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Inching Past Betrayal

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about betrayal. It’s been really fun to think about. Brought up a lot of heartache and lots of binges both of the food kind and of the self-pity, self-loathing kind. Like I said, a barrel of laughs! 

Okay, so as you know from my last post, life has been in the crapper for quite some time.  Oh, I know, I know.  It’s not life that’s been in the crapper it’s my thinking that’s been in the crapper. That could be true. The outcome, however, still feels shitty. Ba-dum-bum.

But lately, I’ve wanted to feel better. As an aside: For a long time, I really didn’t want to feel better. I wanted to feel as bad as I felt. But recently, I’ve been thinking it might be nice to get rid of the anvil that feels like it’s been sitting on my head since, oh, I don’t know, May. 

Well, finding tools to use to make myself feel better—that should be easy, right? Didn’t I train as a life coach? But here’s the rub: Most of the tools and techniques I’d learned had been taught to me by the very person in whom I’d lost faith. Uh-oh! What a predicament!  

Coaching suddenly seemed ridiculous. Ruh-roh! All that time and money spent, all that trying to get a business off the ground and now I don’t really believe in it? Really? Well, damn! So now, in addition to questioning everything I believed, I’d lost my way to make a living, because I couldn’t ethically take clients while I felt that way.  And any time I’d try to use the tools to help myself, I’d get angry and depressed all over again.

What to do, what to do? I started thinking about this a lot: How do you move past disappointment that is so profound, it’s shaken your whole belief system?

Through months of experimentation, I can give you a partial list of what doesn’t really work:

 1. Eating your bodyweight in macaroni and cheese followed by potato chips and cherry sour punch bites for every daily meal, plus tasty snacks.

2. Not eating anything at all for days at a time.

3. Stopping all physical activity.

4. Spending hours on Facebook, looking at all the people who have happy and productive lives while you’re still in your pajamas at 2:00 in the afternoon.

5. Staying in your pajamas til 2:00 in the afternoon.

6. Binge watching Dexter (although you do start to feel a little better when you realize at least you’re not a serial killer. See? It could be worse!) 

So—if you’re currently experiencing a soul-quake, those are some of the things that you’re welcome to try, but that if you stop there, will just make you feel like a puffy loser.

Well, okay, so if none of those techniques works; and if you doubt the veracity of your past techniques because now you doubt the veracity of your teacher, well what the hell do you do?

In fact—what do you do in the face of betrayal by anyone? I mean, it happens a lot. People are fallible. People disappoint us.  Lovers leave, kids misbehave, figures that we regard as moral authority turn out to have the morals of an alley cat. What then?

Well, here’s a list of what I’ve been trying lately (and what I think you could try if you’re in the same boat) that has me feeling better.

1. Spend time doing the aforementioned list. Wait, what? Be indulgent and sink into your depression? Yes. Although maybe you don’t like mac and cheese, maybe you’re more of a cookie dough person; maybe you don’t like Dexter, you’re more of a Hot in Cleveland type. Regardless, I really do think taking time to just sit and be miserable has its merits.  I think it’s fine to sit and grieve, to be indulgent and non-productive and to do stupefying, numbing things. It’s not really the answer; but I think it can be part of the answer.  It’s hard when you feel like your whole world has crumbled. Find comfort where you can, for as long as you need it. Eventually, you’ll run out of episodes to watch which will make you bestir yourself to notice that lots of time has passed. You’ll slowly resurface. You’ll be ready to move again one day.

2. And when that day comes, start keeping a “Fuck You” journal. I rummaged through my journals and found the sweetest, prettiest one I had. It’s purple and has butterflies and the word “friendship” scripted in elaborate curlicues.  And in it I have spewed the most childish, shrewish, hateful, spiteful, mean-spirited vitriol you can imagine. It makes me laugh when I go back and re-read it; but it really helps with that white-hot rage I feel as I’m writing it. Here’s the catch. After you’re done screaming on paper, close the book and say: “I ask (the universe, God, my best self, whatever) to help me release this anger and get present in this moment.” Breathe for a minute or two. This has helped me enormously.

3. Start talking to friends and family again. One thing I tend to do when I get depressed is to hide. I don’t want to burden anyone with my boring drama; I don’t want to be seen as weak; this is not that big of a deal. These are the things I told myself all summer. I didn’t reach out, didn’t see if anyone wanted to have lunch or go to a movie. I ignored emails, phone calls, invitations. When I finally did start talking to people again, I found sympathy, understanding, kindness. They were a lot nicer to me than I had been being to myself. No one cares that I’ve gained weight from all of my binges. No one tells me I’m stupid for feeling as I do, or that I’m boring them.  If you also have a tendency to hide, you might be surprised. People might just be happy to see you.

4. Conversely, I think getting off Facebook is a great idea. Sacrilege, I know. But. I was spending a lot of time looking at Facebook and seeing a lot of people write glowingly about the person I no longer trusted. It sucked. I saw posts by people in the lifecoaching world who were doing great things and it made me feel sad and lonely and left out. I felt like I did when I was a teenager and there were ads everywhere for the Pepsi Generation—and I always felt like I was missing it. All the cool kids were out partying at the dump (it was a small, rural town, what can I say, the dump was a place of mystique) while I was unpopular, stuck babysitting.  Oddly, though, the one time I did get invited to one of those parties, I was bored out of my mind. Who wants to sit around a filthy field drinking 3.2 beer out of cans and talking about whose tongue got stuck in whose braces? I’d rather make my 50 cents an hour…But, okay, back to Facebook. I always felt worse after I’d looked at it, but, like any nutty addict, I couldn’t seem to stop. It was making me feel so bad though, it was like emotionally cutting myself. So I deleted my account. I think I’ll probably come back to it—and be very selective about friends. Maybe I’ll have a different page just for networking. What has happened in the interim is having time to do other things—and gaining perspective. It feels like I can breathe again. 

5. Get some professional help. Hmmm. This, actually, was part of my problem. How could I go to my huge network of life coaching friends when a major part of my problem was loss of faith in one of its creators and thereby in its tenets?  Who would want to hear it? How would they help me? By quoting that teacher to me? Fuggedaboudit.  Finally, I called a person that I knew had had a similar experience. I didn’t want to gossip and share bitter little anecdotes (well, actually, I did, of course I did) but even more than that, I wanted to figure out how to feel better again.  It was really helpful to talk to a professional person who had been through something similar. It led to the next item on my list, which is:

6. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Such a weird expression. Did anyone ever throw the baby out with the bathwater? Still—one of the things I was very confused about was how to separate the teacher from the teachings. I suppose anyone who’s ever gone through a crisis in faith can relate to this one. How do we stand it when the minister has an affair, or the priest is revealed as a pedophile, or the reverend is caught getting blowjobs in men’s rooms? Some friends helped with this one. “The person is flawed, but has flashes of brilliance. Stick to those flashes and the products of that brilliance and ignore the source.” “It’s not the teachings, it’s your own insights about those teachings that really helped you.” “The teacher didn’t make you a great coach, your honesty and humor do that.” One friend said: “It’s like religion. Most of it doesn’t work, because of the people who run the institution, but the philosophy is still good.” I protested, “But this teacher inspired a lot of philosophy I believed!” To which he answered: “Well, how do we know? Maybe Jesus was a dick.” Which made me laugh like a lunatic. I know it’s offensive, but I just have this picture of Jesus tearing around, a raging megalomaniac, and all of his disciples trotting along behind, smoothing the waters: “Jesus is just having a bad day, sorry he’s freaking out and ignoring your calls, but wait’ll you hear the new material, it’s fantastic, it’ll knock your socks off! And no! Regarding Mary Magdalene, he did not have sex with that woman…”

7. Make a list of what actually happened.  This was really helpful to me because I kept trying to minimize what had happened. I think this is a common trait among people who grow up in dysfunctional homes where there are a lot of secrets. I know it’s common in adult children of alcoholics to question their own perceptions of reality. It comes from having to cover up so much of what was happening when we were kids. I still do it. I tend to want to blame myself for everything that happens and I often excuse bad behavior in other people. So—just writing out the facts in the order that they’d happened made me see that I really did have cause to be angry and that actually, no, I wasn’t the one to blame. (By the way, I think this process can work the other way, too. If you make a list of just facts—not how you felt or what you wished, or how you think the other person might have felt—just true, provable facts—you might see that you are overreacting and need to make some adjustments yourself.) Either way, it can be helpful.

