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.

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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.

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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

 

Looking for the Light

I had another blog planned for today, but in light of last week, this just seemed to most adequately satisfy what I want to say.

In honor of poet, singer, songwriter, painter, musician Leonard Cohen‘s passing, I want to share the full lyrics of his song “Anthem.” Several lines excerpted from it have been offered in the many tributes to him since he passed away last Monday.

I share the entire song here because it is beautiful, it makes me think, and, as have so many of his songs, it has taught and continues to teach me to look for the beauty, for the hope, for the light, in everything. If you click on the title below you will go to a YouTube video of him singing it in 2008. Thank you, Mr. Leonard Cohen.

Anthem, by Leonard Cohen

The birds they sang
At the break of day
Start again
I seem to hear them say
Don’t dwell on what
Has passed away
Or what is yet to be

Ah the wars they will
Be fought again
The holy dove
She will be caught again
Bought and sold
And bought again
The dove is never free

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in

We asked for signs
And the signs were sent:
The birth betrayed
The marriage spent
Yeah the widowhood
Of every single government
Signs for all to see

I can’t run no more
With that lawless crowd
While the killers in high places
Say their prayers out loud
Ah but they’ve summoned, they’ve summoned up
A thundercloud
And they’re going to hear from me

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in

You can add up the parts
But you won’t have the sum
You can strike up the march
On your little broken drum
Every heart, every heart
To love will come
But like a refugee

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in
That’s how the light gets in
That’s how the light gets in

On Selfies, and Vulnerability

I’ll admit it. I’ve been a secret selfie-judger for some time.

Since “selfie” became an official word by being added to the Oxford Dictionary in 2013, much has been written about the selfie and its effect on culture.  Tina Issa wrote in The Huffington Post that they should be renamed “selfshie.” She writes, “It has created the selfie monster — people who seem to want to scream ‘look at me’ or ‘look at what I have’ every minute of the day.” And while I do see her points, this isn’t about that.

In the New York Times, James Franco defended the selfie, calling it the “Mini-Me’s that we send out to give others a sense of who we are…the new way to look someone right in the eye and say, ‘Hello, this is me.'”

Hmmm, even though I am an actor and understand his points about the ever-growing role that social media has in our industry, I do not agree with that. He says he’s turned off by someone who doesn’t post selfies, because he wants to know who he’s dealing with. That viewpoint both fascinates and alarms me, because it truly reflects how much selfie-taking and posting has begun to shape the way we take in and reflect back the world around us. That’s the thinking of someone so deep into the world of selfies that it has become the norm from which to measure reality. Yikes.

I avoid posting selfies as much as possible. I HAVE done it, guilty as charged. But I can literally count the times I posted them on-line with two hands. Yes, I DO post. I am ok with posting (or having others post) a group picture (or a “groupfie” as my sister-in-law coined them.) I will post new headshots or stills from film sets – those are solo shots of me.

But a selfie? That just feels so gross to me. So self-absorbed. Pathetic. (Yes, that word really crosses my mind.) I tend to post sunsets, landscapes and pictures that avoid looking like selfies, but I am still posting. (Is that even that different, really? I am still participating in the “look at what I’m doing/just did/am doing…” So am I really just a passive-aggressive selfie-ist?)

Do I judge friend’s selfies? Honestly, yes, I do sometimes. Not the cute pics of them with their children or friends or family or partners. I love those. But when they post a picture of just them, I admit it, I DO judge them sometimes.

What is the root of this judgement? Am I afraid of being judged as selfish, of being a narcissist, in the way that Tina Issa judges selfie-ists? Or, following Franco’s logic,  am I afraid of being vulnerable, of being seen as I really am? Am I hiding who I really am because I do not post selfies?! This has been kicking around in my head and causing me to have sleepless nights.

(OK, that is not true. I only recently found Franco’s essay, but it did get me thinking and these are great questions to explore, but that is not exactly what I want to write about…)

What IS true and what I DO want to write about in regards to selfies is that I am concerned about selfie-taking and its effect on our society’s future art. Hell, I am concerned about its effect on our society’s future.

Let me explain.

This summer, I was away traveling and working for three months, July through September. It was glorious for so many reasons. I was out of my routines, comfort zones and the structures of my NYC life. This shook up my internal sense of the world in amazing ways. I gathered information and inspiration and took in so much I felt on sensory overload most of the time, in the best of ways. It was fantastic.

