For Laura

I know some incredible women.

It is one of those women’s birthday today.

Some people just blow you away. Laura inspires me daily. She is an artist, a wife, a mother, a sister, a daughter, a friend. A leader. A teacher. An activist. A community contributor. An active citizen.

She lost her 20 year old brother to suicide in 2000. Rather than fall into despair, she has used her grief to create, educate, help and heal.

Read about one of her creations, Arts & Dreams, and the incredible work they do here.

Enjoy her art work here.

Laura reminds me to live creatively, lovingly, with ample doses of self-forgiveness.

I am so lucky she was born and that I know her.

She Is
Scarlet lips
Piercing chocolate eyes
Portals who see your soul
Lives in brush strokes
Of love and thoughtful heart
Colors rich with knowing
Midwife of self-love
Earth angel saving
wretched alone-hearts
One mantra at a time

The Dance*

When I was a little girl, I took dance lessons. From the age of 4 or so, I took, tap, jazz and ballet. I have vague memories of doing some kind of moving across the floor and the teacher saying “Jeté, jeté!” as we stepped from foot to foot.

I loved those lessons. There was a big dance recital, where my mom made costumes for me: I played a bumblebee and a munchkin.

When we moved to Dallas when I was 5, for some reason, the dance lessons stopped. It was a hectic year, and the business venture that my Dad had moved us there for failed, so after the year, we moved back to Houston, to a different part of town and a different set of circumstances. Finances were tight, so extras like lessons were put to the side.

But. I did not stop dancing. I would put my parents’ albums on the record player and dance my little heart out. This was way before MTV or dance videos. The only references I had were old Hollywood musicals, which I adored. So my dances were my own versions of what I had grown up watching: Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Doris Day, Audrey Hepburn moving dramatically across streets and fields in passionate, emotive and song-filled scenes.

I had plenty to be working out. In my young life I had already suffered a great deal. But my trauma had been locked away tight in a safe room of my psyche, so I wasn’t consciously trying to tell any particular story through these dances. My body-mind just needed to move and my soul just needed to express through that movement.

Favorite songs were Wings’ “Live and Let Die” and most of the album “Whipped Cream” by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass Band. But I would dance to just about anything.

The dancing stopped somewhere around age 11. By that time, I had discovered food and TV and they became a kind of narcotic, a way to numb out the confusing feelings and thoughts that made life difficult. They became my number one coping mechanism, and saw me through until the teen years when other substances became available and appealing to me.

Did I dance again? Sure. At dance clubs in the 80’s and 90’s, where alcohol and often drugs were a part of the mix. At weddings, always somewhat self-consciously. There were a few attempts to go back to dance lessons so that as an actor I could be more marketable for musical theatre. I’ve danced in musicals and loved every moment. But the kind of dancing that I did in that living room back when? Nope.

Through my 20’s and 30’s, I had pics of me from that recital in my costumes, beaming. I think I even still have a bumblebee wing. Over the years, I have often used those pictures as self-reference, proof that there had been a time when I had been confident, happy in my body and free-feeling. I looked to those pictures to try to find hope that perhaps one day, I could find those ways of being again. Through much healing over the years, I have made a lot of progress. I go deep in my work as an actor and singer, and work from a place of a great deal of freedom often. But it has always still seemed to me that the girl I had been – with her total lack of self-consciousness, innocence and creative freedom – was to be forever out of my reach no matter how hard I worked for it.

dance2

Then. Last week, a young director reached out to me and asked me to do his film. He’d had me in mind for the Woman in the script, he said, and he really, really wanted me to play her.

In the script, during the character’s most private inner moment, she transports herself through fantasy from her home bathroom to a gorgeous copper bathtub in a tiled tunnel in Central Park by the Bethesda Fountain. She is wearing a beautiful dress and a sax player is playing music in the background as she has this very free, very private, very joyful moment.

From the moment I read the scene, I imagined the woman dancing around the fountain.

I asked the director had he imagined the Woman staying in the tub in her private moment. He said yes, but that it was my private moment, and he wanted me to have complete freedom. (What a wonderful gift he gave me, that freedom. So grateful for his desire to collaborate.) So I had imagined my moments in the tub and was excited and curious for how the shoot would go.

I had not seen the location, so did not know that the tiled tunnel was a beautifully lit space that had arches in the background and copper hues, and that the tub would be placed in it, not near the fountain.

So that morning, as we arrived on location, when I saw the actual scene – the brick tunnel and the beautiful space that was surrounding the copper tub – and then heard the song the saxaphone player was to play, I knew that I had to dance out of the tub and around that beautiful tunnel.

