Besides the 2500+ pictures + countless memories of my time in Alaska, I also collected a number of quotes from those around me that have given me endless amounts of joy. Here are a few gems that will stay with me forever. All are anonymous so as not to flatter anyone's ego.
I have been extremely fortunate that from a young age I've known
what I want to do for the rest of my life. I credit 2 films for biting
me with the acting bug: Amadeus + Jesus Christ Superstar.
When I was 4 years old, pretty much daily, I would watch JCS on our
laser disc (showing my age?) over and over until it didn't work anymore. Finally, my Dad took me to
see it live at Wolf Trap in D.C.
He saw how much I loved it, and took me 3 subsequent times. It wasn't until the third time when the curtain fell on the seemingly dead Judas, which the actor gingerly lifted over his head so it could take us to intermission, that the illusion of make-believe was shattered ... in the absolute best way possible. I couldn't believe that what I had been experiencing wasn't "real." I've been driven to recreate that magic ever since.
Today, whenever I tell people that I am an actress, a small flurry of emotions crosses their face. Pity is always first then quickly met with a bit of excitement + a look of slight disdain. They inevitably ask, "Isn't that hard?" Naively thinking they mean the craft of acting itself, I animatedly launch into how difficult it is, but how some people make it look so easy and why, etc. etc. However, from their amused smiles, I realize that they meant the constant auditioning + constant rejection. Which, yes, is hard. BUT ... I wouldn't have it any other way.
My inspiration for this post comes from numerous conversations I've had recently, and over the years, as well as interviews with various artists (namely, this one with Jay-Z from NPR). In LA, I could throw a rock 10 feet from where I'm standing, and probably hit an actor (probably shouldn't try this at home, kids). Anyone can see that competition in the acting field these days is fierce, partly due to the speed with which some people can achieve fame. Unlike the "old days", you don't necessarily have to be the best at what you do to become well known. Therefore, "becoming famous" seems to be the easy part. What's difficult, is acting and acting well. And while we always discuss fame, it's the acting that isn't really discussed anymore.
The pool is filled with more and more people who want to be known for their antics, to have their own reality show or to just be praised for being generally fabulous. I'm not here to critique these ambitions. But how do you stay true to yourself and your genuine ambition of being great at what you do amidst the madness? And what seems to be as difficult as the acting ... how do you stick to it?
My wonderful Björk has said that she sings for the everyday man + woman. For me, that hits the nail squarely on the head. I act so I can, hopefully, illuminate aspects of human behavior to us, the people roaming the earth, in a truthful way. I act to communicate the intangible as well as to inspire learning + understanding. Wanting to do that, and pursuing it as a career isn't always the best mix. While there are obstacles that actors face that are unique to the profession, some span all professions.
1. Quantity of Rejection. Not just the quantity, but the quality of the rejection is on it's own level. It is unique for an actor, because they are essentially, rejecting you. Not just your work, but your personality + perceived self. Yes, it absolutely sucks. It is no fun, and it takes time + experience to get used to it, and let it roll like the proverbial water off a duck's back. Sometimes, by just pretending it doesn't bother you, after awhile, voila, it doesn't! It's a process fraught with many highs + lows. Too many people don't take the necessary lessons you can learn out of being "rejected," and focus solely on the negatives, becoming more + more depressed, jaded, etc. There are a crazy amount of uncontrollable factors that the quicker you recognize, the happier you will be.
2. The "physical" aspect. Yes, there is an obsession with body image in Hollywood, and it claims a lot of victims. To varying degree, everyone is affected by it, and everyone deals with it differently. Personally, I was always bigger than the other girls in the room. I was athletic to their skinny. But who cares?! Not this gal. I want to act for souls, not for eyes (to riff off a quote from my other darling, Adele), and the more you worry about body image, the less you concentrate on becoming a better actor + person. People will always think you're ugly. People will always think you're beautiful. But what is most important is .. what they think. ;) I kid, I kid. In a nut-shell: Don't ever let anyone tell you how to look ... unless it's Alexander McQueen.
3. Being out of work more than in work.
A painter has their paints, a writer, their pad + pen, but an actor
needs an audience + other actors. Convincing people you are the best man
for the job is difficult when the "uncontrollables" may be: you're not
blonde; the casting director is in a bad mood; you're good, but you're
"just not what they're looking for for this particular project" etc.