8. A friend suggested I get very picky about how I spend my time and with whom I share my creativity. I had never really thought about that before. Picky? I’m so not picky. But what an intriguing idea. She said: “Pretend you’re a queen and you’re here for just a short time. And you might want to spend time with that person, but you might not. And you’re used to being treated like royalty. So unless the person is willing to treat you extremely well, and unless they applaud your creativity accordingly, you just don’t have the desire to be there. There’s not enough time to be treated poorly or indifferently.” Indeed.

9. Find something else to do besides obsessing. I reached out to some friends who all want to get back into acting, or to take their career to the next level.  We now meet twice a month to talk about strategy. We go on auditions together. We give each other encouragement.  We take workshops. We whine about the industry and watch each other’s monologues and audition songs. It’s pretty fun. It reminds me that there’s a whole wide world of people out there and that there are many avenues to pursue.

10. Upon awakening, list 3 things for which you’re grateful. I know. Bleeeeccchhhh! There might not be much when you feel so raw. But sometimes you can refocus for a second, even if it’s on innocuous things. The divine taste of capers. The way the sun hits the pomegranate tree outside the kitchen window and lights the fruit like Christmas ornaments. The perfect color of paint in the bedroom called Autumn Crocus. Start small. (This one makes me feel a little squirmy because it’s so smarmy. But I’m finding that it helps shift my energy out of “I hate everything” into “I hate most things, but at least I like these things.” Somehow, there’s comfort and promise in that.)

And that’s about the gist of it. As to forgiving and forgetting, I’m not sure doing any of the things listed above will help. Honestly—I don’t think I’ve ever forgotten any past betrayals and I’m not sure I’ve truly forgiven any, either. (I tend to be petty. So sue me.) What I have noticed is that with time, things change and whatever the betrayal is ceases to matter as much. I gain perspective, distance—and if I’m lucky, compassion for the person who did me wrong. Forgive and forget?  In my case, doubtful. But moving on? Yes. Definitely. Healing? That, too. 

So. If you’re experiencing the sadness that comes from being disappointed and betrayed, honey, I’m definitely there with you in spirit; and am always happy to help you in person.  And I wish you illuminating, generous healing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by on September 27th, 2013 7 Comments

Blahg

One of the weird things about having learned so much about life coaching is that I feel a lot of pressure to be positive all the goddamned time.

As you may have guessed, that’s not quite working for me at the moment and that’s partly why I haven’t blogged in so long. Who wants to hear about a coach who’s been in a bad mood since May?

Funny, though. In the last couple of weeks, I’ve talked with 3 friends—one of whom is going through a divorce, one who is terribly ill with something mysterious that remains undiagnosed, and one who just celebrated 20 years of marriage with a man she loves—but she couldn’t be sadder about it. Not about her marriage or her husband. Just the passage of time and the feelings of futility about it all.

They said various things. “I feel so guilty. I’m a coach, I shouldn’t be sick, or if I am, I should be able to heal myself.” They said: “I want to be positive during this time. I feel like I should be doing better at being happy.” They said: “I feel so bad. I’m not unhappily married, but I’m so—I don’t even know. It’s just—time passes. But it’s stupid to be unhappy about that.”

I said: “Why do you need to feel positive about being sick? It’s miserable! It’s scary! Maybe there’s a big lesson in it, but who really cares when you’re puking all the time? How about just letting yourself be really pissed off and scared?” I said: “I’m not sure you can get through the dissolution of a 20 year marriage that produced two kids and the usual happily-ever-after dreams and not get a little negative or pissy. Why not just let yourself be miserable?” I said: “What if you just let yourself realize how funny it is to love your husband on the one hand; but to be sick to death of marriage and of getting older on the other.  What if you just let yourself feel bad?”

The truth is, I’ve not been having a good summer myself.  (Oh, even as I write those words, I can feel them wanting to curl up and slink off the page, because that’s not strictly true. I’ve been hanging out with my kids, which is always a profound pleasure; they opted for a mostly camp-free summer and have been enjoying the kind of days my sister and I used to have. Except that where we watched endless reruns of The Brady Bunch followed by Gilligan’s Island followed by I Dream of Jeannie, they simply download whole seasons of Frasier and Ugly Betty on Apple TV and watch them back to back. Heaven.) And—there’s nothing really wrong. No health issues, no sick kids or parents, nothing major. Of course there’s a big long story I could tell you about why I’m feeling so jaded and blue. I always have a big long story. But in order to give you all the juicy details, I’d have to implicate mentors and tattle on family members. And it would all just boil down to complaining anyway.

Suffice it to say that the disappointments stacked up this summer, the minor betrayals and the major ones and oh, it’s just all been a big fat pain in my ass and frankly, I’m weary.

I think I’ve gotten off-track. As I was talking to my friends, I began to think many of us may have gotten off track. I think we’re all trying to live a life without pain. And I think that that is just not possible. 

Let me say that again: I think a whole bunch of us think we’re supposed to be able to live without pain. Or that if we are in pain, we need to get out of it and pronto.

Problematically, then, when things are dreadful and the shit hits the fan—or even when things are just dreary and are making us restless, we add to the pain by feeling guilty as hell. We’re supposed to be self-actualized! We’re supposed to make lemonade out of those lemons!  We’re supposed to think positively! Love what is! Turn it around! Learn something! Change!

Lord have mercy, it makes me exhausted just thinking about it. Whenever a situation requires that many exclamation points, it just saps my energy. 

It’s interesting: When I said to my friends: “Why not let yourself feel like crap? Your situation sucks,” their relief was instant and palpable.  Oh my god. Someone was giving them permission to feel what they were actually feeling.  Someone was saying: “You don’t need to make every lousy thing into something wonderful. Maybe everything doesn’t happen for a reason. Maybe you’re having a truly difficult experience. Maybe you don’t have to change your thinking about it. Maybe just sit here. Maybe that’s enough.” No one was saying or even implying:  “You just need to think differently, you aren’t trying hard enough, you need to turn this around, everything’s for our highest good.” 

Oh, what blasphemy in the self-help world! But—I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I used to think I had trouble with self-help because I didn’t think I had a self worth helping. Now I’m thinking something different, which is that the whole “self-help” and “self-improvement”  industry is predicated on the theory that your self will forever be in need of help, will always need improving upon, especially when you’re feeling completely misused by the world; and with that in mind,  the implication is that you’ll never be whole. (And you’ll always need another book or program offering the fix.) The implication is that your sad self is just wrong, that your weary self isn’t your best self, that your depressed or angry self isn’t valid. But I’m starting to think that your self is your self, period. And that there will be times when life will be impossible and when you might not be up to the task of trying to make yourself feel better. There might be times when a person simply needs to wallow. And she might need to do that imperfectly, without trying to love herself through it all and look for the silver lining.

(Speaking of which, I knew this actress once named Tamu Gray and I remember her talking about her brilliant bright-orange food theory. She said when life gets overwhelming, a person needs to hole up for 3 days with stupid gossip magazines and plenty of bright orange food. Kraft mac and cheese, nacho cheese Doritos, orange soda, otter pops, you get the idea. She said you should ensconce yourself on the couch, don’t answer the door or the phone, don’t play on the computer, don’t shower or change clothes, just sit there and read about celebrities naming their children things like Truffle or Futura and don’t move for 3 days. She said 2 days wasn’t long enough, but by the end of the third day, you’d be so disgusted with yourself that you’d bounce off that couch like a gigged frog on a hot trampoline.)

But what if it takes longer than the prescribed three days? Certainly, the self-help industry makes no room for wallowing. That’s story-fondling! That’s sitting in dirty pain! C’mon, pull yourself up by those bootstraps and get moving! The self-improvement movement seems to contend that if you just tried harder or rested more, or thought more positively, or set more stringent goals, or ate a vegan diet, or said affirmations, or, or, or… you’d be happy all the time. And it goes without saying that you’re supposed to be happy all the time. If you’re not happy, it’s your own damned fault, because you’re just not doing it right. But—that pressure to  be constantly looking on the bright side and to do it right seems to add to a lot of peoples’ misery. Anyway, it adds to mine. It makes me feel worse than I already do.

But then I think: Wait a minute. Surely there’s room in human experience for the shadow side, for the moldy bits, for the slimy underbelly. And I don’t mean that those dark feelings must be there so that we can know what it is to feel better in contrast, though that does happen. I mean that the shadow side should be honored and experienced fully as its own sad mess simply because it makes up a part of the whole, entire, complicated  and chaotic self. There must be a time when we stop trying to improve and just start to live, even depressed, even angry, even ugly and fat and sad.

