Friday, February 5, 2016

Missed Kicks and Fresh Starts

My team lost. 

For those of you who love a team, you know the pain.

In fact, I actually cried tears for my team's loss - the second time in the past two decades. 

I've been a fan since childhood, but most seasons, I would label myself 'fair weather.' This year, I was determined to stick it out, to cheer them on, no matter how dire their fate seemed. 

So I fully committed to a relationship with them. Consequently, the weight of my team's loss was heavy.  

Perhaps this kind of emotion seems displaced. After all, there are things happening around the world and certainly in our own United States that are more deserving of tears. 

That is precisely why I am trying to figure out why the images that led to the loss just don't seem to leave my mind. And they bring up past images of loss - a near victory in 2009 culminating in an interception, a similar situation a decade earlier. 

Most of you have your version of this story, right?  "The agony of defeat."  Why is it we commit ourselves with such emotion and passion to a sports team - the members of which we do not know personally - for a game most of us have never played? (Although, full disclosure, I was a cheerleader in high school).  

I haven't even lived in the state for which this team represents for over twenty years. So what is the deeply-rooted emotional connection about?

I kept asking myself this question through stone-cold sober tears.  My husband reminded me that the anguish of my team losing is something I've had to grapple with since I was a child. His reminder:  'You can take the girl out of Minnesota, but you can't take the Minnesota out of the girl.'  

(So now you know the truth - my team is the Minnesota Vikings and no, we haven't won the Super Bowl - yet.) 

The tribal nature of life.  My tribe was dealt a blow. And I felt it, deeply.  

Long-time former coach of the Vikes, Bud Grant, was interviewed after the game by columnist Bob Sansevere about the record cold temperatures in which the team played their final game of the season.  Coach Grant said,
"Cold is not debilitating. Cold is not bad. I don’t freeze. . . If you want to be a deer hunter, if you want to be a duck hunter, if you want to be a golfer, if you want to sail, you deal with the weather. If you’re not going to do it every time it’s cold, then you miss a lot in life."
Talk about a belief system specific to Minnesota: A little bit of cold doesn't stop you.

Coach Grant's words gave me encouragement.

First, as someone committed to a career that involves daily rejection, I am going to have to live in the cold - otherwise I'm going to miss a lot in life.  (See previous post "Here's to an Uncomfortable 2016!")

Second, I am committed to throwing off the 'fair weather fan' mentality. I am behind the Vikings come rain or shine (or shanked field goal - aaaaahhhh.).  This mentality can also be carried over into my work.  Full commitment. Don't give in when the mountain becomes steeper than you think you can handle. 

Third, I miss my tribe. Having a team reminds me of my roots, my home.  And the strong and courageous and kind spirit it takes to be a Minnesotan.

Leaving home was an event, a marker, a shift, a loss, an uncomfortable time, but necessary as I moved from dependent to independent, from daughter to woman, from sister to friend, from student to professional. 

You don't have to move from the mid-west to California to experience this story. 

Even if you remain in the town in which you grew up, separating from your 'home' can be difficult.  

Even if the family you are leaving isn't perfect, breaking away is uncomfortable. 

Even if you move only a block away, there is a loss. A sense of emptiness.  For a little while. 

The Oscar-nominated film 'Brooklyn' is all about leaving home.  The writer describes it this way:
"You'll feel so homesick that you'll want to die. And there's nothing you can do about it, apart from endure it. 
"But you will. And it won't kill you. 
"And then one day, the sun will come out and you might not even notice straight away. It'll be that faint.  
"And then you you'll catch yourself thinking about something or someone who has no connection with the past, someone who's only yours, and you'll realize, that this is where your life is."  

Life for me is here in L.A.  But I'm a Minnesota girl at heart. Proud to be from a tribe that doesn't let a little cold bother them. 

By the way, it took a few days, but eventually, I stopped saying, 'How could he have missed . . ."  

I'll be wearing my Vikings jersey on Super Bowl Sunday. And thinking about next season. 

Next season we might just make it all the way. 

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Here's to an Uncomfortable 2016!

2015 will be remembered (among other things) as the year I was on the Kiwanis speaking circuit.  If you didn’t grow up in the midwest or you aren’t of a ‘certain age,’ you might be saying, “What’s a Kiwanis?”   