Yes, all of this impedes your desire to simply express what's inside you
... and pay your bills. There are no obvious "promotions" in acting,
and no clear-cut "ladder to climb." People say it's a grind, and if
choose to look at it that way, you will agree with that assessment. I choose to view it as a challenge.
This path is not for everyone. It is particularly difficult not just for the reasons listed but also for many others. But, what I always ask myself, and other actors I speak with regularly is, "Why are you doing this in the first place?" As I get older (to which I'll never admit, because well, I'm an actress), more + more of my peers are either ready to, or have thrown in the towel. For them, the rejection is too much, the judgement of their physical image is too much, or they simply realize it's not what they want to do. If this is what you want to do, reminding yourself why you are doing it in the first place, is essential to survival. Surrender is easy. Persevering is not. Being good, or great, at what you do is never easy but greatness is always worth pursuing.
As you pursue acting, you must maintain two universal virtues that span all professions; open-mindedness + flexibility. It is also vital that you stick to your guns and the personal nugget of inspiration that drives you. It may overwhelm you to think that you are just one tiny person amidst a hundred million trying to do what you want to do, but what if Meryl Streep gave up? What if Frank Lloyd Wright gave up? What if [fill in whoever your idol is] gave up? You must render all obstacles secondary to the difficulty of becoming the best you, you can be.
I hope everybody,
no matter what they are pursuing, stays true to who they are. I hope
they fight the good fight + always ask, "Why am I doing this in the
first place?" And if you find that the answer to that question doesn't
motivate you anymore, then go forth on another future endeavor with the
same verve, guts + inspiration that started you on your orginal path. Changes paths is never a bad thing.
And sometimes ... you can have your cake + eat it too.
I recently watched an incredible documentary entitled God Grew Tired of Us,
that raised a lot of questions for me. It follows three Lost Boys, from
The Republic of the Sudan, selected to live in America for an extended
period of time. We watch as they encounter, for the first time,
electricity, running water, trash cans, the small packets of butter you
get with your meal on a plane, and pretty much anything else you can
At first, I hesitated to watch it, because I didn’t want to watch a spectacle. It’s sometimes too easy to make films like this in a way that portrays a segment of humanity, different from “us”, in such a manner that focuses only upon our differences instead of objectively relating their experiences as human beings. The result is the widening of a sense of separation between “us and them”, rather than acknowledging our commonality. Even worse is when these films portray these people as mere novelty. I am happy to report, my concerns were misplaced.
Part of why this film is so good is its balance of empathy + interest in “The Boys’" experience. The first 20 minutes cover their journey from Sudan to a refugee camp in Kenya; aptly named Kakuma (Swahili for “nowhere”). The journey takes them 5 years, with many of their family + friends dying along the way. You do get more of a complete picture of their trek in the documentary, The Lost Boys of Sudan, but that’s to be expected. We’re then introduced both to the three men we will follow, and to their world in Kakuma. After some interviews with the men chosen to go to America (seemingly by lottery), we hear one of them ask “Do people in America go down to the river and get their own water?”, to which the interviewer brilliantly replies, “Huh?” And while humorous, I still didn’t want to laugh. The film had thoroughly drawn me in, but I was still wary of any cutesy snippets which might be used to incite laughter AT these people.
They board the plane to America. The film brilliantly captures their expressions which reveal the cascade of emotions. They experience elation, excitement, hope, all of which quickly give way to worry + anxiety. We probably think “Oh, how GREAT!” that they get to go to America (and it is indeed incredible), but it is all too easy to forget their point of view. Soon enough we experience their palpable discomfort arising from their displacement from both home and loved ones.
Next, via some
wonderful interviews, we experience fascinating glimpses into their
daily life and work. We also see how much they are “fish out of water”
through some nice cracks about Pepsi as well as their fascination with
the trash can + frozen hot dogs. It is immediately apparent that maybe
the film makers didn’t anticipate these fundamental cultural
differences. Nearly all of The Boys experience homesickness within the
first few months. They even crush Ritz crackers with a hammer and mix
them with milk so as to emulate the food back home. While they are
grateful for this experience, their homesickness is undeniable. An
interview with one of the men, John Dau, is particularly heartbreaking.
