A Big Life: Encouragement for People in the Arts

Flower in Fog

Lone Flower in Fog, Saddle Mountain, Oregon

“A Big Life” is a structured blog which consists of stories intended to encourage people in the arts and entertainment industry.

Most of the stories contain humorous life lessons meant to take the intimidation factor out of pursuing a career in the arts.  They are illustrated with photos.

Please become a subscriber by choosing “follow” and you will get emails when new stories are posted to A Big Life.  Also feel free to respond with your own comments, funny stories and experiences.  The writer would love to hear what you think.

 

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My Early 4th of July (Patriotic) Wish

A Big Life: Encouragement for People in the Arts – 

Portrait of me in my mask by an artistic 1st grader.

There’s a part of me that thinks that if I believe something hard enough, I can make it happen.

Believing in fairies as a child–as well as in Santa and that my dolls could understand me and my cat could talk if I spoke to it as hard and firmly as I could–might have something to do with that. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I realized that this is the religion of America. Work hard, believe in your dream and you will make it happen if you deserve it. That’s my heritage. And it’s in all the self help books and in the creative dreaming I’ve experimented with and also in the new age culture and prosperity churches.  Maybe, in fact, it’s that childhood belief in magic that creates religion. Creates politics.  Creates hope.

It is easy to be negative about all that. To judge it, to say that the reason behind it is for the “them” in Big Business to get “us” Little ‘Uns to invest whatever money we do have in their products and services in the name of the economy and to be altruistic. When really it’s so that Big Business can throw all our money at the stock market.

Front yard of a Southern Cali friend.

Yup, America is a big gambling racket.

Then again, that is also my heritage. It is part of where I come from and if I know that, I can still love my country and not get sucked into its flaws. As an artist, I can be creative for the sake of being creative even if I’d rather get a lot more money for my work. Living in that space where being creative puts my brain is transcendent. As for money, I don’t have to spend a lot if I don’t want to, even if I have it. Or I can invest in the stock market: I’m allowed. Or I can live apart from all that to the best of my ability. Simple things bring great joy too.  Either way, life is filled with riches.

I recognize that saying that reveals the tremendous privilege that exists in living in America. Even the impoverished who have no home usually have food banks and extra resources, assuming they understand how to get to them. But as frustrating as that can be, not everyone in the world has that to navigate: In some countries it is illegal to beg or even sell on the streets. There is no unemployment and in fact it’s impossible to get employment. I think it’s important to understand that on a primal, personal level. After all, it wouldn’t take much to propel us into war or disaster. It happens and has happened over and over through the centuries to mighty regimes. It has happened in the recent past. What I wish for our country is that we made it a point to learn more about what is beyond our small world. Beyond the television, beyond the fan magazine. These are all pleasures from which we can learn a few things. They also are valid pursuits which give us relief. But in our freedom as Americans and in our exhaustion from pursuing the prosperity dream of our own that we have been sold (and really can’t recover from, I’m afraid), it’s hard to find a minute to dig deep. To really learn.

What’s wrong with this equation?

It’s hard for me not to want to argue how important education is, especially when it comes to history and understanding the culture of other nations. I have grown curious about the long term development of Asian and European culture and how they clash, meet and influence each other. Which makes sense. After all, in addition to being a performing artist, I am an educator. And most of the time, being in the arts is not separate from being in the education field. All my talents spill over from one thing to another and back again so easily. Each new thing I learn builds on the next. And each new discovery has the potential to knock my whole belief system down.  As it should. Even Marjorie Taylor Green this past week confessed to being a fool about history. And good for her for humbling herself so. The ridicule that followed was justified but the danger of her false and uninformed statements about the Holocaust were worse. We have to learn sometime, even if it’s very late in life. Better we do, than we don’t.

Half a sand dollar doesn’t add up.

It’s easy to make fun of people in the public eye who know so little and yet hold a lot of power. But that’s because any of us can become a leader in politics. That is one of our freedoms. Some are competent and some are not. And those of us who vote them in? Well. Everyone relies on everyone else. It’s easy to forget this unless you know someone in politics. Most of us do, even if we don’t realize it. It was a few years before I realized my high school classmate Richard Ellis was the State Treasurer of Utah. And even longer until I found that my former veterinarian Doug Whitsett was a Senator of Oregon. These people are all reachable. We can work with them.  In fact, I like to think I had a hand in giving Doug a good argument for keeping film incentives in Oregon on Lobby Day a few years ago when I visited his office with fellow filmmaker Barrie Chase. He told us the argument he would get on the voting floor would be, “Why should we spend money on the arts when we need it for education?” I said, “Because what jobs will be here for the arts students once they graduate if we don’t invest in those students?” He wrote it down. I don’t know if he used my argument when the time came to vote but I like to think so.

Because we won that vote.

Maybe a dog is the answer?

America is a vast country but we’re only part of the world. And the world is part of a whole universe.  How can we have compassion for anyone if we clutch, hold on to, don’t study, don’t share? That’s why studying history has become so important to me. I am passionate about knowing how religion has evolved throughout the ages and how psychology has formed us. We can’t know “the truth” by living in our own narrow world. And by that I mean our house and small community, not just America. We must share.  So I’ll share. At least, I’ll share a few items from my book list.  After all, we can’t know what we don’t know until we know it. If we refuse to know it, if we don’t expose ourselves to a variety of information, we’re still choosing to be locked up in a room where the cat can talk. It might be pleasant to sit with the cat in our arms and think the old thoughts, but if you know cats, you know they don’t tolerate that thing for long. They struggle to get out of the room.

Knocking over the towers…

It really isn’t fair to either the cat or ourselves to continue to choose not to know. For me it’s been a revelation to be steered toward history I hunger for and away from the dry white-washed books I grew up with where every other word was “he” or “mankind” and which only presented one point of view. To be charitable, those writers were only doing their best. And I do think we should read some of those. Understanding patriarchy is important. And any attempt to knock down that tower along with other structures can sometimes wreck the whole community and wreck havoc for a while. But we don’t want to live in a world where our choices are as limited as they were in the past, do we? Where we are forced to marry at 15 and where we can’t vote unless we are part of Big Business…and with no chance of ever being part of it? A world of slavery.