Well, in very simple terms, Kiwanis is a club where professional folks come together for a meal, and listen to a speaker, and encourage social and charitable contributions to the community.  

But if you have ever attended a Kiwanis meeting, you know it is so much more than that dry description.  These people are fierce - fierce in their love for this country, fierce in their desire to help others less fortunate and fierce in their love for one another as a community.

Kiwanis holds a special place in my heart. My father, who passed away just before Christmas three years ago, was a long time Kiwanis member and he was, (envision me with a fist pump and my best cheerleader voice to the groups to whom I spoke): “Past President of Northern Dakota County "Golden K" Kiwanis!"  (That’s in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota).  I actually have one of my Dad's Kiwanis pins which I wore to the meetings at which I was the speaker.  

(A side note:  you can be fined a tidy-sum if you are a Kiwanis member and don’t wear your Kiwanis pin.  It’s not that they are legalistic - it’s just another way for them to raise money to help others.  See what I mean about being fierce?)

The clubs to which I spoke were interested in hearing about my acting career.  Oh boy - you would think that would be music to an actor’s ears.  Who doesn’t want to talk about, “And then I did this . . . and then I did this! . . . And did you see me do this?” - the Me-Monster syndrome that comedian Brian Regan talks about. 

That kind of thing actually makes me uncomfortable.  No, really - it does.

In thinking about my career, the first thing that came to mind is how challenging it has been.  (O.K.  I wanted to write “HARD . . . REALLY HARD!”, but changed the word because I’m not fighting in a war across the world, I’m not trying to cure cancer and I’m not sleeping on the streets.  Those things are hard.)

However, being asked to speak about my acting career was a great opportunity to reflect - as we are all doing on this New Year’s Eve.  Reflect on what brought me out here, reflect on what has been accomplished, reflect on what hopes and dreams I am still hoping and dreaming for.

In September, I celebrated a couple-of-decades “plus” anniversary of the day I drove my car from St. Paul, Minnesota to Los Angeles (not knowing a living soul in L.A.) with some clothes, an electric typewriter (if you remember those) and a sewing machine.  Being born and raised in Minnesota, a sewing machine was de rigueur.

I was beginning my adult journey of pushing myself to expand beyond what was familiar.  

I was acquiring my first taste of what would become my mantra for this past year:  "Get comfortable with being uncomfortable."

Becoming successful in anything requires a consistency of purpose.  Chipping away every day.  Even when it’s uncomfortable. 

As an actor, the pull of discomfort can happen in many forms:  a script that is a difficult story to tell, a fear or anxiety of being able to walk into a room of producers and casting people and have the work seem effortless (let alone a 'live' audience in the theatre), and of course, just the sheer optimism that is required on a daily basis to not give up in the face of rejection.

I have to remind myself of the reward on the other side - if I can just push through the discomfort.  Just like when you are lifting weights in the gym.  Doing five reps is easier, but it isn’t going to give you the kind of arms that 25 reps will give you.

But sometimes, there is the pull of things that sound like so much more fun than pushing.  For me, it’s:

1) food (any kind of food really, with a special penchant for cheese)
2) red wine 
3) reading People Magazine.  

While doctors do say that red wine is medicinal, and we all need to eat, I really can’t justify the People magazine (although the subscription was a gift from my mother-in-law, so no exchange of my own money transpired.)

Yes, we all need those mindless moments of enjoyment.  But, are they pushing us to our fullest potential?  Probably not.  

When I feel discomfort, I am almost always assured that some kind of change, knowledge, expansion is happening.  

So as I reflected back on my career for the Kiwanis Club, I realized it’s not about my list of credits.  I believe for most actors, we do what we do because we want to be a voice, we want to illuminate some aspect of life, whether it’s something the audience knows and needs to be reminded of, or something new from which we thought we were separate.

As I've noted in previous posts, Charlie Rose is one of my favorite sources of inspiration.  The Pulitzer-prize winning author David McCullough was recently on the show, talking about his book on the Wright Brothers. 

And Charlie asked Mr. McCullough what the common denominator is in successful innovators like the Wright Brothers.

