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

Speaking Second

With my two new friends and Ozzie, the LCFOG mascot!
With my two new friends and Ozzie, the LCFOG mascot!

A few days ago, I spoke at a fundraising luncheon for the La Canada Flintridge Orthopedic Guild. About three hundred or so people attended. It was lovely. Before my little ramblings, they played a short video that introduced our guests of honor. The video told the story of two young girls, both of them albinos, who lived in Tanzania. In some places in Africa, albinos are considered to have magical properties and they are hunted for their body parts.

Though the Guild raises money for a hospital here, they have branched out to help special kids worldwide. As they explained this in the video, they showed how these innocent young girls had lost their parents, and the younger had had her leg chopped off with a machete, and then left to bleed to death. Her older sister helped her, and she survived, but not with adequate medical care or a prothesis, (artificial limb) that worked for her.

So this incredible group flew them both over and provided the care and rehabilitation that they needed. Months of planning and giving and work went into this enterprise, I was awed by the commitment of this group. They have done so much and helped so many people.

Enter me, to their upscale ladies’ charity luncheon. After the short video, which left me in weeping, they brought the girls up. They are sixteen and fifteen, but so very much more childlike than the precocious mall-shopping teenagers most of us are familiar with. Very shyly, standing straight and proud on her new prothesis, the younger girl gave her thanks for all that had been done for her, and her older sister asked to sing a song she had written about their experience.

I don’t remember all the words, but the first verse was about realizing her mother was dead, and the refrain went, “And I cry and I cry, and I shout and I shout, I’m so tired of all the killing.” It was amazing, she sang it with no accompaniment and it was heartrendingly beautiful and moving. And then it was my turn to get up and speak.

The Chairman introduced me  as I was still drying my eyes and trying to clear my throat. I took the mike, walked to the front of this group of charitable people, and said, “I’m supposed to follow that?”

I mean, come on! Haven’t you ever heard the old adage for actors, ‘never work with children or dogs’ because they steal the stage? How about two children who have overcome unbelievable odds just to survive? Who were still so kind and gentle and loving that I wanted to hug them and not stop. I had planned to talk about the courage of some of the families I work with in my charity, The Desi Geestman Foundation, but the stage was stolen by compassion, by innocence, by courage, and nothing I could have said about bravery and hardship would have meant more. That’s as it should be.

So I changed it up. I talked a bit about my book, about the character of Ellen and how in “Becoming Ellen” she realizes that it’s not enough to just come out of her shell and participate, she realizes that she must contribute to the whole to be whole, something all these people understood. I talked about how my mother, who was there, had raised me to be helpful and kind, and how I had passed those values on to my daughters who still accompany me to many of my charity’s events, including helping to decorate the wards for holidays and the annual PJ party, when they get to meet the kids. From this experience, they grew up knowing that people are people, no matter how they look or how ill they may be.

Then I moved on to discuss the changing landscape of my life now that my girls are growing up. I told them how my husband and I were discussing how integral the girls’ lives and education had been in our everyday lives. Now with one at college and the other one driving, I find myself with more time on my own. I told this crowd of beautifully dressed and graciously behaved men and women that one day, Joseph had looked at me and said, “What are we going to do when they’re gone baby?”

And I’d said, “We’re gonna’ make love in the kitchen.” I mean, I’ll miss the buggers on a day to day basis, sure, but there’s something to be said for getting some freedom back. I might even be able to write several hours uninterrupted...in a row! And I’ll have more time to help others, to do more for the community, to interact one on one with so many miraculous people in the world. They really are out there, and sometimes, they come to visit when you least expect it. Of all the roles we all play in our lives, there is always one that is the most basic and true.

No matter how many parts we take on, how many different jobs we find ourselves doing in our lives, it’s important not to forget the real one, to be you. For me that means lots of laughter, work, and hours of doing nothing other than searching for beauty. Sometimes I find it in the sky, sometimes in water, and very often, in the smile of a child who has suffered beyond belief, but who is not only happy, but grateful.

