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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A Lesson from the Afterlife

A Big Life: Encouragement for People in the Arts – 

Our May 2022 poster

It is good to be the Queen.

Until your new husband accidentally poisons you to death in trying to kill your child when he is home on a sabbatical from college.

Poetically, of course.

This was my first time cast in Hamlet, though over the years I’ve acted in several other shows by the Bard. This Shakespearean addition to my resume was produced in May at the Headwaters Theatre in Portland, Oregon. Out in Seaside for the darker months of the year, I commuted in to Portland to rehearse this plumb role. I learned helpful things about my own craft from new director Valerie Asbell and I got a chance to act with some excellent actors including Brian Trybom as my husband and Mike Jones as Laertes.

Not to mention that I am Danish. I still have cousins who live in Odense.

Our Hamlet Ethan Sloan in rehearsal with our fight choreographer, Sam Dinkowitz.

Performing in a stage play again after being in a number of film projects has been a good reminder of what it is to be in a long rehearsal process with a two week-end run. Disadvantages included nearby tracks on which a train ran outside the theatre during the show. Advantages included that every night I got to play off the impulses of my fellow performers coming up with a different kind of performance.  Also, I got to die on stage.

Fun, huh? Well…

Generally it’s fun to die in a production. It is after all…drama. It’s not real. In the case of the Queen, I am murdered. I am poisoned by a drink meant for my son. Every night, I got to explore several different ways to hit the deck. Eleven performances. Eleven different ways to die.

And land.

Once there laid out flat on the stage under the fading lights, one would think it was all over. That it would be a calming experience. Relaxing. Just lying on the floor in empty-headed bliss while the other actors carry the show. Like at the end of my yoga class when I lie on my back while my instructor plays her crystal singing bowls. Just enjoying the vibrations. What is that position called? Ah, yes. Shavasana.

Dying should be an exercise in solitude. In mindfulness. In meditation. Shavasana. Corpse Pose.

However, once I meet my demise in Hamlet, the lights don’t exactly go out. I am only the first to die. There are three other characters who are murdered after me. Then there is a whole other scene after that in which Denmark is conquered by Norway. That scene is eight minutes long. All in all, I lie on the stage for at least twelve minutes.

My shoes at Thanksgiving

Unexpectedly, that took practice.

The first night I died, I landed with my feet crossed. With my eyes closed against the glare of the stage lights, I congratulated myself on having done such a graceful job managing to die downstage left. But soon I became aware of the buckle of my shoe pressing on my ankle. I had chosen to lie in Shavasana with my ankles crossed. Who would have thought one spindly leg could weigh so much? The little square of metal from my high heeled Mary Jane became more and excruciating with every minute. Yet I was dead. I could not move. When the lights went out and I finally limped off stage, I wrenched the strap off my shoe to discover a bruise darkening on my ankle.

In my butterfly clips, looking at the train tracks outside the Headwaters Theatre

The next night I died, I was careful to keep my feet parallel before I let my eyelashes flutter shut. However, I had forgotten the sparkly butterfly clips that I had added into the back of my upswept hair that night. The clips dug into the back of my head as soon as I flipped onto my back.

Ouch. Wow.

How many minutes were left? Slowly I turned my head away from the pain, hoping that my movement was as imperceptible as a bloom opening in the sun. I justified my microscopic move: Don’t corpses contract after death?

Training with the SAFD with rapier and dagger.

The next night I died, I breathed my final words of warning to my son and he caught me in his arms as usual. However, this time, his knee landed on the hem of my dress. I grasped the material to keep my skirt from upending over my head. Trying to make this moment last, I touched my son’s face and add a few labored breaths as I pulled with my fist. If I didn’t succeed in dislodging the material when I keeled over, the whole crowd would get a picture of my maroon Victoria Secret’s. It did seem unfair to upstage Hamlet’s subsequent death scene in such an opportunistic way. I managed to wrench my short skirt out from under his knee before I went down, cursing the fact that even though we were doing the play in modern dress, I still don’t get to have a sword fight. All that stage combat training and Hamlet and Laertes are the only ones who get to spar with weapons! Bitterness, thy name is Queen.

