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

 

 

 

 

Acting & Experiences, Life in General, New Novels, writing

Hiding Behind the Real Me.

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The lady behind the ARC’s of Invisible Ellen

So…last Wednesday, I’m booked to do a radio show. It’s been set up by the Putnum publicity department in NY, and communicated to me by email. The show, “Connie Martinson Talks Books” is ‘taping’ in Santa Monica at 11:00 and she’s featuring me and “Invisible Ellen.” So, I put on some jeans and a comfortable, very wrinkled shirt, throw on some mascara at the last minute, (I hate makeup, but I don’t want to offend anyone) and make the drive. Parking is tricky, and I go the wrong way, and have to run back to make it to the studio on time. I rush in, sweaty now, and look around.

Cameras. In the back of my mind, a little buzzer is going off, Not Radio. Television.

I look down at my wrinkled shirt and almost clean jeans, realize I’m pale and shiny, will be totally washed out by the lights, my hair is frizzy and snatched back with a plastic clip, and all I can think is…. Perfect. As I’ve said, I’m an everyday philosopher, meaning that I say, ‘Oh well,’ a lot. And this one has an exclamation point at the end.

Oprah has her “Aha” moments. I have my ‘Oh Well’ moments. So I get miked up for sound, sit in the hot seat, chat with Connie, who, it turns out, shares an ice skating past in Lake Placid with me, (small world) and then we roll. We have a delightful thirty-minute conversation about my new book. She’s so complementary, has me read a page, ‘to show how well-written it is’ which is delightfully flattering, and then asks me to sign a book for her at the end.

I couldn’t be happier. After years of soaps and movies and modeling, to appear on a TV show where nobody gives a crap how I look, but is interested in how and what I write, is a major milestone for me. Not because of my attitude. I have always preferred to not wear makeup and be liked, or disliked as the case has often been, for who I am. I have spent a life time with idiot men telling me I was “smart for a women” and thinking it was compliment when I was twice as smart as them. And too much time dealing with and diffusing  women  feeling competitive with me because of how I looked. Insanity. Unworthy. Ridiculous.

We count as people. Our actions must speak louder than the surface. They don’t call me Shari Action for nothing. If something needs to get done, I’m usually the first to pitch in. Be it as a mom at school, or my charity, or speaking up for someone who can’t, I’ve just never been able to stop myself.

So much for that. But there is more to this story. As soon as I saw her, I realized that I had been on Connie’s show once before, years ago, and thank goodness, she did not remember either. It was for my third book, “The Man She Thought She Knew,” and the only reason Connie had me on was that she was friends with the publicist. I answered her incorrectly when she asked about a character, telling her that they weren’t in this book, (wrong) thanked her at the end of the show by calling her Colleen, and she definitely didn’t ask me to read from the book. Shhhh. So when she asked me this time, before filming, if this was my first book, I answered, “No I have two series, one is a woman named Calla-….uh, it’s a crime series.” Cutting myself off because I’m embarrassed that the light will dawn and the flattering, soft-filtered veil will fall.

It always does, eventually of course, but sometimes we find a few moments of forgiving grace. Yep I’ve got a past, and it’s back there,but as one friends said to me, “That’s what pasts are for.” We don’t need to wear our learning curves, but we can use them for traction.

‘Oh well’, and ‘Aha!’ They make a good combo, and both are welcome in my life now. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for those other moments, those mistakes, those embarrassing scenes, those times I fell on my butt on the ice in front of twenty thousand people. But you know what? I’m glad I did. I lived to tell the tale, as it were. And most likely, as it shall be.

So embrace your fundamental imperfections. Be human, let the wrinkles on your shirt and your face show. You earned them. And if, in spite of all that, you can hold up your book—or better yet, your life—and be proud, then you are a success.

In my case, it’s a success with some pretty scathing memories behind it. That’s me, Shari Action. If my life were a race, I’d look back and see lots of hurdles laying on their sides where they were knocked when I didn’t quite clear them. Look closer and you’ll see my cartoon outline in the brick walls I sped into and crashed through. You’ll see the indents where I gave up for a while and curled into a ball to rest.

