On What’s Most Important

September 20, 2012

Fame. It’s not all it’s cracked up to be.


I work with famous people on occasion when I’m on a film or TV set. And what I’ve observed is the pressure they endure on a daily basis, trying to uphold a standard that the public has set for them. It is tiring, taxing and at best, unnerving. Everyone has an opinion of you and if you aren’t in the best of moods, it somehow lands in the tabloids the next day.

My sister once said, “I’d like to be just left of the limelight. In the mix, but not in the public eye.”

I see what she means now.

The other day I had the chance to drink champagne with several celebrities, but after a day’s work in a dusty studio that smelled of manure and pyrotechnics, I was ready for a shower and some pizza with the kids instead. So I drove the hour home, racing through the door with a heightened level of excitement to see everyone again, only to find my family busy with their iPods, laptops and television sets.

Enter the feeling of let down. It’s what my friend Donald calls the moment of doom right before you enter your familiar space at home. You know it will be different than you hope it to be, but hope dies last, as they say.

It wasn’t until we had assembled at the dinner table an hour later that I realized why I had run home instead of sipping the bubbly with the stars. It was a moment of belly laughs and connection and jokes with the kids that I wouldn’t have missed for the world. It may have been slower in coming than I had wished, but the love was there all along beneath the distraction of our digital world.

Fame can’t give you that. Family can.

Ever since I was a kid, lying feverishly on the couch watching episodes of the Price is Right during a mid-week cold, I’ve wanted to be on a game show. Just once. To stand behind the glittery podium, hopping up and down with my name tag flapping to the beat of my own excitement.

Call me crazy, but it’s really been a dream of mine for as long as I can remember.

Today I’m going to a casting for a quiz show. It took a bit of effort to get my team of three together. One team member is coming as far as four hours away by train. A complete stranger who is staying at my house so we can earn the chance to stand tall in the contestant’s circle.  Another is a good actor friend of mine who said she’d do it if I do it. Our other friend didn’t get casted for it so we aren’t hopeful we will be either.

But who cares, you know? The question isn’t why we are doing it. We simply are. And that’s enough.

Oftentimes we overanalyze things, press ourselves for answers, demand a rational response to a feeling, an intuition, an inner voice whisper. There is no why. It just is.

It’s a liberating thought to accept our impulses as equally worthy of our attention as a carefully thought-out plan. We needn’t control every last detail of our day. Sometimes allowing for the unfolding of things is what is necessary. And it takes courage to let go and let be and let live.

Place yourself in a situation in which you needn’t ask why. Allow the answer to be “Just Because”. How does it feel?

 

Making Sense of MAD MEN

March 6, 2012

Right before Christmas I stumbled upon MAD MEN at the grocery store. No, Don Draper wasn’t casually smoking Lucky Strikes in the produce section, and Pete Campbell wasn’t chasing women down the frozen food aisle. It was a gift box of Season One DVDs. I grabbed it on an impulse, making a mental mark on my husband’s wish list. Giving in to my old speedaholic tendencies, I didn’t notice that the DVDs weren’t actually in the box, something I was supposed to pick up at the information desk after the purchase. Fast forward to early January when I discovered the faux pas just as my husband and I settled in to watch the very first episode. Luckily, there were only two boxes left at the store so by power of deduction, we were able to match the ‘missing’ DVDs with my set. Another night passed before we reconvened for another viewing attempt.

And we’ve been savoring every episode ever since. After just three shows I ordered the next season online. We were hooked. And we didn’t know why.

I mean honestly. I went to Smith College, alma mater to Gloria Steinem, the godmother of the feminist movement. Why on Earth would I like a show that exhibits sexism, racism and homophobia like none other?

To explain the attraction, fellow Psychology Today blogger Dr. Stephanie Newman just came out with her new release MAD MEN on the Couch: Analyzing the Minds of Men and Women of the Hit TV Show. From her perspective as a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst, Dr. Newman dissects every one of the main characters in a Freudian context. It’s amusing, if not revealing, that we appreciate watching people act badly.

It satisfies our inner bad boy or bad girl. We actually enjoy watching Betty Draper dismiss her daughter for possibly dropping the dry cleaning on the floor (and not minding that she’s actually wearing the plastic covering from it over her head). For 42 minutes, we’re allowed to be less than perfect parents, colleagues and lovers. We may be nauseated by all the alcohol and tobacco consumption, but we watch anyway because inside we’re collectively saying “I’m so glad that’s not me.”

It’s a bit like reality TV. We find pleasure in viewing others’ antics for the sake of our own entertainment. MAD MEN on the Couch may be repetitive in its driving home how much Don Draper misses his prostitute mother who died in childbirth, but it also explains a lot about the character himself. Why else would he self-sabotage if he didn’t think he deserved it?

We engage in self-harm on a subconscious level because we somehow think that we shouldn’t be rewarded, that our bad sides acted out and it’s our punishment. We see this in virtually every episode of MAD MEN too.