Except. For. The. Selfie-Taking. Going. On. Everywhere.

For two weeks out of the three months, I traveled with my niece and sister-in-law to London and then Paris. We visited all of the usual top tourist attractions, and I can tell you this: for the most part, though everyone still goes to see all of these wonderful places, no one is actually really looking at them anymore. The London Tower, Parliament, the cathedrals, the London Bridge, the British Museum and its artifacts, the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triumph, the Louvre and all of its treasures…all now just check-mark locations from which to get a selfie so that you can post and show to the internet world that you were there.

Full disclosure: yes, we took groupfies, many of which I posted. My niece took selfies. Once or twice I tried to take selfies. Not sure why. I think sometimes we just got swept up in the frenzied, competitive selfie-taking vibe and took more than we needed. (There’s a sort of “selfie mob mentality” at these places.) Mostly though, for us, a picture together was a natural extension of the moment.

But there was a moment of experience from which to extend out from, you know? Between us and the place or the piece of art. Most people literally walked up to a place, took selfies, and ran to the next selfie spot.

From a safe distance, I watched. People pushed in a frenzy, fought to get close, but not to actually look at these works of art or places of beauty. They fought to stand their ground and get their selfie with the work of art.

But for the most part, no one was actually experiencing these places anymore. No one was taking them in and allowing themselves to be affected by, informed, inspired, moved by them. If you are a person who still remembers how and is able to let something affect you, you are in trouble, because you are going to be in danger of pissing off the selfie-takers when you try to experience these sights.

While in Paris, we actually witnessed several arguments between people traveling together over the quality of the selfies they were taking. It was the strangest thing. In one case, one person seemed to feel that they had not yet gotten the best shot, while the other wanted to move on. In the other, someone felt that their selfie was better than the other’s. These were not quiet disagreements. These were heated, high stakes, loud, public fights. The psychology behind such an argument is fascinating to postulate. The pressure some people must be feeling to get the perfect shots of themselves to show off to the world must be pretty serious.

We also witnessed two times where within the throngs of people pushing to get their selfies in front of the most popular attractions in the Louvre, people had to be physically restrained by their friends because they were about to get in physical fights with other people over selfie-taking issues…someone’s wife was too tall and staying too long in one place and blocking the view…someone pushed someone else….

I found it all exhausting and depressing. (And slightly scary — that mob mentality is no joke.) People have always taken photos of tourist places, but over the years since the selfie and the selfie stick have become the predominant norm, something has been changing. I was in the Louvre only three ago, and it was not as bad as it was this past summer.

What does this all mean? And why am I so afraid?

I don’t know what it means. But I do know why I am afraid.

I thought the one big point of travel is to leave one’s known environment to be exposed to new and stimulating sights and sounds, tastes and cultures in order to expand one’s self. If you go somewhere exotic and only spend 2 minutes with some amazing piece of art or in front of one of one of the wonders of the world trying to take the ideal selfie so that you can post it on-line and everyone knows that you were someplace fabulous, how does that change you in any way?

Yes, there are still people who are taking in and being affected by these artworks and wonders. But they are few and far between. Often they simply cannot get to some of the places and sights because it is either literally too dangerous to try to stand and look at the something, or because everything is now revolving around the selfie-taking culture and there is simply no way to spend time looking. (Museums and tourist spots structure traffic to support selfie-taking because it is the norm, not the art-gazer who wants to experience the art.)

I know because I was one of those people trying. I was shoved several times when I wanted to stand and take in the treasures of these places. At the Louvre, an older man literally almost knocked me down to get in front of Venus de Milo. I was stunned.

I truly wonder, if picture-taking was banned at such sites,  two things. 1) Would people comply? Or refuse, outraged, claiming their rights were being messed with (the right to bear selfie sticks?) And 2) would people still care to go look if they could not document that they had been there for their friends?

Or would it feel empty and worthless to them without being able to have that connection with the internet and the social media network as they move through the experience at hand. If they are left with just themselves and the piece of art or the building or the historical place, would they be able to tolerate the anxiety of that kind of true intimacy with themselves and their own experience? Or would they be so uncomfortable with this ever-decreasing sensation in today’s world, the sensation of being alone with one’s own experience, that they would just have to shut it down rather than live with it and see what is underneath it, what it sparks, what it creates.