John tells the story of his journey from Sudan to Kenya, and how the community used his height (which may, in fact, surpass 7 feet) as a reason to place so much responsibility on him. Along the road, he buried the children who died, and was responsible for feeding + looking after some 1,500 people. It is in this recounting that we understand the relevance of the film’s title; it is how he feels God views the people of Sudan. And while part of his desire to visit America is so he can send money back to the people he left behind, we see the immense pressure, from the community back in Africa, for him to monetarily provide for them. After some time lapses in the documentary, his expression is one that I have seen on countless people here in the US, but one that I hadn’t see on him until now. It is best described as that feeling of, “you can’t keep up”. Their introduction to material things, unlike back home, takes a slight toll. They receive about 35 phone calls a day asking for money, all the while working two, or even three, jobs. They send money home daily. They also save money so that they might build schools + hospitals in Sudan (which 2 of the 3 have done). However, it sometimes doesn’t seem like enough.
One of the more amazing aspects of the film is the visceral sense of community among the Lost Boys (and many African tribes). It is something misunderstood by the people they encounter here. In one encounter, a manager of a 7-Eleven calls the police on the men, suspicious of them always showing up together to buy groceries. Soon, they start to feel more and more isolated, which is difficult to watch. Your excitement for them at the beginning of the film has now turned into, at best, mixed feelings for their “American experience”. This experience wasn’t just about providing these men incredible opportunity, it was also about a journey that enabled them to find a greater sense of self or “who they are.”
won’t tell you how it ends, because it is worth the surprise +
definitely worth watching. Suffice it to say that the God Crew does a
wonderful job of objectively exploring a unique, and very personal,
journey without preaching or condescending. Some of the questions it
raised for me were:
• Is it easier to empathize with people who are suffering in more extreme situations than those suffering in our own country? Sometimes, it certainly seems this way. Maybe it’s sheer distance or the vivid and extreme nature of their situation.
• How do different people react to the knowledge that they haven’t, and may never, experienced a difficult life like what The Lost Boys, and other tribes, have experienced? I think reactions often tend toward the extreme. Either you’re a shit-heel for having a toilet that flushes, or you can’t be a saint unless you “sell all that you have and give it to the poor”. Isn’t there a middle ground? Of course there is. Each of us just needs to find it.
• How can we view human beings, so starkly less fortunate then ourselves, not with pity, but with empathy? I am so weary of people saying “people are starving in Africa” to get you to eat your peas. There are enormous problems in Africa, this is true, but, lumping of them into a cliché only results in snap, and often incorrect, judgments about other human beings and that really bothers me.
I know our feelings about these issues are similar. I find it fascinating to see how my fellow Americans deal with having what they have, knowing the majority of the world is not nearly as fortunate. I originally felt guilty even watching the documentary because I didn’t want to be one of the people who lump together others, whose lives are wildly different than mine, into the category: “People I Will Never Relate To, But Pity”. That could take me off into an entirely new post about the difference between pity + empathy, but I digress.
Many of us want to understand + help; maybe even most. Our intentions are good, and the intentions of filmmakers who want to capture it are good. It is a tricky subject; one loaded with many emotions + misunderstandings that can lead to judgments of people who either help or don’t help. This is especially true in judgments of celebrities what with image being such a huge thing these days. But it is counterproductive to personal growth + growth as a society to judge others. I could keep writing about this for a long time, but I just don’t think I’m articulate enough, not to mention concise enough in my ramblings, to think that is a good idea.
My basic thought is this: I hope we continue to put our lives into perspective, help our fellow human beings, both in and outside our “backyards”. Let us also work to genuinely understand the many different experiences of others, all the while not falling into the “Pity Trap”. Let us consider others with a sense of compassion and equality. We should not be too quick to judge others, for we likely do not know who they are, where they come from, or what they might become..
My Dad is a big science guy. He's disgustingly intelligent + loves All Things Scientific (yes, Trekkie status applies here). I have been quite spoiled in this regard, because even if I don't understand (which is more often than not), he still takes the time to introduce me to scientific theories + the workings behind them. I will never forget him explaining the doppler effect to me + my sister, while we were listening to Funeral for a Friend in the car, while we made our fingers Riverdance. It has been this introduction + constant education that has kept my curiosity alive, and I've wanted to continue my education independently. (He's still around sending me articles daily, didn't mean for that to sound fatalistic.)
I am currently reading The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene. A little background before we proceed: I have never taken a physics class in my life, but that hasn't stopped me from being insatiably curious about it all. I admit, my brain does not work like a scientist's. Which is part of the reason I love it. Glutton for punishment. I attempt now to share with you all what I've been reading.