What more is there to say?

Love to you all.

Shari, November 1, 2015

Life in General

Shout, Laugh, Love.

Mein Heir, "Cabaret.
Belting out ‘Mein Heir’,from the hit show “Cabaret.”

My life may not be stress free, but it’s never boring! A couple weeks ago I went to the gynecologist for what I thought was a minor check up, next thing I know I’m being biopsied for uterine cancer. That part wasn’t bad, but between the time the nurse informed me they would do the test and hearing back about two weeks later, (everything is fine) I spent a lot of time thinking about how quickly things can change.

The minute the nurse said, “I need you to sign this release for a cancer screening,” until I got the good news back from the Dr., I could only think of one thing—my girls. What would I do if I were to go through this journey, how will I prepare them for both this stress and the possibility that I wouldn’t be around? I made mental lists, prepared what I would say to encourage them, and how to reassure them that even if I leave them, I’ll be there for them.

Because I believe that. That’s what the novel I’m writing now is about. Of course, these are things we should consider often, it puts a fabulous perspective on those little annoyances in life. People who stalk you on social media, (Hi Rene! Having fun?) too much traffic, money troubles, family squabbles, unstoppable dust, stains in the laundry, the occasional wild fire or mud slide, and my cats yakking up fur balls on the new carpet, none of these seem to bother you as much when you are faced with a potentially life threatening reminder that you are, in fact, mortal.

I like that fact actually, it comforts me often. As it should, because sooner or later, it will be true. On the other hand, as an artist, it puts pressure on. Is what I’m doing worth it? Does it help and change people for the good? Is it…at least entertaining. I consider it a day well spent if I make a lot of people laugh. So, if I can ease a smile out of you, or the waitress, or another patient at the doctor’s office, or even a future reader, I’ve had a good day, as a writer, a mom, and most important, a person.

I was speaking to an author friend who writes wonderful stuff. (Braveheart) He told me that he thought of God watching him over his shoulder as he wrote and it should be worth Him reading. Now, I’m an atheist, but I believe in the creative, collective force of the universe, I believe that death only rejoins us to the whole, but I got what he was saying. I compare it to being able to see your Christmas lights from space or lighting a candle. Sometimes it’s great to create a spectacle for many, and sometimes illuminating a soft smile across the table is enough.

They both count, not one more than the other.

So, laying there on that cozy half table with the stirrups, waiting for the doctor, I had a chance for silliness and took it. When the nurse asked me later if I wanted to take my picture for my electronic files today, I asked, “How about this one? I just took it.” IMG_5113

And she laughed, really hard.

I loved it.

And I live to laugh another day.

Shari, October 20th, 2015

divorce, kids, writing

Walking in Water.

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Trudging along making a splash.

It’s a funny thing about beginning a novel. Sometimes you swim, sometimes you’re in over your head, and sometimes you have a slog for a while before you make that splash.

The trick of course, is enjoying it all. Being creative comes easily to me, it’s what I do. It might be cooking, or acting, or planting seeds, or producing a film, or helping my charity raise money—all of them are worthy pursuits as far as I’m concerned. But creating something new, something memorable, and most importantly, something that touches people can be as elusive as the Loch Ness monster. You’re pretty sure it’s down there but you can’t prove it…yet.

I find myself here again. I have an idea that I love, I’m inspired to do something with it. The characters are there, but mostly still in the green room waiting to go on, or trying on outfits in wardrobe. The story is forming and changing and messing with me even as it emerges, but it’s not solid yet. It’s like that dream I have where I’m back on The Young and the Restless, due on set in an  hour and no one has my script for the day. And that’s not a bad thing. Without all the floundering around and wrong turns, my story would be a simple repeat of paths and roles I and others have taken before. To find something new, you must wander, you must get lost, you must drown just a little.

