cellophane wrapped snack foods as comfort and safety are an ongoing theme, though she doesn’t ever really understand or even question why. We will discover later that she was given the sweet treat by the same neighbor who called the police, and being five years old and not having eaten for several days, it’s the most wonderful thing she had ever, or will ever eat. If I had stated in the opening chapter, “Ellen used snack foods as a substitute for affection and family,” it would have been, as we say, “Too on the nose.” It would have meant the same thing, but as it is implied, and subtle, it moves us more. At least, I hope it does.

And what about life? I recently had to put down not one, but two beloved pets. One thing I insist on is being with them, so that they will have something familiar and comforting as they leave this world. You would think that the memory of that, the shaving of the limb, the hypodermic filled with what the vets call, ‘the pink juice’ the glazing of eyes, would be what makes me sad. But it isn’t.

It’s the tiny things that move me. A few crushed leaves in my herb patch release a minty smell that makes me recall my lab lying there to cool down, her tail thumping and her brown eyes hopeful. A glimpse of white tissue on the sofa beside me make me think for just a second that I see my cat, who loved to curl up in the small space between me and the arm while I was writing. Both of these things, and many more bring me that cloying sadness of loss, sweet and empty. They are small things, yet so filled with richness for me, and me alone, that I can only smile at the remembrance as my throat tightens and my eyes well up. 

So how would I write that? The smell of mint in the light wind would bring a choking clench to my character’s throat and her fingers would move against her thumb with   a tactile memory of stroking the softest ears while the recall of a soft snore makes her laugh out-loud, forgiving the tightness in her throat. A bark in the distance slows her step as she walks back to the house, lingering to savor the scent of freshness and the memory of devotion. I don’t have to say, “She thought of her dead dog and it made her cry.” 

There is something in comedy, and in good literature, called ‘the skip.’ That’s what I call it anyway. It’s a matter of association, from one thing to another that skips the steps in between. It’s hard to think of a good example, but I’ll try. I was watching a movie screening of a film I had done with a well known comedian, and there was a scene where I take my dress off, toss it on a chair, and stand there arguing in a bra and panties. It was quiet in the screening room, and all I could think was, “This scene is lasting forever!” though it had probably been all of fifteen seconds. 

Then from the darkness next to me, the comedian said flatly, “Nice chair!” And I busted up laughing. 

He had skipped the filler thoughts. If he had said. “You’ve taken your dress off, your wearing black lace panties. Oh look, you’re half naked, that must feel really exposed, let me take the focus off of you..nice chair.” It wouldn’t have been funny, would it? 

So, if you are an aspiring writer, and want some practice, try this. It’s a version of a ‘sensory’ technique for acting.  Take a real emotional time in your life. Relax quietly and ‘live’ it. Let all the memories and feelings about it pass through you, focus on the little things, the temperature in the room, the light on the trees, the smell of traffic, the feeling of the slate on your bare feet, whatever it is, remember the sensations.

Now write about it. Not in a linear way, but recalling the details as your primary indicators. Here’s one of mine, my  ex husband is telling me he won’t pay for college, I notice the condensation growing on my ice tea glass and then gathering into droplets that are finally heavy enough to fall, leaving a trail that reminds me of snail slime. The smug smile on his face is accentuated by an unpleasantly hot wind that lifts my hair and fuels my rage.

Sure, now I know I should have thrown the tea at him, glass and all, but that’s probably better left in fiction. Though, unfortunately, the abandoning his girl’s education for his Porsche and petty revenge on me is very much real life. 

See? Not even fun or interesting to hear that last bit is it? It’s the details  that make it drama, it’s the obvious facts that make it melodrama. 

And the same can be said even if you’re not a writer, or an actor, or have any use for words and actions other than on that greatest of stages, Real Life. Look for the little things. The reflections of sky on water, the smell of butter sauteing, the giggle of your niece in the other room, the splatters of dew on a smooth rock, the kindness of someone in a hurry who pauses to hold a door open for an elderly person, the music of gratitude in the scratchy ‘thank you’ that results. 

Notice these things, feel them, keep them, take them home with you. They are what life is made of. 

I wish you a million and nine small things, hundreds of thousands of special shining moments, smells, sounds, memories. Pull one out and it will take you back, bind them together, and you will have a life worth living. 

Love, and tiny glints of beauty, to you all.

Shari, September 1st, 2013

 

 

 

 

Life in General

Cities of Lace and Glass.

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

 

 

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

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

From the first century.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Museum of Eternity.

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

Shari, February 28, 2013

cooking, Life in General, parenting

A Pickled Path.

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The Vinegar Tasters.
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My personal supply of sour, sweet and bitter. All delicious!