Anyhoo, as you can imagine, all of this has left me wondering if I can possibly continue coaching anyone. People come to coaches, after all, in order to feel better.  I’m confused, actually, about that. I’ve coached the bejesus out of myself this summer but I still feel soul-quaked. I’m not fixed. I don’t know if “fixed” is even a real thing. I’m reminded of my friend Janet, a therapist who once told me: “People don’t come to therapy to have what’s broken fixed. They come to have what’s broken blessed.” Maybe that’s where I am. In a way, it’s a relief to believe that I’ll never change and so what.  I’ve always been prone to dark moods, and I’ve tried for decades not to be. I’ve pretty much tried everything in order not to feel pain, and I’m smart and insightful into my own character. Yet I’m still one moody motherfucker. Maybe that’s just who I am and no change is necessary. Maybe it’s like the Bruce Cockburn song, “Pacing the Cage” that says: “Sometimes the best map will not guide you. You can’t see what’s ‘round the bend. Sometimes the road leads through dark places. Sometimes the darkness is your friend.” It seems like if my personality were “fixable” I would have done it by now, given my brains and motivation and all the maps I’ve collected in my many years of self-help study. But everything I thought I knew hasn’t helped much this summer.  So maybe there’s only so much improvement a girl can stand. I honestly don’t know.

What does interest me, though is the relief that I saw in my friends when they felt they had been given permission, even just from a friend, to feel unhappy with no caveat that they would soon feel better. Actually, I ironically started to feel the teensiest bit better when I did the same for myself, when I let myself be livid and sad and bitterly disappointed, with no time-frame looming, no threat of having to feel better soon. One of these days, I suppose I’ll feel better. But in the meantime—well, my situation reminds me of Anton. He told me recently that his stuffed animals don’t feel real to him anymore. He used to sit on his bunk-bed, (which had a really cool slide attached, ‘til it broke earlier this year) and stage epic battles with his stuffed bears and dogs and the occasional penguin. He’d be up there for hours, making that AK47 noise all boys seem to be born knowing how to make. He had elaborate sets—boxes and places for the bears to hide. “But I’m a little sad now, Mama,” he told me late one recent, hot, cricket-seared night, “Because they don’t feel as real to me anymore. And now, without believing that they’re magically alive, I’m just a guy sitting in a slide bed, playing with stuffed animals.”

That’s the saddest thing I’ve ever heard. And, yep. I know just how he feels. The magic feels gone and nothing has as yet come to fill its void. And—as unfashionable as it is to say so—maybe for now, that’s just how it is.

Posted by on August 24th, 2013 12 Comments

Learning a Lot About Being Alive in Good Company

I’ve spent the last couple of months rehearsing a musical and as well as being a blast, it’s been very instructive. 

Okay, let me give you a little bit of context. The musical is Stephen Sondheim’s Company. My friends Gary and Joanne have a black box theatre in North Hollywood, called the Crown City Theatre–a great little space–and they run it very well, so they’ve cultivated a loyal following. Every once in awhile, they ask Albert (my husband) to direct something there, and this time they wanted to do a musical. They suggested Company and Albert, being a huge Sondheim fan, leapt at the idea.

Of course, Albert has never directed a musical before. And for anyone who knows anything about musical theatre, this will send up a teensy red flag, Sondheim being notoriously hard. But Albert doesn’t get daunted by little things like a total lack of experience. When I first met him some 23 years ago, he was studying for the GRE’s so that he could apply to film school at USC. He was an actor at the time and I said to him: “Why film school? Have you ever been in or directed any films?” “No,” he said. A pause. “But I like movies.” I’m thinking: “Oooookayyy.” But of course, he got in, slipped effortlessly into editing on big features, then moved seamlessly into directing tv and now has directed thousands of hours of soaps and myriad projects of his own. But–never a musical. Still–good to know. First thing learned: Just because you’ve never done it before doesn’t mean you can’t do it now.  As Albert put it: “Sondheim is just Chekov with music.” Okay, I can see that. But how many badly done renditions of Chekov plays have you seen? Most of them? That’s what I thought. Luckily, Albert has directed good renditions in the past, so he was confident about getting good performances out of the actors.

Which brings us to singing. Albert can’t. Oh, that’s a little harsh, he sort of can. If he starts on the right note, he’s pretty good to go. But–as he admits himself, he doesn’t have the strongest ear. Still–he had the perfect lead for the main character of Bobby, who has huge solos and is on stage non-stop. He was going to cast a soap star–stupidly gorgeous man with a staggeringly good voice–and who was willing to do the show, even for the astonishing (but not in a good way) fee of $9 a performance. “For you, Albert, I would do anything–and it’s such a great role.” He was on board for months. Then, a week before we were holding auditions for everyone else, he got cast as the lead in Rock of Ages in Las Vegas. Oh, fine. Go make a couple thousand a week in a huge show. Who needs you?

Well–we kind of did. Hmmm. Now. Here’s this huge show that revolves around a wonderful singer and we got bupkis. We held auditions–40 guys showed up, 12 got called back, only 4 showed up. Gorgeous voices, they had. Gorgeous. Goose-bump voices. But–one had a lisp, two were bad actors and one was a great singer and a lovely actor, but was just totally wrong for the part.

So–Albert went with an actor that he and the musical director, Bill, both knew. This guy, Ben is his name, is an AMAZING actor. And he totally fits this part. Handsome, a ladies man with self-professed commitment issues. (Yeah, right. He’s only 28 years old. How committed is he supposed to be? But I digress…)Perfect. But–he hadn’t sung in years. He sang for Albert and–he wasn’t that good. His voice has a beautiful, smoky quality, but he struggled with pitch. So Albert cast him.

I, being as ever, the supportive, non-judgemental wife, said things like: “Are you crazy? You can’t do Company with a Bobby who can’t sing! He’s going to get slaughtered in reviews! You will too! This is disastrous!” And Albert would say: “I had to cast someone! We didn’t any time. And Ben is a great actor who’s perfect for the part. I don’t care if you have the best singer in the world, the show is about relationships and if the singer sucks at acting, no one is going to care if he’s singing about being alive at the end because they’ll all just want to be out of there! No one is going to care about him if he can’t act! And Ben can act! His singing will get better, he’s not that bad, Bill says it will get better and he’ll work with him–I had to go with my gut!” 

 The choreographer quit the day before rehearsals began–her latest show was suddenly going to Broadway. The lighting designer quit–got a chance to do the Grammy’s. Rehearsals got underway. 4 actors got “jobs on cruise ships” (untrue, we found out later, but a decent excuse) and quit and we re-cast and re-cast. Oh, the grumblings! Oh, the eye rolling! Oh, the buzzy whispered criticism from the cast about the costumes, the lights, the musical direction, the voices, everything!

And yet–something serendipitous was beginning to happen. The choreographer quit–and the guy she found to replace herself with, John Todd, could not have been more perfect for this project. He took non-dancers (that would be me) and figured out how to get us all looking good. The space is pretty small and the cast is large–and it actually seems roomy up there, thanks to him and to Albert’s ability to stage herds of people flawlessly. At one point, Albert said: “I want all the guys playing basketball here.” Oh, you haven’t seen real fear til you’ve seen a bunch of musical theatre guys being told they’ll be playing basketball onstage. Chris and Zeffin looked horrified. “I’m not sure I’ve ever even held a basketball,” one of them murmured, the other nodding in agreement. But–John got them doing it. And they look great. The replacement cast was better than the one we had in the beginning–the replacement lighting designer, Anna Cecelia Martin was used to working on a budget and had been a dancer and so was great at lighting the numbers with limited equipment. The set designer, Jack Forrestel, persuaded Gary and Joanne to paint the ceiling black–and pushed them to create all kinds of difficult and amazing things to make a wonderful set for this space.

And through all of this, Ben was getting better. In fact, he was getting really good. He was the first one off-book, he started studying with Zeffin, a terrific singing teacher, at least a couple of times a week. He went over and over his numbers with Bill. And what he most noticeably did NOT do was to self-deprecate. He didn’t get involved in any buzz-buzz about what might go wrong. He didn’t insult himself. If he was off-pitch, he would stop and say,”Can we try that again, please?” He was, I think, the consummate leader. Soon, instead of talking about how many pitches he’d missed, the cast was talking about how much he’d gotten right. They liked him, they respected how hard he was working and everyone started actively rooting for him.

Martha Beck often says that the prevailing energy is the one that will most affect a group. That being calm and centered will quiet a group far more quickly than shouting for their attention. That walking into a group with happy energy will eventually sway everyone, even if they’d been pretty unhappy. I think Albert and Ben did this, Albert by holding a vision in his head of how good this show could be–and Ben by showing up every single rehearsal with a great attitude and a knowing that he’d be fine. 