McCullough answered:  “They do not give up.  And they have purpose, high purpose that they were determined to achieve no matter what.”

And he went on to say:  “Every time the Wright Brothers went up in one of these flying machines, they were putting their life at risk.  

“They had courage and character.

“As Wilbur Wright himself said:  'No bird soars in a calm.'”

And this is perhaps where the strength for an actor, for every human being no matter your profession, is so important:  

We must determine a mission that goes beyond self.  And then, it’s a decision every single day to ENGAGE.  As my acting teacher Diana Castle says, we must have a clear sense of reward in the face of threat or there will be retreat. 

No scars, no battle.

The heart of the matter for me is, if we do not push, if we don’t live from the place of discomfort in our lives, we won’t reach our full potential. 

Eleanor Roosevelt perhaps said it best, “Do one thing every day that scares you.”

So as I look toward the start of 2016, I think my mantra will remain the same as 2015:

Be grateful for what is given, continue to push, use all your gifts, be of service (to the story or whatever it is in which you are engaged), hoping to enrich the lives of others.

Here’s to an “uncomfortable” 2016 for all of us.



Tuesday, August 25, 2015

New Eyes

With August coming to an end, and leaves beginning to clutter our drought-suffering nearly dead lawn, I'm feeling a little sad to think the summer is almost over.  Yes, living in Los Angeles means the summer never really ends, but there is something about the sunlight, something about the smells (barbecues, suntan lotion, chlorine) that isn't the same during the "off-summer months" in California.

Nowadays, August brings the start of school for some kids.  And as an adult, it feels like the weight of responsibility is slung on my shoulders a little heavier than it felt in June, when the whole summer was ahead of me and the wonderful anticipation of two family trips (a couple of years in the planning) was still ahead.

The McNamaras (my mother's family) and the Schneblys (my husband's family) both had reunions this summer.  One in St. Paul, MN and one in Oceanside, CA.  In thinking back about the wonderful family time we spent with each group, it brought up the different perspectives each trip gave us.

St. Paul - my hometown.  The Mississippi River and the skyline of downtown with the "1st" of the First National Bank Building in red neon - where I had a summer job to save money to make the big drive out to California.  Cheese curds (even though we weren't in Wisconsin), bratwurst and cold beer.  Warm breezes, humid days, green, green, green for miles.  And lots of cousins (I have 45 first-cousins, although not all were in attendance) from all walks of life.

Oceanside - Marina del Mar condominiums where Lindsay's family has gathered since sometime in the 70s.  Chilly, foggy mornings.  Cloud-coverage that eventually burns off to a warm, blue sky.  Sand that burns your feet in the afternoon.  Ocean water so cold that knee-deep is deep enough.  Perfectly placed palm trees ideal for a postcard.  Mexican food, red wine.  Thirteen Schneblys in all, with family friends visiting throughout the week.

Certainly, the landscapes are very different.  But as my acting teacher Diana Castle always reminds me,

"The voyage of discovery does not lie in having new landscapes but in having new eyes." - Proust

As an actor, it's imperative to be able to have other perspectives - as dictated by the writer of the story - allowing us a deeper, fuller more illuminating ability to tell the story with the goal to illuminate the lives of those that experience the story through us.

It's also imperative as a human being - are you half-empty or half-full or somewhere in between?

Although California has been my home longer than St. Paul, returning "home" always gives me different perspective - sometimes the perspective rushes in with a feeling of loss (childhood, father, innocence) and sometimes with a feeling of accomplishment (my dreams of being actor began in St. Paul).

Perspective with Lindsay's family is different, but no less profound.  Even just watching my husband make his Mom giggle with laughter - the same thing he does to me on a daily basis - gives me perspective on the kind of man to whom I am married.

And of course, any trip with either family gives me perspective on aging - my own, my siblings, our parents.

In looking forward to the fall, more family trips are planned - a weekend trip to Tucson to celebrate my sister-in-law's 25th wedding anniversary to her husband, Tom.  And my family will be visiting us - hopefully to soak up some California sun before the long winter in the Twin Cities.

Yes, the landscapes are different.  But each perspective gives me a view of the world: where I am grateful for home - wherever that is.  Where I am grateful for family far away - cousins and in-laws, sisters and brothers, Mom, Momlee, Dadlar.   And family here - my husband, our doggy, the friends we cherish.

