Thursday, July 27, 2017

It's My Party And I'll Cry If I Want To

Do you recognize those song lyrics? You might be too young… it’s a sixties song, after all. Lesley Gore sang it many years ago, and I always found the lyrics intriguing. I mean, who the hell wants to cry at a party? Doesn’t that sound a bit narcissistic? I’m sorry if Judy is wearing Johnny’s ring, but can’t you go somewhere private and not ruin everyone else’s fiesta with your tears?

And what if it’s NOT your party? Can you still cry IF you want to? Answer: No. When it’s someone else’s party you must play by their rules, and I discovered it’s not always so easy. As actors, we are taught to let our emotions be accessible at all times. In life, we are taught to keep them under control. I’m sure we’ve all heard our moms say, “Don’t make a scene.” How ironic that scenes are what we play as actors, while in real life, we avoid them like the plague. And in my specific case, scenes were something I often played in both—whether I wanted to or not. Growing up with a hot-tempered Italian father (who I absolutely adore so please understand that), scenes were something that flared up without warning. He mellowed, as most people do, with age, but the memories of his volatile mood swings are not something a child ever forgets… even when said child is now a much older grown-up.

Hence, my somewhat callous sounding words earlier about crying at a party. Public spectacles are not something I relish. Thus, when it came to expressing vulnerability in my life, I learned to keep it in at all costs. And as my acting teacher, Matthew Corozine, would say, “Great for your life, terrible for your acting.” Vulnerability is an essential ingredient in acting… it keeps an audience sympathetic and engaged in the story. And thanks to the aforementioned acting teacher, I have learned to unlock that side of myself, which has coincidentally helped me in my life as well. There are situations where you NEED to and SHOULD be vulnerable. It’s how we connect as human beings. But it still doesn’t necessarily make it easy to do.

So when I found myself recently playing a character in a film where crying was her go-to emotion, it was a definite challenge for me. The crying was literally written throughout the entire script… no way to avoid it. But I relished the opportunity to play such a unique character—an ultra conservative Christian mother whose world has fallen apart upon discovering her daughter makes porn and her son masturbates to it. Yup. Not in my normal wheelhouse of acting roles. This woman is devastated, rightfully so, and didn’t hold back that devastation. The role felt like it was a gift, given how hard I’ve worked at showing vulnerability in my life as well as my art. Crying is this weird thing… I resist it, but once I do it, I actually kind of LIKE it. It feels good to let those kind of feelings come to the surface; it’s cathartic. Hence the expression “I had a good cry.” However, it is quite an experience to try doing it on command and for a long period of time, i.e. eight hours of filming!

What I discovered was how challenging it can be to keep that kind of emotional life going throughout the stops and starts of making a film. And how you have to find ways to keep clicking back into those painful feelings once the camera starts rolling again. (For the record, watching the ending of “Marley and Me” works wonders.) By the end of the first day of filming, I was exhausted and had a splitting headache!

And who knows how it will all look when the film is edited and “in the can” as they used to say in the old days. Inevitably, I am sure I will find flaws in my performance even where there are none. I am never satisfied with my work; I always feel it could be better. But as my coach Tessa Faye tells me, sometimes when we are the hardest on ourselves is when we are doing our best work. And we may think it’s not good enough, but to the rest of the world, it is exactly what they wanted. Here’s to hoping, at the very least, my performance is exactly what my director wanted!

Friday, July 21, 2017

When Brutal Honesty Just Makes You a Brute

We’ve all encountered situations where someone has said, “I’m just being honest.” (Insert annoyingly whiny voice.) Admittedly, I’ve said it too. Sometimes it feels so good to be honest, even though seconds later you’re deeply regretting your words as you see the person on the receiving end’s reaction. I’ll never forget when I said something hurtful to my grandmother as a child. I was immediately sent to my room by my mother, but of course I snuck out to hear what they were saying about me. Years later, I still remember as my mom said, “I don’t understand why she has a mouth like that. It’s not how I raised her.” And my grandmother responded, “But how can you fault her when what she says is true.”  It really stung. Knowing that I was speaking the “truth” but that didn’t make me right, or mean that I was a nice person for saying it.

Then there are other situations where honesty may not be hurtful, but it’s just unnecessary… and possibly gross.  Case in point: My family recently went to Morton’s The Steakhouse to celebrate my brother’s wedding anniversary and his wife’s birthday. I’ve always thought of Morton’s as a high-end chain with good quality food. (They certainly have the price tags to support such a notion.) I was working the night my family went out so I couldn’t make it, but boy do I wish I could’ve been there to witness what happened next! Someone (who shall remain nameless) at the table asked the server if there were any end cuts. The server said no, but apparently seemed tentative as if she was new and thus unsure of her answer. To verify, the unnamed guest went to the host to ask her to find out if there were, in fact, no end cuts available. A few minutes later, the chef AND the general manager of the restaurant approach the table. Now I think it’s important to mention that on their website Morton’s proudly proclaims to have “The Best Steak Anywhere.” Really? Is that why the chef brought a steak to the table IN A PLASTIC BAG?

