Defy Logic or Die

I had to laugh when, after hours of agonizing over this week’s topic, I realized this weekend celebrates my twentieth anniversary of moving to Los Angeles.
My sister and I drove cross country over Valentine’s Day weekend, 1998. We made incredible time, but managed to stop for important stuff. The most important was visiting the Oklahoma bombing site that had happened just a few years prior. There was this tree.

Survivor Tree 1998.

This tree was the only thing left standing at ground zero. It defied logic, yet made so much sense. When I arrived in L.A., I only had theatre credits and two co-star roles – I had neither connections nor representation. I did, however, acclimate very quickly. The weather, the driving – I never owned a car before – and the possibilities! Unlike Chicago, I could meet dozens of casting directors face to face and no one had a preconceived idea of who I was or who I should be. That first year I booked three network TV shows and a national commercial with no agent. It defied logic.

As the years went on, I embraced my newfound freedom by joining a theatre company, teaching improvisation, directing for the stage, performing stand-up – and partying.  While I had some successes, I focused more on my “failures”. I began to take on the insecurities of my fellow actors. I saw my early success as a fluke that would never happen again. I worried that my hometown friends and family expected more than I could produce. So between crappy day jobs and theatre rehearsals, I commiserated with others over beer. I had at least four theatrical agents over a dozen years with huge gaps in between, while my acting credits grew increasingly stale. I was also living in a tiny studio that had thin walls and no light.
At the top of It’s a Wonderful Life, Clarence asks God, “Is he (George Bailey) in trouble?” God replies, “Worse – he’s discouraged.” That was me, and I felt deserving of nothing. My sister noticed this, and reminded me of my talent for defying logic. So without knowing how I’d pay for it, or what I’d study, I returned to school. Again, I walked through the process with easy, yet laser-like focus. I loved it, and discovered I didn’t have to pay a dime for my Graphic Design degree. My sense of accomplishment returned, my energy came back, and the universe hugged me. I started to book again. Upon graduation, I decided to create my own business, because I was done working crappy day jobs. When I hired a coach to help me, my business began to grow. This time, unfortunately, I took on the insecurities of my then partner and chose not to grow too much. I developed a serious skin condition, and I stopped booking. I spent the next three years putting his needs above mine.As soon as I made the decision to end this long term relationship, the universe welcomed me back with open arms. Where you been, girl? I was happy, hopeful, and younger. My energy was bright and attracted good things. I booked two national commercials and four network TV spots within that first year. I created a living space full of sunlight and peace. Soon I obtained amazing representation in both L.A. and Chicago. I was free from the fear that had been disguised as “good common sense”.

I have always loved living on the edge, not knowing how things will turn out. I love it, because deep in my soul I know everything will always turn out fine. And now I am determined to love my way of living more than others fear it.

Survivor Tree, 2011.

R U Leaving Your Soul in the Seat?

“When someone fears losing your affection, he or she will strive to keep it. Perhaps you have strived to keep someone’s affection, too. Fear of loss is not love.” – Gary Zukav, The Seat of the Soul

So you’ve got all of your tools in place. You’ve explored your Brand (I like to use the term, “Essence”), you’ve got your perfect headshots, your reel is up to date, you’re in class, your resume is growing. Congratulations! But there’s something no quite right. There’s this intangible part of the business that seems to open doors for everyone else, but you haven’t quite got it yet. What is that?

An actor friend of mine spoke about his early career mistakes, and it took him awhile to understand the biggest one. He had the looks, confidence and talent, but every time he left his seat in the waiting area to walk into the audition room, he said he left his soul in that seat. He didn’t know why, but he chose to leave the most authentic part of himself outside the door. Perhaps, he thought, no one wanted to see that? He thought professionalism was the ability to compartmentalize. In his mind, “Leave your sh&t outside the door” also meant “Leave your self outside the door”. He paid the price for hiding his best parts.

When I was in my twenties I knew that it was the time for making mistakes. I loved turning thirty, because I knew I was done making mistakes. Boy, was I in for a big surprise! As my mistakes continued, I mistook that for not being good enough. Thus began my downward spiral of contorting myself into a more “palatable” me. I played small and stayed safe. While my peers’ careers got sidetracked by starting families or dealing with serious life issues, my career got sidetracked by my lack of self worth.

Life immediately changes when we relax into who we are. When we relax into our own skins we no longer need to prove anything. The adolescent cry, “You don’t know me!” morphs into the quiet knowing that it’s perfectly OK if most people don’t get me. The most attractive people we know are those who know there is nothing to prove. And when we can enter the room with our whole self – free of the need to book the job and free of outside approval – doors will open.