In the picture “The Vinegar Tasters”, Confucius, Buddha and Lau Tzu stand around a pot and taste vinegar. Confucius tastes sourness as he perceives the world is out of order, therefore the world is sour. The Buddha tastes bitterness, as he sees only people with too much desire,  so they drive themselves to a bitter life. Lau Tzu says, “The vinegar is perfect as it is. This is how it tastes, heaven is on earth, too many rules spoil it, you can’t change the taste of vinegar with a rule, this is its nature, we should not force the way, nature has her way and she follows Tao, if you understand the flow, you understand the world.” Accepting the infinite variety in life is a lovely philosophy, I think.

And so, as you probably guessed, I make pickles. Lots of them, different kinds, all family recipes. It works for me as a food, and as a metaphor, here’s how I make that work.

My day started with me consciously letting go of some useless anger at an ex. He is as he is, and trying to make him understand our daughter’s real needs would be like asking a plant to edit my books. What’s the point? So, like so many parents who put their kids first, I take a deep breath and continue the repairs. On the way home from my school run, a friend called me in a hysterical depression about her daughter’s traumatic boyfriend breakup. This friend was micromanaging her teen’s life without realizing that her reaction had nothing to do with the daughter, the pain and fear she was experiencing were completely from and about herself, so I ‘talked her down off the ledge.’ Then I went for a walk in the rain, and stopped frequently to feel the moisture and the breeze brush like feathers across my face.

So there you go, Bitter, Sour, Sweet!!

And it’s all good. Really. Some things just are, and the best I can hope for is to step in and repair the damage done. Some things I can fix, so I do. And some things I can make wonderful, just for me. Ah, motherhood, friendship, and self.

So, in celebration of this magnificent conundrum that we call daily life, I’m offering the logical solution. Recipes for pickles. I know, I know, it’s obvious, but still. Try one. Then taste it, close your eyes and roll the flavor around in your mouth. Is it sweet? Sour? Bitter? All of them at once?

The moral of the story is, the conclusion and your reaction are not inherent, they are what you choose to make it.

So enjoy it all, if you can. Know that when the bitter comes, it too will pass. When something good in your life sours, step back and look at why—is it really the situation, someone else’s ‘fault,’ or is it your own pre-determined opinion that is making you feel badly? And if your day is sweet and you find beauty in simple things, even painful things, then most likely you have accepted events as they are and are not fighting against the world as it is. Congratulations, you are human and using your free will.

So here are two recipes, one sour, one sweet. If you like bitter, and many people do, add a teaspoon or two of citric acid for the tang that thrills.

Ella’s Dills

3 1/2 lbs small pickling cucumbers.

4 cups water

4 cups white vinegar

1/2 cup sugar

1/3 cup Kosher salt, (important, regular salt will make slimy pickles!)

1/2 cup pickling spice.

fresh dill, garlic cloves, and small dried red peppers.

Rinse the cucumbers, cut off ends and slice as desired. I like to quarter them lengthwise.

In a large nonreactive pot combine water, vinegar, sugar and salt. Bring to a boil.

In clean sterile jars (I collect jars all year, remove the labels, and then run them through the dishwasher on hot.) pack the cucumber slices, garlic (halved), small bunch of dill, and one or two peppers, leaving about a 1/2 inch of space at the top.

Fill the jars with the boiling vinegar mixture, wipe the top and seal. Put the jars into a large, lidded pot with water about halfway up. Bring the water to a boil and then time for 10 minutes. The jars should be slightly raised on the top when you take them out. (Carefully!) Make sure the lid is on as tight as possible, then place on a kitchen towel to cool. As they do, you will hear an occasional ‘schlup’ sound. That means you did it right! The jar is sealing. When they are cool, label them and place in a cool spot to cure. Refrigeration is not necessary. Wait at least one week, but they will last for months, and get better!!

Leora’s Pickles. Sweet and tart.

Take an 8 qt. basket of small cucumbers. Scrub them well and put them in a crock whole. Sprinkle 2/3 cup pickling salt over then cover with boiling water and let stand overnight.

To make the syrup, Boil 3 parts vinegar to 1 part water, (probably about four or five cups of vinegar, but it depends on your jars and your pickle packing ability!) 1 tablespoon of ginger, 1 tablespoon of alum, (this is available at most grocery stores and is what makes pickles crisp) 1/2 cup pickling spice and 3 pounds of sugar. Yes, 3 pounds of sugar. Bring it to a boil.

Meanwhile, drain your your brined cucumbers, cut into the size slices you want and pack in clean jars. Pour the boiling syrup over, and follow the procedure above. Wait at least three weeks for these, and then, yummy!!

So that’s my Taoist take on life, when you feel bitter, know that it’s one of the flavors in life, everybody gets some. When things are sour, try to enjoy the process of understanding why. When a moment is sweet, be truly grateful.