The trick is not to panic. I won’t say to just keep your head above water, because that would mean you miss all the colorful coral and currents that run below. Diving deeper is often good, just don’t get indulgent and pass out before you see light again. And here’s what liberates me.

I can delete it all. Or just some of it. I can divorce an idea or a portion of it and keep custody of the kids. I do this often. I must have written a dozen novels that have never yet seen the bedside lamp of a reader or the screen of a Nook, but they are still there for me. They weren’t wasted. There’s no accounting for what an editor will like, or a publisher feel they need in their fall line up, much less what the reading ‘public’ will deign to declare ‘popular.’ If I could guess that, I’d work less and be bored more.

But producing the predictable is a life poorly lived as far as I’m concerned. Long ago I gave up doing what people thought I should do and started living my own life, and since then it’s been brilliant. Sure there are tough times, setting a good example for your kids isn’t always easy in this materialistic world. One example would be a father taking their ex to court to cut his child support, not contributing to his children’s college education, but somehow being able to afford his expensive luxury car and his multiple houses. I can’t tell you how many women go through this kind of thing.  I’ve served on enough juries to know that the decisions in any given case has a great deal to do with the judge’s whim. I was sued by a lawyer who hit me on a motorcycle and produced a fake witness, etc, only to find out later that the judge was presiding at the lawyer’s wedding two weeks after the trial!   My husband and I have chosen to put money away for college for our girls, and I’m proud and glad to do it! It’s a value that’s more important to me than the showier aspects of life. In spite of all the world’s stress and confusion and profusion of questionable priorities, in the end I’m still able to give my daughters what they need, and I don’t mind what some would call ‘sacrifices’ because I don’t believe I’m missing out on anything. I try to set the example of being the kind of person I want them to be and that’s all that matters. It’s not a hardship to clean my own house, weed my garden, pay my bills, and be the evil, dictator mom when I make my youngest participate in her class trip. I could do without that last bit, but payback is hell. I was a horror at her age.

I love what I do and I choose it, but that doesn’t mean I wander around in a cloud of creative bliss without having to deal with insane legal fees or the not so far-fetched fear that one of my children will be shot while they are at school. It doesn’t mean that projects flow effortlessly from me. I’m in all that too, but I found out long ago that I could do with a lot less. I’ve come to realize that what I really let go of was needing people to envy me, needing to compete with anyone else. Hell, I rejoice for other people now and guess how much more often I get to win? My friend’s book hits the NY Times best seller list, and I feel genuine pride in her accomplishment! A kid in my daughter’s volleyball game tells the ref that the ball was out, even though it costs her team a point, and I rejoice that she has that character. I see someone vastly overweight taking a walk and I’m prouder of them than an olympic athlete. It just makes me happy to root for others.

Recently I had what I consider to be one of my greatest personal successes. My younger daughter is a good student, very bright, exceptionally talented in many ways, but she doesn’t push herself to stand out or excel more than others. She’s one of those whose simple effort gets her good grades and she’ll land in a great college of her choice, but I was raised to excel dammit! Challenge yourself, try harder, be disappointed if you don’t improve!! If you don’t stand out, you disappear, and many other dysfunctional etcs. But at a meeting with a very wise teacher of my daughter’s, I voiced my concern that she wasn’t putting herself forward and his answer was awesome.

When I said I didn’t understand why she didn’t push herself more, he looked me in the eye and said, “Because her ego does not require it.”

Wow. I was miserable and competitive into my thirties, and my sixteen year old already has it down.

I’m gonna’ take credit for that, because…why not? I love winning when everybody does. I’m no longer fond of winning if someone has to lose. That sucks. I want to enable and encourage people, not put them down to feel better about myself.

So, I’ll be patient, I’ll slog along in the ankle deep, ice water of a new story, finding humor and pain in the human condition and a fun way to tell it. And I’ll do it with a smile on my face. I really am happy now, whether the novel comes in this form or another, whether my life takes one turn or several, whether my daughter is exhausting me or exalting me, I’m on the path I want to be on.

