Life in General

Three Nipples and Me.

I’m a big fan of ‘Good Omens.’ Some of my favorite funny moments come when the Witchfinder Major constantly demands of his new recruit, “How many nipples?” if the young man tells him he came across anyone new, as more than two would be proof positive of evil sorcery. The confused recruit, keeps stuttering confusedly, “Wha-what?” Making his superior bark even more loudly, “How many nipples, man?!”

It’s funny, but it didn’t used to be. Women could be burned at the stake for less than an extra nipple, just having any knowledge of herbs or midwifing could get you beaten, drowned, tortured, hung up with hooks, burned alive, and other delightful, religious interventions, and all in the name of god. It’s hard to say how many women died for this noble cause, because women were considered lesser beings back then to the ‘righteous,’—frankly, and sadly, we still are—so no records were kept on how many were killed, but the estimate comes in at about four million. I say, ‘still are’ because there are still religious zealots out there trying to control women because, let’s face it, they are idiots who are both mentally inferior and terrified of losing control. Think I’m wrong? Okay then. What intelligent, secure man would need to control a person who could be his greatest asset? That’s like hobbling your own horse because you’re jealous it can carry more than you can. It’s like killing your older brother at 16 because he’s taller than you are at 13. It’s like pouring vinegar on a pie you are eating because it’s delicious and you didn’t bake it. I said they were idiots.

At least I’m safe for the moment,  but if the Christian base in this country goes much farther back, who knows? (Before you go off, I am an atheist but I support and will fight for your right to believe and worship any superstition mixed with mythology you want, until and unless you force your belief system on others, then I turn my sword to fight for their right to disagree.) Apparently some of these giants of tele-evangelism long for the good old days of hair shirts, consequence-free adultery for the males, and thumb screws. I keep hearing fanatics talking about ‘returning’ to morality, and I wonder how much of the Spanish Inquisition do they want enacted into modern law? I  know it sounds extreme, but a lot has happened in the last three years that I never thought would, so I’m not discounting even the most bizarre possibilities.

Not that I’m worried, even if the witch-burners do come back, “How many nipples, man?” because according to them, I am a witch. I have three nipples. It’s far more common than people know, if you’ve seen me in a bikini or naked, (i.e., if you’ve seen just about any film or TV show I’ve done) you wouldn’t know it. It just looks like a pale, flat light brown mark maybe a quarter inch. The only reason I knew about it is because I had a very good doctor when I was young and he told my mom. He said that some kids have four, mostly boys apparently, which is funny because I never heard of any men being burned for having extra nipples.

It’s just a mark, not a breast. There’s no tissue to speak of, so when puberty hit, I just grew two nice, little, normal breasts and thought no more about it.

Until I had a baby and my milk came in. Okay, first let me digress, this is a really painful process that nobody warns you about it, so get ready. The little brown mark below my left breast felt tender to the touch, not on fire and about to burst like my temporarily swollen to Valkyrie-singing-the-big-opera-finish size, but a bit tender. After dealing with my impacted double udders, (can you say ‘moooooo?”) I checked it out. By pinching gently on both sides, I could get a small drop of milk from that third wheel.

Weird, right? Yeah, not as weird as birthing a nine-pound human and then the food leaks from your chest when you even hear a baby gurgle weird, but weird.

So, I go to my doctor for my checkup and we finish up and he’s washing his hands, when I say, “I have this third nipple.” He glances at me, bored, and says, “That’s very common.”

I mean, the nerve! Common? Moi? This same man once said on completing an exam that everything felt normal, and I shot back, “Well, I prefer exceptional, but I’ll take normal from a doctor.” He turned very red.

So this time, as he’s starting for the door after reducing my magical nipple to ‘common’, I say, “Yeah, but mine is lactating.”

He stopped short as though he’d reached the bottom of the bungee cord, spun on his heel, shot back to the table, and prodded at this fascinating anomaly. I was validated. My mysterious nipple cast a spell and produced a potion. I grabbed my broom and headed to the roof.