And so on the first take, as the camera began to film, I began my private moment, made my way out of the tub, and I began to dance.

It was one of the most magical experiences I have ever lived. In the moments of my improvised dance, with the sax player playing for me and with me, the sun beginning to come up behind the fountain in the distance, hearing only the music and the echo of my own laughter, I felt myself dancing simultaneously as the woman I am right now and the little girl I was then. The tunnel and that living room became one across space and time. The joy that bubbled up through my body was total and whole, and it was such an honor to be in those moments bringing the Woman of the film and the director/writer’s vision to life.

Afterwards, we did more takes, and they were each wonderful but different in their own ways. There was no way to repeat that first take, and that was perfect too.

But I walked away from that shoot forever changed.

img_0901

There are moments in life where you feel that you are in the exact right place at the exact right time doing exactly what you were meant to do. In those moments, you can see that every other moment of your life has been a part of the making of this one magical moment. Every thing you’ve lived, every person you’ve met — the good, the bad, the ugly — it all makes total sense in those moments.

Those moments are astonishing. They are when I know I am a wondrous creation, a part of the whole that is this incredible Universe. I know in those moments that my life has been intricately designed, just as a rose has, or a peacock, or snowflakes. That nothing in my life – from the worst trauma to the most brutal pain – has been for naught. That it has all led to this moment in time, to this me that I have become.

That dance is forever in my heart now. It lives inside me, and it is the beginning of a whole new level of personal and creative freedom. I do not know what will grow from it, but I know that I have re-awakened something important inside, and I am so very grateful for that role finding its way to me, for giving me back the Dance.

#actorslife #danceforever #theheartremembers #itsnevertoolate #TheDanceoftheHeart

*Repost Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: dancing

This is a repost, but I really, really needed to re-read this today. I am feeling a bit lost, especially creatively. It feels like that connection with The Dance inside me is very faint if not non-existent – there’s been too much chatter going on inside lately that has nothing to do with joy, freedom and the sheer bliss of creation.

I needed to remember that in-between the astonishing moments of feeling like I am exactly where I am meant to be, there are moments of feeling totally lost. And each gives value and meaning to the other.

Sometimes I am dancing, sometimes I am stuck, or falling. Sometimes I am in the fetal position. Sometimes I am flat on my face.

I m reminded of a spiritual teacher who taught me to write a letter to myself during a time I am very, very happy and to save it for my unhappy self to read, to give me hope during the down times, to help me remember that there will be better times again. To remember the ebb and flow, the ups and downs. The times of movement and the times of apparent stasis. It has been a powerful exercise at times.

I will dance again, soon.

May we dance for each other when it is time to dance. May we dance for those who cannot hear their own music today.

 

 

Pay It Forward

Commit yourself to a mighty purpose.

– H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

I was saved, in large part, by reading and acting.

Growing up, my friends, my hope, my pleasure, my education all came from what I watched and read. As this was before the internet, this meant books, magazines, television shows and movies.

I had friends, sure. And a family. But I didn’t trust most people, with good reason due to early trauma. So I turned to other resources for help. To what was available to me as a child: books and television.

Through them, I could enter into other worlds and become a part of them. This saved me from the intense loneliness I felt, the extreme “otherness.”

I have no doubt that were it not for books and movies, I would have descended into a kind of madness that might not have turned out so well.

Fortunately, I had a library and a television at my disposal. They brought me works that gave me hope that another life could be made for myself. They gave me company. They gave me connection.

Today, as I navigate my life as a performer and as a writer, I can think of no higher purpose for myself than to create work that can do the same for someone else.

I am on a never-ending quest to examine and understand both the light and the dark sides of human behavior. I’m drawn to works that explore and celebrate the human spirit. Stories of how people rise above the problems of life and the human condition to make change and follow their hearts. I have a soft spot for the seemingly ordinary moments and people in life: the underdog; the unsung heroes; the quiet, small moments that can sometimes hold a lifetime.

It’s my mission to collaborate deeply and bravely as an actor and singer with all of the people who make up a production, so that together we can create stories to inspire, educate, elicit, and evoke. To wake people up so that they may live life more fully and authentically and to embrace their lives.

I also volunteer as a reader with SAG-AFTRA Foundation’s BookPALS program. I read storybooks to kindergartners in hopes of sparking a lifelong relationship between children, reading and books that I hope will help them navigate the murkier waters of growing up, of life.

That is my mighty purpose. What is yours?

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: mighty

On Marriage as a Collaborative Art*

Sometimes I really want to be single again.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the man I married.