And on those days when I don't feel grateful, when the weight of adulthood makes my shoulders sag, when the job (or even the opportunities for a job) don't come through, and when I feel, quite frankly, old, I will remember the beach of Oceanside and the green of Minnesota.  And family and friends that I love.

And I'll have new eyes.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Call Me "Sister Nancy"

When I was in fourth grade, I desperately wanted to be a nun.

I was a student in Sister Rosaleen's class. She was a very strict nun (a cliche born in truth).   Even given her rigidness, there were a group of us girls who really connected with her. As I recall, she didn't care much for the boys.  In her defense, I have to say, the boys were "Grossssss!" (of the milk-up-the-nose-with-a-straw kind), and I didn't much like them either.

Over the years, I've often wondered what it was that made me so interested in joining the sisterhood.   I had just experienced two Catholic Sacraments, confession being one of them. It was a profound experience as a little girl.  In my young mind, I likened it to this idea that by admitting/sharing/divulging my innermost thoughts of what I wish I could do differently, I could be forgiven and start again.  Fresh.  Oh boy.  This was something I wanted more of. And I must have figured being a nun gave you a premium on forgiveness.  I wanted in.  I also remember the nuns at my grade school having the most delicious meals.  I forgot my lunch on two occasions over the years and the Sisters of Notre Dame were kind enough to feed me - yummy sandwiches, homemade banana bread, crunchy apples (not mush balls) - a lot better than than my dried up peanut butter sandwich.

But a couple of years later, while still in Catholic grade school, I volunteered to participate in a skit to be performed in front of the class.  My first comedic role was born - a ditzy weather girl (in pink short shorts and a Bermuda top, no less).  The skit involved me painting my nails while delivering the weather.  When I started pointing to the temperature highs and lows, my nails got stuck to the map because they weren't quite dry.  Laughter ensued.  Comedy gold, right?  But I actually DID hear laughter for the first time.

And because of that laughter, a seed started to grow.

I did not become a nun. Some of those same boys who seemed so annoying in fourth grade, somehow changed. And became cute hockey players for the star 8th grade team. Goodbye sisterhood, hello flirting.


I gave lots of thought to becoming a flight attendant. My father worked for Northwest Airlines, so he was obviously an influence. Travel was an exciting thing to think about.  But in looking back, more than the exotic locations and the uniforms I coveted (to this day, give me a white button-down and I'm in heaven) was the amazing confidence these women exuded.  Everything they did seemed effortless and they could talk to anyone without blushing - a painful self-consciousness I struggled with - and sometimes still battle to this day.

In high school, I performed in a few musicals (so proud to be on the same stage as my big brother).  Secretly, when I would watch the Academy Awards, I would dream about acting. Even the Miss America pageant provided me with inspiration for pursuing that seemingly unlikely dream.  But no one says, "I'm going to be an actor," at least not where I'm from and not back then.

Although my family was a big influence:  seeing my brother Tom on stage in high school plays, taking dance lessons from my uncle and performing in dance recitals, watching my father played banjo and my sister Sue play guitar.  My sister Barbie and I created neighborhood shows in our garage.  We even had a sister act called The Singer Sailors, complete with yardsticks serving as canes and our Dad's sailor hats from his time in the Navy as part of our costume.  Our number one (and only) tune was an original song we wrote entitled, "We're the Singer Sailors."  Catchy, no?

College.  A general ed theatre course my first year in college pushed me over the edge.  Introduction to Theatre and Film was taught by a truly amazing professor, Ron Perrier.  (I later learned about the History of the Greek Theatre from him, as well.)  I had to admit it.  This acting thing was not going away.  I stalked the theatre majors, watching their work on stage, admiring their funky dress code - unlike what everyone else was wearing on campus.  And I eventually became one of them.

A year after graduating, I drove my little car out to Los Angeles.  And have been here every since.

From nun to flight attendant to actor might not seem like a logical progression, but upon reflection all three involve service.

Service to God.

Service to travelers.

Service to the story.

My acting teacher and mentor, Diana Castle, talks about finding the greater purpose as an actor.  The actor's mission is not a self-serving one but for the greater good of telling the story - the actor is the single human who connects to and shares the stories of all humans being.