So all I have to say is…don’t mess with me, because I will hex you into last week and you will never catch back up. All your bills will be late and you’ll miss your own birthday party.

Serves you right for counting nipples.

Shari, October 19th, 2019

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

Sometimes I Scare Myself.

Not my best day. photo by John Dlugolecki

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

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

And then I went on a remarkable photo shoot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now I am happy.

Shari, October 9th, 2014

Life in General

The Shari Action Doll

 

Image
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. 

 

 

Life in General

Competition, Contests, and other Crap

ImageOkay, here’s my second blog of today, and it’s because of a request someone sent me, (No names!!) to write about competition in the workplace. 

First, let me be clear. I know nothing about ‘the workplace.’ Sadly, I’ve never had a ‘regular’ job. Never been a waitress or a teacher or an executive. I’ve only been an ice skater, a model, an actress and a writer. 

So I do know something about competition. I was raised with it. It screwed me up, big time. Let’s start with life, I was the second of four children, I don’t remember a time in my childhood that my mom didn’t have another kid who needed her attention. And what a group, between the four of us we sang opera, danced, skated, painted, were labeled ‘gifted,’ and on and on.There was only one way to stand out in that group of siblings, and that was to excel. If I wanted mom’s attention, I had to win something. 

And that takes us to ice skating. Here’s the deal. I would go train in other cities, sometimes countries, I would live with a group of other girls, they were my ‘friends.’ Until competition day, then what I wanted most was for them to fail, to fall down, to mess up, so that I could win. Tell me that’s not a twisted way to develop relationships. 

Yikes. Moving on to modeling. A sliver more room for support, I mean there could be more than one winner here, after all, but I still had to get that job over my ‘friends.’ I still judged myself constantly against others, and worse, I was judged, constantly not by my sense of humor or personality, but how I looked on the outside. 

Am I screwed up enough yet? Getting there. Now let’s move on to acting. I sit in a room full of women who look an awful lot like me, we weigh each other up, feel threatened if the casting director seems impressed by their reading, and hope against all hope that we, and not them, are the one who wins the part. 

Now I’m cooked. 

Then I began to do theatre, and the heavens opened, and the sun shone down, and I finally had allies. We had a common purpose, I could truly root for the other actors, I could understand that if they were better, I was better. 

Hallelujah! About friggen’ time. It only took me into my early twenties to get it. The next step was to stop competing with myself. That’s another several years of therapy, money well spent! Did I really need to hike eight miles until I puked? Or could I turn back at four? Why was it that if, in a single day, I wrote a chapter, read to kids at school, hiked, auditioned, cleaned the house and cooked a gourmet dinner, I still went to bed feeling that I hadn’t done enough? 

Competition. 

Now, it isn’t always a bad thing. I heard a saying recently that said you should compete with yourself because then you both win. That’s clever, but not true. What I have found is that the child inside that needs the attention, needs to be exceptional and special, that feels hurt without it inside, also needs a mom. 

Not my mom, she’s great actually. But if there are two people in me, then one of them needs to be the mom and comfort and love the other one, the child. Tell her that it’s okay, hug and rock her. 

It works. And guess what? We both win. 

As for the workplace? Well, all I can say about that is do your best, kick ass, expect the same effort from your peers, but encourage them too, comfort them, ask for their help, and take it when it’s offered. We are better together than we are apart. If you get the promotion, take somebody up with you. If they do, back them up and call in your favors. 

Unless you’re an ice skater. Then baby, you’re on your own. Embrace it, and get some friends who don’t skate. 

This is flippant, I know, but you try summing up one of your major life shapers in less than five hundred words. 

So compete away!! But celebrate too, your successes as well as others. And remember it’s what you are competing for that counts. The gold medal is great, but dying happy is the real goal here. 

That’s the measure of success.

So here’s to the winners. The ones who look back on their lives and say, “I wouldn’t have had it any other way.” 

Shari, December 8, 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