Thursday, February 28, 2013

Reinventing Oneself

Typecasting is an entertainment phenomenon. An actor may be cast in a certain type of role because of his look, or because of other roles he's played.  Oftentimes an actor who is known for a particular role or type of role gets pigeonholed.  Directors and producers don't think they can play other roles. Some actors fight this by taking roles far from the roles they're known for.  Take Eve Plumb, for example.  As Jan Brady, on the Brady Bunch, she was pigeonholed as the good girl, so she took a role that shocked people at the time.  She played a teen-aged prostitute in Dawn: Portait of a Teenage Runaway.   Sally Field shed her Gidget/Flying Nun reputation in Sybil, a film about a woman with multiple personalities.  People do this in real life as well.  It's called reinventing ourselves.

I've been lucky enough to know many people who have had the courage to reinvent themselves.  A Microsoft Executive who left the corporate world to pursue his love of acting.  He recently went on to produce the Tony Award winning, Porgy and Bess, on Broadway. A waiter who started his own catering company. A banquet manager who went on to open her own successful restaurant and at least two more businesses after that.  I can't keep up with her.  An English teacher who wrote novels on the side became a full time novelist.  A woman over fifty who went back to school and then to Law School to become an attorney.  An actor from Texas who worked in the World Trade Center became a novelist.  I'm so inspired by these people who have had the courage not to be typecast in their lives and show the world and themselves they can do more.

Now I find myself ready to spread my wings and show the world I'm more than a community theatre actor, a  volunteer coordinator, a house manager, and a part time writer.  I feel my life calling and I'm ready to begin my second act.

Monday, February 25, 2013

We've Replaced Reverence with Relevance

Reverence: : honor or respect felt or shown : deferenceespecially :profound adoring awed respect
Relevancethe ability (as of an information retrieval system) to retrieve material that satisfies the needs of the user

I don't know if it's age, or what, but I'm becoming more old-fashioned lately.  I don't mean that in every way, but in the way we treat each other and to what we give reverence to, I am.  No matter what recent trends dictate, or marketing analysis say, I think there is still right and wrong. How we define it varies, but the basic principle is the same.

The scale keeps sliding as marketing firms and companies struggle to stay "relevant."  The common belief is to stay relevant, one must be cutting edge and appeal to that all powerful and highly sought out 18-49 demographic.  I'm still in that demographic (albeit barely) and most of them are missing the mark with me.  I don't want to tweet while I'm in a theater watching a live stage production or hear jokes about Presidential assassinations. 

I'm not a prude or easily offended. I can be just as irreverent as the rest of them, but if we don't hold something sacred, what is to become of us?  The human race will eventually implode because there's nowhere to go. Nothing left to hold dear.  No reason to go on. Look at seventy five percent of the television offerings. Housewives of New Jersey, Real Housewives of (fill in blank), Honey Boo Boo.  Is this where we're going?  This is entertainment?

Maybe I'm unrealistic, but I want some things to be special.  I want to go to a theater and see a live show without the person next to me texting or talking on their phone.  I want to get dressed up and go to Lincoln Center to see Sweeney Todd.  I don't want to watch it on YouTube. I want awards show hosts to be classy.  To represent the best we have to offer, not be "edgy" so the eighteen-year-olds watch.

At the end of my life I want to look back and know I had special events or moments in my life that I cherished, not a bunch of "nothing special" moments I documented on FourSquare.

One of my favorite quotes comes from Steel Magnolias.  "I'd rather have thirty minutes of wonderful than a lifetime of nothing special."

If we don't hold something sacred, we only get those lifetimes of nothing special.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

It's Just the Blues

Yesterday I had a conversation with a friend of mine about life, mortality, and the blues.  It's no secret that I've been in a funk for a while. Maybe it's mid life.  Maybe it's not enough sunshine or exercise.  Maybe it's my job.  Maybe it's the extraordinary number of deaths I've experienced the past few years. Maybe it's just life.

Some people take antidepressants to deal with depression, but for me, I've never been a fan.  I've taken them. Zoloft, Eflexor, Prozac, etc., but I always found the side effects and sense of numbness more of an issue than my occasional bout with the blues.   That doesn't mean they aren't right for others, but I've always preferred a more natural approach. Sometimes you just have to feel the shit until you're ready to move on.

So, yesterday was a good day.  I have a very vivid dream the night before that seemed to be answering a burning question for me. I woke up with a huge sense of relief.  I'll share that revelation another day, but I was sharing  it with a friend yesterday when I realized through everything I've had a pretty good life.