And yes, living with a lot of freedoms means people bouncing this way and that, and demanding their own way all the time. It may look orderly to have an autocracy where we are told what to do and see that things get done but what it really means is killing the people who disagree and silencing the rest with threats.

Our beautiful national flower.

We don’t want that. We want freedom. We want to live in America.

At least I do. For now.


My partial book list*:

Creative Dreaming: Plan And Control Your Dreams To Develop Creativity Overcome Fears Solve Problems and Create a Better Self by Patricia Garfield ·

Saving Paradise: How Christianity Traded Love of This World for Crucifixion and Empire by Rebecca Ann Parker and Rita Nakashima Brock

The Silk Roads: A New History of the World by Peter Frankopan

The New Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan

Selfie: How We Became so Self Obsessed and What it’s Doing to Us by Will Storr

The Unpersuadables: Adventures with the Enemies of Science by Will Storr

Bali Daze: Freefall off the Tourist Trail by Cat Wheeler

When Slaves Became Masters: A true-life story of a little boy before, during and after the unfathomable evil of Pol Pot’s regime by Rattana Pok

Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam by Frances FitzGerald

Soul Repair: Recovering from Moral Injury after War by Rita Nakashima Brock  and Gabriella Lettini

The Bhagavad Gita by Eknath Easwaran (Narrated by Paul Bazely)

How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill

Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson and the Opening of the American West by Stephen E. Ambrose

*Please feel free to make your own suggestions. – K.B.

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Fired

A Big Life: Encouragement for People in the Arts – 

My church last fall. An open, affirming place which is of tremendous service.

To be a success at anything in life seems to mean to be of service to others.

This doesn’t mean the service is always acknowledged. That’s not the point. Sometimes it happens, yes. But if the wanting for success outweighs the desire to be of service it is easy to stop servicing.

Sometimes the practice of writing is self servicing and joyous. There isn’t anything wrong with that…it creates sanity in the midst of chaos. An imaginary world of friends amidst chaos. In lonely times. After all, we are often lonely, whether or not we are with people. People cannot solve our loneliness. There have been many times where I longed for company, looked forward to it, sought it, got it, and after an hour or a day, couldn’t wait to leave the person. Once back home again, I then treasured my solitude. My ability to build a story by myself of a self who was not alone. All the while, happy I was alone. With my imaginary characters. Until the longing for company arrived again.

My New Year’s Resolutions 2021 (Part I)

I am coming to the point in my solitude during this pandemic, where I am aware of my quick judgements over whether I am loved, whether or not someone is trying to scam me and whether or not I truly love. I often ask myself what love is in a world that is clearly set up to be transactional. Even I long to give back when someone does me a favor so I don’t feel like a taker. But that only makes me feel like I’m not a taker, right? It doesn’t mean other people don’t see me that way. I may feel I’ve made a brilliant point with someone, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t sitting at home after I left, thinking that I’m a fool. (“What a stupid thing Katie said,” I’m imagining now.) We never really know what people are thinking, what fantasies they have about us, whether or not they think about us at all. Sometimes the ones who do think about us are the worrisome ones. The obsessed ones, the ones that want something.

Like we do. Because we all want something, right? Lots of somethings.

A cliff after a lone winter’s hike.

In a world where it is getting scarier and scarier to make a mistake, even if you’re a liberal in a liberal crowd or a conservative in a conservative crowd, sometimes you want to lie low and say nothing. Write nothing. Hide. But there is no hiding, is there? People will seek you out or be offended even if offense is not intended. Even if you said nothing at all people will misquote you and make things up about you. Spread stories. Misperceptions and lies. That can destroy you. Your faith in them. Yourself. And sometimes that can wreck your career.

I read an article today about an actress I’m not familiar with who lost her job over some things she said on social media. My guess is she said them because the crowd she hangs out with in her private life says them too and she felt safe challenging others with her statements. She probably felt like she was doing something honest and good. Warning people. Helping people who will not see the truth. From what I can see, there was no evil intent, but her remarks were fatal. To her. I did not get to see the exact quote (which had been deleted) but what I did read wasn’t far from what I’ve seen people say before. Yes, it was extreme and an inexact analogy, but I did not understand why she would lose her job over it. It seems to me that it’s not your employer’s business what you say on social media.

My displaced dirty garden angels last summer.

After some digging in trying to figure out what her politics were, I realized they were on the wrong side of what her employer’s were. But is that all there was to it? My go to when I hear a story like this is to look at a person’s race or sex when they are fired. Other powerful women and men of color in the entertainment industry have lost their jobs as performers because they said something unfortunate. This doesn’t mean their statements weren’t offensive.  But I feel under the surface the reason people like that are fired is because it’s an excuse to bring them down. You really have to toe the line if you are a woman or a person of color who is right wing in a left wing environment. Or left wing in a right wing environment. You can also lose out if you are any wing at all if someone in that wing decides to label you not right or left enough to suit them.

Me practicing a scene for Zoom acting class.

This is discouraging in a world that tells you to “be yourself”. As a writer who is told to “write the truth” I ask myself, “How can I?” if it’s so easy to be brought down. I guess I’m writing about cancel culture, but that has been around a long time. Now it’s just harder to hide who you are if you say anything at all. We live in a land of critics these days, not supporters, not forgivers, and it all feels like it’s about nil what you can say. To anyone. At any time.  Apologies and explanations and retractions used to be enough if your employee made a mistake.  Or were they? Either way, it seems to me people are only fired when you want to fire them. After, all, you don’t have to.

My blood pressure back to normal after a stressful month.