As it turned out, these death throes added to my performance, so I kept them in the next night as part of a checklist. You know, like the one the mechanics give you when they look over your car. Skirt down. Check. Mouth closed (otherwise my lips will dry out). Check. Make sure my back isn’t twisted.  Check. Are my shoulders hunched up around my ears? Yes. Fix them. Check. Are my ankles crossed? Woops. They are. Did I really do that again? Okay, one last death spasm so I can have an excuse to uncross them.  Done.

Check. Check. Check.

Us at peace in death.

Finally, I had death down.  This was true corpse pose. Unfortunately, one night, I got so comfortable I drifted into a light sleep! Luckily for all of us, there is no more play once the Danish flag comes down.  Now what else could go wrong? How about the night I headed offstage and caught my heel on the fallen Danish flag?

Picking up that flag on my way to curtain call is one more thing I added each night as a kind of vindicating resurrection.

My Danish cousins would be so happy.

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Happy (New Year)

A Big Life: Encouragement for People in the Arts – 

It seems a sin to say
that last year was good
as we move toward
fireworks and cheering–
many want me to agree
it was dreary,
that what happened
is to be forgotten
but I don’t and I won’t
so I dare to say it anyway:

I do not want to sluff the past away
or hope about what is to come–
refusing to wish it gone
for it is who I am and was,
even as I am dared
only to rejoice after midnight
as though something new
will happen

After all,
the newscasts and doomsdayers
will continue to guilt
and blame
me for the state of things
even though I gave
to the poor, recycled and wrote
to the governor

I have no apologies
as I have done them already
and they are ever
present, continuous
like my joy
but only
as a curiosity
like frost on daffodils
in the
spring mountains

What will come is unspoken and
the future is the wide cold nothing
which I will not dream on–
instead I wrap myself in
this night by the fire,
a pearl grey coat, red socks
woven with white deer
and a house which encircles me
in a father-mother hug
for I am its child with
a child’s responsibilities–
it envelopes me and not I it

It not my offspring
nor is the year–
I am the child
of all that has happened
and will sing my songs alone,
plan I will and do
but I won’t live in plans
or wishing
and I release nothing

Instead of taking
the lights down
this night
I put up more,
adding to the red and green
new strings of blue and gold
for I am happy in this happy
now not quite yet
(but I am) New Year.

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What I Want

A Big Life: Encouragement for People in the Arts – 

The Nehalem River, Seaside, Oregon

I said to the wanting creature inside me, what is this river you want to cross?

On the other side of the water, the eagles stand, close enough to see but not close enough to get a good shot with my crappy android phone camera. I silently will them to dive toward me as they have before, perhaps attracted by my blush coat or bright red mittens. At least if I got closer I could get them flying.

I take a step.

They don’t move, and the Nehalem River stops me. It’s shallow enough to cross, I think, if I wanted to slosh through it, braving the deeper part where I can’t see my feet, knowing I might full well brush my toes against the Dungeness crabs which dwell down in the darkness. I know they are there because in the spring they sometimes come up to see what I am, this looming figure standing so tall by the water’s edge.

The Coat

Probably attracted by the color of the coat.

The blush coat, which is actually a sort of salmon color which some people wrongly call “pink”, is old and necessary, stained and worn. No doubt it should be replaced. Occasionally the forces which war within me listen to the “shoulds” and I go shopping. But I never seem to hit the department store at the right time of year or if I do, I never find a new one that I like. Besides, none of the coats on the stands have sleeves which are not long enough for my coltish arms.

And my arms now are not long enough to reach the eagles.

What is it I want?