And look how pretty the water is when it arcs and splashes, listen to the swoosh and music of the waves and droplets.

Write them, feel them, be them.

Shari, October 4th, 2015

Acting & Experiences, creative inspiration, Entertainment, family, writers, writing

The Funny Scary Thing.

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My beast husband and I fooling around on a shoot for a movie poster idea.

Usually I try to include some helpful information in my blog, be it for acting, mothering, partnering or writing. Today I’m just going to tell a story, take from it what you will. It is, in a convoluted way, an explanation of how we function as storytellers.

I’m terrible with years, but it must have been around 1978. I was 17, my sisters were 14 and 8 when we took a family trip to Hawaii. My brother doesn’t figure into this because he always had his own room, sort of. With three younger sisters, very little is sacred, which explains the padlock on his bedroom door at home, but that’s another story.

So we’re in Maui, we’ve rented a condo facing the beach and coconut groves and my sisters and I are in one of the bedrooms, it’s one of those two queen bed affairs with the floor unit air conditioner under the window next to sliding glass doors. There’s a small patio outside the doors, and a table and chair next to the air conditioner.

Being teenagers, my sister and I quickly grow bored with the family hang out, so we find out that about a mile down the beach there is a twin-plex movie theatre. We check the movies and discover that “Junglebook 2” is playing. We decide that, as well as a little independence, this will be an evening well spent.

After the hour long application of makeup and hair fluffing, (because that’s important when you are going to a movie theatre to sit in the dark when there’s no one there you know) we head out, following the instructions from a local. It’s a lovely, late tropical afternoon and we are in silly, giggly high spirits, everywhere around us is beauty and we are grown up enough to go out un-chaperoned. Fourteen and seventeen, who needs pesky parents?

Just outside our condo, we walk through the coconut groves. The wind is playfully tossing the big wide leaves of the palm trees making a lovely, friendly whispering noise, like happy secrets being shared. Big silly crows caw at us from the fronds, comic and brazen, making us laugh. We reach the beach and turn left. The gentle roll of perfect waves with sunlight streaming through them comforts and serenades us as we walk down the beach. Confident, fearless and giddy with freedom, we reach the theatre and go to the ticket desk. Sadly, Jungle Book 2 is sold out and there is only one other choice.

Damian, Omen 2. Da da da dum.

Oh, what the heck, we came all this way and the option is to go back home and sit around reading or playing cards. So we buy the tickets and go into what will always remain to me, the scariest movie I have ever seen. If you know the Omen movies, then you know that there is always an animal portent of death. In the first movie it’s Dobermans, in the second it’s big black ravens. I spend most of the movie with my hands over my eyes as people die violent, creative deaths and there is no way to save them from the spawn of Satan. My sister doesn’t cover her eyes because her hands are too busy digging her fingernails into my arm. The movie thoroughly and officially freaks us out. When the lights come up, we’re shaky, but like, hey, it’s just a movie, right?

So we leave the theatre. Moving from the brightness and colors and crowds of the lobby into a dark, deserted and overcast night on the beach. No sunlight sparkles on aqua blue water, it is silver black and menacing. The clouds hang low and ominous as though supported by the thick, humid air. Clutching each other and alert for otherworldly evil, we start along the sand, each roll of waves grasping toward us like dark fingers that break and crash with malevolent intent. Breathing shallowly, hunched together, on full alert, we make it to the coconut grove.

We move through the terrifying swooshing sounds of the threatening fronds shaking and hissing threateningly above us. Suddenly, a crow cries out and we scream, breaking into a run, covering our heads before our eyes are plucked out by the heinous messengers of darkness.

Finally, the glow of light from the condo windows, our parents, safety. We rush in and tell them how afraid we were. Being the concerned, loving parents they are, they laugh at us.