The more I think about it, the more I think that the word ‘imperfect’ describes me best. It describes us all.

And isn’t that wonderful?

Shari, June 19th, 2014

Life in General

LIfe’s Little Sequels.

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The joy and reward of doing the right thing.

Three times now I’ve been asked to write sequels to books I hadn’t planned. Now that I’m just finishing up a sequel for “Invisible Ellen” which I really hadn’t originally planned, I realize, once again, that there is almost always more to say. Returning to characters and story lines and fleshing them out, having the chance to take them in a new direction is a real gift. There are two kinds of sequels, those that forward the characters and their lives, and those where the characters remain the same, but the mystery or plot line changes. 

Sounds like life. Sometimes, for instance in jobs or friendships, we continue to personally grow and change, giving ourselves up to new opportunities and hopefully becoming better-rounded individuals (character development). Other times, say family holidays, the characters remain the same, but the situations and dramas alter, change, rock, and resettle. (plot device)

Let me give you a life example. Over a year ago, I mentioned in a blog that my ex wasn’t paying for college. His new wife attacked me heartily, writing a blog about me entitled, “Jealously”, the theme of which is that my entire life is based on my debilitating awe of her. What I’m supposed to be jealous of, I’m still not sure, but you have to understand and forgive that that’s how narcissists are, they honestly think your life is about them, not you. They don’t see past themselves. The entire thing would have been an amusing bit of fiction if not for the fact that it deeply hurt my daughters and my husband. But I kept telling them that we all knew the truth and nothing else is real. But it was such an unreal, unthinking act from a woman who should have had their best interest at heart that, in trying to understand it, I learned so much, enriching my mental list of extreme characters. 

Ultimately we let it pass, I encouraged my girls to forgive, and we moved on. Now comes the sequel. My husband and I pay for college. I helped my daughter hunt for colleges, went to visit them, filled out the stacks of paperwork, moved her in, moved her out. I talk her down off the ledge when work is overwhelming, cuddle and spoil her when she desperately needs R&R, was there to share the hugs and tears at the end of her first year, moved her into her new apartment, and I loved every second. Now here’s the kicker, I have always had the most amazing relationship with my daughter but helping her through the college-slash-growing experience has deepened and rounded and smoothed our love until I stand overwhelmed and silenced by blessing and gratitude. In short, I support my girls and my life is richer for it. I have no anger or residual animosity from that silly attack because, simply, I am happy. I do what I want because I love to do it and it is exactly what I want to do. I adore sharing all that I have. What else is there?  What else is it for? 

I am the lucky one. That’s the sequel. 

It’s the same in writing. There must be dilemmas and challenges to discomfit your characters, evil-hearted people to throw spanners in the path, sociopaths who damage without conscious, it’s sometimes as difficult to write as it is to live, but then, as writers, we can pull our characters out of these situations, elevate them, make them victorious, or sometimes, just accept life as it is and be happy. Just like in life.

My character Ellen is not a pretty girl. She is not a particularly talented one. But she is an exceptional human being, by the miracle of her very survival. She finds joy in watching the small dramas and kindnesses of others, in doing small favors for people who may never even know she exists. 

And she’s all right with that. 

So when you write, be it your book or your life, remember that ultimately, it’s about you. No matter if people like your book, or lie about you in public media, it doesn’t matter. What matters, and what will make you happy, is doing what you do because it’s right for you. If you ever find yourself doing something to hurt someone else, think again, it won’t work. Their happiness is not based on you. 

But here’s the greatest thing. No matter what happens in your life, you can use it to make a better story. No matter how frightened, or angry or sad you may be if you are an artist, in writing, acting, or in life, it’s all fodder. Or, well, humorously put, all the BS is fertilizer, and your story, your characters, and your day to day personality grow from the choices you make about how to deal with it. 

Want richer characters? Delve into why someone resents you so much. (hint, it’s about their lacking) Want stronger plot lines? Examine the motives behind indignant rage. (hint, they feel no control.) It’s the small things that affect the big picture. And in the end, the big picture is made up of the small stuff. Take a step back and really look at it. 