During one of our first previews with an audience, Ben was singing this dreamy solo ballad, “Someone is Waiting,”  it’s called–and all the women are onstage with him, but not singing. He started singing the wrong words–oh well. He’ll get back on track, I thought, but he didn’t. And then he started going into the ending and nothing was matching up words and music-wise and Bill was trying to follow him and it was quickly becoming a train wreck. Since Ben had done the end of the song, I thought, well, I’ll just go to my ending position, (which happens to be with me holding his hand) and we’ll just leave the stage and we’ll hope the people in the next scene will be ready to go on, since we just cut about 4 minutes out of the show. I thought all the other women would follow me, but they didn’t. So–I got to him and took his hand and he turned to me, abject terror in his eyes. As soon as I touched him, I could see the fear and confusion leave him–just having another human there helped immediately. I saw Beatrice get into place behind him for the little dance they do and thought, okay, that’s as good a place as any to pick it up–so turned Ben to her so they could start dancing. But–he was still holding the goddamned basketball from the previous number. So Lena gently drifted up and took it from him, Bill, bless him, found the spot and everything went on. I don’t think the audience noticed anything, but it was a pretty big mistake.

The night before, I’d been so nervous with our first audience that I’d flubbed a lyric–and had beaten myself up for it the rest of the night. In fact, it still makes me mad. I could beat myself again about it right now. So when that moment happened with Ben, I was wondering how he’d react. He still had lots more time onstage so he had to move on as though nothing had happened. No time to dwell in the mistake, or he’d miss the lines he needed to say right now. (That’s what I love about live theatre acting. You have to be in the present moment or you’ll blow it.) He has about a 5 second break in the first act, during which he came up, grabbed me, kissed my cheek and said: “Thank you for saving my ass,” before running on again. The whole cast laughed about it–him most of all. Wasn’t pissy with himself for a second. That was such a great lesson for me. My style is to call attention to all my mistakes, past and present (and to stupid things I might do in the future) to conflate them and then to berate myself about them mercilessly so that I can get it all out there before everyone else does. This way, no one expects much of me, and I benefit from low expectations, since I can usually surpass them. I’m beginning to see that this is not the best way, that Ben’s way is much better. He says he yells at himself in his car and has some sleepless nights. Maybe. But–if he had any doubts about his singing ability, he kept it to himself. He never shows any fear. It’s amazingly beneficial to the people around him. 

Albert never strayed from his vision either. Remember he said he had to go with his gut, to cast someone who was a better singer than actor? Well, the reviews came out this week–raves across the board (except for the LA Weekly, who didn’t love it, but didn’t hate it, either)and a critic’s pick from the LA Times. As Albert  (who is mixed race and has a voice he uses for anger expression that I call Tyrone) said: “And not one motherfucker said anything ugly about Ben’s voice! Not one! But all of them said how perfect he was for the role. Suck on that, y’alllllll!” Yep. I’ll suck on that. I’ve never been happier to be wrong. 

And at the risk of going on and on (too late!) here’s the re-cap of what I’ve learned.

1. Just because you’ve never done it before doesn’t mean you can’t do it now.

2. Go with your gut.

3. Sometimes the replacements are better than the originals.

4. Hold on to your vision even if no one else can see it yet.

5. Self-deprecation doesn’t help a leader.

6. Keep your doubts to yourself.

7. Mistakes. So what?

8. Show no fear.

9. Don’t panic. Just work hard.

10. Your calm energy will affect everyone in a positive way.

So suck on that, y’allllll. See you on the boards…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by on February 22nd, 2013 No Comments

Merry Christmas!

So I was at a meeting the other day and the woman who was running it said to the group she was leading: “For Christmas this year, I put your names in a small box, and I wrapped it, then I put that box in a bigger box and wrapped it, then a bigger box and wrapped it, then a really big box and wrapped that. And on Christmas morning, I’ll open my present to myself and there you’ll all be. Because you really are the best gifts of my life.”

I thought that was wonderful. Aside from all the wrapping crap. Oh, sorry. That was a little crude, but I just HATE to wrap presents. Luckily, my wonderful nephew was here yesterday and he wrapped the kids’ gifts–made one into a hat and one into a Lego. This nephew is actually getting pretty close to playing in the NFL–well, closer than most people ever get anyway, just got accepted to BSN–whatever that is–where scouts come and see them play–but if that dream doesn’t work out, he can always open a business doing creative wrapping. A wrap artist…

But I digress. Anyway, I thought this woman had a great idea, so I immediately stole it. I asked my husband and kids, my mother-in-law and father-in-law (who will all be here Christmas morning) to make me a list of people who are really important to them (and I made one, too.) I plan to wrap the lists (or more likely, stuff them in a gift bag with a smattering of tissue) so that we can open them on Christmas. I’ll write the gift tags like this: To Albert from Albert, to Anton from Anton and so on…because I think these are our gifts to ourselves—all the people we love and who have been important to us, all the relationships we’ve nurtured and cherished. I think it’s a good idea, though I suspect my kids will vastly prefer the Legos and the hats…

But here’s something that struck me. Everyone included family on their lists, and friends and pets; but only my daughter Zosia, who just turned nine, started her list: Me.

Wow! You know every self-help book in the world says to include yourself in your priorities, says to love yourself. I don’t know a whole lot of people for whom those come naturally. Hence the reason why there are life coaches in the world. But—I’m supposed to be a life coach and it never even occurred to me to put myself anywhere on that list, much less first. Huh.

So—so far my best Christmas gift has been Zosia putting herself on her “people I love list.” At the very top. When I grow up, I want to be just like her.

Anyway, I hope you give yourself an amazing holiday. Hope you have rest or chaos, quiet or noise, parties or nights of privacy watching all your favorite movies. I hope you get exactly what you want. Merry Christmas!

Posted by on December 24th, 2012 No Comments

Thankful for…

So it’s the time of year when we all write about what we’re thankful for. Or, if you’re a former English major (like me), it’s that time of year wherein we write about things for which we’re thankful. (That’s if you’re the former English major. Like I.)

Sometimes the English language is a clunky thing. But I’m grateful for it, nonetheless, and grateful that I know how to use it. And I’m thankful that I’ve passed that particular gift on to my kids. So today I’m posting some things my kids have said that have brought me joy over the last (gosh it’s already) 10 years or so, because I’m so very thankful for those two little Albert clones. (Just a quick explainer: my kids look EXACTLY like my husband, Albert. I had those two little feckers at home with no drugs. That’s the only reason I’m 100% sure they’re mine, because you sure couldn’t tell by looking…)

********************

Okay, so yesterday, we’re in a lab in Pasadena, getting Anton’s blood drawn to check for allergies. There’s a note on the door that says: Please let your phlebotomist know if you suffer from the following blah, blah, blah.  Anton said, “What’s a p-hel-boma-tit?”

I said, “Ahem. Phlebotomist. It means a person who’s trained to draw blood.”

The phlebotomist in the room said, “Yeah. We’re blood suckers.”

 Anton said: “I thought that was lawyers.”

********************

Speaking of corruption, recently I was driving carpool, every parent’s absolutely favorite thing to do (it really can be, because you do learn a lot by sitting in the front seat, thus rendering yourself invisible to children somehow—but only if you’re not late, the kids aren’t fighting and you’ve remembered by some miracle that it’s actually your day to do it. These perfect circumstances have happened to me exactly twice in the last 6 years.)

Anyway, my son’s friend Abe said, “My aunt lives in Sacramento. There’s nothing up there but farms.”

Anton said, “Yeah. And the government.”

Abe said, “It smells funny.”

Anton explained, “That’s the smell of manure. And corruption.”

********************

But he also told me, when he was about 6: “Mama, do you know there’s no such thing as good guys and bad guys? See, I been thinking a lot about war…”

(Great, I think. Lovely that my 6 year old is thinking about war…)

I said, “You mean the war in Iraq or the one in Afghanistan?”

He said, “Well, those, too, but mostly about Star Wars…”

(Doh!)

“Yes?”

“…and I realized there’s no such thing as good guys and bad guys. There’s only enemies and allies. See, if you’re on one side, you think you’re the good guy—but if you’re on the other side, you think you’re the good guy. See? Everyone thinks they’re the good guy. So—it’s really just who you agree with. Enemies and allies.”