Once we settle down, everyone goes to bed. We all change into nightgowns. I remember my sister had a long nightgown, white cotton and full, I had a short one. My two little sisters are in the bed closest to the sliding doors and I am in the one near the bathroom. We have left the sliding glass door open, our parents are nearby, so we don’t need to board up the windows and put out crosses, a gentle breeze filters through into the room. The screen door is locked and the white sheer curtains are drawn.

Much later I am wakened by the need to use the restroom. I check the semi-darkness carefully for demons, I’m far from sure it’s safe, but I decide to risk it.

I get up and scuttle the few feet to the bathroom, turning on the light as I close the door.

Now, what I don’t know is that when I turn on the bathroom light, it wakes my sister and the wind has stilled so the room is stuffy and over-warm. While I’m in the bathroom, she gets up out of the bed, half-sleepwalks to the chair next to the air conditioner and turns it on. She’s enjoying the cold air on her face, so she leans her head against the wall and falls asleep in the chair.

Very cautiously, I open the bathroom door and peer out. The room looks clear of hell’s minions, I do not notice my sister in the dimness, where she sleeps motionless in her white nightgown by the sheer curtains of the same color. I start back for my bed, tiptoeing to keep from waking the three headed dogs, and I’m halfway there when my movement wakes my sister.

Three things happened at once: a sudden, strong wind blows, sending the white sheer curtains streaming inward toward me which wakes my sister, who stands up and walks toward me.

From being sure the room is still and unoccupied by anything other than my sisters in the next bed, what I now see is a ghostly figure in white gliding toward me out of the billowing curtains, hands at its sides, zombie-like, bearing down, directly toward me. An electric shock of horror freezes my bones, and I leap for the bed, exclaiming “Oh my God,” except that my petrifying fear renders me incapable of pronunciation, so it comes out more like a throaty, quavering, “Oh ma ga!” I dive under the covers, heart beating and blood pounding, unable to speak, scream, or hear. I yank the thin cotton sheet over my head, because, as we all know, thin cotton will protect you from the devil.

Within seconds, the room is flooded with light and my mother is standing in the doorway, my father’s 6’4” frame behind her. “What is going on?” she cries, concerned. In the light, I sit up to see my sister standing looking groggy in the middle of the room and I know I’ve been snatched from the gates of Biblical mythology come to suck the life blood from my soul.

It takes a minute to explain and figure it out, then being the loving, protective family they are, they have a good long laugh at my expense.

They still laugh at me today, and this story of my cowardice is now one of my daughter’s favorites. Especially the “Oh mah Ga,” part, which makes them howl with laughter at my ridiculousness. I guess it’s genetic.

But let me tell you something. I learned a little something about what the power of suggestion will do to you that day.

And I still don’t like scary movies. I can make them, but I don’t like to watch them.

Whatever you feel and experience, it goes through your imagination and experience filters. Be careful what you let in, lest it fester until you make a complete fool of yourself.

And that applies to so many things.

Did I mention that I’ve learned to love crows?

Shari, August 20th, 2015

Life in General

Ch…ch…ch…ch…changes.

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Turn and face the world. David Bowie’s brilliant talent aside, this is something we choose to do or not to do every day. Every moment, in fact. I’ve had so many big changes in my life, living in different cities, married to different men, raising two very different daughters, careers, becoming an aunt who loves and participates in her nieces and nephews lives. All of these things have shaped me, like those ripples that change the surface, but never leave the stream, I’m still me.

Of course, I’m a bit more faceted than I once was. I often recognize the old ego and focus on appearances, which was so prevalent in my younger self, in others. When they are young people, it always makes me smile. I have no patience, however, for grown ups who continue to live their lives that way. That false presentation of self is despicable to me. Yes, your life is about you, but as you mature, if you don’t realize that life is also about your sharing it with others, then you have missed out. You are as one dimensional as a glossy photo, and worth no more. What we want, what fills us truly and makes us rich, are each of those cuts on the raw diamond, that harsh raking and splitting of a substance that seemed too hard and solid to ever alter, followed by the buffing, until the shine and sparkle come through. Those changes, those trials, are the very thing that makes me prismatic, that take ordinary light and turns it to rainbows when viewed through my eyes and heart.  My life, without my family, my daughters, my charity, and my acknowledgment of the worth of others, would be dull and opaque. Even with all the drama. (And with three brilliant siblings and eight remarkable cousins, believe me, I know drama!)