How does one “find their audience” in a world like this? A place only looking for certain stories at certain times? The sad answer seems to be to try to get everyone who can to like you, but that’s not authentic either. One false move, one wrong word and it’s over. If the vocabulary we are supposed to use changes from day to day for some people, it is impossible to keep up even if you are trying hard to please them.

And I do want to please people. I always have. But the hope is that my actual self will be pleasing in some genuine way. Ostracism and popularity contests have always been around and I guess it’s true that you have to find your niche, but what if there is no niche for you?

Then we’re back to loneliness again, I guess. And that’s okay. It has to be okay. Because in the end, we are just with ourselves, not matter who’s around. The dream for company is after all, most often a dream of self reflection, of company who only has eyes for us, who acts the way  we want them to when we want them to. This explains the violence and nagging in families where people are fighting for control, to at least get their partners and children to act the way they want so they can pretend their partners and children want to act that way.

Washed out trail at Ecola Park.

That’s quite the imagination game isn’t it? Let’s shut everyone up so we can pretend they do not think what they think?

As for me, I’d rather be alone with the odd contact. And if I try to see the other person and listen (by this I am talking about friends and not strangers) and try to love them for who they are, horrible opinions and all, better things happen. How can we have room to change and grow if that’s not allowed? How can young people grow up at all if we confine them to a corset or an iron lung as they flex their muscles, try to draw breath and grow their bones? It’s a narrower and narrower world every day, whatever “side” you happen to be on. I see more and more why people leave social media. Why they shut up. Could we do this if we all lived in a village of 10 people? I guess then we would at least have one scapegoat.

Because we always have.

That’s the history lesson for the day.

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Believe!

A Big Life: Encouragement for People in the Arts – 

My younger self

When I was a very young person, people told me over and over that I should only pursue the arts if I really loved them.

To me this felt like a command, a mandate, a pious edict from a pulpit. I was like the religious acolyte who is asked by the preacher, “Do you really believe? Do you believe enough!” On a deeper level, there was this odd dialogue I would have with myself: Believe what? How do you force your mind to believe? Time after time for years I would torture my brain about whether I was worthy of my calling. Oh, to be an actress! That was my heart’s desire. But did I love it? Did I love acting enough? If I did, would it marry me? Would we live happily ever after? And if I did, would I be successful?

Paying my respects at a waterfall shrine on Bali in 2019

Or, if I were to remain celibate, would I become the High Priestess in the Church of Art?

Acting was just plain fun until I went to college where I ran into fierce competition for roles. I struggled but I was committed. Until I heard the voice of the college professor  who pronounced the edict again:  “Don’t do this unless you love it!”  It shook me to my shoes. How do I love it more? Even more? I don’t always love it, I thought. Should I tell them that? Will they kick me out? Will I be ostracized, shamed? My brain rambled. Is there a way to love Death of a Salesman? What I really want to do is be the lead in a John Travolta film. But what I’m supposed to bow down to is The Three Sisters. I loathed both plays. In secret, of course. Dare I confess my unbelief? Does that mean I was unworthy? That because of this I will not allowed by the Forces of my Calling to pursue my dream? At least I liked Streetcar Named Desire. Would that get me far enough on the Pilgrim’s Progress to the Holy Shrine? Come on, Katie, try harder: Love, love! And if you don’t love it, hide it! What if the other proselytes see the truth? That I am a fraud and an apostate. That I like to watch reruns of I Dream of Jeannie. At least I Love Lucy is one of the shows that the High Priests agree breaks the mold, even though it may be noncanonical.

Was I worthy enough?

Doing ADR work for a Portland Indie Film

By the time I hit New York in my early twenties,  auditioning had become downright terrifying. The new town itself was frightening. It was huge and foreign and different from anything I had ever experienced . Despite my fears, I got auditions. I freelanced with agents. I got professional work my first year in New York. And still, I ran into acting class teachers and other professionals saying, “If there is anything you want to do more, then do it! Very few people make more than a few thousand dollars a year at this and most make nothing at all! You must love this profession!” And I would think about the hemorrhoid commercial I had auditioned for and the play I had gotten into which was a rap version of Romeo and Juliet. I would flay myself with the question:  Do I love this? Am I inherently flawed that I don’t?” My faith was at stake.

Was my very soul?

Most of the time, however, I wasn’t cast in things. I did temp office work to pay the rent. Luckily for me, I liked temping. But even in that, my faith was put into question one morning when I got an assignment to work at American Express. I felt complete confusion. To me, American Express was a credit card. As a young woman of 22 without one, I didn’t even know how a credit card worked. I thought I had misheard my agency. I headed downtown anyway on the #123 Red Line Subway trembling with doubt, all the while picturing a huge green credit card soaring upward into the sky from the bottom of Manhattan Island.

Believe! I told myself.

Sather Gate – visiting my old college campus (UC Berkeley) in 2018

When I arrived, I found that sure enough,  there was no tall thin green building. No robotic credit card walked up to the glass doors of the building I approached to let me in either. And this definitely wasn’t the place where I was supposed to be.  American Express was not there.  None of the passing New York business people I spoke with were able to direct me to the entrance to its pearly gates. Shaking like a person who has woken up after death, not sure there was a heaven and discovering, yup, for sure, there isn’t one, I called the agency. As it turned out, I had the wrong address. Heaven must be real after all. If heaven is a credit card.

For most people, that’s the road to hell.

What I was to discover is that American Express in and of itself was not a credit card. At least, it was not a wily, free-floating piece of green plastic that finds its way into the mailboxes of gullible people with no help from human hands. It was a financial services center. While its offices were on the upper stories and lavish with panoramic views of the rivers on either side of the island of Manhattan, it was grey, not green. Fat, not thin.

And very, very real.