My Dad recently sent me an article which corresponded perfectly to the section of the book I was reading. Einstein's theory of Special Relativity was being discussed in this section, and before I summarize Special Relativity, a brief description of General Relativity: all uniform motion is relative to the object that is moving. For those of you who are unaware (and please for the love of God, if you understand better than I, feel free to correct my ass), the basic summary is this: "Special relativity incorporates the principle that the speed of light is the same for all inertial observers regardless of the state of motion of the source." Basically, Einstein concluded that no matter if you (or any other object with mass) are moving or standing still (which is relative to your POV, hence General Relativity), the speed of light is always the speed of light (670 million mph), as nothing can outrun photons.
Now, with that understood, let's move on to: gravity. Newton famously discovered gravity, but didn't give any explanation as to what it actually is. He only explained how it works. This set Einstein on a decades long search as to what gravity is actually comprised of.
Newton's Law of Universal Gravity states that every mass has a natural pull or attraction to every other mass around it that is proportional to their individual sizes and the distance between them. For example, the sun + the earth. We orbit the sun because the sun is sending out signals of attraction and "pulling us toward it." Similarly, that is why the moon orbits the earth. The mass of the earth + the pull it gives off. Special Relativity (deemed "special" due to it only being applied to bodies in relative motion), incorporates light into the equation. It deems light an essential element to the way we unify space + time into spacetime. The reason light was important was to demonstrate that no object can move faster than the speed of light.
But Einstein went further. He determined that if there were no massive bodies in space (i.e. the sun), it would be a flat plane. He concluded that the space (and time, which is a whole other beast) around the body, therefore, is warped. That the presence of such a body on a flat, malleable plane, changes the space (and time) around it. The warping of the space around the object is what creates ... gravity!
The article I received from my dad verifies this theory. Another one of Einstein's discoveries was that gravity + accelerated motion are effectively interchangeable. If for instance, you want to duplicate the effects of gravity, you can do so by accelerating an object at faster and faster speeds (such as a Tornado ride at an Amusement Park or a rocket). This is also confirmed in the findings of the Stanford University scientists, who have been working on these theories for over 50 years.
The point of me writing this is 1. to understand it and 2. to share with y'all science + non-science-minded individuals how incredible it is. I am now beginning the section of the book that addresses Quantum Mechanics. Quantum Mechanics, although tested + proven true on more than one occasion, is in direct conflict with our conceptions of General Relativity. Scientists are now on the search to find one unifying theory that incorporates all of these theories (which is what the book is all about). According to Brian Greene, with all of their new findings + theories, they are getting increasingly closer to finding what they would call the Ultimate Theory. It's ... just a matter of getting there. :)
Like I said, I am not a scientist, and there are
things I will probably never understand regarding physics, hidden
dimensions, and string theory. But, I'll never stop trying + I'm so
thankful Brian Greene wrote this book in a way that I can grasp these
concepts (although, how unbelievably hilarious would it be to find out
that everything I just wrote was completely false). I'm also thankful
that my Dad always taught me to never give up on something just because I
didn't understand it at first.
This book has shown me how fluid science is. I suppose I succumbed a bit to the notion that science = fact, The End. But, that's just not true. (Which, of course, begs the question, why can't we be one with science AND religion? But, that is another post for another day. ;)) With physics in particular, it shows us how beautiful, and interwoven life is. Everything depends on the other, and if one element of a thing "falters," it ripples + effects the bodies around it. You can take this onto a human scale, and say that that is true for your every day life. Me being in a bad mood can affect those around me, but that's because they're suckers + haven't learned that you can control your reactions to things. ;)
I named this post Einstein vs. The Universe for a reason. Science is constantly evolving. I suppose that's due to the fact that theories are in fact theories, and we are always on the search. Some of these great minds have proven to be too limited, misinformed, or maybe even wrong. (Hell, Einstein denounced Quantum Mechanics til he was near his end + said it was the greatest mistake he ever made!) But, that's what makes it beautiful. And that's what makes their pursuits noble, in my not-so-humble opinion. Some people misinterpret what science is all about, myself having been one of them. It's a shame, since there is so much to learn and with the rate of advancement of our technology, things will only become clearer + clearer to us.
I do wish one thing. That more people who don't think they can understand science, and who may in fact be a little frightened
of it, would attempt to. It can come into perceived conflict with some
beliefs or people may not think they're "smart" enough, but, let me
burst ya bubble: none of us are. But at least try! I'm so glad I picked
up this book + so glad my Dad forced me to listen to things I didn't
have any interest in. Because isn't that the way it goes ... now I like broccoli. :)