And no matter what, if you make some pickles, you will find yourself with lots of eager friends to share them with you.

What could be sweeter?

Shari, January 25, 2013.

Life in General

Building Writer’s Blocks.

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Quite often I am asked how to deal with writer’s block, and here is what I always say. 

I don’t believe in it. 

The fact is, you can always write something, it might not be a pulitzer prize winner or a smash bestseller, it might not even be anything very coherent, but you can write something, and everything leads to something else. 

I’ve been exceedingly fortunate in my life to have had a number of exceptional teachers. Ice skating, schooling, early creative writing, and acting. Ice skating taught me how to physically correct, that hard work brought results, and how to emotionally function with some kinds of fear. Schooling and writing taught me to think outside the box, to learn to love variety and wonder at words. Acting taught me about myself. The best acting teachers are, without always knowing it, actually parent substitutes and therapists who help you find the deepest triggers in yourself. 

Let’s start with skating. I’m working on a double axel. That is  jump where you take off from a forward ‘outisde’ edge, spin two and a half times in the air, and land on the opposite foot, backwards. Unless of course, you don’t make it all the way around. In that case, your right foot touches down, and instead of going backwards, you go sideways. 

I would go for months with a bruise on my right thigh the size of a frying pan. In skating, you have to analyze the physical results of your movements. If you tilt your head to the side in mid-air, your body will follow. A good coach will tell you to correct to the left, and low and behold, you remain up right, land on that right foot all the way around, and glide on into the next step. 

In my creative writing classes, you are given exercises to ‘think outside the box’ to use words for a sunset besides ‘red’, to describe the feeling rather than the fact, to delve deeper. 

In acting, the human spirit is engaged. Every memory, physical sensation, and emotional barrier is plowed, examined, and exposed. On top of that, you have all the technical information to take in and use. Trust is huge here. An acting coach who makes you feel unsafe is a bad one. I was lucky. 

And here’s the most important thing I ever learned…

How to learn. That, in itself, is the most liberating part of the whole process, and it never, ever, ever, ends. We do this in life, everyday, if we’re smart and attentive. 

Back to building those writer’s blocks. Your brain is the most complex thing in the known universe. The stats on bites per second are staggering, you have more neuro-connections firing simultaneously than there are stars in the milky way. 

I’m pretty sure you can come up with something. 

So look at where you are in your process. Need an idea for a book? Make a list, what do you love? What do you like to read? What moves you on a daily basis? What kind of person inspires or angers you? Don’t worry about the entire book outline, start with some scenes that might be interesting in it. Even just one. Can’t come up with a hero? Invent a side-kick, or a friend, and it will inform you about everything else. 

Maybe you have an idea for a book but the characters just won’t flesh out. Make up a daily schedule for them. What do they think when they get up in the morning? Have for breakfast? Do for fun? What was their worst day in 1st grade? Write a letter from them to another character in your story. You may not use any of this in the final result, but it will all go into what you know about the character and get those synapsis firing in your brain. 

Maybe you are stuck on the plot. Break it down, put each ‘scene’ or chapter on index cards with a short description. Or, for complex plots, work it backwards. Get your final result, murderer, crime, etc, and then create clues that will lead to it, but not give it away. Once again, give yourself options without judgment, you will throw most of them out, but so what? You’re writing. 

Books and stories come from a billion places, and you and your brilliant brain, have access to them all, open those doors, peek in. Some you will want to slam shut, others will show you something entirely new. 

Of course, the same is true for life. I once had a voice coach who told me, “When you have one of those days where you are unmotivated, just do something. take a walk, bake a cake, clean a closet, just start!” 

And of course, he was right. Motivation comes from within and without. If one isn’t working, pick the other. It’s like life. We might not want to run errands or do the dishes, but the more of the mundane we get done, the more we’re likely to get done overall. 

So put this away, open a new blank document and write this down. “My brain is a brilliant mass of stars, swirling eternal energy and possibilities.” Now go to one of those stars and take some time to look around. 

How’s that for a start to a short story? 

Happy Holidays, stay safe, love someone, and give yourself the gift of creating. 

Shari December 22, 2012

Life in General, New Novels, Shakespeare

The Luxury of Editing.

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Hi Melissa, this one’s for you!!

We are the few, the proud, the writers. We write, we read back, we re-write, we edit, someone else edits, we re-write, some one copy-edits, we correct, we release our baby.