I have learned that I must not rely on what my brain likes to tell me or on my own limited experience when it comes to understanding the nature of reality. Nor can I rely on the words of those around me who have not done their own investigating.  I must do my own research. And I must expose myself to a variety of  conflicting sources. It’s the only way to know that history is real.  That it repeats itself. That there are actually different countries that exist which matter as much as ours and we are all globally connected. If we pull out one strand, the whole world unravels. This means we have to get outside our bubbles and seek the truth. What our brother told us yesterday is not true just because his opinions are loud.  Always look for evidence rather than relying on other people’s theories, beliefs or faith. Best of  all, go out in the world and experience reality firsthand.  Go to Vesey Street. There really is an American Express Center there.  And it has world-wide offices.

Also, the people who work there are very, very nice.

As for my dream of being an actress, what was the difference between fantasy and reality? Was it the difference between the dream of being successful and the reality of defeat? Or the reality of success and the fear of defeat? Also, what was success?

At age 5.

I grew up in a little town in Southern Oregon called Klamath Falls. There wasn’t much to do there so I read a lot and watched television. Occasionally my family would go to a concert that came through town or see a show at the community theatre. Despite this, I really did not have an understanding of what a career in the arts might look like. And the line between reality and fantasy always crisscrossed through my wild and temperamental imagination. As a little girl, I secretly made up an original Star Trek heroine  for myself who rescued Captain Kirk and Spock over and over while the two of them loved me in vain. On the show in my head, I had more screen time than all the men combined.  I also fell in love with Mel Brooks films. It was my greatest dream to play the snappy strong willed heroine in one of his movies. To perhaps portray the lady love of Marty Feldman. That was my definition of success. But was it reality? I think we all know the answer to that.

But do we? Marty’s not around anymore, but Mel Brooks is. So who knows?

At a young age, I was a resourceful person. I started a little theatre of 9-11 year olds and wrote plays for them which we performed for our parents. Somehow the press got wind and I was interviewed on the local television station, who had me back on again at age 14 to play a Halloween Witch on The Mickey Mulligan Show. Mickey Mulligan was a clown in full makeup played by their television anchor. He swore a lot off screen and I’d seen him delivering the news before, so I didn’t think of him as a mythical creature or even really as an actor. He was someone you could run into on Main Street in front of J.C. Penny’s or catch eating fries at the Blue Ox Restaurant. He wasn’t William Shatner or Gene Wilder so it did not occur to me to be intimidated. On screen on live television, I accidently stuck my broom in the pie which his face was supposed to receive but we got through the whole thing without anybody breaking character. My high school drama teacher who had gotten me the job stood waiting in the wings. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was my introduction to the professional world.

Playing a witch (Bellatrix from Harry Potter) for Halloween Zoom Acting Class 2020.

How was New York any different than Oregon? You still had to show up on time and recover from mistakes and listen to your directors and remember the coaching of your teachers. And like the anchor from KOTI-TV who did Saturday morning moonlighting as a clown, you still had to have a flexible day job.

Most people do.

Many years later, I now understand what people were trying to tell me about what it means to love. Love is not magic. It’s not legalism. It doesn’t always lead to money. Love is free from all of that. “To love” acting or anything else means to revel in it for the sake of itself. It’s the opposite of pursuing the arts for the ego hit or the money or the desperate feeling of unworthiness which so often drives us to try to achieve status. We don’t have to make art into a religion and then weigh our faith and commitment by someone else’s imaginary standard. Even if that person claims to have the Divine Last Word on the Pantheon of Art.

We are none of us worthy or unworthy.

We just are.

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Forty-five Fifteen

Lonely forbidden Seaside beach

A Big Life: Encouragement for People in the Arts – 

At the start of the pandemic, it was grey out, cold and raining.

My shelter in place when things closed down in March of 2020 became an oceanside town in Oregon where we locals were not allowed to walk on the beach for fear of drawing the big city Portland crowd.

For three whole months.

Cannon Beach actually closed their borders.

It made me mad that I was not allowed to do that, because I was now a new-made fulltime local against my will. Usually I rent out my house in summer and travel. To California. Indonesia. Illinois. Mexico.

At least those were some of the past and upcoming plans.

I began to fall into a pattern. Pull weeds, plant seeds, buy dirt.

 

Laborious effort.

Water.

Write.

Repeat.

Walk, though not on the beach.

The biggest thing I discovered in my solitude is how much I’ve sought it out all along. Not that I don’t need “people” breaks; I do. But they are just that. Breaks.  Sometimes long ones, but I also need plenty of alone time.

My world turned upside down.

Here’s another kind of break:

45-15.

What’s that?

It’s the pattern I started to use for everything.

Clean the house for 45. Break for 15.

Read my fun book for 45.

Last fall with old friend Doug at the Berkeley/Stanford game – we won! Go Bears.

Break for 15 to rant at the wall at all the people in my life who have wronged me. Then stop. I only get 15 minutes to do that. But I get to do that.

All of this started with one of my online writing groups with Eric Witchy, a prolific award-winning novelist who lives in Salem. We meet on Zoom, write, take a fifteen minute break and write again. His system is based on science on the idea of flow. It works.

 

When I started using this technique, I got inspired, even in the midst of feeling traumatized and uninspired and sunshine deprived. In three weeks I finished a television pilot I’d been working on for three years. I wrote a screenplay in another four.

Tempting Italian restaurant. So beautiful. I stay outside.

Sometimes I go mad with the longing to travel, walk with someone without thinking about distancing or sit with someone in a restaurant with ambience and share a meal.

But mainly not.

Now I write.

And write and write.

What matters is routine, not just in writing, but in everything.

With fellow writer-actor Brynn at last year’s Fertile Ground Kickoff.

Plenty of people have said that over the years and I’ve resisted.  I’ve resisted because life isn’t just about routine. It’s also about breaking routine, about getting out of the comfort zone, or being pushed out of it, sometimes against a person’s will. That’s uncomfortable but it also makes one grow.  Weirdly, it is breaking routine and getting out of one’s comfort zone even to start a new routine.  A routine which then can become comfortable.

And then once more one has to break it.

The fall results of my spring seeding.