********************

My daughter, Zosia, on the other hand, tends to see things a little more black and white. She recently told me, “You know, I used to think I wanted to go to an all-girls’ school, because I don’t much like boys. But now I’ve started to realize: Girls are really judgey!”

********************

Speaking of not much liking boys, she came home from school one day and said, ‘I just can’t stand Austin. He’s always saying who’s doing things they’re not supposed to—“

I said, “Oh, he’s the kind who’s always telling when someone does something wrong?”

She said, darkly, “He’s the kind who’s always telling on you even if you’ve done something right.”

********************** 

Ahhhhh, school days. How I don’t miss them.  Anton was blue one night and said, “We have so many bullies around. I don’t see why kids are so mean.” A pause. “But actually, the biggest bully I know is the one in my own head that tells me I’m not good enough.”

I think I know that same bully…

*********************

School. That hotbed of insanity. When Anton was in kindergarten he told me: “You know, most kids aren’t very kind.”

“Really?” I asked. “Is someone bothering you?”

He said, “They all kind of bother me.”

“Oh,” I said sadly. “Are you lonely?”

“No, he said, “I play mostly by myself, but I have fun. I spy on people and pretend I’m invisible and I run around a lot. But mostly, I just hang around and wait.”

“Wait for what?”

He looked at me like I was daft. Hadn’t he just explained? “Wait for the other kids to grow up and get a little more kind,” he said.

********************

I’ve said to the kids many times such things as: “If no one is being nice to you, you can at least be nice to yourself.” I say this because I don’t really do it and I suffer for that. Zosia takes it to heart. On many occasions, I’ve heard her sing: “You’re so beautiful, you’re very smart, you’re perfect as you are, you’re so precious.”

One day I asked her: “Who are you singing about?”

And she stopped her singing, slightly annoyed, and snapped: “Myself!”

Sometimes I’ll say: “You look so lovely!”

“I know,” she always answers serenely.

That’s a good thing…? Right? Oh how would I know? I wouldn’t know self-esteem if it came up and bit me in the ass.

For example, I recently made some self-deprecating joke about the house having an agent before I did (long story) and what a loser that makes me. Zosia said: “Mama! Apologize to yourself this instant! You can hear you, you know!”

********************

Yes. I still have a lot to learn.

One day, after he’d just started kindergarten, Anton popped out with: “Mama! Do you know there’s no such thing as death?”

I was sitting at the kitchen table with him and my mother-in-law, who has studied a lot of metaphysical texts. I, myself, was an avowed atheist at the time and wanted to nip this idea in the bud, so I said, “Oh yes, honey, actually yes there is such a thing as death.”

My mother-in-law shot me a look, but to her credit, stayed quiet. Anton elucidated: “No. You just go to a different place.”

“Oh, “ I said, trying, but not too hard, to keep the disdain from my voice, “You mean like heaven?”

“No,” Anton said and his tone was like—pshaw! “No—Heaven’s not practical. It’s more like—it’s like this world is like Kindergarten. And you learn everything you need to learn here and then you die. And then you go to the next world and that’s like first grade. And then you learn all you need to learn there and then you die and go to the second grade world. And it just goes on like that. And since you never really run out of things to learn, you never really die.”

I looked at him in wonder. My mother in law looked smug. “Did you tell him this?” I asked her.

“Nope,” she said. “But he just explained exactly what I believe, better than I could.”

“How do you know this, Anton?” I asked.

“I just do, “ he said.

*********************

So—there it is, a partial list of why I’m so thankful for my kids. They’re my healers as well as being my joy.

Happy Thanksgiving.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by on November 20th, 2012 2 Comments

Next Life, I’m Coming Back as a Cowboy Poet

 

 I was talking to a friend I’d met in a coaching class and she said, “You know, I just don’t love coaching. Every time I’d go to meet with a client, I’d just feel dread. So I stopped and it feels much better. I feel relieved. But I don’t really know what to do now.” And then we talked a little more, and she said: “Well, I’d really like to go to film school, but I don’t know if it’s the right thing to do.”

Her voice, when she mentioned film school, got light and excited and lyrical. You didn’t have to be psychic (and I’m not, though oh, how I wish I were! Can you imagine how convenient that would be? How useful? I mean, just the way it would cut down on things like anxiety about flying—oh, to know all the answers in advance! Next life, I’m coming back as a psychic. I mean, I hope I will. Obviously, since I’m currently not one, I don’t really know…) to hear the excitement in her being.

I said: “Of course you should go to film school. Of course it’s the right thing to do.” Then I paused. “Because of how you said it, I know it’s the right thing for you to do; I just don’t know if it will bring you enough money to make a living. But—the thing that lights you up is always the right thing to do, even if it’s not the money thing to do, even if you don’t get any success from it.”

Which brings me back to myself. Yes. I know. One day I’ll write about other things again, but—

When last I sent out this blog, I was a blithering puddle of soggy disappointment. I’d tried something that had meant so much to me and I’d failed, yadda, yadda, yadda…

I spent a couple of weeks crying. I got very cynical. I felt stupid and embarrassed and ashamed of myself. I was talking to my coach-friend because I felt so very shitty. And then I heard this thing come out of my mouth and dammit! It was true. What lights you up is always the right thing to do, even if it doesn’t ultimately result in enough money to make a living.

Now, every coach friend I know would agree with this—would agree with doing what lights you up. And then they would say: But eventually, being that this is a spiritual and energetic universe, you really will make money with what you love.

Oh, how I wish I were one of those coaches! Can you imagine how convenient that would be? To believe that you can make money with what you love, just because the universe has given you the wherewithal to love it and to put energy into doing it? To know that money will follow the energy of love? Next life, I’m coming back as a spiritual money-maker! 

Because, alas. For me, so far in this life, that has not been the case. (Yet.) (Okay. I’m still enough of a spiritual hedge-bettor to tentatively, parenthetically add the word “yet.”) It’s true. I’ve been an actor/writer/singer/life-coach or some combination thereof off and on for the last 30 years—and when I added it up, I realized I’ve made about $27,000. No, no. I don’t mean yearly! I mean in 30 years, this is about the total I’ve made from ALL of my creative work. Holy Moly! That’s an amazing total! But not in a good way. And guess how much I’ve spent learning? Gaaak! I’m too embarrassed to tell you.

Now—really, if I looked at this from just a money perspective, I’d have to quit. The story I’d spin could be whatever: there are 1,000 actors for every one job; stage acting pays very little; there’s 98% unemployment at any given time among SAG actors; I shouldn’t write “on spec”; I should never coach for free; I’m untalented. All those stories could work. I’ve used every single one of them when I get too discouraged to try again. They might even be true.

But truer: Doing what lights you up is always the right thing to do. 

And—oddly, at first it feels like you get to choose what lights you up. But the truth is, what lights you up chooses you. Some people get lit up by numbers or computers. Oh, how I wish I were one of those people! Can you imagine how convenient that would be? To be an accountant and to love it? Or to do—-whatever it is—-computer people do? The world always needs technical folks. Next life, I’m coming back as a techno wizard!

But no. For now, I’m stuck being lit up by writing and singing, by acting and coaching.

So—yesterday I sat and listened to some music and thought about the next show I could write. I could write about love and all its insanity and smallness and hugeness and boredom. I could write about being in a female body in this crazy country and what that’s meant to me. I could write a short video about a woman who tries something and when it goes badly, she wants to quit, but doesn’t.

The point is—I could write.

(Writing and singing, by the way, are a little easier to jump back into than acting, which seems to require an audience; which, if you do it on your own no matter what—8:00 o’clock every night, no matter where you are, you just drop everything and pretend the curtain is going up—well you could do that, but then that bleeds a little uncomfortably into the gray area of mental illness—actually, no, it makes you a total freaking nut job. Best if I don’t explain how it is I know this…) But writing. Yes.

Later that day, I called my mom and dad—to congratulate my dad on getting his early 91st birthday gift—4 more years of a Democratic president (“I think I was born a Democrat,” he says, no small feat in my eyes, for someone born in, you guessed it: Idaho. That hotbed of Democratic philosophy.)

They asked if I’d gotten any response from my showcase and I said no; and then I told them that I still thought it was the right thing to have done. “It still lights me up,” I said. “Even if I never get anything from it, I still want to do it.”

My mom said: “Well, you don’t get nothing from it. You get satisfaction.” And, as mothers almost always are, she’s right. And that’s true. And I think others get satisfaction from seeing it.