I still think about what it would be like to be a nun.  And I still longingly look at the flight attendants' uniforms.  But through story, I can still be those things.  Through my imagination, the possibilities are endless.

Who knows?  Maybe I'll even reprise the weather girl.  Or the Singer Sailors.

Anything is possible.









Thursday, June 19, 2014

This Means War

I was in grade school. Sixth grade as I recall.  Young enough that boys and girls still 'fought' with each other (fighting being the younger variation of teasing or flirting) and still called each other by their last names. “Hey, Johnson!” - my given name.   I attended a Catholic grade school just over a mile from my home.  And in those days, we had to walk to school.  Winters being what they are in Minnesota, there was plenty of snow on the ground, the depth of which you had to walk through by lifting your legs like you were marching.  It took focus and energy.  It took even more focus and energy when someone was in your path, making it difficult.  On this particular day, there was a boy from my class making it difficult - once again. I had begun to dread the walk home, knowing that I would probably be pummeled for the umpteenth time by snowballs thrown one after the other by a boy nick-named Marshmallow.  This nick-name was a variation on his last name which I will not divulge because I feel certain he has turned out to be a fine upstanding man and I do not want to sully his reputation. 

At any rate, I was on the last portion of my walk that constituted Como Park - just one long block from the streets where homes (and witnesses) were situated - when the snowballs began to hit me. I was alone.  And I'm sure I was afraid.  But I was also used to it.  I expected it.  Of course that didn't make it easier.  There might have even been a tad of resignation.  “So, my young life has come to this - defending myself against snowballs.”  However, more than anything, I was . . . pissed. 'The hit' had happened regularly enough that my fear turned into anger.  Maybe even defiance. I don't know how or why, but a spirit rose up inside me. When the snowball hit my face and filled my glasses with white chips of ice, I heard myself say, 'Marshmallow, this means war!"  (I think I stole that phrase from Lucy of Peanuts fame.)  I ripped off my glasses, threw them aside, and started making my own snowballs. And tossed them as fast as I could cement them in my palms. 

Adversity. Well, at least a childhood version of adversity. 

This memory has moved forward in my mind because of the stories I've been watching on film of late.  Catching up on last season's Academy nominees, adversity is a consistent theme (one could argue that is true of all stories). Everything from “Captain Phillips” to “Dallas Buyers Club” to “12 Years a Slave.”  Even films like “Saving Mr. Banks” and “Her” revolve around overcoming personal adversity.  In talking about his film “Gravity,” Alfonso CuarĂ³n discusses the fact that most of life is filled with adversity with only a sprinkling of joyous moments in between.

Is it the time we are living in that these adversity-driven films are prevalent?  Is the 21st century fraught with more problems and conflicts than previous centuries, hence a slew of stories with the same theme?  The wonderful writer and historian David McCullough says there has never been 'a simpler time.'  Every time has been difficult for the people who are living it.  Certainly my younger-self would say “Hear, hear!”  If that is true, then adversity is a part of our humanness.  Perhaps our attraction to watching these stories on stage, film or television, witnessing adversity in others is something that helps us overcome our personal insecurities and fears.  It's part of the reason I love watching the Olympics or the Kennedy Center Honors - it gives me hope and encouragement to see an athlete or artist overcome all the odds.  It's also probably why I hated watching re-runs of sit-coms like “I Dream of Jeanie,” where nothing ever seemed to go right for Major Healy.

I am often struck by what makes one person fight, push and ultimately conquer while another person struggles, exhausts and is defeated.

Is fear the common denominator in all of this?  And if so, do some of us allow it to overtake us, and others feel it, but push through it anyway?  Does anyone out there live without fear?

I go through periods of experiencing fear in the middle of the night. I wake up for whatever reason, and the Rolodex cards start flipping - like a checklist of topics that can make me worry and fret and even regret.  Money, career, family.   “Why did I. . .?  What if I. . . ?  How can I. . .?”  It's a vicious cycle that can be hard to break. If I allow it to, prayer can calm my heart, and help me to sleep.  I envision God's angels carrying my prayers to heaven and helping me fall into a deep slumber.  But I'm not always able to let go and allow that to happen.