I want the familiar and I want something new. I want to be alone and yet with people, I want to be wild and disciplined, silent and boisterous. I want to eat and drink, and yet I want to be sober and fast from all pleasurable foods. And so, with such conflicting urges, I punish myself over all of it. I torture myself inside. And sometimes–God forbid–I ask other people’s opinions of what I should do.  What is it I want?

Eagle who chose to make a complete circle around me on my birthday – June 2020

I want to fly with the American Eagles.

And I want to sit down and have comfort food.

Sometimes when I am working on a piece of writing or if I am acting in a scene, my teachers and peers ask me, “What does your character want?” Usually, they mean something small and active, playable, reachable, tangible, solid. Often it’s something noble-sounding like “flying with the eagles”, but sometimes it’s something pedestrian and personal like pastry. But I tend to think in abstracts. Most of the time I want my characters to be understood, to reach for their freedom, to be treated with justice, to be seen with respect. But do these things make story? Are they even real? Is wanting pastry lofty enough?

Could wanting carbohydrates be a super-objective?

Sure.

Suppose the main character–one starving in a tragedy or trying to be disciplined about food in a comedy–gets the pastry. After that will there be punishment? Self recrimination? Community ostracism? Does this type of character worry about the warnings we get about too much sugar or does she just take other people’s criticisms in stride?  Does she ignore the voices around her which say she’s a wheat-honey-oil sinner or does she repent? And is the punishment within rather than without?

Baked Chai Cookie and other delights – Ojai, CA

If she can ignore the community, there is no conflict. If she has self acceptance, the story is over. We must have conflict to have story. And a story people want to see and read. So often I want to write a story I can’t imagine anyone wants to read. A kind of anti story.

My character wants to fly with the eagles. What does that even mean?

So which river do I want to cross?

I want to let go of it all and fly with the eagles.

And I want to go home and have my pastry.


P.S. After I wrote the above post, I encountered an article by a clinician whose focus is on the conflicting forces within us. He wrote a post for Psychology Today called “What’s the Point?” in which he argues there is no one point, but rather there are many points. The universe scientifically is, after all, made up of many points. I like this idea very much: https://www.psychologytoday.com/za/blog/in-control/201411/what-s-the-point

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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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The Tangled Line

A Big Life: Encouragement for People in the Arts – 

My house

I have a friend in the house.

I didn’t realize it at first. Such a tiny thing he was. Not a reality exactly. On the periphery of my awareness. I watched him in my window for weeks out of the corner of my eye with absent interest. I was curious as to how he would make it. Inside? How would he get food? I debated his destruction a bit, but did not think his tenure would last. What was the point? He was harmless.

It wasn’t until I was about to spray my houseplants with soap and water in an effort to get rid of their tiny flies that I realized I had not only connected with my visitor, I had chosen a side. As I went for the soap, I stopped. I thought:

If I killed the flies, how would my new friend survive?

How does friendship start anyway? Like that? Absently and then with deliberate attention? I had invested emotions in him. Without meaning to at all.

My friend

The spider I befriended was a teeny tiny dancer. A baby. So charming. So intriguing. Best of all, he always stayed in the window. He never sought me out, but tolerated my presence. We kept our distance, watching each other. We did not run. In the beginning, I couldn’t figure out how he caught anything. There seemed to be strings across the window frame, not a web. Maybe he was separated from his mother too soon and never learned how? He was just a helpless infant after all. Maybe some spiders are like that: Circus performers who send their lines haphazardly across the great divide. Tightrope walkers with gummy sticky shoes?

One day, lazily watching him dangle like a silk dancer, hanging from his rope with one leg, body upside down, the other seven legs akimbo, relaxed in the air, floating, beautiful, I found myself filled with sudden alarm:

He was getting bigger.