Mom added, “Like your dad gets from his poetry.” Backstory: My dad had just performed at another cowboy poetry gathering to his usual acclaim. He recently self-printed books of his poetry and he gives them away at his readings. (When he told me he was going to do this, I said, “Why don’t you charge? You could at least cover your printing costs!” He said, “Oh, but then I’d have to claim more income and get into the whole tax thing. It’s not worth it. I just give them away, and if anyone wants to, they can make a donation of the price of a book to some cause they think is worthwhile.”) He said: “It’s true, honey. You never know what your writing might mean to somebody. Funny, a woman came up to me this last time, and asked me to sign the book—and she had tears in her eyes when she was telling me how much she enjoyed it.”

He sounded surprised and touched. I’m not. His poetry just lights up the hell out of him. I’m not surprised that others feel that. Writing is his right thing to do.

Mine, too, along with acting, singing, coaching. So I know I’ll keep at it, as sad as I can sometimes get about it. Honestly, I think in the end, I’ll be prouder to be a person who tried and failed than one who said: I coulda, woulda, shoulda. 

Here’s a poem of my dad’s that sums this all up better than I ever could. Oh, how I wish I were a poet! Can you imagine how convenient that would be? To say exactly what you mean with so few words, perfect expression with brevity? Man. Next life, I’m coming back as a cowboy poet.

 

Lookin’ Backward

By Holger Albrethsen, Jr.

 

As I look back through the decades

There’s a thought somehow prevails:

We are born without a road-map,

With a choice of many trails.

 

Some are steep and some are rocky.

Some would lead you plumb astray,

So you have to choose ‘em careful

‘Cause there’s forks along the way.

 

There is one you think is easy,

Free of doubt and fear and care,

But it might not be the best one

‘Cause it won’t lead anywhere.

 

So you take the one that’s rocky,

Take a path up toward the hill.

It might be you’ll reach a summit—

Find some grass that’s greener still.

 

But whatever path you follow,

Up the creek or ‘round the bend,

Do an honest job of livin’—

Ev’ry trail has its end.

 

Though you might not see one forward,

There will be a trail behind;

So be careful what you leave there

So’s to keep your peace of mind.

 

If sometimes you find no pathway,

Lookin’ backward ain’t no sin.

You can live with where you’re goin’

If you’re proud of where you been.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by on November 8th, 2012 2 Comments

Don’t be Attached to the Outcome. Yeah, right.

Oh, what to do when you’ve done your very best and you don’t get what you want at all?

I talk about this with clients a lot. I use that formula: “Show up, pay attention, tell the truth, don’t be attached to the outcome” with regularity. I talk, glibly, I now fear, about taking the eagle view rather than the mouse view, about seeing the big picture, about how past disappointments have often led them to their very best moments in life.

Alas, I may be full of shit, down and dirty just plain wrong. Terrible thought for a life coach, because if that’s true, then everything I’ve been teaching and really believing since I started this journey is not only false, but dangerous.

What to do, what to do? What to do when it seems like this idea of not being attached to the outcome is as impossible as trying to bite your own teeth?

I’m a little depressed. You may have picked that up.

So what happened was: I did an industry showcase of this show I wrote. It seemed like a good idea at the time. The show had gone over so well whenever I’d performed it; no one could stop talking about how inspiring it was, about how it moved them. Many people told my husband and me how it would make a terrific tv or web show, that we’d be shoo-ins.

We’ve both been around this business a long time. We should have known better.

But we wanted so much to believe this. We love the show. So—we hired a publicist, costumer, lighting designer. We rented a spectacular venue. As we are always wont to do, we spent a boatload of money. (We both tend to have a little magical thinking about money. “It’ll be fine,” we tell ourselves as the bills pile up. “You can always make more money.” The problem is—sometimes this thinking actually works. This week, not so much. I’ll get to that in a minute.) 

Anyway, it was a great night. So many people showed up, they had to hold the curtain to bring in more chairs. People loved the show…it gave them courage, so many told me, to try their creative ventures again, it made them bold. So—it was successful, except that all the industry people who said they would come—didn’t. All those people I wrote and got in touch with who said they’d come—nope. Nada. Zip.

Yeah, and I’m sure you’re thinking: Well, so the hell what? I mean, this was the week of Sandy the Frankenstorm, for god’s sake. Many people have real problems. I know, I know! On the surface of it, this is such a small thing it makes me mortified to even mention it, much less write about it and not be able to get over it. And it’s not like “industry people” are more important than anyone else, not by a long shot.

It’s just that I had invested this particular night with so much. (And I do mean that literally as well as figuratively…)  I really thought that someone would come who could take this show to another level. I thought it would be worth the money we spent because I’d get an agent, a writing deal, an offer to do the show in a great venue, something. And I had done so much internal work to be ready for it. I’d gotten past feeling unworthy, feeling terrified, not being willing to show up. I’d rehearsed for months. I’d done hours of writing and tons of meditations about doing my very best, about not being attached to outcome.

But not enough work, apparently. ‘Cause man was I attached to a different outcome. Am. Am attached.

Because, of course, this was also the week that my husband’s job changed so much that our financial outlook is considerably grimmer (but not in a good way) than it was a couple of weeks ago. But thank goodness the tax bill came and it’s only 3 times what we’d expected.

Hmmmmm.

Here’s a question I also ask my clients and myself with regularity: What are you making this mean?

Well, gosh, let’s see. Here’s a partial list, in no particular order, of what I’ve made these events of the past week mean:

1. Everything I say is false. Everything I do is doomed. 

2. This is what you get when you believe in yourself. You get Nothing. This is what you always get and have always gotten and will always get.

3. No one likes you.

4. See? Now you have to get a real job. Time to pay the piper. And it can’t have anything to do with acting/writing/performing, that ship has sailed and it’s sailed without your sorry ass.

5. And it can’t be anything to do with coaching either, since everything you’ve learned about coaching is sheer, unadulterated fiction.

6. The universe looked at how much you spent on this idiocy and said: “What are you, high? I’ve gotta teach you fools what money really means. I’ll show you by not letting you have what you’re used to. Good luck!”

7. I’m stupid. I want too much. And I’ll never get it.

8. I failed again and I always will fail. I never learn.

9. Everyone thinks you’re talented, but so what? You’ll never make any money with creativity as long as you live. You’re gonna go bankrupt because of your stupid show. Hubris! Hubris!

10. Oh, get over it already! Most people have real problems! This is so typical of your insanity!

11. Time to get a job at McDonald’s. Or no, Starbucks. At least they have benefits.

When I look at this list, a part of me—I suspect my soul—is highly entertained. She’s watching me go through these torturous thoughts and she’s looking at me with tolerant affection, the way I look at my daughter when she loses her mind in some epic tantrum, usually brought about because she’s stayed up til 1:00 in the morning at a slumber party and has eaten nothing but sugar for 12 straight hours. At such times, I give her a bath and read her a story and tuck her into bed with her blankie, even though she is nine years old. I know enough to understand that I need to do some version of this for myself at this time.

So—I guess some of the life-coachy stuff is still in here.

But the other part of me balks and is not that enlightened. And she can’t stop leaking tears bitter enough to sweeten horseradish. (What a tortured metaphor. I’m making that mean I’m not a good writer, because I can’t think of a better one. Wahhhh.) All she can do is hear and believe that roar of mean-spirited thoughts and make desperate plans about a terrifying future while choking to death on the oh-so-hard-to-swallow past.

Well. 

But.

She can also sit here, looking out the window at the slowly yellowing leaves on the Japanese elm. At the globes on the pomegranate tree that are so burnished and perfect, they look like Christmas ornaments. She can only go about the day, taking some raspberries and flowers to a friend who just began chemo; picking up her kids; writing sad blogs; handing out candy to the 200 or so trick-or-treaters who’ll descend tonight at dusk. What she can do is hold form and wait.  Eventually, the soul part knows, this death grip on “what should have been” will loosen. But not today.

******

(A different life coach might add: “And that’s okay.” But that would make a life coach like me punch her in the head.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by on October 31st, 2012 4 Comments

Showing Up Part 2

So—a month ago I wrote a blog about how hard it has been for me to show up lately. I was talking about this formula I use a lot in coaching:

Show Up

Pay Attention

Tell the Truth

Don’t be Attached to the Outcome 

And then the blog I wrote got all long and convoluted and strayed into how hard it had been for me to show up in the past. You know me. I tend to ramble. So I said I’d post a new blog: Showing Up Part 2—in one week.

So now a month has gone by. You know me. I tend to procrastinate. But anyway, here’s what’s happening.

In less than a week, I’m doing a showcase of a show I wrote called: Unwrap the Present: Life (coaching) is a Cabaret.  This is enormously exciting and soul-pukingly terrifying in equal measure.