Yes, it’s a lot of work taking a book from inception to published page, but every time I get those manuscripts back from my various editors so marked up with red pen that they look like they have a bad rash, I have a similar train of thought. It goes something like this, “Oh my GOD!! It’s so much work! I’ll never get through this. Oh wait, maybe it’s not so bad, okay, I can fix that. I’ll insert here, delete there, change a few words, make a few corrections, fix the glaring hole in my plot, re-phrase some dialogue. Wow, lookie there, I’m done!” But no edit is complete until I drop to my knees and give thanks for my Macbook pro.

Imagine having to write with a typewriter and carbon-paper. Just think of having to retype every page on which there was a correction or a change. Or, going even further back, dipping a quill in ink and scratching out your manuscript on parchment by candle light. No wonder some books were so long-winded then, it was too much trouble to cut them! Now, we highlight sentences with a stroke of a finger, move paragraphs with a flick of the wrist, rearrange chapters and page breaks with a pudgy, chocolate-smeared thumb, and send our manuscripts flying through the air from our living rooms, without even having to dislodge our cats from our laps.

It’a brave new world. Though honestly, I think it took a lot more courage to pluck a goose feather from a large, angry, aquatic bird and make art with it. Shakespeare did it, sure, so did Marlowe, but I might have stuck with an easier profession, like, oh I don’t know, indentured serfdom, for example.

So here’s my editing process. Once I have the basic foundation of my book/plot. I start to write. Normally, I write a few pages a day, sometimes a chapter, depends on the length of the chapter. My Callaway Wilde books proceed at a frenzied pace, so the chapters are short and get shorter near the end as the pace builds. My new book, “Invisible Ellen” has more leisurely chapters, meandering along with her very unique thought process, it speaks more of her ‘watching the world go by’ life. Something always happens, mind you, I must forward the story in each chapter, it was grilled into me by my first editor a fabulous woman at Simon and Schuster named Amy Pierpont. Meandering and flowery descriptions be damned!

I do not edit as I go. I would never get anywhere. I compare this to life. Let’s say, for example, that you have a small run-in with someone in the carpool line at school, they insult you or disagree in a surprising and unpleasant way, you fumble through a reply, but it’s not what you wanted to say. Okay, that’s your scenario. It’s written down on the history/page of your day. On your way home, you edit. You think of all the things you could have said, the witty comeback, the insouciant non-chalance, the careless toss of the head, the unaffected, perfectly timed laugh. You are re-writing this in your head, and low and behold, you become the faultless heroine/hero you always knew you could be.

If only you’d thought of it the first time.

But we’re not all Shakespeare or Oscar Wilde. You can’t always perform perfectly the first time out. You have to get it out there first, on the page, or in your life. So, when writing, I do exactly that, I write, with mistakes. Then I put it away. Then the next day, the first thing I do is read back what I wrote the day before, making very minor changes as I go, things that won’t slow me down too much. I need to get a sense of the pace of what I was writing as well as the words and story. I might make a correction to glaring punctuation mistakes, or reinsert dropped words, sometimes I change up an overused adjective or make a judicious cut when the point has been made, and made, and made already. But only if I can do it quickly, big things I note, and return to later.

This puts me back in the flow of things, back in my character’s heads and the pace of my story. So I can start from where I left off and move forward to the next chapter. I do not ever stop and do a thorough line edit, not until I’m done with the first draft, it would break up my pace too much and the rhythm of the writing would become choppy and interrupted. Flow and pacing are very important. They keep a reader in your mood, your motif, your world.

Occasionally, I decide on a plot change, and then I will spend a day or two going back through the completed chapters making the necessary adjustments. That’s because I have to make those changes before I can move on.

I suppose we do this in life too. Hindsight, as they say, is 20-20. Too many people completely reinvent themselves without giving credit to the magnificent mistakes that got them where they are. Not me baby. I’ve got siblings. They will never let me forget that I almost wet my pants when my brother put a snake in my bed, that I fell down in front of 20 thousand people in a skating competition, that I was a cocaine addict when I was eighteen, that I was a bitch, oh, I could go on, but the list is so very, very long.

So books are our opportunity to correct ourselves, to say what we really wanted to say, to have the gift of a do-over, to inhabit a perfect world.

Deadlines aside, we’ve got all the time in the world to get it right.

And that, is not anything like life. We have a limited amount of time to get it right, to learn our lessons, to be kind, to be patient, to make choices that matter, so that in the end, we can look back and see not just the red marks, but the original beauty behind them.

So write your life today, re-read it tomorrow and see where you can improve it, make those changes, live a month, and look at the bigger picture, live a year and become a better person, live a lifetime and leave an epic.

And leave the red-marks. They are the places you took a chance, or you got tired and made a mistake. But most of all, they are the points where we were most human. Any dummy can screw up, but only someone willing to admit it can make it better.

So stick a red flag on my past, and look out for those sticky spots in the future, ’cause I’m not done messing up.

It’s how I learn.

Shari, October 26, 2012