I embraced the book primarily because I wanted to understand why Peggy, the secretary turned junior copywriter, gets ahead professionally while Joan, the bombshell office manager, does not. They both sleep around. They both are seriously surpressed as women in the early 1960s and they both obviously possess higher than average intelligence. However, while Joan buys in to the role of nurturing maternal figure, Peggy does not. She shuns that societal expectation well before there were even role models to follow. She establishes herself in a man’s world by becoming a lot like them: harsh, critical and independent ~ without all the substance abuse to hide behind.

If you’re a fan of the show (and have seen most of the shows up to Season Four), I highly recommend giving MAD MEN on the Couch a read. You may not agree with everything the author writes, but then again, that might give you even more reason to read it!

 

One of my all-time favorite shows is Inside the Actor’s Studio with James Lipton. I’ve always been fascinated by the acting process, the courage it takes, the authenticity it demands. The program showcases all kinds of filmmaking talent, from directors to producers to actors.

In many interviews, you will hear a common theme, especially from actors often talk about seeking the truth of the character. Gabrielle Scharnitzky, actor (Verliebt in Berlin, Sturm der Liebe, Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes 2)  friend, and founder of the slow acting method, says we must first unlearn the judgements we have about ourselves to uncover the true, authentic self. In a rare moment, I got to sit down with Gabrielle and play James Lipton. Below are both the transcript and the 3 ½ minute video.

Christine: Hi Gabrielle! I’m sitting here with Gabrielle Scharnitzky, the founder of slow acting. I’d love to know from you what slow acting is.

Gabrielle: Slow acting basically is how to unlearn the judgement you have about yourselves. Judging is the source of what I call the fabricated being. We need to function in this world so we don’t allow that which is really there to be there. Instead  we are trying to build up another persona that is out there in the world.

Christine: Isn’t that what acting is about?

Gabrielle: No, acting is about shifting gears. Acting is about getting into the truth. To unlearn clichés, to unlearn the roles we have put on ourselves to function in this world. As an actor, you need to transcend that to really get to the truth of things. Which of course when you haven’t learn it in your life, it’s difiiculat as an actor. The first thing is to learn in the day- to- day life, to express what is really there, what you really feel and since we have been trainted NOT to do that, we have sort of created another body. Within that body we behave, we react, we think we are that, and slow acting helps you first to understand what is festering there. All the judgements that keep you from expressing yourself so you learn to experience yourself within your judgement, what it does with you, how it limits you. And then we you’ve expressed that, which of course takes courage, but you learn how to express it and take the courage because you understand this is not me, this is fabricated, this has nothing to do with the truth. So you first express that, and then after that , you can really go deeper to the real perception of yourself and to the liberty to express that.

The good news is when you do that… We always think that if we express ourselves and the truth that we will be killed, that we won’t be accepted. But the good news is when you are authentic with what you really feel and what you want to express in this world, suddenly, doors open. Suddently, judgements dissolve. Suddenly, you are embraced where you thought you would be killed. So that’s the beauty of the whole work that suddenly, you allow yourself to be who you are in this world.

Christine: Thank you Gabrielle, for liberating us all!

**To learn more about the slow acting method, go here.

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Memorex recently commissioned Harris Interactive to conduct a study on how much time families spend together and what they do during that time. Given that the power of slow is about what we do with the time we have, I was particularly interested in this chart.

We watch movies together. Admittedly, that’s what we did over the Christmas holidays. We also played video games on the XBOX Kinect that my husband insisted on getting for himself the kids.

But then we unplugged altogether and spent a week in the mountains playing board games, skiing and all the other non-digital things you see on the chart above.

I was surprised to see that video games landed lower on the list than expected. Perhaps it is because children use video games alone a lot more than with their parents.

The types of games conducive to ‘family play’ were also illuminating.

For over half of families (51 percent), “WeTime” – getting together with family to enjoy each other’s company, whether planned or spontaneous – happens at least every few days. Of the most popular WeTime activities for families, three out of the top five involve consumer electronics.

It is true that we still spend time together. But how we do it has changed. As we think about our digital faces versus our real-life ones (Late Bloomer Bride addresses this condundrum), I wonder how our children will interact with their kids one day.

One thing’s for certain: There is life beyond the screen. I’m still convinced that a good old-fashioned game of football trumps an XBox one.

Slow Dancing

December 17, 2010

disco ball
Image via Wikipedia

The term ‘slow dance’ brings me back to that crepe papered gym under the glitter disco ball in the seventh grade. You knew it was coming as you scoped the room for the boy you hoped would choose you for that slow dance at the end.

I still get sweaty palms thinking about it.

As an adult I have come to realize that life is a dance. Just like the glass ball that casts its rainbow glitz, we capture moments of glamour, angst and flow (not necessarily in that order) as we dance our way through life.

There are dips, slides and perfect pirouettes. We experience tap and sometimes jazz. We are always on the move, even when we are sitting still for life, my friends, is swing, Fox Trot and tango all wrapped into one.