My recent changes? I have one magnificent daughter who turned twenty-one. When I went up to visit her, she took me to dinner at the nicest restaurant in her college town and paid the check. It was weird. But I was so proud. Just as proud that one of my ‘other’ daughters, (my name for friends of my daughters who I love and care for with cutting depth) was the chef. I was amazed, and so proud that the lovely table blurred before my eyes as tears of happiness for her overwhelmed me.

And at the same time, my youngest daughter got a car. Wow. Suddenly, I find myself getting up to make her lunch, and then sending her off to school. All of a sudden, I’m not as necessary. All at once, I have time that I didn’t have before. And…while that’s great, I miss it. It’s a loss. It’s a change, and it’s all worth it.

Because if it weren’t for loving someone more than myself, if it weren’t for learning to sometimes put others first, I wouldn’t be who I am today. I feel really sorry for the women I meet who are jealous of the attention their husband might give to their step-children, sorry for fathers or mothers who spent all their time promoting themselves, sorry for people that never visit their aging parents and just sit and talk, even if they’re bored, I’m sorry that they missed the point. To love someone that much is not a sacrifice, it is a gift.

Realizing the truth of that is the only way I’ve survived working with a charity where the kids sometimes don’t make it. It’s worth having known these amazing kids, these short-lived butterflies, these wildflowers, who shine out all too briefly, but brilliantly in our world. The gift of perspective they give us is beyond my power of words. It is the gift of choice—will I enter this drama? will I stress about money? will I feel victimized if someone says untrue things about me? No. It isn’t important. The other greatest gift I have received from these relationships is the elation of a cancer in remission, or the nameless void of death. I can and will cry for each of them, feeling that grief or that joy deeply is part of my base, my foundation, it keeps me honest and true to myself. It reminds me why I am here.

I’ve been asked to write a memorial service for City of Hope, which they have every year, for all the children we’ve lost. About two hundred families attend. There is a tree and every family puts their child’s name on the tree, then there is a small presentation, and that’s my part, then a non-denominational ‘service.’ The doctor in charge has asked me to make a twenty minute ‘show’ out of “The Little Prince.” This will include a staged show with a few actors, a narrator, and, of course, I will include the laughing stars. He asked if I would narrate it, and the truth is…I can’t.

I am wired to feel things very strongly. I cannot see damage or cruelty and look away. No trip to the mall will make me forget the unkind words of an abusive parent. There is no way I can narrate the story of “The Little Prince” to that group and still be able to speak. And they deserve someone who can get through it, they will have sorrow enough of their own. These people, every one, are special, their lives have been touched by a unique person who has left them. I honor them all, and while I share their grief, it does not belong to me.

A gathering of angels. That’s what it is. And I will be lucky enough to stand beneath those stars, to share in that stream of humanity connected by empathy. That is why my writing, and my life, have changed for the better, because I have turned to face those changes. And the fact that my daughters have stood here with me, so many times, has made them the exceptional diamonds that they are.

Yes, the stars, the forget-me-nots of the angels are laughing at me.

And I am content.

Shari, March 22nd, 2015.

creative inspiration, family, Life in General, writing

Writing in Spite of…

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It’s hard enough to write sometimes when everything is going smoothly in life, hard enough to keep a cheerful face with the everyday responsibilities and pressures of paying bills, being a mom, and running a household. So what about in times of great stress or sadness?

Discipline to sit down and write is one thing, trying not to run screaming through the house is another. We have a infinite amount of strength, I believe that, but that doesn’t mean it’s all available at once, we must dole our strength out, share it, conserve it, and use it to the best of our ability. Once drained, we have to recharge, and sometimes the world asks too much of us when we just don’t have anything else to give.