Simply transitioning from one activity to the next means getting out of one’s comfort zone and into another. Even if those activities are part of the regular routine. The actual moment of transition can be quite uncomfortable itself.

It is usually at that moment when I want to call someone for company or eat a bar of chocolate.

A Black-eyed fruition of my hard work.

 

But that is also part of 45-15 when it comes to writing, when it comes to using scientific flow.

Just as I’m getting comfortable writing, I have to break. Even if I’m in the zone. But that’s what makes me want to write again.

What helped me write was 45-15.

And then what helped me live was 45-15.

45-15 is saving my life.

The uncomfortableness of always challenging comfort has become part of my comfort zone.

Some of the time.

Savoring summer solitude with solar butterflies.

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A Lesson from Bob (a sequel)

A Big Life: Encouragement for People in the Arts – 

Bob is the alpha cat in my Seaside neighborhood.

He challenges racoons and other cats who like to use my yard as a sandbox.

There is less room now to leave their gifts of fertilizer because this year I dug up the back.

I planted new grass, flowers, rosemary, spearmint, peppermint, lettuce, and beans.

I grew things from seeds, a thing I have never done before in my life.

Except once with radishes when I was a child.

I think I now know what a mother must feel like.

Or maybe a father.

I am in love with the bumblebees.

 

I learned a lot about myself during this time of pandemic.

Most of all I learned I like being alone.

But Bob taught me lessons every step of the way.

 

Poop where you want and don’t let anyone else hog the bathroom.

Take the love the neighbors give you without running away.

Enjoy time alone when the patting on the back stops.

Know that I am the queen of my backyard.

Even when Bob is there, prince of the patio,

Confident the whole neighborhood is  his turf.

 

I feel lucky the white moths like to explore my weeds and sunflowers

And the surprise black-eyed Susans I thought wouldn’t come up!

But they did.

Elegant poppies so gorgeous I wonder if they are illicit

Like the love affair I’m having with myself during this evil plague.

 

Bob doesn’t worry and sometimes I shoo him from resting behind idling cars.

He’s the one cat in my neighborhood who is not afraid.

I have become like Bob.

I know the answer to no fear now.

The answer is that I have enough.

Treats in the fridge, friends on the phone,

Sun on my back.

 

 

I like being

With the crows and the seagulls

The children who chat me up on my deck from the sidewalk

Six feet away.

The garbage man, handy woman, bald eagle in the sky

The whale that I saw and the grey pelicans

The Dungeness crabs who rise from the water to see who I am

As I pass by

The fog and the moon and the shooting stars

And Bob.

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Sharks Under the Floorboards

A Big Life: Encouragement for People in the Arts – 

At Newport Aquarium, Oregon

Two dogs knocked me down by the side of the road and started eating my back.

“Surely someone will stop to rescue me,” I thought  as a car went right past me without stopping. I realized I needed to get up or die so I threw off the dogs  and stood up, victorious.

Okay, that didn’t really happen to me.  It is something that I dreamed.  But the symbolism is obvious, isn’t it?

Fend for yourself. Don’t count on anyone. Rescue yourself.

Or is that the message? Maybe the people in the car didn’t see me lying on the road.  But what if they did? Some people are just jerks.

On set candid acting at Hug Point for the film “The Beloved”

Living with the uneasiness of life and having a fistful of friends, relatives and professional connections who might love you and then leave you is hard. It’s a balancing act to trust that there will always be someone there who has your back and doesn’t just want to eat it.

My whole life has been filled with dreams like that. Sharks under my house bumping up against the floorboards and threatening to break through. Dinosaurs wrecking havoc on the lower floor of my hotel. The same potential threats and rewards are all around us all the time in waking life. Sometimes I feel safe and sometimes I do not. Yet whether I feel safe or do not feel safe has little bearing on whether or not I really am.  So what’s the answer?

I am not sure I have one.

There are lots of spiritual and psychological practices that help. There are also practical ones to know, like the number of the fraud line at the Department of Justice and even better, the swift action the Attorney General will take if you just pick up the phone. (If you didn’t know that, write that down. I learned it late in life.)

A performance of my original play “Suicide in the Garden” at Fertile Ground 2020

I am still learning to trust the friends I have, to be compassionate with them and yet be willing to stand up to them if things go wrong between us. I used to think, “If there’s a problem, I caused it.” Those days are gone.

The truth is that everyone has a perspective. In the painful year or so since my mother died–something which has been so much harder than I ever thought possible–I have continued to learn and relearn many things. The biggest one continues to be, “What would it mean if the problem wasn’t me?”

My signature rainboots.

As to what this has to do with being an artist, I don’t know. Except that artists need to have perspective. Both in visual art and when creating characters.

And I have to remind myself of my own.


Note: Thanks, friends for bearing with the long wait for a blog post. It doesn’t mean lots of lovely artsy professional things haven’t been happening. It’s just been a difficult time.

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Hard Words in the Snow

Tillamook Head this morning.

A Big Life: Encouragement for People in the Arts – 

Snow Day!

Today is a snow day for schools on the coast!

Checking the district website, I confirmed this at 6:40 a.m. this morning. The information was as clear on the bright blue webpage as the snow which piled up outside my window. On the other hand, Aesop had a different opinion. That website still had me on the roster as a substitute. I flipped back to the district website. It was perfectly clear: No School Today.

Feeling a bit silly, I abandoned all faith in computers and called the people at the school. After all, they adored me. They might laugh at me but they would never stop hiring me, the wonderful writer and actor in their midst who loved working with their children in Special Ed, right? If I couldn’t call them, who could I call?  Besides, I told myself, no one will be there anyway. To my surprise someone picked up the phone. She replied, “Oh, we are required to be here in cause some students show up. There is no school.”

Performing my script “In Season” in Daisy Dukes Shorts Night 2019. From left: Ross Laguzza, Victoria Blake, Cecily Overman.