Which dance do you prefer? The boogey? Jitterbug? The waltz? Whichever one you choose, may it fulfill you and your heart’s desire.

It’s time to put on your dancing shoes. Let’s do it!

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One sock at a time

December 9, 2010

Yesterday I had the unique opportunity to do an impromptu coaching session with a young economics student who had a hard time keeping on top of his laundry. We were on set at a soap opera; he played an orderly, I a doctor. While waiting for our walk-on part (which took the better part of the day), he studiously reviewed his University work and appeared non-plussed at the activities around him. The day grew long (and his textbook boring) so we began to chat about The Power of Slow.

His eyes grew bright as he considered the possibility of actually tackling the one thing that seems to beat him down every week.

“Laundry!” he exclaimed. I could see the struggle as he grew tense at the thought of the pile awaiting him at home.

“Think reward system,” I explained. Had I been more clear-headed (we were, after all, seven hours into our waiting on set), I might have used some economic terms to help him understand my point. But he got it anyway as I said he needed to think of the mountain of dirty clothes as an opportunity to reward himself once he tackled some of it.

“I’m not talking the entire thing, here,” I continued with a grin. “We’re looking at grabbing the white wash first, ya’ know?” Sort and toss. I grew animated as I laid out a plan he might consider.

“Tell yourself you’ll just do the whites first, then maybe in two days, the darks. By week’s end you will have gotten down to the bottom of your laundry basket. Reward time!”

He smiled inwardly at the thought.

No matter where we go, we can live the slow. Sometimes all we need is to take it one sock at a time.

How do you break down your work into bite-sized chunks? Share your ideas here. I’d love to know!

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My acting coach gave me a great word of advice.

“Stay in the body.” You see, ever since I was a kid, I’ve had this ability to leave my body pretty much whenever I felt like it. It has to do with growing up in Nature on a farm with no cable. Escape wasn’t easy so I did it with my mind.

I like to say that the South grew my imagination as large as the squash and corn you see on roadside farm stands there. My creative mind that dallies off to faraway places at the drop of a hat has served me well. But acting is a craft that requires the utmost presence.

So when I play a role, I have to reside behind my eyes at all time. She gave me a great exercise that I’d like to pass along to you. Because really, the power of slow is about being present as it is in acting.

The next time you get out of the shower, apply body lotion to every part of yourself. Start with really looking at your toes. Wiggle them and thank them for keeping you balanced. Move up to your ankels, calves and thighs and so on, honoring each part of you for helping you out.

Thanking your body is a novel idea. Aren’t we taught to disengage from that part of ourselves that we’ve learned to hate so much? The body today is seen as something disappointing, dirty or worse, worthless. So as you walk around today, hold your head up a little higher and say a prayer of gratitude that your very noggin carries your imagination with you wherever you go. And remember to stay in your body. It may feel heavier than the escape our minds afford, but it will serve you well as you learn to savor the ever present moment of now.

Liberty Mutual has a series of great short films celebrating the human spirit called The Responsibility Project (r).I highly recommend you take a look.

This short with Danny Glover touched me in particular. Entitled ‘Second Line‘ (aka street parade in New Orleans) the film shows the viewer how we carry missed opportunities to help others around with us until we allow for the energy exchange to actually occur. In the end, the protagonist understands the power in taking time and paying attention.

Happy viewing!

The Responsibility Project

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Waiting sucks. Or at least we think it to be a minor annoyance. While waiting can offer us the opportunity to savor, you task-minded folks may appreciate these tips for those places when hanging around feels more like a time drain than a dance!

Doctor’s office

Bring along thank-you and birthday cards. Write them while you are waiting.

DMV

Download a few job-related podcasts. Listen to them onto your iPod while you’re waiting in line. Take notes until your number is called.

Movie theater

Fandango.com allows you to purchase tickets for participating theaters in advance.

While you wait, bring along that magazine you never seem to find time to read. Flip through it before the lights go down. If you’re with children, play a word association game. Bring your own candy. It saves time and money!

Grocery store

Make a list. Even if you forget it, try to recreate it before entering the store. Be strategic. Most fattening foods are in the middle aisles so steer clear of them. Circle the store once, going down only those aisles that warehouse the goods you need.

Bank & post office

Practice deep breathing. As you wait in line, take in a long, five-count breath. Breathe out for six. Repeat several times.

Outlet stores

Go on an off-day (middle of the week is often good). Avoid long holiday weekend visits. Grab as much as you can without exceeding the allowed limit of items to make the dressing room wait worth it. Tag team with a girlfriend so she can bring you the appropriate garment size and color. Besides, what’s better than girl time at the mall?

Theme parks

Google it before you go. Make a list of the must-do rides and be flexible on all the rest. Bring a few snacks in your bag so you’re not spending half your day at the concession stand line. Be mindful of holidays and peak times. Avoid them if at all possible.

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