The Universe brought a man into my life who is almost perfectly designed for me in so many ways. He makes me think: really think. I love talking to him. He challenges me intellectually and emotionally. We both share certain childhood wounds that allow us to have a kind of understanding of the other that is quite exquisite and profound. We “get” each other in a way not many could or would. There is a shared language of our hearts. And there is that physical chemistry as well, that makes for deep passion and sweetness.

But I never planned to marry. To be frank, I always thought I was too f’ed up and so had written it off in my early adulthood.

Then I met the man who was to become my husband. For the first time, I had thoughts that maybe marriage was for me, after all. But I wasn’t sure, and I wasn’t in any hurry.

And then, circumstances in my life created some shifts in priority (aka: My own personal Armageddon. My mother and brother died and my whole world exploded.)

And when the smoke cleared, and I was finding my way again through the rubble that was the New World of my life, I found that something in me had shifted.

So when the man-who-would-be-husband made the proposal, I said yes, unequivocally.

But let’s just say that my expectations of what marriage would be were practically non-existent.

I was more than pleasantly surprised. I took to marriage quite well. It astounded me (and still does at times.) It is a mysterious and wondrous thing: creating a home together, a partnership. The closeness. The sharing. The laughter. The tenderness. The challenges. The compromises. The deepening sweetness.

I am also deeply grateful that I have a partner for this part of my life. I have many friends who long for a boyfriend, a husband, a wife. I promise you that I rarely take for granted the incredible gift of this person, this marriage we co-create.

Being an actress, I tend to relate all things back to acting. So for me, marriage is a bit like being in a production of a play you love and care deeply about. You gladly revolve everything around it. You embrace that you are in a collaborative art.

Sacrifices are made willingly for the greater good of the whole. You are willing to live through the hard parts of the process because you know it is all a part of the creation you are making together. You trust in the process. You are diving into the unknown. You expect to feel lost at times because it is in the getting lost that you find something new, together.

You bring your best, he brings his best, and, together, you create something greater than the two of you.

But unlike a production that has a time of completion, a day when you all agree to move on to the next project, marriage is a continuing production. It is an open-ended run.

Those peaks and valleys that are a natural part of it…the moments of feeling lost in the unknown…well, to be honest, there are days when I want to say, “Screw it” and just literally up and leave it all.

Part of the problem is that the Universe was really having a field day when our stars were designed to cross paths. One of the most important qualities that I need and want to have in my life, freedom, just happens to directly rub up against one of the most important qualities that he wants and needs to have in his life. Makes for some critical moments of decision for one or the other of us. And some heated conflicts (aka awful fights.)

I grew up in a household where the father was autocrat. Our world revolved around his needs, opinions and moods. He was a big ‘n tall Texas man with a booming voice. He was intelligent in many ways, but as was true of many of his generation, less so in terms of emotional intelligence.

There was a show on TV in the 70’s, “Wait Till Your Father Gets Home,” a cartoon. The opening theme was a song by the same name, and the visual was of a family anxiously awaiting the father’s return home.

That kind of sums up my experience of our house. But on the TV show, Father was a softie.

Not so in my house. I was always waiting to see whether or not my Dad was mad. He had a mean temper, and a cruel tongue. And he used his physical presence to instill fear in those weaker than he. I guess that means he was pretty much a bully.

Which has always made me wonder what in the hell had happened to him to make him capable of that kind of behavior towards his family: the people he most loved in his life. I will never know. All those who could fill in those blanks are gone now.

I don’t believe it was his essence to be that mean. He learned it somewhere. As is true of many perfectionistic personalities, he was hardest on himself. I’m not making excuses for him. He could be a bastard, and it was not a healthy atmosphere to grow up in, being afraid all the time, walking on eggshells. But I know there is more to the story than just my experience of him.

Having grown up in such an oppressive atmosphere, it is a very high priority for me that for the rest of my life on this planet I not live like that: that I not live on pins and needles, carefully holding my breath around my loved ones, afraid to make a mistake for fear of being shamed and made to feel like I am less than nothing.

Which leads me to value freedom of every kind. Freedom of expression. Freedom to do what I want to when I want to. And that is wonderful, and I honor that about myself. I do.

But. I am in a partnership. And that requires restraint and compromise and taking in another person’s needs and wants and values alongside my own. Sometimes, yes, putting theirs ahead of mine. (No, not in the old-fashioned template of the wife putting her husband’s needs first. But in the way that mature love requires.)

It means being a grown-up. Making The Couple an entity that has a value that is greater than the individual parts that comprise it. Being a kind of parent to The Couple.