Yes, ladies and gentlemen—I will address you formerly since I am in the hospitality industry too but I actually KNOW how to treat people properly—my horrified family found themselves staring at a pre-cut steak in a plastic bag. The chef went on to explain that all their steaks come into the restaurant like that and they have no control over the cuts they get. And apparently, he was miffed, as if my family had some nerve asking about the menu. How’s that for gracious hospitality? Answer: It’s a total fail. Possible alternative: How about you INSTEAD come to the table and POLITELY inform my family there are NO end cuts available?

When I’m trying to de-clutter myapartment and reorganize my clothes closet, that’s the time to bluntly remind me I wore that SAME red shirt to a Bon Jovi concert back in 1988 and now’s the time to let it go. Brutal honesty is welcomed and appreciated in that scenario. But telling me that you can’t remove the mushrooms from the quesadilla at T.G.I. Fridays because they come to the restaurant pre-made AND frozen is just disgusting. (Another true story AND epic fail.) Find a tactful way to let me know it’s simply not possible. I don’t need to know all the gory details. Let’s face it, sometimes we just don’t want to see behind the curtain and realize “The Great Wizard of Oz” is just a balding old man. Let us have our magic!

What about Morton’s, you might be asking? I personally think a phone call to their corporate office is in order, but I will leave that to my family who was actually there to witness the atrocity. As for me, I think it’s given me food for thought (yes, I had to go there). Honesty is something I value very highly, but there needs to be boundaries, on my own behavior as well as everyone else’s. You hear that, Morton’s? There is something to be said for telling tactful truths. No need to let the brutes inside us win. 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Are you fit... or FREAKY?

            I know I’m opening a BIG can of worms by asking that question, but I think it NEEDS to be asked. And with that said, I will full out admit that I am neither. I actually need to be more fit, and I have been spending a lot of time at the gym trying to make that happen. I’ve already talked about my love/haterelationship with exercise a few months ago, and believe me, there is still plenty of hate going on! But I’ve come to a kind of peace about my exercise routine, and at times I almost ENJOY going to the gym. The gym is the place where it’s acceptable to be stinky and sweaty, although no one really wants to be standing next to the aforementioned stinky and sweaty individual. Speaking of which, boy do I sweat! It feels good though, knowing that I’m pushing myself hard and challenging myself to do better with every workout. The question is… how much is TOO much?

            Spending more time at the gym has allowed me to observe people’s bodies as well as their workout routines. What else is there to do when you’re standing on the elliptical pedaling away? I watch people pumping iron to the nth degree, and I am reminded of the ABC Wide World of Sports promo back in the late 1970s, where you see a clip of a man victoriously lifting an enormous barbell over his head. Does “The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat” mean anything to you? If not, watch this: I don’t know about you, but it gives me chills to watch athletes persevere against all obstacles. I admittedly get teary whenever I see an athlete WIN. Win what, you ask? I could care less. I’m a sobbing mess. I guess it’s because at the end of the day we all want to be winners and seeing someone else come out on top means there’s a chance it can happen for us too.

            And maybe that’s what drives these people I’m watching at my gym. They also want to experience the “thrill of victory”. But at what cost? Some of these people seriously look like they need to take a few days off, if you ask me! Come on, gentlemen… when your muscles have muscles and you look like you’re ready to bust out of your t-shirt like the Incredible Hulk, I think a line has been crossed. I know some people find that look attractive. I, however, do not. You do not need to be sooooo muscular that you look like you might topple over from the sheer weight of your upper body!

            Social media only intensifies our obsession with our bodies and being fit. We all know that once we put something out there on the “world wide web”, it’s OUT THERE. And we darn well wanna look good when we do it. Hence, all the photos on Facebook or Instagram with people posing in their Sunday best with a caption about how excited they are to be at XYZ event. Subtext: “Hey world, look at me! Don’t I look GREAT?” And knowing that someone might share your photo puts even more pressure to always look your best. But what does best really mean anyway?

            My gym has a CrossFit room where you actually need special access to enter. It even has its own membership. Ooo la la! These people give a whole new meaning to training. I was doing stomach crunches in the exercise room one morning, and all of a sudden there was a thud so loud that the floor underneath me literally vibrated and my heart nearly stopped. I panicked, thinking, “Did a BOMB just go off?” Silly me. Moments later I realized it was just the CrossFit folks dropping a weight onto the floor. ExCUSE me? Newsflash: If the weight is too heavy for you to put it down without sounding like the building is about to be demolished, then you SHOULDN’T BE LIFTING IT IN THE FIRST PLACE!