As writers we have to get into the heads of so many characters, if we don’t find some truth, something real, then those people will not ring true, they will be shallow and uninteresting. So explore your own motives, and then sit back, disconnect, and explore. Examine others, but mostly, examine yourself. 

Don’t judge, that leads to preachy writing, and nobody enjoys that. (Bless my editors for scaling me back there!) Just understand it, justify it, even the bad behavior. You can’t write or act ‘bad guys’ if you don’t understand their motivations. If you can stand back and observe it, like Ellen does, you won’t have to take it personally to write it personally. 

And remember, there’s always a sequel. 

 

Shari, May 15th, 2014

 

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

An Energetic Life

 

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Drawing joy and strength from the beauty around me.

Recently, and not for the first time, I had someone contact me and ask about maintaining what appears to be my high energy level. (Thank you Whitney.) It is true that I always seem to have had more than my share of energy, hence my propensity for running, jumping and climbing trees when I was a kid, my nickname, The Shari Action Doll, when I was modeling, and now, in my fifties, my delight in playing hide and seek with the kids for hours on end.

I have always found it easier to maintain a more productive schedule when I can stay active, and as a writer, that isn’t always easy. Yes, there are days when I can write for eight hours and feel annoyed when I have to interrupt the flow for something as mundane as food or a bathroom break, but those days are not the norm. Usually, I find it best if I write in the morning, preferably after a hike, and use the afternoon for editing or reviewing because my rpms seem to slow from a roar to a casual idle. If I don’t do some kind of physical activity before I begin writing, my endurance drops drastically. The human body was not designed to sit behind a computer screen, it was designed to walk, to run, to hunt, to gather, to keep moving, and so we should.

I also have days when I’m dragging. When, mid-hike, I could lie down and take a nap. When, regardless of deadlines and desires, I simply cannot find the strength to create or even take much of an interest.

But those times are usually caused by some kind of depression brought on by general bad behavior of the world around me, or someone specific, even me when my ego or anger gets the best of me. I cannot, for instance, watch the news and then go to sleep. Meanness, cruelty, aggression and apathy all affect me adversely and strongly. I’m super sensitive to stupidity, selfishness and rudeness, as though I have allergies to mean people, and confrontations drain and exhaust me much the way a fever or a flu would. That does not mean I won’t meet those challenges and take them on, just that it costs life force to fight evil, especially in ourselves.

Getting away from the greedy suck of depression, for me, has several steps. First, acknowledge it, and the effect it is having on you physically. Do you feel weak? Are your shoulders an inch higher than they should be? Does your stomach burn? Pay attention to identifying those effects and spend a few minutes thanking your body for those warning signs and then let them go by saying, “Thank you, I get the message, but I don’t need this anymore.” The second, and most important step, is do something. Anything that is active. Watching TV or talking on the phone do not count. Pot a plant, walk to the mailbox, even going out to lunch can be good, though medicating with food should be an exception not the rule. Next, count your blessings, be grateful for all that you have. If you don’t have much right now, be grateful that you have the intelligence and consciousness to be able to observe that, and line up your possibilities. Finally, set yourself a project or goal and make some small step toward it. Want to write a book? Write 20 ‘first lines,’ or make up two interesting characters out of people you know. Want to get in shape? Spend ten minutes walking in place or do some leg lifts while you are on the phone. It doesn’t, and sometimes shouldn’t, be a big or daunting first step, just something small but pointed toward your final goal. Just plain turning yourself in the right direction can be a huge step, and the fear of taking that step is often the only thing that keeps us from accomplishing our goals. It feels good to start.

Now for a few ways to keep up that energy.