Some days, this is easy, cause, well, it’s beautiful. (Remember this song? Well before Mariah’s high notes, there was Minnie…)

Other days, if I am especially tired or spiritually drained, or triggered, to consider compromise can feel like I am on the brink of losing everything that really matters to me. Those old wounds have a deep pull. They cry for me to fight for My Life. Run for the hills. Defend my Precious Freedom. (On no, he didn’t!)

I take a deep breath. Give myself a Time Out. (No, I don’t stand myself in the corner. But I do leave the room, sometimes even the apartment, to go get some air, some space, some present-day perspective.) Remove myself from the situation before I go all Beyoncé on his ass and say things I will later regret. (I am from H-town, after all.)

I go off and soothe that part of my heart: that little girl’s longings for a relaxed home and freedom of spirit and unconditional love. I am the only one who can give that to her now.

I parent my self first, attend to the wound. Then I can bring the Whole Mess that I Am back to the production that is Our Marriage. I am ready and able again to consider his needs, the marriage, Our Couple.

Being a flawed human, I am not always successful at this. When I am unsuccessful (aka I act out,) I take responsibility when need be and work to change my behavior, aka Make Amends. That is parenting too. And when he is ready to forgive me, then there we are.

Ready to make art again. Together.

#marriageasacollaborativeart

 

* Full disclosure: I really needed The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt of “partner” today. Things have been very stressed in my relationship lately. Between our impending new home purchase (and all that brings up and entails) and my “summer of deep change,” we are having growing pains.

So though I wrote this post lsat year, I really needed to re-read it and be reminded of it today.

And though I didn’t think I would ever re-post a post, here I am. My own heart needed to.

 

 

Unchained Melody

There will be a day

When my choked throat opens, when my tongue can relax

And my breath flows free

There will be a day

When the cacophony of other people’s voices inside my head

Become quiet, stilled for good

There will be a day

When all the many tunes of the me’s within

Harmonize as one, swelling chorus

There will be a day

When my I speak, full-throated, my songs of truth

Authentic arias, free at last to soar

Oh yes, there will be a day

 

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: harmonize

 

To Do’s Today

Here is what I can do today.

I can create:

Joy. By Taking time to find it in my body and then give it to the world in the form of smiles and kind interactions with others.

Peace. By listening and respecting others, staying unattached to needing them to agree with me or see things my way. By refusing to war with my self or anyone else.

Art. By choosing to use my body, voice, mind, emotions, instincts, words, will, expertise and talent to create in whatever ways I can. I can do this regardless of whether I get an audition or booking, or am in a show or film or not. Especially in today’s world, I can create art and share it daily, for my self and others.

Positivity. I can choose to meditate, practice gratitude, use mantras and affirmations and select an intention to guide my day. As many times a day as I need to, I can tap into the ever-abundant source of this that is within me. Every moment contains the choice of love or fear.

Justice. I can stay active politically for the causes I support. I can use my voice, body and energy as needed to take action. I can speak up when I see injustice.

Equality. See above. 

Beauty. I can allow my spirit to shine freely from within. I can reflect back to others the beauty I see within them, encouraging theirs to flow freely.

Comedy. I can listen for the clown (my unsocialized 4 year old) within, and work with her impulses instead of tamping them down. I can laugh at myself and at funny things and share that with the world. 

Music. I can hum and sing and make up silly songs in the grocery line. I can sing at the top of my lungs for the sheer joy of it. Or I can create art from the music in me.

Excitement. I can go against the grain of the social conditioning that started in junior high school and begin to allow my enthusiasm for life to thrive and be seen. I can choose excitement over “cool” and feel my own aliveness flow into the world. Maybe I will spark enthusiasm in others.

Intimacy. I can choose to be vulnerable with myself and with others, and perhaps help them to become vulnerable as well. Vulnerability may well be key to saving the world.

That’s what I can do today.

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word: create

The Dance

When I was a little girl, I took dance lessons. From the age of 4 or so, I took, tap, jazz and ballet. I have vague memories of doing some kind of moving across the floor and the teacher saying “Jeté, jeté!” as we stepped from foot to foot.

I loved those lessons. There was a big dance recital, where my mom made costumes for me: I played a bumblebee and a munchkin.

When we moved to Dallas when I was 5, for some reason, the dance lessons stopped. It was a hectic year, and the business venture that my Dad had moved us there for failed, so after the year, we moved back to Houston, to a different part of town and a different set of circumstances. Finances were tight, so extras like lessons were put to the side.

But. I did not stop dancing. I would put my parents’ albums on the record player and dance my little heart out. This was way before MTV or dance videos. The only references I had were old Hollywood musicals, which I adored. So my dances were my own versions of what I had grown up watching: Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Doris Day, Audrey Hepburn moving dramatically across streets and fields in passionate, emotive and song-filled scenes.