Isolated Walk North of Cannon Beach, Oregon

Why this abrupt panic? He was the same creature that he was as a baby. He wasn’t doing anything he hadn’t done before. If anything, he was more interesting.  But the truth is, if I had caught him in the house months ago at full size, running across my kitchen floor, I would have nailed him with a shoe, heart pounding. I might have had a moment of regret, but I would have swung that feeling under the rug. I would never have felt much compassion, never noticed his beauty, never thought that once he was an innocent darling abandoned by his parents alone in my home. I never would have known how beautifully my friend could swing across the clear sparkling panes.

Lately, I worry about him.

Caves and Tunnels North of Cannon Beach

If I don’t see him dancing, meditating on his line, I twist my body into the corner alcove and look up to the top of the window, squinting, trying to see his legs curled up, too big to fit entirely into his sleeping place. I know now exactly where he hides, in the middle, high up inside the frame.  He always stays in the same geometric plane. If I raise the shade, he does not stir. If I lower it, there is no change. He only moves if he wants to. He knows I am there. Sometimes he comes out because he likes the day. And sometimes he only comes out at night. He is a moody little thing.

Littlish.

Haystack Rock in the Fog

Last night he built something. I’d never seen him do that. A thick awkward bed in the middle of one of the panes. Maybe he was finally going for it? Trying a proper web at last? Without training? Experimenting like a toddler does with water colors? He rested there on his creation a long time. Then for the first time ever, I startled him.  When I reached for the blinds and said goodnight as usual, he snapped up to the top and disappeared. Leaving the painting behind. In the morning it was gone. Why? Was the artist shy? Did he destroy it in the night? Or eat off it like a plate? And wipe his face with the silken remnants?

What makes us decide who we let in and who we push out? What we kill and what we keep? Sometimes in life we have to choose between the hummingbird feeder and the neighborhood cat. Sometimes between the butterfly and the spider. And often a foe who was a friend becomes a foe and then a stranger once again.  During the pandemic I have been writing a screenplay about a circus performer. Maybe that’s why the spider touched my heart, moved my compassion, my motherly instinct to protect? Or soldierly instinct to guard? Maybe it’s because I’m alone. Maybe it’s because he’s always there.  He trusts me. I watch him close, especially when he does his dangle dance. He knows I won’t kill him. Or does he?

Is he right?

Recording Alto for Zoom Christmas Eve Service

In this time of quarantine, I’ve had several odd tussles with people. Some with great friends of long standing. Fights without good explanation. Forgiveness without apologies. Rudeness without awareness. Fury over my giving what I have always given and taking what I have always taken. Nothing new there except the sudden rage. It flares, it goes. Sometimes it stays.  It is so easy to decide someone is an enemy. It is so easy to trust someone and then for ancient primal emotion to rise out of the depths to create havoc. Every friend so far has swung back round again, like a trapeze performer there ready to catch my hands again. I have had to choose over and over whether to trust again: Let the friend fall or fall myself, refusing to take the offered hands. Knowing in the next moment, in this climate of fear they might be slapped down again.

Oceanside Quarantine, Seaside, Oregon

So I breathe when I see my hearty, healthy growing friend who keeps my plants clear from the tiny flies, doing what he has always done. That is to say, my friend

THE BIG ORB SPIDER

who now has a shape. Sections. Parts. He is fat and lovely and scary now. I remind myself that we are allies. I must tolerate the changes he is making so that I won’t be startled into killing him. And at the same time, every morning I check for his safety filled with a different fear, a sad dread that I will find my friend dead at the bottom of the frame.  Who could bear such loneliness? Yet he and I are both alone. And both will die. The beauty is we live now. And when we die, we don’t go alone: We have our beautiful orb-like selves. We get to take those selves on the journey. Across the silken ropes. Swinging over the frame. Into the sparkling glass-filled abyss.

And up into the sizzling starlight.

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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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Rubber Bullets and the Cats of Gili Meno

A Big Life: Encouragement for People in the Arts – 

“Don’t worry. It is safe.”