            Being fit is amazing. It’s something we can strive to be at ANY age. My mom often walks around town instead of using her car to run errands. She wants to make sure her body stays active and fluid. That’s wonderful. But when you’re lifting insane amounts of weight to make your muscles’ muscles have even MORE muscles or you’re running so fast on the treadmill you might actually fly off the back, I think there is a problem. I see a nutritionist who was also a professional body builder early on in his career.  He has repeatedly told me, exercise is good for your health, but what you eat is critical to staying trim and fit. All the exercise in the world isn’t going to get rid of those love handles. Cutting carbs, however, WILL.

            So for all you super muscular people out there who think they HAVE to look that way… you don’t. Work out. Eat right. Be FIT. But no need to look like Popeye the Sailor man. After all, Popeye is a cartoon character. And last time I checked, we’re living in the real world where people have REAL bodies. And lord knows, if nothing else, my body is REAL. And on that note, I’m off to the gym to make my flabby body a little LESS flabby!

Thursday, July 6, 2017

A Cluttered House Is A Cluttered Life

                  A while back I talked about hoarding and my denial of any such behavior in “I Am Not A Hoarder, I Just Like to Collect Things”.  Instead, I referred to myself as a collector. At the time it made sense. Collectors collect things so they can put them on display for people to see. And I certainly have my share of tchotchkes adorning my shelves. Remember my collection of shot glasses filled with sand from beaches all over the world? If not, here’s a reminder:

 But I also hold onto things that are NOT for public viewing. These items—papers, cards, photos, old notepads, magazines, etc—lie scattered throughout my apartment, shoved in decorative boxes to mask the mess that is hidden within.  I also have TWO file cabinets jam packed with things that at some point I thought I needed badly enough to store away. Back then, I joked about how proud  I was to be a pack rat. And I will admit, reading my past words, I almost convinced myself. However, upon further reflection, I recognize by calling myself a collector and poking fun at my various “collections”, I was minimizing potentially toxic behaviors and enabling them to continue. So while I still attest I am NOT a hoarder, I am, in fact, a clutterbug. And there is a difference. Read on.

                  Clutterbugs differ from hoarders in that they can rationally look at the objects in their life and assess their usefulness. Hoarders obsess about their possessions and can’t decide what is and isn’t valuable, and thus often retain garbage or damaged items. Hoarders seem to be completely unaware of the dangers of their hoarding tendencies, while clutterers are often bothered by their random piles of “stuff”. Yay! I’m bothered! There’s hope for me!

                  I recently confessed to my friend that I wanted to start eliminating the clutter from my life. (It should be noted that this is the same friend who originally accused me of being a hoarder). Well my confession was music to his ears. I came home one night to discover ALL of my books ALL over my living room floor. He had also disassembled one of my bookcases, which was on the verge of collapsing from the sheer weight of its contents. Upon seeing my books laid out in various stacks, I almost started crying. How could he DO this to me? I wanted to take baby steps, not tackle everything all at once! I felt so overwhelmed. But then I realized that sometimes you have to pull the bandaid off forcefully and feel the sting. And it stung! It was very emotional going through books that I had on my shelves for literally years. And many were books that I still loved. But did I really NEED them? Am I really ever going to read the Twilight series again? Or the Hunger Games? And what the hell was “Eat, Pray, Love” still doing on my shelf anyway? I never could manage to make it past India. (Spirituality motivated by a healthy book advance is definitely not what I consider inspiring.) Time to purge! I felt proud to put so many books into a donation box and condense my books into one less bookcase.

                  But that’s only the beginning. What about those two file cabinets? What the heck is in there? (Cover letters for submissions dating back to before the millennium apparently). And what about those shot glasses filled with sand? It seemed cute and kitschy at the time, but why was I doing it in the first place and is it something I want to continue? Do I even like that miniature ceramic teapot sitting on my shelf that my mom got at someone’s Bar Mitzvah? Why do I still have that magazine with the cast of the “Big Bang Theory” on the cover??? I don’t think there’s necessarily a right or wrong answer to any of these questions, but you at least have to ASK yourself and see what answers come. When you’re a clutterbug, piles just seem to mysteriously show up without you even noticing it. It’s critical to determine which piles are the ones to keep and then find a freaking place to put everything so it’s no longer in a pile!

                  It’s been said if you clutter your physical life with unnecessary items, your emotional life is bound to feel cluttered too. And now that I am making my way through my own clutter, I tend to agree. Letting go of things is hard, but at the end of the day they are just THINGS—physical manifestations of my memories and feelings. Throwing something out does not take away what I feel inside. Maybe it even makes my feelings more special because they’re not attached to some random object sitting in my apartment for no good reason.

                  I’m not planning on rolling a dumpster into my apartment and depositing everything into it, if that’s what anyone is thinking. But I DO believe I can take stock of exactly WHAT I have and then determine what I truly need AND want. It’s not always easy to figure that out. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try. I’m just in the beginning phases now, but I will keep you posted on my progress. Here’s the end result of my bookcase reorganization:

Not bad, right? Now I have to tackle my desk… my sanctuary for everything creative. Somehow I have a feeling that will be harder than my books but I think I’m ready to take the plunge! Geronimo!!!