Here’s how it came about. I did this show last spring at the Martha Beck convention and also at a little theatre here in LA. My husband’s manager, Mr. Hollywood (not his real name) came to see it and he really liked it. Now—he’s never particularly liked anything I’ve done over the years. I’m too big onstage, too old to be commercial, too sappy of a writer, not cutting-edge enough for him.  (As for me, I can barely forgive him for persisting in dating women 20 years his junior and voting for Bush.) In spite of our complete disregard for each other’s taste in entertainment and politics, we get along well enough. As long as we don’t talk too much about real stuff, we’re fine.

So imagine my surprise that he came to the show.  The bigger surprise came when he called me the next day and said he couldn’t stop thinking about it and did I think something more could come of it?

(There’s an old joke in Hollywood: A police officer calls an actor. He says: “Sorry Mr. Jones. I’m afraid I have bad news for you. Your agent came to your house and he went completely crazy. He abducted your wife, killed your dog and set fire to your home.” And the actor goes: “My agent came to my house?!!!”) It’s probably funnier if you’re an actor—but the point is—agents have the reputation of not caring about their clients—that is, if the clients aren’t famous. Actors have a reputation of doing anything for an agent’s attention.  Sufficeth to say: I was surprised that he called.

“Well, I don’t know,” I said. “I think it could be a good motivational program.”  He said: “We should think bigger. I think this could be developed into a tv show. I think you should do a showcase and invite all industry people to come see it. Has to be at a nice theatre, though, and really easy for them to get to.”

So—the showcase idea was born. We found a great venue at a lovely hotel in Beverly Hills, hired a publicist, a designer, a costumer and a lighting guy. At this point, this one night is going to cost a lot more than my wedding did. And when I realized, some weeks ago, the truth of that statement, I started to quietly freak out about the whole thing. Maybe not so quietly. I really don’t remember. Much of that week passed in a macaroni and cheese and Pringles induced coma.

Luckily, I have access to a lot of, you guessed it, Life Coaches. When I surfaced from the carb numb, I finally remembered to ask for help. D’oh!  You know me. I tend towards remedial.

Two of my coaching buddies, Keisha Gallegos and Martha Monaco asked all the right questions. They reminded me to visualize; they asked why I was so invested in what  the audience’s experience would be; they asked: Why do you want to do this? They worked with me on the thought: People will be jealous and turned it into: People will be inspired.

Funny how we can do this for others, but how it can still be so elusive in our own little lizardly minds.

I’d made an appointment with another coach, Jessica Steward, who is also brilliant at talking creative people off ledges. Our conversation went like this:

Me (whiny, whimpering): I’m afraid! I’m afraid we’re spending all this money and no one will show up and no one in Hollywood has ever liked me and —

Jessica (patient, calm): I’m going to remind you of a quote by Marianne Williamson—

Me (interrupting) I can’t stand her.

Jessica (still patient) But the quote is good.

Me (petulant) I know it. It’s that one: Our deepest fear is not hat we’re not good enough. It’s that we’re powerful beyond measure, blah, blah, blah.

Jessica (still patient, but it might be wearing a teensy bit thin): Yes, that’s the one. But in your case, put the word “talented” in for “powerful.” You’re talented beyond measure. And yet here you are, talking about numbers. How many people will be there, how much money it’s costing. You’re quantifying an experience that is qualitative. It says beyond measure. So stop trying to measure it. I mean, how many people really need to show up?

Me (dubious): Well—I guess—I don’t know, I hear people say you can make a career in Hollywood just by having a good relationship with 3 casting directors— 

Jessica (still patient but with a tiny edge): No! Nope. You’re still not getting it. Sonja, the only one who absolutely has to show up is you. 

Me (silent):

Jessica: (explaining patiently): You’re still believing it all comes from the outside. And you don’t believe those people on the outside, those casting agents and directors, like you. So to try to protect yourself, you keep not showing up. You got sick the last time (I had), or the video camera doesn’t work (it didn’t) or the mic goes out (it did.) This is what your lizard brain does to you whenever you follow your soul wisdom, This is the story you’ve told so much that you can’t even see that it’s fake.  But the real truth is, you must believe in your work in some small way or you wouldn’t even have attempted it. 

Okay. She’s right. So—the last couple of weeks, I’ve made a concentrated effort to show up. I wrote a blog post. I rehearsed. I met new clients. I re-wrote the end of the show 6 times. I stopped eating salt and vinegar potato chips dipped in blue cheese dressing. And I still got sick. And there was that hideous moment when I was in the garment district in downtown LA and I tripped and fell down in the street and hurt my ankle so badly that I had to crawl my way over to the sidewalk. But that was kind of sweet, too, since I was offered help in 3 different languages.  There was that horrible night when I convinced myself that I’d gotten lice from trying on hats. So yes, I have noticed is that I’m doing my usual schtick of trying not to show up—but I’m doing it earlier. The performance isn’t til Tuesday and I can walk on my ankle again and I’m feeling much better and of course I don’t have frigging lice. Nyah-nyah. Take that, you dastardly lizard.

I’m beginning to realize that it takes tremendous fortitude for me to show up. I mean, to show up authentically. To be as good as I am. It’s much more comfortable for me to go to self-deprecating humor mode. But—operating from there hasn’t gotten me what I want, which is connection. To my inherent gifts and talents. To my highest self.  To the people with whom I want to share that.

Funny, a couple of days ago, as I started fretting about the outcome of this whole thing, (No one will come! Everyone hates me! It costs too much! How will I stand it if I actually get something out of it? What if I can’t really deliver?) instead of eating, I sat and meditated and asked my essential self for a message about the show. She drew me a picture of a star connected to my heart. She wrote: No fear. We’re all connected. 

Yeah, right. Whatever. That’s nice, but proof would be nicer.

Immediately after this, I checked my computer and the first thing I saw was that a friend had posted about the show. “Go see it”, she said, “if you’re in LA. This woman is a superstar.” And on that same post, some other people whom I’d never met said they were coming. Then I got a call from Mr. Hollywood and he said some people from Lifetime and from OWN had RSVP’d yes.

Well. Okay. So a little woo-woo proof from the universe. I just love that. And in an effort  not to be attached to any outcome, I do remind myself that something may come up for these people, they still might not show up.

But I sure will.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by on October 18th, 2012 1 Comment

Showing Up (but not all the way. This is part one.)

There’s a formula I use a lot in my practice. Here it is:

Show Up

Pay Attention

Tell the Truth

Don’t Be Attached to the Outcome

It’s a handy little thing that you can apply in all sorts of situations from the easy ones like making sure you take the time to do what you truly love to the really hard ones like swimsuit shopping.

But lately, I’ve been really stuck on the first one. Which strikes me as funny because, as I say in a show I recently wrote, “Show up. That should be easy. I show up for a lot of shit I don’t even want to do.”

 Oh, that show! It is the delight and the bane of my existence these days. And also—oh, to show, to let myself be seen! Also the bane of my existence. Show. Shockingly hard overwhelming work.

 Oh, I’m not even making any sense. Let me start at the beginning.

 Okay, so earlier this year, I put on this show that I wrote called Life (coaching) is a Cabaret. This was essentially a huge deal for me—I hadn’t acted in years and just to make it even more terrifying for myself, I put in a ton of singing, which I love to do, but which has traditionally terrified me whenever I’ve tried to do it in front of an audience. Or even in front of my Maltese.  I’m not kidding, I break out in a sweat, can’t breathe, shake and usually end up crying whenever I’ve tried it. Which does make for an interesting spectacle, but—well, call me crazy, but I want people to enjoy my performing because it’s good, not because it’s like a train wreck where you’re horrified, but you simply can’t look away.

 Why on earth, you may wonder, would a person want to go through with idea of performing when it literally makes her publicly vomit and cry?

 Well—it’s because this is how my soul-self, my essential self shows up. And damn it! I really did not want this to be the case. I wanted to be content being a life coach and helping others find their bliss, show up in their own lives. But—well, it turns out that as I was coaching others to show up, there was a niggling voice saying: “But what about you? You want to write, you want to sing, you want to act more than anything in the world. You can hardly be an authentic coach if you’re lying to yourself.”

 “Oh, shut up!” I would say to that voice. “I tried being an actor, I failed, I don’t want to do it anymore, I can’t take one more failure in that arena, just shut the fuck up! I’m perfectly happy as a coach. I never need to perform again.”

 And then I’d go eat.