This was the voice of my Hong Kong tour guide on the phone last summer giving me advice on whether I should go on a walking tour smack in the middle of the government protests.

The Big Buddha on Lantau

Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t book the trip with that in mind. At the time I shelled out my cash for the ticket, there weren’t any citizens in the city square. No government buildings had been stormed. But since that time, the anniversaries of Tiananmen Square, the founding of Communist China and the new Extradition Bill had triggered a strong reaction from the residents. It was a reminder that according to the current governmental agreement,  in 28 years Hong Kong would likely be part of Communist China. Soon life in Hong Kong would never be the same again. Cameras would be installed everywhere. The official language would be changed.

No more Facebook.

“You will be all right,” my tour guide continued on the phone as I hesitated. “The protestors will not hurt Americans. They want the tourists to see what is happening.”

The Streets of Kowloon

His words tempted me. What if I decided to go and witness the mayhem first hand? After all, how many people can say they were in the middle of a historic moment in a strange land? You’ve got to wonder. If the people in Asia don’t fear tear gas, rubber bullets and bodies falling from the sky, what in the world do they fear?

The Night Food Market, Kowloon

In the end I did not have to make a decision. Due to fog in San Francisco, I missed my plane and flew in too late for the walking tour. Even then I had to fight to get my money back. But it did not matter. I loved Hong Kong. I stayed on the peninsula of Kowloon which reminded me of Manhattan with its tangle of streets and the weather. First it would be hot, and then it would pour down rain. At my hotel, staff members always opened the front doors for me as if I were the star of a Broadway show making an entrance.

Light show on Victoria Harbor, Hong Kong

On my last night, I decided to take the Star Ferry sunset cruise on Victoria Harbor to watch the laser light show on the buildings of Hong Kong.  Below deck, I was sitting alone at a big empty table, peacefully nibbling oolong tea cookies and drinking a weird tasting lime soda when an Asian boy of about age 10 approached. He asked if he and his friends could sit with me. When I said “Yes,” his face lit up. He and the three other children he was with pounced on me with delight. They practiced their broken English with enthusiasm and forgave my non-existent Chinese. They brought me extra treats from the concessions, possibly purchased with pure charm.

Us on the Star Ferry

As I tasted the jasmine tea cookies they had brought me and the Coca Cola they placed before me with great reverence, I wondered where on earth their parents were. When I asked, they pointed at a couple of women sitting at another table, one of whom seemed to be an “aunt”. As I waved at the women, they looked up, smiled briefly and went back to their own conversation. I was a little thrown that they did not try to engage me in talk, but odder still, when I got up and the children followed me outside onto the deck, they did not even look up. There was only a rail between us and the dark water. The children and I laughed and took pictures and chatted up the crowd of strangers on deck while I worried about them going overboard. It was a long time before I realized that one of the people in the crowd was the father to one of the children. Then I realized another was father to two of the other ones. The children were safe. It’s just that the parents were being unobtrusive and letting their children have their own experience.  With me. No fear.  What could possibly be next?

Bali dogs

The dogs of Bali. Bali was the next destination on my agenda. It was beautiful and lush. Hindu culture was everywhere, just as Buddhist culture had been in Hong Kong. The traffic was wild. And the dogs. Oh, the dogs. In Indonesia there is no leash law. The dogs of Bali roamed free. They lounged on the sidewalks and didn’t move when I passed. They slept on busy streets and dozens of trucks and cars and motorcycles would pause to wait for them to notice them and slowly amble out of traffic. They made me nervous but you’ve got to wonder: First the protestors were not afraid, then the children, the parents and now the dogs of Bali.

Landing on Gili Trawangan

But it was time to move on. As I walked into the sea and climbed aboard a small speedboat in my bare feet, clutching my suitcase on my way to my next stop on the Gili Islands, I could not imagine what I would find there.

Cats.