Hating the idea that anyone would be expecting me, even a computer, I checked Aesop again. By this time I knew I was acting insane but I couldn’t help myself. Suddenly the purple and black pages of the website had become a cold alive entity with a mind all its own. It was clear IT still thought there was a job for me. Wait. The person on the phone said “we”. Did “we” mean “me”? Adults? But why? Knowing I was being ridiculous, I called the school once more to clarify that not only were there no students there, there were no teachers there either. “Right,” the same voice confirmed. “No teachers are here,” she said. There is no reason to come.”

Hanging up, I checked Aesop a third time. To my consternation, I was still on the roster. I did NOT like seeing my name there.  I am a very diligent person. What if I didn’t take the drive through up the ice to the school and somehow IT found out? What if it accused me of being a no show? Maybe it would decide I was a poor risk. Could I exist as a performer and a writer without my day gigs? Would my delicate ego withstand being rejected as a substitute teacher? NEVER. I would not tolerate it. I decided to do BATTLE with Aesop. I would reject IT before it rejected me. “I know!” I cried. “I will hit the CANCEL JOB button.”

As producer of PDX Playwright’s* Crazy Dukes Instant Play Festival last week-end. Deciding the prompts with stage manager Monica Dailey

In triumph, I pulled the trigger and pushed the button. I was met with a stern retaliatory threat from Aesop: “If you cancel this job, you will NOT be allowed to take any other jobs in the district today. Are you SURE you want to cancel this job?” Despite the ludicrous fact that I was being rejected from jobs that WOULDN’T exist and that I was cancelling a job that DIDN’T exist, I found myself backing down and taking my hand off the trigger. In turn, Aesop holstered its guns and I remained a teacher on ITS roster. Refusing to feel pathetic by my lack of muster, I told myself there was no point in engaging in warfare with a computer. Instead, I would wait for the polite phone call which was sure to come from some nice REAL person in the district office.

Instead, two hours later Aesop emailed me with these hard words: “You have been removed as a substitute for this job. Your services are no longer required.”

I felt hurt. Wow. Hurt?

Abandoned ideas from the audience for the playwrights in writing their Instant Shorts. We could not use them all!

Words can hurt under the most bizarre circumstances. It’s important to notice that.  The truth is even when we know the reasons behind them, rejection still can destroy us.  As artists, we can never remind ourselves of this enough. Whether our sitcom gets cancelled or the art show is over or we only make it to the third interview, there is always an ending to everything. My motto these days is that most of the time, it’s not us.

It’s a snow day.

Seaside beach this morning

______

*PDX Playwrights participates every January in Portland, Oregon’s Fertile Ground Theatre Festival of New Works.

This year my short script In Season won a place in the Daisy Dukes Shorts Nights on Jan 25-Feb 1.  I was the producer of their Crazy Dukes Instant Shorts Jan 25-27, 2019.

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Cold Teeth and Overhead Lights

A Big Life: Encouragement for People in the Arts – 

Looking toward the sun in Seaside, Oregon

As I rushed down the oceanside promenade, the blowing rain whipped my hair into my mouth. Despite my repeated efforts to push it back under my hood, it seemed to have a life of its own. The shirt under my coat felt rough. My right sock bunched up inside my rain boot. My whole body was buzzing.

Once at home, I threw off my coat but it twisted up in my armpits and I stumbled. I kicked off one boot and tripped over it, by now enraged. All of my clothing seemed to be conspiring to attack me. And I was so hungry I could not think. I reached into the refrigerator for my salad and took a bite.  The coldness of the lettuce hurt my teeth.  I changed into a softer shirt. It bugged me because the material kept getting caught in the dry skin on my fingertips. Lost in thought, I tripped over the other boot as I got myself out the door to give a talk in front of a large group of people. 

With my friend casting director Marie Welsh and other members of the cast of “The Librarians” watching the finale in Oregon City

Though I spoke in what I thought was a reasonable tone of voice, only twenty percent of the people seemed to hear me.  The rest kept chatting with their friends. As I raised my voice to engage them, the whole group looked up in alarm. I now realized that I was too loud.  I fumbled to find a middle range acceptable to all.

Later, I went out to a restaurant with friends who were quite comfortable ordering their drinks in the echoey bar which to my dismay had no carpet on the floor to absorb the sound. It was also too dim and yet somehow too bright due to the all the overhead lighting. I was the only one who was cold. 

Just my tent, my car and me: Last summer in Myrtle Creek, Oregon

Recently I have discovered that I am what is known as a “highly sensitive person”. Everyone has met these people. Well-meaning people call us “over sensitive” and “easily irritated”. Mean-meaning people take delight in bullying us because our reactions are so extreme. When I was a little girl in school I remember crying all the time. Things were too harsh, too smelly, too hot, too cold, too light, too dark or too loud.  The sound of the toilet flush filled me with terror. 

Highly sensitive people (HSPs) pick up on other people’s moods and are more aware of what is going on in the immediate environment.  Sometimes we lower our eyes to shut out the stimuli and as a result are labeled “shy”. We have to go off alone to get away from all the buzzing, wild activity around us, and so I did.  As a child, I read a lot and walked alone in the hills. I still do. We take longer to make decisions because we are deep thinkers. This ruminating drives other personality types crazy. It makes us more perfectionistic and often “touchy”. Yet the wonderful thing is as a result of this processing, we often see things that no one else can see. We are creative in new and unique ways.

Halloween celebrants in masks at the 45th Northwest Filmmaker’s Kickoff party: Portland Museum of Art.