I had plenty to be working out. In my young life I had already suffered a great deal. But my trauma had been locked away tight in a safe room of my psyche, so I wasn’t consciously trying to tell any particular story through these dances. My body-mind just needed to move and my soul just needed to express through that movement.

Favorite songs were Wings’ “Live and Let Die” and most of the album “Whipped Cream” by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass Band. But I would dance to just about anything.

The dancing stopped somewhere around age 11. By that time, I had discovered food and TV and they became a kind of narcotic, a way to numb out the confusing feelings and thoughts that made life difficult. They became my number one coping mechanism, and saw me through until the teen years when other substances became available and appealing to me.

Did I dance again? Sure. At dance clubs in the 80’s and 90’s, where alcohol and often drugs were a part of the mix. At weddings, always somewhat self-consciously. There were a few attempts to go back to dance lessons so that as an actor I could be more marketable for musical theatre. I’ve danced in musicals and loved every moment. But the kind of dancing that I did in that living room back when? Nope.

Through my 20’s and 30’s, I had pics of me from that recital in my costumes, beaming. I think I even still have a bumblebee wing. Over the years, I have often used those pictures as self-reference, proof that there had been a time when I had been confident, happy in my body and free-feeling. I looked to those pictures to try to find hope that perhaps one day, I could find those ways of being again. Through much healing over the years, I have made a lot of progress. I go deep in my work as an actor and singer, and work from a place of a great deal of freedom often. But it has always still seemed to me that the girl I had been – with her total lack of self-consciousness, innocence and creative freedom – was to be forever out of my reach no matter how hard I worked for it.

dance2

Then. Last week, a young director reached out to me and asked me to do his film. He’d had me in mind for the Woman in the script, he said, and he really, really wanted me to play her.

In the script, during the character’s most private inner moment, she transports herself through fantasy from her home bathroom to a gorgeous copper bathtub in a tiled tunnel in Central Park by the Bethesda Fountain. She is wearing a beautiful dress and a sax player is playing music in the background as she has this very free, very private, very joyful moment.

From the moment I read the scene, I imagined the woman dancing around the fountain.

I asked the director had he imagined the Woman staying in the tub in her private moment. He said yes, but that it was my private moment, and he wanted me to have complete freedom. (What a wonderful gift he gave me, that freedom. So grateful for his desire to collaborate.) So I had imagined my moments in the tub and was excited and curious for how the shoot would go.

I had not seen the location, so did not know that the tiled tunnel was a beautifully lit space that had arches in the background and copper hues, and that the tub would be placed in it, not near the fountain.

So that morning, as we arrived on location, when I saw the actual scene – the brick tunnel and the beautiful space that was surrounding the copper tub – and then heard the song the saxaphone player was to play, I knew that I had to dance out of the tub and around that beautiful tunnel.

And so on the first take, as the camera began to film, I began my private moment, made my way out of the tub, and I began to dance.

It was one of the most magical experiences I have ever lived. In the moments of my improvised dance, with the sax player playing for me and with me, the sun beginning to come up behind the fountain in the distance, hearing only the music and the echo of my own laughter, I felt myself dancing simultaneously as the woman I am right now and the little girl I was then. The tunnel and that living room became one across space and time. The joy that bubbled up through my body was total and whole, and it was such an honor to be in those moments bringing the Woman of the film and the director/writer’s vision to life.

Afterwards, we did more takes, and they were each wonderful but different in their own ways. There was no way to repeat that first take, and that was perfect too.

But I walked away from that shoot forever changed.

img_0901

There are moments in life where you feel that you are in the exact right place at the exact right time doing exactly what you were meant to do. In those moments, you can see that every other moment of your life has been a part of the making of this one magical moment. Every thing you’ve lived, every person you’ve met — the good, the bad, the ugly — it all makes total sense in those moments.

Those moments are astonishing. They are when I know I am a wondrous creation, a part of the whole that is this incredible Universe. I know in those moments that my life has been intricately designed, just as a rose has, or a peacock, or snowflakes. That nothing in my life – from the worst trauma to the most brutal pain – has been for naught. That it has all led to this moment in time, to this me that I have become.

That dance is forever in my heart now. It lives inside me, and it is the beginning of a whole new level of personal and creative freedom. I do not know what will grow from it, but I know that I have re-awakened something important inside, and I am so very grateful for that role finding its way to me, for giving me back the Dance.

#actorslife #danceforever #theheartremembers #itsnevertoolate #TheDanceoftheHeart