 

  1. Cut back on caffeine. Go ahead and have that morning cup, but that’s it! No teas, sodas, or caffeine rich foods for the rest of the day. On top of depleting your adrenal glands, which means you have no adrenaline when you need it, caffeine interrupts your sleep patterns, and a good night’s sleep is crucial to energy.
  2. Eat well. Plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits, grains and low-fat protein. Eat smaller portions, (digesting heavy foods makes you sleepy) and eat more often to spread the fuel evenly through your day.
  3. Exercise. I cannot over-accentuate this enough. It does not have to be a excruciating trip to the crowded gym, no special equipment is required, and exerting yourself until you drip sweat, puke, or pass out are completely absurd. You need to move, to make your blood flow, to increase your heart rate until you can’t complete a full sentence, but can still hold a conversation. If you do something active for even 20 minutes a day, you will have twice as much energy. Don’t forget that a few stretches will help you keep in touch and check in with your body!
  4. Do what you love. Even if you have a job that seems to suck the soul from your body, take some time during your day to do something you love. Cook a simple recipe, stare up at the clouds, knit, polish your car, what ever it is, find something to look forward to, and if it’s something creative and productive, all the better!
  5. Hug, kiss, have sex, laugh and sing. All of these things, done in a loving sharing way, help eliminate stress and increase endorphins in your body, so you feel better, so you do more. If you are not in a relationship try putting on some music and singing from your gut. Just belt it out. If you want a quick fix, try this. Sit down, put on hand on your stomach, just below your belly button. Now, make a sound like, “Huh, huh, huh!” from there, forcing out the air. Keep doing this and eventually, I can almost guarantee, you will laugh. The physical action stimulates the response that normally results in that physical action. Just like smiling releases hormones into your body that make you feel good.

All righty then. There’s a few ideas, but I want to add this—sometimes you have to eat macaroni and cheese, cry, and go back to bed. There are times that all of us are just overwhelmed and need to hunker down and heal and rejuvenate. When you are sick, you have to pamper yourself and give your body the chance to channel its energy into healing. It’s the same sometimes for stress, depression and even lethargy, but don’t wallow!!

It’s very important to put things in perspective. The next time you allow your grievances to resonate too loudly and too long, recognize that you are identifying with being a victim. Not good. You are not a victim, you are the boss of you. Take those bitchy little complaints, make an appointment with them, and keep it!! When the allotted time come, sit those annoyances, fears and or worries down, and tell them they are not allowed to interrupt your fabulous life. After that, every time they coming knocking on your mental attitude, tell them it is not their turn and close the door. They don’t get to take up all your love and energy.

The bottom line here is, take care of yourself, look at the bright side, and do what you love!

Wishing you luck, direction, and the energy of bouncing ball!

 

Shari, April 3rd, 2014

Life in General

Voice versus Vision.

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A picture that tells us so much, in words.

It’s been a while since I published a blog, and there’s a reason for that. I’ve been finishing up a first draft on the sequel for my new novel “Invisible Ellen” titled, “Emerging Ellen.” When I am deep into a manuscript, I use up my words. I literally, (and that is the correct use of this word for a change) have no words left for extraneous pursuits, like long winded blogs. 

Perhaps that’s why authors like twitter and FB when they’re working on a story. It’s a great way to say something and keep a connection without having to craft phrases and adjectives. It is actually true that we each of us have so many words to use up in a day. Women, not surprisingly, have more than men. This is because as the human race developed as tribes and villages, traditionally the women were the gatherers, healers, teachers and care givers, all things that required communication and a wide range of attention span. No child would have survived without a mother who could make a fire, find food, protect the home base, and watch the kids. The men, in many cultures, hunted, which required silence and focus on one narrow thing, the prey. As a result, our brains have evolved with different connections, we actually think and feel things differently, based on our history and experiences. This is not exclusive to our sex, by the way, those are just fun general facts. Recently, scientists have discovers a new brain protein, which women seem to have 30% more of than men, which relates to communication. On average, women have 13,000 more words to use in a day than men. That’s  a sixth of a novel. 

Hence, women often like to spend time talking to friends while some men prefer the focus of working in the garage, or a watching football game. Everyone has some exceptions to this rule. I prefer silence to almost anything else, I find it the world’s greatest luxury now. And I have a male lawyer who I cannot get off the phone. When he starts telling a story, he’s going to finish it, with every detail! 