 And then the voice would come back. It was like that moment in Monty Python and the Holy Grail where the guy rings the bell and yells: “Bring out your dead, bring out your dead!”  And another guy comes out with a man over his shoulder and says: “Here you go.” And the guy on his shoulder says: “But I’m not dead yet.” And the guy carrying him says: “Yes you are. You’re dead.” And the man being carried protests, “No I’m not. I’m not dead yet…”

 Well, apparently, my need to perform wasn’t dead yet, either. I don’t know why. I’d tried to kill it for years. I’d banged it on the head, shot it down, suffocated it, stuffed it like a calf slated for veal and still: “But I’m not dead yet.”

 Why would I wish something clearly so important to me to be dead? It doesn’t make a lot of sense. For years, I thought it was just because I couldn’t take one more rejection, one more comment about my appearance, one more “Thanks, we’ve seen enough.” But now, having worked with a lot of clients who are working their damndest to deny their souls, I think it’s more than that. I think it has to do with the vulnerability that is present the second you admit that something is really important to you—and that you can’t control AT ALL whether other people will feel the same, or get it, or like it along with you, or think you’re crazy for needing to do it. There is nothing that makes a person feel more alone in a vast universe, I don’t think, than admitting their fondest and wildest dreams, much less trying to make them come true.

 I’ve never felt more defenseless in my life than on the day that I realized that if I didn’t perform again, I would one day die unhappy and filled with regret. I was in my office listening to a teleclass and my teacher, Martha Beck asked:  “If you knew you would die 10 years from now, what would you regret not doing?” And I knew immediately. And I had to hang up the phone because I was hyperventilating and I ended up on the floor in my office in a weeping heap. Because I knew what I wanted and even if it embarrassed me, and even if I was bad, and even if no one came or cared or saw, I had to try again. I couldn’t stop crying and quaking in fear, but I finally got to a sitting position and said out loud to the universe: “Okay, then. But you have to help me.”

 And because I admitted my dream, heeded the call from my soul, and decided to really show up—in all my imperfect need, all my fear and all my willingness to concede that I love what I love—the next morning, in my email inbox, was a notice for a class: Musical Theatre Intensive! Come work with supportive teachers to update your material. We can help you to overcome nerves, build confidence as well as building your book. We’re here to help.

 Oh, come on. But it’s true. So I decided that was my answer and I took the class. And met one of the best teachers there (Ron Kellum,) whom I’ve ever known. And found my amazing accompanist Cassie Nickols there, whom I love and respect and really needed. And that’s how I started showing up.

 I started writing this to tell you how I’ve been having trouble showing up lately, but this is already really long. So I’ll finish next week. Seems this showing up skill is a lesson that I need to assimilate over and over and over and over and over again. In the meantime, I’d love to hear what your essential self would like to show up for. I promise not to laugh. And, in addition to performing, I still love to coach. So—let me know if I can help nudge you along.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by on September 20th, 2012 No Comments

This Is A Post About Being Creative, But I Can’t Think Of A Creative Title

I went and saw a play last weekend, Warhorse, which instantly became one of my top 5 theatre watching experiences. I’ve seen a ton of theatre in my lifetime—some of my earliest memories are of being hurried through dinner and stuffed into (itchy) lace tights and black patent leather shoes, getting gussied up in my best dress and going to the theatre at the high school auditorium in my home town of Grand Junction, Colorado, to watch whatever the high school or community orchestra was putting on. I don’t really remember much about the things I saw; I mostly remember being on the (itchy) chair and being so small that my legs stuck straight out. That’s why I remember I was wearing tights and shiny shoes. That’s basically all I could see, given that whomever was sitting in front of me was bound to be taller than my 3 year old self. And I know I was always hoping there would be some sort of performance emergency that could only be solved by choosing a little girl from the audience (and of course it would be me) to save the production. That never happened, worse the luck, but I never gave up hoping.

 Anyway, on Sunday we went and saw this production of Warhorse at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles. I used to work in the subscription office, geez, that was about 20 years ago now, and I still have friends who work there, and who will get me house seats if I bring them chocolate. (Thanks, Kishisa!) So we had seats 6th row center for one of the most amazing things I have ever seen.

 You have to understand. This was the week that some crazy homicidal nutbag, believing he was the Joker, went in and shot up the movie theatre in Colorado. This was the week that Colorado responded by buying more guns. Some weeks are just crap on a stick in a dangerous world. How’s that for an enlightened life coachy perspective?

 I don’t listen to the news much. All I really knew was that this had happened, but I hadn’t spent any time listening to all the stories. I didn’t need details, didn’t want to cry about my beloved home state that seems to spawn mass killings with alarming regularity. What is it? Is it the fresh air? The beautiful mountains? The hardworking people?

 So I hadn’t gotten deep into that story, but it was out there, and it was just so sad. My heart was heavy. “People are terrible,” I was thinking most of the time between Friday and Sunday.

 And then we went and saw this play. I was with my husband, Albert, and my 10 year old son, Anton and his friend, Alden.  Without any fanfare at all, the play begins. No curtains go up, the lights don’t even really go all the way down, there’s suddenly just a foal on the stage. I will never be able to describe this in a way that captures its worth, but here goes.

 There’s this life-size creature—it’s made out of metal framing and there are 3 puppeteer/actors making it work.  You can see them. They’re not trying to hide—but the way they work the foal, it takes about 3 minutes and honestly, then you really don’t see them any more. You honestly believe you’re looking at a baby horse and you’ve completely fallen in love with it.

There’s no scenery—just a sort of canvas above the actors’ heads, on which they put hand drawn scenes of farms or the war or whatever—and again, you believe you’re there.

 The play began, I saw the horse, and I was in tears. Theatre is like church for me—plays have a religiosity that I don’t experience elsewhere too often, and I was just overcome with emotion.  The beauty of it, the magic! The imagination that went into this! And this was just the little horse! Then the fully-grown horse made his entrance in a spectacular way and it was almost too much to bear. The beauty, the beauty.  The stunning creativity that was displayed, the discipline of the actor/puppeteers, the complete disregard for the fact that no one has ever done anything like this. How did they know it would work? How did they figure it out? How is it possible to create something alive where there was nothing before? It took my breath away and it filled up my heart so much that it overflowed my eyes. I glanced at my husband—he was bawling. Our son and his friend looked at us, puzzled and slightly mortified. “Grow-ups are so weird,” they must have been thinking.

 It was art at its very best—meaningful and achingly gorgeous and funny and smart and touching—and beyond creative. And it got me to thinking about the idea of creativity.

 I know so many people, including myself, who want to create something but just don’t. What if no one buys it or likes it or reads it? What if it sucks? What if it doesn’t make any money? What if people like it but then nothing more comes of it?

 Funny, the play Warhorse is based on a book that was written years ago and sold about 2,000 copies. The guy who wrote it, Michael Morpurgo, must have been like: Well, dammit. I did my best and no one gives a shit. Why is no one buying it? I hate writing.

 Well. Maybe that’s not what he said, but that’s what I would have said.

 But here’s the thing. Imagine if he’d never written it. Imagine if he’d had a psychic tell him, “Well, it’ll get published but not many people will read it.” He might have decided to skip it, to keep his day job and wait for a better idea. And if he had—we wouldn’t have this amazing play. (Oh yeah, and the movie. Directed by Spielberg.)Imagine if, when he was contacted by the puppet theatre that wanted to do it—if he’d pictured sock puppets and just said no. Imagine if they’d taken no for an answer.

 I think the point I want to make here is: If something is tugging at you and wants to be created, then it’s your job to do that. You don’t know what will happen. Yes, it might suck. People might not get it. Maybe it won’t sell, or will only sell a few copies. But—no one knows, when they’re making something, what its impact or its outcome will be. No one knows how their art will touch others or what it might ultimately morph into. It’s not really the creator’s job to know or control that. It’s not even possible, really.

 All I know is that when I saw this play, my faith in human nature was restored. My universe expanded. Instead of thinking: “People are terrible,” I was thinking, “People are amazing. People are unlimited in their capacity for creating beauty and manifesting spirit so that we can see it right on the stage. People are magical.” It was sort of an antidote, not to the violence and the loss experienced in Colorado, but to my own assumptions. Yes, some people are crazy homicidal nutbags. But far more people are artists, at least in their hearts. And when the families in Colorado are ready for the healing part of their journey, I’m betting it will be art that will help a lot in that process. In the end, it’s the artists, not the nutbags, who have more power to make an impact on this sometimes sad and tired old world.

Posted by on August 7th, 2012 4 Comments