What will our future art look like then? Art is the interpretation of the world. Will art one day all revolve around and reflect selfie-taking? What will that look like then?

It used to be that someone would take in and experience the Mona Lisa and perhaps be inspired to look at their world a bit differently, and then perhaps actually see things in a different way. It might lead them to become artists, or it might lead them to parent differently. Or to daydream, and to end up inventing a machine that manufactures a pollutant-free form of energy.

If no one is really looking at anything except themselves in front of other things, won’t we then only be seeing more of ourselves in relation to everything else in the world, and less and less of the actual everything else in the world? So then how will grow? If we are not putting ourselves in new situations (actually entering into those new experiences, not just taking a picture of ourselves standing in front of them) how can we gain new information? So then how can we become more than we are?

That, my friends, truly terrifies me. I am all for healthy self-involvement, do not get me wrong. I do not believe in selflessness as the ultimate attribute or that self-love or self-attention is selfish. Anyone who knows me well knows that I practice radical self-acceptance and believe that healthy self-awareness and self-love is crucial.

While I do see selfie-taking as narcissistic, I don’t see that as a dirty word as Tina Issa used it in her article. I side with Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, who has spent the past thirteen years studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. Brown is the author of three #1 New York Times Bestsellers: Rising Strong, Daring Greatly and The Gifts of Imperfection.

Brown suggests we look at narcissism through the lens of vulnerability. Through that lens, she sees in narcissism “the shame-based fear of being ordinary…of never feeling extraordinary enough to be noticed, to be lovable, to belong, or to cultivate a sense of purpose.”

Wow. That resonates so truthfully for me.

I wonder if the urge to take selfies in front of extraordinary places and things and people actually stems from a fear that we are so ordinary and so lacking that we will never really be seen, so we take selfie after selfie, stacking up evidence to ourselves and to the virtual world that we actually exist. Typing that sentence fills me with sadness and knowing. I felt that frenzied, desperate feeling from the people around me in those museums and at those amazing places. These were people trying to fill an empty, angry, sad hole with something that can never fill it. All the selfies in the world will not help a person feel truly “a part of” or connected to others in a meaningful, truly gratifying way. It’s like eating bag after bag of Cheetos to feel full. It may feel good at the time, but you end up feeling hungry anyway.

I think at this point in our evolution we actually need more practice at being self-involved. But in a different way. We need to practice how to become intimate with ourselves again. To tolerate the discomfort of the vulnerability of revealing who we really are even to our own selves. Not the virtual-vulnerability that social media and the internet affords. Exposure does not equal vulnerability. We have truly developed that muscle as a society and now it is in danger of being over-developed, like those guys at the gym who have over-worked their lats or their chest and left their legs out of the picture. A little less selfie-taking and a little more actual living the experiences of our lives is what I prescribe.

I urge you to go to a museum, or a park, or some place beautiful and NOT take a pic of yourself (or anything) to post. Just be there. Really be there. Just live those moments and let that be enough. Tolerate the discomfort of not satisfying that urge to reach out via social media to seek meaning in your experience by seeing it reflected in the number of likes it garners. Dare to walk through that fear of “disappearing” into nothingness. Let yourself feel that “ordinary.” Enter into the ordinary and really live there.

That is where the extraordinary is born.

#lessselfiesmoreliving #brenebrown #vulnerability #jamesfranco

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

lifeontheskinnybranches

I am living My Life on the skinny branches. Or rather, that is my intention. I want so much to be the kind of bird that keeps testing their weight on the skinniest of branches. To be the one to courageously leap from them into the air, to soar into the unknown on a daily basis, in my art and in my personal life. That is my soul-craving. That is my heart’s fondest desire.

In reality, some days you will find me clinging to the base of the tree for dear life. Some days I will be longing to bury myself in the earth that holds the roots so that I may disappear and be seen no more.

Most days, I am comfortably uncomfortable as I sit on the medium-to-small branches that offer the safety and comfort of the known.

Any action I can take that feels as if I am living life on the skinny branches is a win in my book. So here I am. Challenging myself to be accountable to my intention. To be seen. To let my voice be heard.

Testing my weight on some smaller-to-me branches.