Even so, it’s funny that we criticize people for the very thing that makes us what we are. I often hear women complain that their men, ‘don’t like to talk.’ Often, when questioned, it’s because the man has spent his day talking at work, and his words are used up! Then you hear men complain that women natter all the time. Though less true than it used to be, this is often because a woman has spent her day with toddler’s who have a ten word vocabulary and by the time hubby gets home, they are starved for conversation. Of course, more and more, these scenarios are cross gender! Women who work all day just want a quiet evening, and stay at home dads would love a chatty night out! 

In writing, we must find our voice. In filmmaking, we find our vision. They amount to the same thing. It’s called point of view, or what we uniquely have to offer. Ironically, both are visual imagination. In books, we create scenes from words, and each person who reads it, fills in the story with their own personal history. In film, words in the script are translated into scenes, visual mediums which include words, but offers less objective interpretation by the viewer. This is why we are so often disappointed in favorite books that are turned into films. Both have value, though books belong more to the reader than films to the viewer, if you consider the infinity of experiences of individual readers. 

Voice and vision. Two things that I deal with in “Invisible Ellen.” Once character is blind, and appearances mean nothing to her, and one is ugly, and no one listens to her. Together though, they find not only friendship, but that thing we all crave, live for, and revel in, whether we understand it or not—human connection. Whether someone relates to your words, your pictures, your music, or just your shrug of surrender in a crowded post office when there’s only one person working, each of these things has equal value. 

And so, I’m glad to be back with a short blog and say hello to you all. To make that connection, to hear your concerns and to learn what touches your heart. There is so much we have to offer, and to share. 

It might be a book, it might be a song, and it might be a smile of compassion when sadness fills a fellow soul. 

It’s all vision and voice. It’s all us, the great human connection. 

Shari, February 21st, 2014. 

 

 

Acting & Experiences, creating character, Entertainment, writing

Walking on Water.

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So, you want to write a book or make a film? Welcome to two of the world’s most popular clubs! We’re so pleased to have you as a member!! Ours is an inclusive club, one where the process means as much as the result. Where the novices are every bit as respected as the ‘successful.’ Are you ready?

Did you know that water represents the subconscious in your dreams, and in this blog, by the way.

If you just want to be famous, well, that’s a different organization. Not much value in the process there. I do not belong. You will pay dues for this club as well, make no mistake, though the monthly newsletter, “Pay Attention to Me!” is unreadable for anyone with creative aspirations. But, I digress.

There are two perspectives on ‘creative success’, at least two. The first is how we define ourselves to others, and the second is what brings us contentment.

So, if you are just starting out in…say filmmaking, you will probably be more focused on the world view of you, being recognized and lauded. Outward gratification. If you’ve been in the business for 30 years, you are more likely in a position to pursue projects that truly mean something to you, you may have more freedom to express your uniquely creative voice and not care as much how the world will perceive it. Inward gratification.

Ironically, perhaps, it is almost always those pure expressions and visions from the inside that strike us as an audience with the most force, and go on to stand as classics or examples of the highest quality.

If you want to make a film, write a novel or a screenplay, produce a play, or any number of other creative projects, what’s the first place to start?

Precisely because you are starting out, the tendency is to look out. What is popular? What will people like?  What will make me look good?

Whoa, put on the breaks, screech to halt, back up and let the engine idle for a minute. If it were possible to  know any of those things, every single book, film, play, and song would be a smash best-seller.

But they aren’t. Mmm…it’s a mystery.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. All you have to offer is you. The only thing that you can give—that no one else has to offer—is your voice, your vision, your work. Trying to reproduce someone else’s style, art, or visual expression will only create a cheap, and most likely inferior, imitation.

Obvious, right? So, how do you begin? Some of the best advice I ever got when I was first writing was, “Write what you would like to read.” Frankly, I didn’t have the skill to write what I truly loved at first, because I loved some of the very, very best. A good goal, but a difficult place to begin. So. As a warm-up, I chose to write what I loved on a lighter, entertaining level. My first books are designed and written to be fast-paced, exciting, funny, and page-turners with complex characters.