Lately I’ve had more than my share of both stress and sorrow. The stress level has to do with something I’ll talk about later, but the sadness is something each of us must sometimes face, the death of a beloved family member.

Paul was my husband’s uncle, a man of great commitment, love and joy. The night before Thanksgiving, at a restaurant in Arizona, he suffered a pulmonary aneurism, aspirated food into his lungs, and despite the best efforts of a EMT who happened to on the scene and the emergency medics, a hour later he was in a coma, packed in ice, with the doctors telling us the chance of severe brain damage was 80%.

My husband left immediately for Arizona, where he kept a vigil over his uncle, as they waited, hoped, despaired, hoped again, until finally, the news—no brain activity. Then began the cruel wait for his otherwise healthy body to die.

Meanwhile, I owe a book. Producing something from the ether is not like working in a bank, or building furniture. Those things can both be very creative and challenging, but they can also, in times of stress, really be helpful when there is only the excruciating tension of waiting. We can fill our hours with productive busy work, tasks that demand just enough focus to take our mind off of what troubles us, at least for a little while. Creating from scratch requires a clear mind, that’s not something you get when you are waiting for the phone to ring to find out if a heart has stopped beating.

The truth is that if I can find my way in, living in the book and characters I’m creating is a gigantic relief, but the entrance gets clouded and the door slams open and shut in the prevailing evil wind. Sometimes I just don’t have enough emotional strength left to take even one more step towards that house I’m building.

So I sit down in the drive and cry. I let the feelings flow through me, have their way with me, lift me, crush me, drown me. It is the only way through to the other side.

And then, I drag my sorry self up and shake myself off. I do something positive. For me, this means making someone else happy. So I may make some cookies for the kids at school, or buy some toys for the children at the hospital. I don’t yet have the strength to deal with others’ hysteria, it’s all I can do to maintain on my own. And then, finally, I can sit down and look at my work, maybe it will let me in, maybe the  door is slammed again, it comes and goes. This frustrating process takes patience, and I know only this—if I force my writing, it will not be good.

For me, it comes down to strength. I had an amazing voice teacher years ago, who, I am pretty sure, was very ill with AIDS. This was pre-cocktail treatment, so his outlook was grim. When I showed up late one day, stressed and overwrought, he said, “Sometimes when you’re too exhausted and beaten to do anything, you just have to do something!” And then he proceeded to turn that into a vocal exercise, “And so we begin!” we sang, over and over, sliding up and then down the scales, we shouted it until we were laughing. What a great man. So positive in the face of immanent darkness.

So while we can survive those nerve fraying hours by filling them with something,  it is, I think, impossible to put aside your real life emotions and take up those of the characters you are writing unless you can understand what moves you. Like a harassed parent snapping at a child, it won’t be about the child, but about the parent. So sometimes, we have to step back, sit down, and just feel helpless for a little while. Wrap ourselves in a blanket and read comics, watch the sunset, cry, and be human!! It’s okay. I forgive you, I forgive myself for not being ‘up to par’ when every cell in my body is weighed down with sorrow.

As a great artist I once knew said, “Every experience will make you a better actress!” And the same is true for writing, if you feel it, take it in, give it rein, it will inform you and enrich you. If you can embrace the pain, if you can step back and watch yourself go through it, your life—and your work—will be the better for it.

This week, I will write again. I will pause to cry, to laugh, to remember with honor and joy a man who brought so much to my life, and my family. And one day, Paul and his kindness and quirks will find their way into a story. Maybe this one. He will always be a part of mine.

With a heart heavy with love, Shari, December 8th, 2014

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

Leap of Faith

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Jumping in.

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

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

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

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

To take a leap.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are alike, but we are not the same.

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

Shari, October 15, 2014

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

Trigger Happy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hey, maybe you should write your story!

Shari, September 11, 2014

Acting & Experiences, 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