Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The One Thing That Makes a REALLY Good Story (And Why it Terrifies Me)

All I can say is that it seemed like a good idea at the time.

We watched "Soylent Green" for family movie night. About ten minutes into the movie I asked after the identity of "soylent green". The sound quality wasn't the best, and I thought perhaps I, being hard of hearing, might have missed exposition. I was informed by my brother that this was not the case. I snorted, "I bet it's people."

Mumsie nearly sent me to my room.

I have always had a knack for knowing the end of the story before it's finished. I believe the cause is twofold: 1) I'm observant and notice reused plot devices and 2) as an author myself, I know how stories are structured. Whatever the case, for the sake of my husband's sanity, I've learned to hold my tongue and enjoy the movie anyway. But my standard for a REALLY good movie is an obscure plot development and resolution.

While jogging the other day, I realized that taken to its logical conclusion this standard means that the ultimate REALLY good story is my own.

Yet I can't think of a story that fills me with more trepidation. 

Will I ever become a successful actress? (I'm defining "successful" here as earning more as an actress than I'm spending as an actress.) Will my husband ever achieve his own goals? Can we see our dreams realized without sacrificing our morals or our relationship? Will we ever get kids? Will they be healthy, beautiful, and brilliant in their own right? 

This last week has been horrible. Every circumstance and happening seemed to indicate that the answer to every one of these questions is a resounding "no". And the obstacles and setbacks have not yet desisted. I am emotionally and physically drained, and I want to give up on the idea of ever trying to accomplish anything more than Netflix marathons. 

When it comes to my own story, I'd rather not be in the dark. I don't want to know what God has in store for me. I'd rather pen my own ending. I don't want to go through despair before achieving a triumphant resolution. Or worse, a tragic one. I want to skip straight to the part where I live happily ever after. 

But I know that wouldn't make a good story. And that's certainly not how reality works. 

I never really thought of God as an author before, but he is. And arguably, the best. Already, he has created billions of stories and is adding more and more every day. Each character has purpose, each plot is unique, and each story is the best possible rendition with thousands of crossovers to other stories. 

With a repertoire like that, there's no doubt that my story will be a quality one. 

There's an exhilaration in the unknown, but I dread giving up the comfort of foreknowledge. (I speak as if I had a choice!) There is so much potential for adventure and good, but there's also the possibility of tragedy and loss. I suppose there will always be scenes in which I will be afraid or despair. A relatable character usually does. But I am slowly realizing that this is acceptable. I don't have to pretend that I'm not afraid, I just have to persevere; and when I want to give up, remember that I have everything to gain but only my spirit to lose. In my heart, I think I always knew this was true, I just never had the courage to acknowledge it.

"It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn't want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn't. They kept going." - Samwise Gamgee, The Two Towers

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Social Media Phenomenon

The Internet is now intrinsic to our way of life: the way we conduct business, distribute news, campaign for social reform, or socialize. To the casual observer, this may seem like a never ending stream of benefits. However, I am convinced that there are repercussions that we have not yet realized.

Case in point: social media.

I am sure you are all familiar with the recent controversies concerning the true identity of Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner and Rachel Dolezal, a Confederate battle flag, and the Supreme Court decision on gay marriage. I myself despise controversy and retreated from the internet to the peace and solitude of a good book for a few days; but in the wake of these controversies, I observed an inordinate amount of relationships cease to exist.

The ending of a friendship or an acquaintanceship is casually done nowadays. A click of a button is all it requires and someone is "unfriended" or "blocked". I wonder if social media is innately deceptive in its ability to acquire and maintain a flourishing social life. Why is it that people are so willing to end relationships on a seeming whim? Why does it seem to occur more often now than in years past?

Many would cite distance as the cause of the impersonal aspect of social media. Admittedly, meeting friends in person would be more effective than an online rendezvous, but people have been communicating long distance ever since the dawn of time using messengers, letters, and - since the 1990s - email. What makes social media different?

I believe the answer is: labels.

I had the immense pleasure of meeting my best friend at a football game when I was 13 years old. During the course of the evening we discovered that we both enjoyed a game usually more popular among geriatrics: cribbage. We met a few days later to play a round or two and the rest, as they say, is history. It was many years before I realized that we held many differing opinions. However, at that point, I did not care. She was and is my friend and a good person besides. The precedence of person over opinion prevailed in our relationship.

Nowadays, a cursory glance at a profile or a few tweets can determine a person's interests, political opinions, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, and numerous other aspects of their person without ever conversing with them. One need not ever be friends with anyone whose profile isn't identical to your own. Should you be unwise enough to "friend" someone from an opposing camp you will find yourself arguing vehemently at every turn, accomplishing nothing but perpetuating stereotypes - both yours and your opponent's - and pushing people farther and farther away.