Now, what I want to write is different, I want it be original. I want to get into the brain of my characters and share their lives, thoughts and feelings, their very unique view of the world with you. And I want to do it with language that speaks beyond the definition of the word. I want to write mountains and tantrums and storm clouds and fits of laughter. I want to express the embracing arms of your own bed after a difficult day, the screaming inside when a bully gets away with it, a feather caught in an updraft.

So what is your goal? What do you want to read, see, hear? And more than that, how do you want to say it? I’ve offered exercises for writers, on starting characters, scenes and stories in different blogs, and some of them really work for me. Just scroll through my past blogs and you will find them.

Screenwriting/filmmaking is a different beast by nature of outlay. By that I mean both monetary expense and group participation. You need equipment to make a film, you need a crew, you need to feed that crew, you need to rent expensive editing facilities and experts in color correction, the list goes on and on. And, you may have a very clear vision of the shots you want and how to put them together, but you will still have a director of photography and an editor with brains and visions of their own. To ignore their contributions would be wasteful. Qualifier— though there must, on any film, be someone with final say. Too many cooks…. But be careful, very careful, not to let your ego deprive you of what your team has to offer.

You begin the film process by  writing—or finding—a script that resonates somehow for you, something that offers, maybe not a new or unique story, but at least a unique point of view. Next, you interview people until you find the ones who understand your vision and will support and add to it. That’s how you begin the long road of film production. And when you find those people, keep them close, pay them fairly, let them contribute, and  give them the credit they deserve. Conversely, if they moan, complain, talk behind your back, or otherwise hamper the overall production, cut them loose—with blessings. Just like in your life.

Both the arts of writing and filmmaking begin with a vision, one that should be your own, not a compilation of other’s people’s ideas. Learn from, borrow suggestions, and practice examples of the greats in your chosen field that you admire, of course!! If it weren’t for Tom Robbins, P.G. Wodehouse, and Jane Austin, I wouldn’t be a writer, because I wouldn’t love books and words so much. But I can’t be them, I can’t write them, I can only admire and gently reflect some of the things I learned from them.

Study your favorite filmmakers, directors, photographers, writers, set designers, and include them all!! Of course.

Then let it go and see what bubbles up. The ideas are there,  as is all your attention and research, under the water you’ve peered into so intently, but you need to be above that, walking on the water. You are an amazing creative force, the Great Spirit, (however you define that, Creativity, the Universe, or that somewhat polymorphic entity, ‘God’) made you unique and it is your journey. If you choose a creative life, your path is to unleash your power and your talent. So that we can all revel in it, and thank you for sharing it with us.

It’s all there, just below the surface, trust it, swim in it, and let it hold you up.

Shari, October 20th, 2012.

Life in General

The Lull before the Storm.

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And we’re off to see new places, meet new people, and have new adventures!

The lull and the storm. I love them both. With a new book and a film coming out I find myself suddenly required to leave my personal lull and calm of writing and venture back out into the world of traffic, airports, hotels, and a slew of new people. When my primary career was acting, I spent far too many hours pursuing the job instead of doing what I loved, acting. There was endless driving, classes, auditions, interviews, schmoozing, photo shoots, travel, and every single day—judgement and rejection. The career of acting is pretty much a constant flurry of activity, much of it frustrating and distasteful, followed by days of anxiety and waiting. There were days when I was worn so thin that I was tempted to go home, climb into my closet with a good book and a pillow and shut the door.

Then, when my second daughter was born, I shifted into writing so that I could be there for them. Other that the soap opera, which was, frankly, the easiest job I ever had, acting is a very difficult career on family. 16 hour shoot days and months on location do not make it easy to show up at your kid’s school play, much less be involved on a daily basis in their lives, and that wasn’t a choice I wanted to make. Writing gave me the leisure to work on my own schedule. And writing is solitary and frictionless for the most part. I can work for hours every day and never feel as though I’ve been frayed down into something as thin as dental floss by exchanges with rude, insensitive people or abrasive personalities.