BRING YOUR OPINIONS/QUESTIONS ABOUT THIS TOPIC TO MY TUESDAY FACEBOOK LIVE, 12PM PST

 

Facing Reality – is it good or bad?

We don’t see things as they are;

we see them as we are. ~ Anonymous

Every day news networks lead with shocking headlines solely to increase their ratings. To quote playwright, Adam Langer, “You never hear anyone say, ‘that’s too awful to be true.’ No matter how awful it is, you can believe it, why not no matter how good?” (Vivian in Film Flam)

Some may say that seeing the awful is facing reality. That in order to be safe, we must dutifully arm ourselves with worst case scenarios so as not to fall victim. We must watch the news, binge on real murder stories, click on depressing reports about our health care system and the environment – this keeps us ahead of the game! Beware hopeful stories, for they must be treated with suspicion. We must be careful not to have too much hope or else others will call us naive.

Our reality is based on what we believe. I like to play Black Jack, but I never win, because I have a hang-up about gambling. On the other hand, I believe so strongly in my body’s immune system that I’ve never had the flu even though I’ve never had a flu shot. Our beliefs are strengthened by what we choose to focus on. Good news – we can consciously shift our focus as soon as we are triggered by negative comments or disturbing stories. There is always good to be witnessed, and science shows it makes us healthier. Every horrible headline can be countered with something good. This is one of my favorites from last week: https://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/montana-governor-signs-executive-order-keep-net-neutrality-state/

Focus on the Good

You’re probably already seeing the connection between this and your career. I’ve encountered some crappy people and situations throughout the years, but the moment I no longer allowed them to predict my future, obstacles disappeared. Einstein said, “The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe.”

Tune in to my Facebook Live – every Tuesday at 12pm PST – to further discuss this week’s blog topic on “The Recognized Actor” FB Page.

Cookies Are the Cure

There’s this great scene in the film, Soapdish (1991), where Sally Field’s character – an aging temperamental soap star – is depressed. Her assistant asks if she needs to go to the mall. Through tears, she nods “yes!” Jump cut to her bedazzled self descending down the mall escalator where slowly but surely more and more people recognize her and soon she’s surrounded by adoring fans who want her autograph. Depression cured. Alas, we are not soap stars, nor do we have malls where validation awaits to greet us. Any validation we do get is fickle and unreliable. Others’ opinions of us are based on how they’re feeling that day, after all. (And we cast our opinions in the same manner.)

At least once a week, I see a post from someone who is getting kicked in the teeth by life. Friends try to cheer them up with virtual hugs and well-meaning, but overused sayings. The truth is, if we don’t pick ourselves up, we’re gonna slide right back into the muck. Coming up with a pep talk in the middle of a personal slump, however, is nearly impossible.  Or is it? Here’s how we can prep our pep talk in an honest, look-at-the-facts sort of way before we need it: Make some cookies. I’m not talking empty calorie cookies, but “cookies” that shift our perspective in just one bite. This idea comes from ultra-marathon runner, David Goggins.

Get a jar  – or a vase, or a box, (or ziplock bag you can keep in the car) – and fill it with notes spelling out all of your personal achievements. Their size doesn’t matter, just as long as they matter to you. Here are some of mine:

  • You returned to college at forty, did the work, and graduated as class valedictorian.
  • You traveled the U.S. staying in four star hotels, because you showed up as an actor.
  • Your rode your bike from St. Paul, MN to Chicago, because you decided to.

So when you’re feeling like you can’t possibly get through a painful time, or recover from a gut wrenching blow, reach into that cookie jar and tell yourself the truth.

 

 

 

 

Social Media – What’s Really Going On?

When confidence is crushed by comparisons, social media has raised the bar on “keeping up with the Joneses”. What’s an actor to do?

The other day, I saw a celebrity’s IG post get over 500, 000 likes. Not 500K followers – 500K likes.

Actors fret over numbers – how many followers/likes do I have? – because they think it’s the be all end all. They think it’s important to casting. So now there’s a rat race to increase these numbers. I’m gonna say something controversial here…I think it’s bullsh&t. I think that for 80% of us, these numbers are unnecessary. I know that some CDs say social media is important, but I know others say it isn’t. I know some actors have been asked for their account handles at auditions, but I know I never have. What’s really going on here? Let’s break it down.

The way I see it, social media is important only when you’re on either end of the spectrum. On the low end: independent projects may choose to rely on “high followers” to help promote/fund their films – essentially using these actors as producers, without the producer credit. On the high end of the spectrum, a big budget TV series may – when narrowing down a series lead – choose the actor whose on-line visibility relates closest to their show.