Social media reverses the precedence of relationships to opinion over people. We, as a people, have lost the ability to perceive humanity and instead only see race, fandoms, denominations, gender, etc, etc. We have come up with hundreds of ways to label any given person when only one is necessary: human. I do not pretend to have a solution, but it is my observation that until this travesty is corrected there will be no peace or harmony in our social lives.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

5 Female Types That Should Be Banned From the Movies

Last week, Jeremy Renner and Chris Evans got into trouble with the PC public at large for commenting on the overly flirtatious nature of Scarlett Johansson's character the Black Widow in Marvel's Avengers. And they were forced to apologize for their offensive comments about a fictional character.

Okay, one, we have enough problems in the real world without worrying about the fictional ones. (Seriously.) Two, and this is really my main point: if you don't like people being sexist about fictional characters, then stop supporting films that write sexist stereotypes into their female roles.

Oh, wait. That would be almost all of them. Any of these sound overly familiar?

1) The Femme Fatale. Whether it's a Bond villainess, the Black Widow, or (disappointingly) Irene Adler in every Sherlock adaptation ever this woman is everywhere. She's extremely attractive AND can kick your butt. And usually falls for the main man's charms. This type probably came about in response to the overly done damsel in distress motif of a few decades ago, but it's funny how it still manages to stroke male egos. After all, what's better than a million ladies who can seduce you, beat you up, but ultimately can't handle your love?

2) The Hair Types. The ditzy, arrogant, beauty obsessed blond, the clever, sassy, and slutty ginger, and the nerdy and usually shy brunette. One of my favorite redheads in the world used to be a mechanic in the Army, except she's extremely shy and hates spiders. Isn't that already more interesting than most of the women in your Netflix movie queue?

3) The Race Type. Mmhmm. Can't forget the sassy black woman (or Latina if you're really mixing it up). Or how they're both always from da hood. And how they always have a million family members. Meanwhile, back in the lab, the hot Asian woman is curing cancer. Are you offended yet? You should be. But I'm not done.

4) Comedic Fat Girl. I gave this one a category all by itself, because I think this is one of the worst offenders. Being overweight isn't funny. It also doesn't mean that love is impossible. Rebel Wilson kicked this stereotype to the moon with her portrayal of Fat Amy in Pitch Perfect. So let's leave this type be and allow Melissa McCarthy to play another type for heaven's sake.

5) Friends With Benefits. This one is actually relatively new, but I've seen it happen over and again in current TV shows. She's the perfect female sidekick: she rooms with a guy, gives him sex whenever he wants, and never gets emotionally involved with him. Yeah right. Dream on, guys.

And those are your 5 types of women in the movies. Or any combination thereof. A quick Google search reveals that there are approximately three and a half BILLION women in the world. So why are we content with the portrayal of us all using only these 5 stereotypes?

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

When Beauty Objects

"Who are you wearing?" "How did you get into shape?" "What size are you?"

Reporters routinely query skilled actresses with these tepid questions.

I present another set of questions ... for the reporters:

Will you vary your questions? Or may I assume you're a sub par reporter? Do you realize that you have a duty to society and you're failing horribly?

It's PC to say that all women are beautiful no matter the shape or size. You pitch in with your trendy commercials and your numbered lists. But your actions belie your words. Because in a pinch, you'd rather misshape the world's concept of beauty than encourage the dejected. You'd rather make women despair because their very bones are too big for a size zero  - (or is it in negative sizes now?). You'd rather box women into a value system based on their appearance than on the contributions they could make. Ever heard of Jane Addams? Clara Barton? Harriet Tubman? Marie Curie? Rosa Parks? I've got more if you're not convinced. You could cultivate the next generation of innovators that will literally save lives, but you'd rather send barely grown preteens into a never ending spiral of starvation and vomit.

Whatever makes a buck, right?

You might claim that it's what we want to hear. But if this is the case, why no heed paid to what people also crave?

Kindness. Innovation.

News flash! Viral stories don't tell of the skinniest actresses or the impossible beauty standards you've dreamed up. They tell of an 11 year old girl - 11!! - who invented a chemo backpack and of another young lady who invented a way to clean water AND create electricity. They tell of two celebrities making a bet to promote a children's hospital and visiting sick strangers to brighten their day. They tell of a man who invented shoes that will grow with the feet of their wearers and another guy who gave up his professional football career to donate a kidney. They tell countless stories of children collecting socks, shoes, underwear, and other items we take for granted to donate to those who lack them.