There are a number of things I still want to do with my life, but I've already loved and been loved by some amazing people and had some pretty amazing experiences.  I've had a full life.

I haven't skydived, but I have driven down Pacific Coast Highway in a convertible.  I haven't been to Paris, but eaten bagels on the streets of New York.  I haven't seen the Greek Ruins, but I have hiked in Sedona.  I've skinny dipped in the Pacific Ocean under a full moon.  Visited a nudist camp in West Virginia. I've experienced Hollywood and Broadway.  I've visited the Lincoln Memorial and the Kennedy Center. I've ridden many subways.  I've camped on Kelley's Island. I've walked the Mall of America.  I've traveled to Chicago on a blind date.  I've been to the top of the Empire State Building.   I've seen the bats in Austin, Texas.  I've stayed in a five star hotel. I've shopped on Rodeo Drive and Michigan Avenue. I've driven a U Haul truck from Dayton to Santa Fe.  I've marched in parades and acted in films.  I've written a novel and performed on stage.  I've sung karaoke and eaten oysters in Toronto. I've been insulted by a famous movie star and made out with a country music star.

I could go on and on.  These are the things I need to remember when life seems down, overwhelming and I'm searching for my purpose.  I've still got lots to do, but if it were to end tomorrow, I've had a good life.  That's the important thing.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Bodybuilding as a Lesson in Writing

Any good trainer will tell you that you have to take breaks from lifting.  When you lift weights to build muscle, you are tearing the muscle fibers.  In order to make those muscles grow, they have to repair themselves, so they need a day off.  Imagine my surprise when I found writing to be the same.

A few months ago, I was feeling a bit frantic about the state of my novel, Postcards from the Desert.  I had been through about three drafts, each one seeing some minor changes or clarifications, but the plot structure stayed pretty much the same. Same story, same beginning point and same ending point.  By the last draft, the theme was starting to reveal itself in a way I hadn't really envisioned when I set out to write it.

My beta readers all came back with some great comments, but something was wrong.  Something didn't seem to fit right.  I expressed my frustrations to some writer friends of mine and one suggested I put it away for a month or so and then come back to it. Begrudgingly, I followed her advice.

I put it aside for three months, only occasionally looking it over to see if anything seemed more clear.  About a month ago, I decided some major characters had to go because it wasn't really their story.  Then I decided to change the structure and start at a different place in the story.  I'd tell some of the important elements in flashbacks. I started writing, but I was looking at both versions side by side and trying to use as much of the original as I could. But then I hit a wall again.  It still wasn't right.

Last week I decided to try something.  I decided to open with a scene that was three quarters into the first draft. It was just an experiment.  I wanted to see what I could do with it.  Imagine my surprise when it took off.  Five days and 7000 words later, I've found the story again.  It's a different flow.  Some of the characters are missing. Details have changed. Motivations are more clear. The stakes are higher. Settings have changed, but the skeleton of the story is the same.

It feels like a new novel to me, but I know the characters better than I ever did and they're leading the way.

We always hear that writers write, but I have to say some of the best lessons about writing come from the resting.  I had to get out of the way.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Writing Advice for Life

I've recently been reminded how much I love Anne Lamott.  I dusted off my copy of Bird by Bird recently and started re-reading it again.  For those of you who don't know it, it's a book on writing. It's not a book on grammar or how the f*ck to use a semicolon, but a book on the process on writing. It's also an instruction manual for life. It says that on the cover, and I found out it's true.

For those who are stuck, or can't seem to begin on a writing project, Lamott suggests looking at a one inch picture frame and then write everything that would fit into that frame. If your setting is New Mexico, you might begin by describing how the sky looks as the sun sets against the Sandia Mountains. Then you might describe the house of the main character. And then the character's wooden leg. And so on and so on.  You take it one piece at a time until you can string them together and you have a story.

It's great advice and it got me unstuck recently. I was able to begin some changes to my novel, one square inch at a time.

Imagine my surprise when I was also able to apply this to a very stressful week at the day job.  I was feeling overwhelmed and ready to seek out other bill paying options. Then finally, after much internal turmoil, I decided to tackle what I had in front of me, one square inch at a time.  And it worked.  As soon as I stopped feeling paralyzed by the enormity of the whole picture, I was able to focus and get things done, one at a time.

I know it seems like easy advice that I should remember all the time, but my mind doesn't work that way. I have to get stressed out before I remember to take it one inch at a time. Hopefully each time, I spend less time stressing before I remember the answer.

Now if I can just figure out the rules for the semicolon.