My page expresses me as an actor

If you notice, I just outlined two different types of social media categories: numbers and presence. The numbers thing is just that – numbers. Companies who specialize in increasing numbers “like” my posts all the time, hoping that I will buy their service. I’ve been liked by strangers with over 20K followers, but I see nothing of substance when I click on their IG page. So not only do I know they paid for it, I also know they’re using me to employ a tactic designed to further increase their numbers.

What must be observed here is the difference between numbers and numbers with meaningful content.

Celebrities and people with great content build their following organically. Here’s how we, too, can create meaningful content  – find our POV. Humans are attracted to distinct, interesting points of view. This speaks to a person’s essence. A few weeks ago, I showed how self-improvement/self-growth is nothing more than the emergence of who you really are. So don’t just post a picture of your food, tell us how you see it. Share with us who you really are. Otherwise it’s just a another lunch pic.

I use my actor’s “pitch” in my bio

So when a producer asks for your social media handles, they’re researching you. They want to see a real person, they want to see who you are. (They also want to see that you’re not an idiot.) I am on FB and IG every single day. Several times. I continue to stumble, but my desire is specific: to maintain authenticity while expressing my POV.

I’m Not Disciplined. Or am I?

As I write this, I am between my fifth and sixth day of doing the Master Cleanse. For those

Ingredients for the Master Cleanse

unfamiliar, it is a fasting ritual that cleans the colon and other major organs over the course of several days. Each morning begins with a saltwater flush (good times!) and every evening ends with a cup of herbal laxative tea. Nothing – absolutely nothing – is eaten the entire time. A homemade organic lemonade with maple syrup and cayenne pepper gives the body all the nutrients it needs. Sound crazy?

Call me crazy. I don’t write this to demonstrate how “disciplined” I am, nor to convince anybody to follow suit. I’m simply using this as an example of how others may see discipline. Throughout my life, friends have commented on how disciplined I am, but I’ve seen myself as quite the opposite. Until I discovered what discipline really means.
The root of the word is disciple. And what is a disciple? Someone who simply follows what he loves. Well now, that makes sense! Every “admirable” act of discipline I’ve ever executed – riding my bike over 500 miles in the AidsRide2, sticking with acting for over 30 years, doing the Master Cleanse – has always been about following what I love. Well, maybe the Master Cleanse in and of itself isn’t what I love (can I have some papas y cerveza, please?), but rather it is a means to what I love. I love renewing my digestive system, feeling energetic, light, and sharp. I love the vision of myself never having to be on medication. As author Michael Neill, puts it “Discipline is remembering what you want”.

 

And that’s it. What is it that you want? Really, really want?
Remember it, and discipline becomes a labor of love.

Preparing vs Going “All In”

When I first moved to Los Angeles from Chicago, I had no plan, no agent, nor any connections. Within the year, I booked three major network co-stars and a national commercial. I tend to “jump off the edge” so to speak, exhilarated to see what happens next. Hence my love for improv.

There’s a difference between investing in preparation/education and going all in. For instance, back in 2003, I delivered a Carmen Miranda impersonation

for my theatre company’s fundraiser, and it brought down the house. I had the movements, the music, the voice and the outfit – none of which I had the month prior. A veteran company member stared at me backstage and softly said, “I bet you put 110% into everything you do.”

Make no mistake – this had nothing to do with working hard. It may look like I work hard, but at it’s core, it’s always been about me going all in. There’s nothing more fulfilling that going fully in. Even at junior high dances, my sisters and I were the only kids who actually dressed up – making it a real event – and danced every dance.

My career coach has a saying: “Part-time actors produce part-time results.” In 2015, I was years into a dry spell that left me financially dependent on my boyfriend, and sadly, the relationship was no longer working. Not knowing where I was going to live or how I was going to support myself, I ended the relationship. I hired a coach. I fully committed to my career, and showed up to the world in a way I hadn’t before. In eighteen months, I added five more network credits, two national commercials, and signed with a better agent.

If we circle around in our heads, trying to figure out the “how to’s” of this and that, we create obstacles that weren’t even there before. Nowadays, everyone is trying to sell us the “Top 10 Secrets of How To – (fill in the blank)”. We know people who collect these “secrets”, who have a personal library filled with “how to” instruction manuals, but it doesn’t bring them any closer to their goal. The truth? Solutions appear when we go all in.

When I returned to college (for the second time), I didn’t know how to pay for it, how to fit in with classmates 20 years my junior, nor how to use my new degree. I threw myself completely into academia, loving every minute of it. During my second year, I (coincidentally?) booked several commercials which paid for my fees, new computers, and design software.
The Greek Theatre
Who could have predicted that I would give the graduation speech as class valedictorian, and that my graphic design degree would lead me to start my own business? I went all in, and the world laid itself at my feet.