I think it's because rooted deep within me is something that, at times, is not allowing the present to work its magic.  When I think about it, in nearly every area of my life, the need to be present in the moment is difficult to maintain.  As an actress, it is a constant struggle to be able to tell the story with freedom no matter who is in the room.  Engaging the play-spirit, as Diana Castle says, and not being ahead or behind, but being in the here and now. 

So what is the answer? Because if indeed our lives are full of more adversity than joy, we are all going to repeatedly come up against this struggle every day.  

The poet Rilke said:

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

Living the questions.  I like that. I love how the pressure to be and do and accomplish is taken out of the equation when you are living the questions. 

Taking the pressure off of myself doesn't give me permission to eat a bag of croutons on the couch while watching re-runs of “Sex in the City” (too specific of an example not to be true?).  I still need to push, create, learn, even when I'm not sure what the result will be.  Living the questions is being present WITH the fear and WITHOUT the fear. It's ok if you don't know the answers. They will come to you.  Or they won't.  And if they don't, maybe the answers aren't important. 

Leave it to Mr. Rilke, who lived over a century ago to reach forward in time with a profound wisdom. Perhaps Mr. McCullough is right - there hasn't ever been a 'simpler time.'  There's now.  And I'm grateful for that.  And for the questions that now brings.  So maybe, the next time a snowball hits me in the face (metaphorically speaking, of course), I'll say, "This means war." Or I'll be reminded to just live in the question of “How do I get this snow out of my eyes?”


Saturday, September 28, 2013

Dreams, Prayers and Kevin Costner

My husband, Lindsay, and I watched TV "live" the other night - a rare event at our house due to the DVR ("Digital Video Recorder" – in case you ever wondered what those letters stand for) having died.  We were waiting for the replacement box to be delivered, and in the meantime, we were stuck with watching whatever happened to be on at the moment.  It's strange to think that, as kids, we watched live TV all the time - it was all there was.  You had to be home at a specific time to watch a specific show on one of three networks (four, if you counted PBS).   And you had to watch the commercials.

At any rate, scrolling through the on-screen TV guide, we looked for a movie that was about to start. (Another technical advancement since childhood days of reading the TV listings in the newspaper. Remember newspapers?  Gee, they were swell.)  And then we saw it:  "Field of Dreams."  Neither of us had seen the movie since it came out in 1989.  Selection made.

Having loved this movie 20 years ago, I was interested to see how it would hold up.  I remember seeing  "Shenandoah" with Jimmy Stewart on a Saturday afternoon re-run when I was a kid - I balled like a baby at the end.  When I insisted on watching it again with Lindsay because I wanted him to see this great film, I was surprised at how cheesy it was, and frankly, not very good.  My 10 year-old self liked cheese, I guess.

"Field of Dreams" certainly holds up (screenplay by Phil Alden Robinson and he directed, as well).  The clothing and hair-styles are classic 80s of course, but Kevin Costner is impossibly young and Burt Lancaster gives one of his last performances.  He's terrific, with his old-school speech that fits so perfectly for the Doctor from the past.  But what struck me most was how different the message of this film was for me, twenty years later.

The first time I saw this movie unfold, it seemed to be saying, "listen to your gut, follow your dreams, all will be well."  Kevin Costner's character plows over his cornfield because he hears a voice telling him to build a baseball field.  He listens to the voice, and without going into the entire plot, it all turns out pretty well.  


Yes, I still believe that can happen.  You work hard, you listen to God/Holy Spirit/your gut and you succeed.  But disappointments can take their toll on a person in this business over twenty plus years.   Heck, any business.  Life in general.  Everyone has their share of disappointments.  So the "baseball/apple pie/Iowa is heaven" tone of the film, while sweet, seemed too much like fiction to my older self.

But something else grabbed me as I watched.  I was struck by the character of Dr. Archibald "Moonlight" Graham, played by Mr. Lancaster.  A one-time baseball player, circumstances prevent him from pursuing his dream and he ends up becoming a doctor (not a bad "second" career).  In recalling his missed baseball opportunity, he says:  

"We just don't recognize life's most significant moments while they're happening. Back then I thought, 'Well, there'll be other days.' I didn't realize that that was the only day."