As actors, writers and artists, it is important to understand different personality types because they are “characters” in literature and on the stage. The word “persona” can be traced to the Latin and Greek as the word for a theatrical mask.  A fantastic study of a historical character who fits the bill as a highly sensitive person is Norman Josiffe in a mini-series with 10 nominations this awards season, A Very English Scandal on Amazon. He is portrayed by Ben Whishaw as a classic “HSP” who is taken advantage of by Jeremy Thorpe, played by Hugh Grant, who has a contrasting “warrior-king” personality. Interestingly, the story’s premise is that Ben is the one taking advantage of Jeremy. Yet Jeremy is a devious predator in a high position, while Ben retreats in a corner and cries all the time. Ben is accused of being a leech who can’t hold down a job. But that’s because Jeremy prevents him from getting a work visa. So Ben blackmails him. It was a fascinating comparison of two personality types and wonderfully funny. Neither character is particularly virtuous and yet I could not take my eyes away.

Winning my own award for Best Screenplay “Bird in the Water” in the Northwest Exposure Competition at the 45th NW Filmmaker’s Festival

Twenty percent of the population has the personality trait of the HSP and many are artists. Being attracted to music and the arts is one of the traits which may be an indication. As artists, it is important to understand and accept ourselves whatever our personality traits, and use them for good and not for evil.

Unless we are creating a character in a mini-series.

______________

Note: The “highly sensitive person” is a trait that began to be studied in earnest by the early 1990s by famed psychologist Dr. Elaine Aron. She has a test you can take if you like, which has 27 questions: (Click here)

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Goalie No More

A Big Life: Encouragement for People in the Arts

Photo by Deneb Catalan in PDX

I keep meeting people who are all about the no.

I used to be this way too.

Once upon a time I thought I would just live in one place and keep my old friends and stay in the same town and work at the same type of thing. Then everything and almost everyone in my life went south. The truth is, when that happens, we can take care of it or we can die in our own muck.

We are only going to live so long. Then why is it that when we don’t like our lives, we don’t want to keep trying?

Many people think that because they’ve done a lot of work in their early life, they shouldn’t have to repeat that work in the second half of life. They shouldn’t have to start over in marriages or make better friendships.  A lot of people say “it’s too late” once they are out of their 20s or 30s or 40s. They say “I’ll never learn a new language” or “I’ll never become a better driver” or “It’s too late to become a doctor”. (It actually isn’t. People in their 50s and 60s have done it.)

Putting it together…again and again.

For the sake of argument, let’s say it is rather late in life. What does that matter? We are not done with life until we die and that is going to happen when we are right smack dab in the middle of something we are doing. So why shouldn’t it be doing something we love?

The truth is, everything changes. All the time. Friends grow cold and new friends come. Jobs sour and housing situations fall apart. Long-term groups disband. Or they don’t. And that can be even worse. If you don’t keep doing the work of making your life an adventure, you can get stuck alone in your backyard until it turns into a decrepit back alley. (Of course alleyways can be interesting too. But most of us don’t want to live in them.)

A lot of people say the reason people don’t leave their mucky alley is because of fear.

I say it’s because it takes effort.

I don’t mean that one should throw caution to the wind and just walk out that door whenever you have a bad day, but do I say this: It is okay to leave a bad scene. You just have to have a plan.

Tiptoeing through an Oregon forest

Baby steps.

If you are careful and educate yourself, get support and lay the groundwork for new relationships (even if fruition is years out), you can slide out of one bad situation into a better one without a dramatic jolt.

One of the things I am trying these days when I feel stuck or anxious is not to think in terms of goals, but to think in terms of learning something. For example, one day I debated with myself whether it was more of a pain to return an item or keep it, because it meant a tedious drive, a difficult time parking and a conversation with a stranger.

As I worked to decide, I reasoned that I had the time, I wanted to see that part of the city anyway, and I would find out how hard it was to park if I ever wanted to go to that section of town again. I also knew I would meet someone.  After all, psychologists say that even if you have no friends or are having a lonely day, it can really boast your mood to simply talk to strangers.

They also say that going on an uncomfortable trip forges new synapses in our brains.

The Red Baron Never Gave Up…

Remember, the key to all of this is not to have a goal. A plan, yes, but not a goal. Every time I picture in my mind that things are going to go a certain way in life if I do A, B and C, I end up miserable. But if I think of life as a learning situation then I never lose.

By the way, I returned the item and it was a tedious drive. But I found parking, got my money back and saw a new part of the city. Plus the guy at the cashier was cute.

And who knows where that will lead?

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Uninvited

A Big Life: Encouragement for People in the Arts

San Diego Zoo Doodle Book

Lately I have been thinking about rape.

A tough subject, I know.

However, sometimes when people talk about the elephant on the table it helps the other baby elephants in the room.

Lots of us have been raped. Or almost raped. Or at least threatened with sexual attention we don’t want, directly or indirectly. Most of us are pretty literal when we say something like “could you give me a ride?” or “I only want to kiss” and yet many people we work with or have dated or are married to will try to put their hand somewhere uninvited and say something that seems really weird along the lines of like “I must have read you wrong”.

Remember, I’m talking about husbands and friends, not strangers.

How has this come to pass? I think the answer is easy. I have been reading a lot of church and theatre history lately, which means I’ve been reading about history, period. History is mostly about war and boundaries. Who the “other” is. Why it’s okay to kill the other. Or rape them.

One thing is not like the other

The “other” is someone who doesn’t think the way we do.  In ancient Greece, the attitude was simple. You were Greek or you were a barbarian. That went for men or women. But in Athenian culture, even a woman of the highest class was thought of as a kind of animal. Women were considered “wild” and in order to control them, they had to be caged up in their houses. They never even went out of the house unless there was a funeral.

They were rape captives.

Think about the fact for one brief second that most of what we have been taught is wonderful about Western Civilization: the philosophy, architecture, ideas that we have about the sexes, theatre, literature and art were created by one group of people.

No, I do not mean men.

If you are a man, chances are you were not among these people. Think of it like this. If you were a man then most likely you would have been a slave.

You would have been rape fodder.

Satyr Loving a Maiden, Hearst Castle, CA

The warrior class, the rich, the scholars, the artists who were savvy or financially supported, they were the ones who had leisure to write all the beautiful literature and design the beautiful buildings and paint all the naked ladies and men. It is true, of course, that they were also men. But the statistic likelihood is you would have not been one of the elite. If you can imagine that being castrated and then having a life as some man’s sexual toy is normal then you can start to put yourself in the shoes of most people of the time.