The Cats of the Gil Islands

Ever heard the term, “fraidy cat”? Ever met a cat that wasn’t? Every cat in the Gili Islands was like that. Not afraid. Seriously. I met not one cat who ran from me. In fact, they were so flirty that if I made eye contact they would follow me anywhere. The Gilis are so small that there are no motorized vehicles allowed and the islands are Muslim so there were no dogs at all on the Gilis. Only cats. Funny cats. Silly cats. Inbred with funny stumpy tails. Ownerless and casual, these cats are loving, friendly, sweet and amorous. Unfortunately, I had to avoid petting them because rabies is present in Indonesia along with the bad water.

My bike and me on Gili T.

Bali and the Gili Islands are impoverished places. The paradise of the coast is offset by the shacks of the interior island dwellings easy to witness when I went on my bike rides through the center of Gili Meno, my favorite island. Gili Trawangan was so small I could bike around it in 45 minutes but I could walk around Gili Meno in the same amount of time. Yet it is so safe that when I rented my bike on Gili M. ($3 for 24 hours) and asked about a lock, the rental person looked at me with confusion and incredulity. “No one will take your bike on Gili Meno,” he scoffed. “Maybe in Gili T.,” he added with indignation, “but not on Gili M.” He was right.

The Blue Coral Restaurant on Gili M.

Gili Meno was tranquil. It was my favorite place in Indonesia. I spent my morning hours writing a screenplay on an outdoor patio after breakfast and my afternoons snorkeling with sea turtles. Huge ones, almost as big as my body. It was like swimming with dinosaurs. Each evening I would stand on the porch of my beach hut overlooking the ocean and turn slightly to the left to watch the sunset. The next morning I would stand in the same place and turn slightly to the right to watch the sunrise. The island was that small. It was hard to leave. In fact, I extended my stay on Gili Meno three times before reluctantly walking barefoot into the sea again to return on my speedboat to the city. I enjoyed the tourism in the busy town of Ubud which was my next stop, but on Gili Meno I had found peace and freedom.

There on Gili Meno it was I who had no fear.

When I returned to the states it was quite a shock. There was an immediate stark difference which shook me to my core. After all, I had been gone almost a month. That’s long enough to get used to the rhythms of another culture. Here is the first thing I noticed on my return to America:

Everyone and everything is terrified.

Truly.

Sunrise on Gili M.

Once back in Portland, dogs behind fences in opulent neighborhoods growled and barked as I passed. Cats ran from me. Children hid behind their parents’ skirts. Parents stopped me from talking to their children even if the children spoke to me first. And I could not hold onto my peace. After all, fear is infectious. No wonder it is so hard to make friends in America. What is going on here? Are we that isolationist? That afraid? Could America possibly be more dangerous than Asia with its strict laws and swift punishments? It certainly felt like it. After all, the Clackamas Mall, Rogue River Community College and the Sandy Hook shootings were all near misses for me in one way or another. So was 9/11. But these things don’t happen that often. Statistically, most of the time in America we are quite safe.

We just don’t feel safe.

Gili Cat and Sarongs

My thought about that feeling is that maybe it is our freedom in America that makes us so uneasy. We watch a lot of crime shows and think that’s around every corner. We see protestors and worry they will change our world. There is anger and hatred like I have never seen before as people watch programming or join groups which encourage vitriol against one side or another. A side that I believe is invented. Is it the fear of the other which has always kept us in our small groups and our homes? Where we don’t learn and don’t grow. Where we don’t experience the other? And now because we are in the middle of a quarantine due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we are all in middle of a historic moment in a strange land. We can’t visit the other. And I didn’t need to go on a Hong Kong walking tour to get hit by a rubber bullet in order to make history. This time it isn’t even other people who are the adversary. We are trapped alone in the middle of a global war started by an enemy which has no personal malice.

Me in Gili Meno

I wonder, is there a way to have both freedom and freedom from fear?

I don’t know.

But I want to be like the cats of Gili Meno.

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