But now, I’m off on a new adventure, and I cannot do it from the peaceful haven of my living room. I need people, we all do. I need my agent, my editor and her team, my publishers, the cover designers, copy-editors, the crew, my co-producers, the list goes on and on. Though novel writing may give the illusion of self-containment, it is only that, an illusion. In truth, there is a team of people who make it happen.

Doubly so for a film. The actual shooting days for a film are the smallest fraction of work involved, and now that we are almost through with post production, special effects, music, sound, etc, the time has come to get it out there. Though choosing a crew and a team give me the option to work with people I like and respect, promoting your product is a different story.

And that means…traffic, airports, hotels, and people I don’t know yet. And while that’s wonderful, I know it will take it’s toll, both physically and mentally. While I’m pretty good with dealing with most humans, I have a very low snapping point for rudeness, unfairness, and stupidity. Things it’s hard not to run into when you are traveling.

So here we go. Reminder to self—deep breath, manners, patience, and acceptance.

It’s the same with everything. As our world expands, and the population explodes, we come into contact with more and more people, many of whom have vastly different opinions and points of view from our own, and a select few of which just plain won’t like you. Social media has added a whole new level to this, with people we never meet being sometime lovely and supportive, and sometimes just plain belligerent and cruel. So how do we deal with those unknown factors without becoming angry, bitter, and rude? In other words, the very people we most despise?

Here’s what I’ve found—Questions work better than negation. “Do you really believe that I’m that unintellegent?” rather than, “At least I’m not squatting while grooming fleas off the rest of my family.”  Manners work better than rudeness. “I’m sorry you’re having a bad day.” as opposed to, “You call yourself a waitress? Bitch my soup is cold!”

I have discovered that almost anyone can be diffused with a kind word, or an acknowledgment of their own strife, unless they are sociopaths. Just as an argument with a significant other can only be settled when we learn to say “I can understand how that must feel,” and  mean it, you’ll be sleeping on the sofa under a throw blanket. Accepting that someone else has a different point of view from yours can lessen the stress over a confrontation. Except for sociopaths, in that case, I recommend running away. But run backwards so they can’t hit you with a brick while your back is turned.

We all need people. No matter how talented, perfect, caring or admired you are, there is someone else who is better than you at something else. It’s the ‘village’ philosophy. At some point in our modern society, we’ve developed the fantasy that we can exist without others, specifically others who are different from us, this is fundamentally wrong.

As humans, we survived against amazing odds because we learned to work as a team, a tribe. Some hunted, some gathered, some watched for danger, some raised the children, built the fires, etc. That survival technique is built into our DNA. The fact is, we still do this, taking on a required task in our structured society. Now we just call it a ‘career choice.’ When we ignore this fundamental need to connect with and rely on others, we feel desperately lonely and afraid, but we don’t understand why.

And when there’s a disagreement, or friction, watch out. It upsets you to deal with confrontation? Join the club. Nobody likes it, except maybe the sociopaths who, by definition, feel nothing because they have little or no conscious. But maybe it can help if you remember this.

The science of thought has progressed in leaps and bounds in the last few years. Here’s a fun fact to know and tell. Every single second, our brain is hammered with over 11,000,000 bits of sensory information. But our poor brains can only absorb and assimilate 40 of those impressions. We select which information to keep based our history and sensory preferences. For instance some people (almost all men, by the way) are primarily visual, (they remember and react to what they see) others (many women) are more auditory, (they remember what they hear) and some (me) are kinesthetic, meaning that we react to what we physically feel, (I remember and respond to body language and motions). So we each select what we perceive.

This is exactly why you can have an argument with a wife, husband or a co-worker, and both of you will remember the situation completely differently, and both of you can be absolutely sure, swear-on-your-life sure, that you are right.

You are. And so is she. Or he.

Let’s review. 11 million stimuli….reduced to 40 consciously acknowledged. Could it be possible, just maybe, that we might miss something that someone else saw, heard or otherwise perceived? Mmmm.

So I’m giving myself this advise before venturing out into the big ol’ cruel world. Be patient. Be kind. Be forgiving and accepting. Maybe that rude person is just having a really bad day.

And just in case, wear shoes with really good traction.

Shari, October 12th, 2013.

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