Don't you get it? It's time for an attitude adjustment.

No one needs women who wish their boobs were bigger or their butt were smaller. It's far, far better for the world to be populated by women who are gracious and ingenious, willing and more than able to improve the lot of everyone around them. So skip the grotesque "glamour" questions and ask her what lessons she thinks can be learned from her character. Or discover what charities are closest to her heart. Ask her what she'd be if she weren't an actress. Or find out if she donates blood (and if she hates needles, too!) or if she'll visit a local hospital. You might lose a buck or two. Or maybe you won't. I think you'd be surprised.

To the media and to everyone else, I pose the question: Which should we all contemplate more: Our appearance? Or the ways we can change the world?

Fix your corner of the world, and the world will be a better place.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The "Subhuman" Perspective on Humanity

One thought has popped up in my head over and over again through various circumstances the last few weeks: What makes a human valuable?

Last week, I read "Of Mice and Men" and this week I'm reading "The Brothers Karamazov".

(**SPOILERS**)

In the former, a very autistic man named Lennie is disposed of much like an old dog or a lame horse. In the latter, there is one man who views his own son as a "monster" and refuses to allow him to be christened because his son was born with only six fingers. Another man declares the highly autistic village "idiot" to be "an animal" and rapes her.

Perhaps, I would not find these stories to be so disturbing if I did not also believe that very little has changed. These books were written over a hundred years ago. And yet, those with visible "disabilities" are still looked on as somehow subhuman.

(I'm going to sidestep the issue of aborting a child because of a discovered "defect", and concentrate on the injustices of the born.)

Only last week, I read of a mother whose two day old child was confiscated by CPS because they believed her learning disability would prevent her from properly caring for her child. (Disclaimer: as someone who has worked in foster care, I know that there is very nearly always more to the story than is told by journalists.) The reports of those with autism or Down Syndrome being bullied and threatened are all too frequent, but tales of fellow humans standing up for the same are sadly rare. Terms like "defect", "disabled", "handicapped", and "English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing" are used without a second thought by every one every day to remind us that we aren't as good as their paradigm of a human being.

Truth be told, I'm one of the lucky ones. My parents rarely treated me differently than my siblings and they encouraged me to strive for the best despite my hearing loss. Most people don't realize that I'm "handicapped" until after they've known me for awhile. Presumably, they think I'm fun and smart and my hearing loss is just another attribute of yours truly. I make hilarious "confessions", I am transparent about how it came about and how it makes me feel (on TV no less), we all make jokes, and we move on. I do not often come across a circumstance in which I am made to feel subhuman.

But unfortunately, even I'm not invincible.

Recently, I had a distressing phone call with an audiologist receptionist (who really should've known better) who refused to believe that I was making an appointment for myself and that my birth year is 1990. A few weeks later, I had to fill out government paperwork that would require the military to always station Allen where I can receive audiological care. This paperwork persisted in terming the family member who needed a specialist as "child". And only last night, I enjoyed the judgmental stares of other theatre patrons because I opted for a hearing device.

Only those whose mental and physical health fall into the perfect paragon of a human being have a life worth living. If we don't have all of our parts, we can't possibly have all of our heart. You can use us however you want because we don't have any feelings. If our mental intellect is not as strong as yours, we are less able than you to love and care for others. The prime of youth and having a disability are mutually exclusive. If we have what you term a "disability" we are burdens to society and can't hold our own.

And the sad part is, we often believe them.

In "Of Mice and Men", Lennie looks forward to having a homestead of his own where he can care for rabbits. In "The Brothers Karamozov", the "idiot" gives all that she is given to children younger and needier than her. Unfortunately, the baby did not live past 6 weeks. But I daresay, he would've become a pianist. Heather Whitestone was completely deaf, but she won the 1995 Miss America contest ... as a ballerina. (And it's beautiful!) I've been a musician for 15 years. And I am pursuing a career in the entertainment business where it's almost always about your looks.

The reality is, we value life more than most. Our hearts are 3 sizes bigger. Our range of emotion is broader, our love is stronger, and our compassion runs deeper. We have immeasurable youth, limitless determination, and sweet victories. We know that the value of a human is far more than our looks or our health.

And if the world out there wants the same, then they'd better start looking farther than skin deep.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

You've Got a Friend in Me

In the last week, no less than seven people have commented to me that they struggle with making friends. I was quite surprised not only by the number of people, but by the specific people who feel this way. These people are intelligent, witty, and fun to be around. I'm not at all sure why they would lack friends.