As the movie continues, Moonlight Graham is given a chance to relive his baseball days as a young man (on the field that Kevin Costner built) and it's a wonderfully moving moment.  He finally gets to live his "field of dreams."  Unfortunately, Kevin Costner's little girl falls off the top of the bleachers and stops breathing.  Kevin looks to Moonlight Graham to heal her.  The old doctor does, but in doing so, gives up his second chance at baseball.  (Turns out, the little girl was choking on a hot dog.)  Watching this part of the story 20 years later, I found myself re-thinking what this movie was all about.

Instead of it being a story that validates our dreams coming true, maybe it was actually saying, sometimes our dreams don't come true in the way that we want them to - and we don't really understand why. Sometimes, you don't get the part, sometimes, you don't get the girl or boy, sometimes, people die before they should.  We can't understand it.   Life doesn't always add up to hard work ruling the day.

And that's okay.

Because along the way, if we are paying attention, we can still learn, we can still grow, we can still experience life with passion, with joy, with the little things like doggies, and good books, and a nice glass of wine, and for me, a wonderful part to play, even if it's just in my living room.  And of course, people in our lives who we love and who love us.

Garth Brooks wrote a song that says, "Some of God's greatest gifts are unanswered prayers."  I guess that's what I'm learning along the way.  Sometimes, things don't work out the way you want.  

Be grateful anyway.


Saturday, August 31, 2013

Tennis, Anyone?

My husband Lindsay and I were fortunate enough to take a real vacation last year.  (A friend of mine defines "vacations" as destinations that do not involve visiting family.  Visits to family are called "trips.")  At any rate, we went on a vacation and stayed at a hotel with a tennis court.   I'm not a great player, but I try to get on the court once a week.  When the sound of the ball hits the sweet spot on my racket (and that happens sometimes) it's a pretty amazing feeling.   And I love the little skirts you get to wear.

When I learned the the hotel offered a free hour with their tennis pro, I jumped at the chance to try to improve on my weekend game - and maybe even undo one or two bad habits I had learned over the years. As it turned out, I was the only hotel guest to show up for the free hour, so it became my own private lesson.

What a gift. We worked forehand and back hands and serves, of course. He ran me around the court, and I was actually starting to feel like I was learning something that my weekend tennis partner would notice in our Saturday rallies. But with each stroke we focused on, the instructor repeated the same phrase over and over again: "You aren't following through."  Even my double-handed back hand - a more often than not sure-fire winner - garnered the same lackluster remark: "You aren't following through."  Huh?  How is that possible?  "I feel like I am," I defended.  And then he showed me where my racket stopped, and boy was he right. I wasn't following through.  To correct this, I started to bring the racket all the way back and then all the way across my body until my arm crossed my face and was near my opposite shoulder.  The power was amazing.

What a metaphor for my life.  Follow-through.  Kind of a scary concept.  Following through requires courage - a mentality that says, even when you don't feel like it, even when you think it doesn't matter, even when you feel discouraged and think it's pointless, follow-through.  It's a mental game.

This certainly applies to acting.  Working on your mentality is just as important as working on the story.    My acting coach, Diana Castle, teaches this brilliantly.  She talks about being the master of our mind.  And implores us to take Rilke's first "Letter to a Young Poet" to heart:

"This before all:  ask yourself in the quietest hour of your night:  must I [write]?  Dig down into yourself for a deep answer.  And if this should be in the affirmative, if you may meet this solemn question with a strong and simple "I must", then build your life according to this necessity. . ."

To me, this "I must" burns in every champion.  The U.S. Open is in full-swing right now (pardon the pun) and I recently watched a series of interviews with some of the tennis greats:  Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Serena Williams.  They all have their different strengths and weaknesses.  But mentality is the linch-pin.   When asked how much of his success was about the mentality and the will, Connors agreed emphatically, "That's it.  Every body plays good tennis; it's what you bring over and above that."  That's the common denominator in terms of winning and losing.  Follow-through.

With fall around the corner, I'm determined to follow-through, to see where it takes me, to take on a champion's mentality.  I  doubt I'll be playing in Wimbledon next July.  But who knows what other doors may open?  Maybe that's where the fear comes from.  What if one's dreams really did come true?