April 15th is About Me, Not the IRS.

Tax season is about more than just my finances. It’s a time to dig out all the stuff I did last year. When I’m gathering all my data, I find stuff I forgot about…and some stuff I’d like to forget about. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Tax Day is in the Springtime. I see it as a kind of Spring Cleaning when I can see what I want to keep in my life and what to throw out. If not for taxes, I’m sure I wouldn’t do it at all.

The value of life reflection is underrated if not completely dismissed. I learn from my mistakes (OK, maybe not always the first time around), and I learn from my successes. Especially now that I’m in a career “drought” it’s good to be reminded that last year was pretty darn good. When we review, we remember the crappy things that we survived, and we remember the wonderful things that came to fruition.  Reviewing my life patterns gives me perspective on the Big Picture.

I’m a big fan of looking at the Big Picture. It provides clarity when I can otherwise get caught up in the daily noise of survival. I see why I’m willing to undertake some projects and  why it would be wise to eliminate others – not easy for A-Types. It’s kind of like purging the closet. I can identify patterns that will either help me move forward or continually keep me stuck. Try this: open your calendar and review everything you did last week. What patterns do you see? Look around your home and do the same thing. What patterns do you see? Your refrigerator. See a pattern? Your car. See a pattern there? What one thing can you do today to improve your life flow?

The best person to tell us about our lives is us. The trick is listening to that person…that wise, wise person. So when you dread pulling out all your paperwork to do your taxes, look at it as an opportunity to make new decisions about the rest of your year.

 

 

Matchmaker, Matchmaker

Yeah, yeah Valentine’s Day, blah, blah, blah…..

So what do romantic relationships have to do with marketing yourself? Well if you’ve ever been on a dating site you know exactly what! If you’ve been out of the on-line dating scene, let me share some striking similarities….

THE PROFILE PHOTO – Going through potential dates’ photos is both exhausting and hilarious, because you see snapshots under the “WTH-were-they-thinking?” category: Women showing how hot they are with “slut” photos, and men showing their “adventuresome” side with long distance shots of them skiing, hang gliding, zip lining, etc, but you can’t see their faces? This is what happens when we get trapped into contorting ourselves into images of what we think they want.

 

 

 

 

THE PERSONAL BIOS – After awhile, you skim through the first paragraph because so many use the generic description, like “I love to laugh”, “I’m comfortable with a night on the town or relaxing on the couch binge watching”, etc. Too many people write the obvious, but don’t take the time to express sincere individuality.

THE ON-LINE EXCHANGE – “Hey”, “What’s up?”, “Hi”. I kid you not, people actually think communication begins this way. Of course, there’s the complete opposite approach where they write a tome and expect it to be personal? The problem here is overthinking. When we don’t write enough, we’re actually censoring ourselves based on the fear of saying the “wrong” thing. When we write too much, we assume that they won’t understand us, so we over explain.

Success lies in having a picture, a bio, and a pitch that truly expresses who we are. What most people don’t understand is that we can never do this alone. As I’m writing this, someone else is looking over my words, giving me honest feedback, because I know that two minds are better than one. My two cents? Team up with somebody, whether it’s for your professional profile or your online dating profile. We all need support from those who can see us as we are, not as we should be.

 

The Golden Rule of Marketing

I receive several newsletters from entrepreneurs and/or artists in LA. They come in several different forms, and some are better than others. I may not read them all, but I tend to open them all because they are my colleagues. But what actually entices me to read them? Content.

The Internet, at the beginning of this 21st century, is essentially the “Wild West” with no law enforcement and it’s free to anyone willing to travel it! How awesome is that? This has, however, created a sea of “experts” in social media, but who has the best advice? The one that applies to you. But how can you be effective unless you know who/what you ARE!

"Who . . . are . . . YOU?

“Who . . . are . . . YOU?

Better than giving you a list of “10 Dos and Don’ts” (the most common device used in e-marketing), I’m going to cut to the Golden Rule of Self-Marketing: Share who you ARE.  This is too often confused with sharing what you do. While I don’t pay much attention to where my musician friends are gigging this month, I do care how much they love what they’re doing, and this sets the tone of their entire newsletter. I don’t practice yoga, but I read my friend’s yoga news, because she shares her world travels and spiritual experiences.

So if you’re sending out newsletters as a form of self-marketing, always ask, “What can I share about myself, and how does this help others?” I think actors make the most mistakes, when they just send a list of recent bookings. Ask yourself, how does this help others? Instead, share an on-set story, or something you learned along the way.  It doesn’t matter what you do, it matters who you are.