Of course, I'm sure - that is, I hope - that people say the same thing about me when I admit to feeling lonely, too.

Truth be told, I think a lot of people feel lonely, but most people just don't want to admit it. Do I want  to believe that so I won't be the exception to the norm? Maybe so. I know a lot of people who seem to have perfect relationships. They're always hanging out, they have running gags, and they've practically prearranged their kids' marriages. Are these relationships as strong and as good as they seem? Maybe so.

But regardless, my scattered thoughts have been mulling ways to be a better friend - both to the current ones and to the new ones. And I've managed to collect them into another alliterated list.

F. Forsake FaceBook. (At least, partially.) I know social media gets a lot of flak for this, but let's be honest, there's a kernel of truth to the accusation. I LOVE that I can stay in contact with friends who are far away. Believe me, military wives appreciate this capability!! But while people are typing away on social media, their other relationships dwindle. It's time to focus more on the people in the immediate vicinity.

R. Relate. It's always good to be friends with those who have similar interests. It can be something as major as being a military spouse or something as little as a board game. My best friend and I initially bonded over the unlikely event that we both love the old game of cribbage. (Don't judge.)

I. Invite. On the flip side of the above point, never underestimate a potential friend because they seem too different. Did I mention that when my best friend and I met, I was 13 and she was 18? It would've been easy and justifiable to ignore me, but instead we've had the best of friendships for over 10 years. (Also, my goddaughter/"niece" is cuter than yours.)

E. Encourage. Lately, I've realized that when I get in the mood to gripe and rant about everything it isn't very pleasant for the people I call my friends. So not only am I trying to be more positive about my life in order to be less of a stressor on my friends, but I've also decided to be more encouraging to others in order to alleviate some of their stress.

N. Notice. People feel cared for when you remember things. The other day, I asked a friend how his grandmother was doing with chemo, and his face lit up. Making eye contact when you're listening to others not only helps you remember the important details, but it makes the current conversation more engaging. (Seriously, put the phone away ... and stop letting other people and things interrupt. It's rude.)

D. Dismiss. Sometimes, people don't reciprocate. Whether or not it was just a bad time for them or they don't really like you, is not really the point. So long as you did everything possible to be a good friend, you have nothing to regret. Let it go. (However, this doesn't excuse you from being a decent human being.)

"The only way to have a friend is to be one."
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson ~

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

6 Things Every New Actor Should Be Doing

Today is less about me giving advice and more about me compiling it and passing it on. I've been in the business 8 months, and I'm only just getting my act together. (Get it? Haha.) The entertainment world is complicated and sometimes counter intuitive. It took me a long time to figure it all out, and I'm still learning new things every day. So here's hoping that I can help someone behind me find their way a little quicker.

To be clear, this information was collected from successful professionals. The acronym is all me though.

A. Act! (Duh.) The best thing you can do to improve your trade and your desirability as an actor is through experience. Always, always work. Audition as often as possible. If the film/TV side of things is a little slow, try earning a little money in commercials (even if it's not your primary focus). Be an extra. Go for community theater or create your own Princess Diana impersonation or other self generated videos.

C. Collect materials. There's a lot of professional standards to achieve, but the bare minimum is this: demo reel, head shots, and resume. You can professionally put in for 99% of casting calls with those. Without them, well, let's just say no one's going to give you the time of day. Once you have those, step it up a little by adding business cards and postcards to the list.

T. Train constantly. Take acting classes, learn new skills, spend time improving and broadening your options. And when the time comes, you might have the step up on some other actor because you took the initiative to practice crying or to learn the guitar. It's also never a bad thing to branch out a little. Write a screenplay, be a boom op, or join the marketing team for a worthy project. Learn other aspects of the business, and it will help you be a better actor. (On that note, check out the amazing short film "Wanted"!)

I. Initiate. While a casting agent or a manager can be helpful, the most important person in your career is YOU. Take a daily initiative to advance your own career. Comb casting calls on websites like Actors Access or Backstage. Read entertainment news on IMDb or Variety. Make sure YOU are doing everything humanly possible to create opportunities for yourself.

N. Network. Like crazy. Get your name out there. Create a Facebook page or Twitter account, blog, get your own website. Maintain your IMDb page, join FB filmmaking groups, FB friend other actors. Directors like casting people they know - especially if you have a fanbase already. Social media is a fabulous place to do just that.

G. Give back. In amongst your networking, don't forget to give back. There will be people in your acting career without whom you never would have made it. Often they are life lines in the bewildering sea of entertainment. Be mindful of their time! And as you network consider how you can help others and not just how they can help you.

Add time and money, and wha-la, you're an actor. Break a leg!