 Everyone had slaves prior to the Medieval Era. Greece eventually was enslaved by Rome along with much of the known world. The Greeks and everyone else who wasn’t a Roman citizen then became the “other”. That included in particular a new sect of people called Christians who were excessively tortured and butchered and raped. Over time, various emperors stopped the butchering, sanctioned it and then stopped it again. When an emperor named Constantine came along, the murder of Christians stopped for the final time. Then guess who became the “other”?

 Anyone the emperors decided wasn’t a Christian.

Jelly Belly Stained Glass

Bear this in mind, until the 10th century Christianity was a peaceful sect. There were no Christian soldiers. It was forbidden by their faith to shed blood. But when Charlemagne came along, he wanted Germany (aka Saxony) for his own, so he rewrote the Eucharist. A little later, Pope Urban II became sick of all the medieval local people who were killing and raping each other and again rewrote Christianity. That meant that for the next two hundred years his soldiers were conscripted to try to force the apocalypse.

 They called it the Crusades.

 Not long after, a man named Christoforo Columbo came along with a similar vision. When he wandered into the Americas he was so sure of his place in heaven that he believed he had been mentioned in the bible. Yet he and his people raped the native women over and over and eviscerated them along with their husbands and children. They cut off their hands and noses and body parts and laughed.  How could this explorer and his men think there was a place waiting for them in the afterlife which would reward them for such behavior?

 Because, the Native people had become the “other”.

Lots of Little Sallys, Knott’s Berry Farm, CA

We all know who the Nazis thought of as the “other”. We know 11 million people were killed in their Holocaust. But here’s an evil fact you probably did not know about the noble events of D Day. When our Russian allies entered Germany at the end of World War II, they raped two million little girls and their grandmothers and mothers. Some of them over and over.

To death. And the U.S. hushed it up. Why?

Because these little girls and women had now become “the other”.

Are you surprised that the Russians were not hauled up on war crimes along with the Nazis? I was. But then I realized that the Russians weren’t the only ones who did this during the war.

 American GIs raped too.

Fire Burn in the Petrified Forest, Calistoga

Rape camps exist in America. Here and now. They are not officially sanctioned by our government but they are allowed and supported by our rebels within every city and state but especially in Los Angeles, New York and…uh, believe it or not, Oklahoma. They aren’t just something that just existed in wartime Bosnia (50,000 women and little girls in three years) or Rwanda (half a million women and little girls in 100 days). It would be nice to think that the environment which has allowed women’s stories about their sexual abuse in the entertainment world would have a trickle down effect and that the little girls and boys and women being held hostage in our country would be rescued. After all, Charlize Theron and Lady Gaga are the elite among women. When I heard them speak out I felt such a flood of relief. Finally, the stories we performers had told each other, told our agents and friends and boyfriends and the entertainment unions and police officers to no avail were now being heard! We were so tired of the dance, so tired of trying to avoid James Toback (I have three stories about him) and Warren Beatty (three) and Kevin Spacey (one) and Harvey Weinstein (two) and Matt Lauer (several) and the agent Lionel Larner (one) as well as Mary Tyler Moore’s New York agent (two) in order to have careers. By now I have read lots of autobiographies by highly successful and respected actresses of the 60s, 70s and 80s. I am convinced in order to have much of a career during those years, you had to be a party girl.

And if you were, I respect you.

Sally, a prostitute survivor in Steinbeck’s “Sweet Thursday”, Monterey

And we should. We should respect our party girls. Sometimes you can only navigate change in the trenches.  Rape survivors do the same. The dissociate during the act(s), they forgive their rapists or they don’t forgive them, whatever works best. Sometimes they tell their stories. Some of my girlfriends who survived rape or prostitution have told their stories to me. The ones I know that have escaped that life with their sense of self intact have an inner light difficult to explain. They look like movie stars.

Sometimes they are.

However, I must confess that I think the primary reason for this media attention is not because we have become more evolved as a nation. I think it’s because of the bottom line. There used to be more money in hushing up all of this “sex” stuff that movie producers and directors and actors have been doing to us for years. But trafficking is big business. And trying war criminals is expensive. No wonder the women of Bosnia see their rapists in the neighborhood every day and no one does anything. No wonder the Russian solders have not been hauled up on their war crimes. As for our own backyard? Well, some of us love the boy who crossed the line. In America we often protect his life at the expense of the little girl whose life has been destroyed.

Perhaps if there is hope for an egalitarian future, it’s in those men who love women and respect them enough to understand that we ARE “other”, just not “other” in the way which has been determined for us by a history of warmongers.  Those men never asked women what sexuality meant for them. Instead, they took. It is they who defined sexuality long ago as the thing that most men want most: coitus. When we say we don’t want it we are called names. This has given us no chance to fight for what we really want any more than we can fight the idea that “The Hero’s Journey” is the best structure for writing a play.

A contemplative couple at the Sutro Baths, CA

The truth is, the act of coitus has never been the safest or most logical thing to do. Until recently with the advances of birth control and health support for pregnant women (not to mention raising the age of consent), one could argue that it is something that hasn’t made any sense to do except on rare occasions and only if a woman is willing to risk her life. Now it’s safer and things are a little different and yet they are still the same: If you want to know what women want, just ask. We will tell you. The answer is usually something like, “We just want a fellow, warm and snuggly, not presuming.” We’re pretty simple. I think that’s what men want too…no presumption. We are more alike than different. In fact, our primary source of pleasure is almost exactly the same.  We have very similar anatomy to men in that regard. It just gets ignored.

In any case, all avenues of pleasure are fine for lovers who respect each other but “no” means” no”, whether you are single, married, a co-worker or a soldier.

Wait to be invited.


Sources: See Bibliography.

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