Monthly Archives: October 2014

Week 11 – Moments in the Woods

Hello beautiful friends! I hope your Monday is off to a really exceptional start.  Today is another “Shakin Things Up” kinda day, and we’ll be back with more thrilling GBD’s super soon.  (*Note: “we” really means just “me,” but sometimes it just feels more satisfying to write about ourselves in the plural, am I right?… : )

  1. I am grateful for a lovely phone call this morning with my buddy Andrew.  He is a talented, kind, and incredible guy, and you should probably keep your eye out for him and remember his name, because he is ridiculously amazing http://www.andrewnielson.com
  2. I am grateful for the thoughtful people here in St. Petersburg who drive me places on a consistent basis, due to my Out-of-Towner-Car-less-ness.
  3. I am grateful to have such wonderful, respectful, considerate roommates right now.  Living with other actors in an “actor housing” situation can be a crapshoot sometimes, and I hit the jackpot!

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(A roomie baking adventure! Dark chocolate dipped Ginger Newman-Os with sea salt, and Pumpkin Spice Oreos dipped in white chocolate, dusted with cinnamon!)

If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you’ve probably pieced together that I’m an actor, and that right now I’m working on a musical called Into the Woods.  If you’re not familiar with the story, Into the Woods is a really thrilling mash-up of some familiar fairy tale characters, with the added journey of a baker and his wife who must go on a perilous and exciting scavenger hunt of sorts to break a curse that has been rendering them childless. Each fairy tale character (Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack of beanstalk fame, and lots more!) is also on a journey to see their respective wishes granted. The second act of the musical deals with the reckoning that comes with getting what we think we want.  Some say “Into the Woods is about what happens AFTER happily ever after.”  Add an incredible musical score, (If you don’t know it, you should check it out, probably) http://www.amazon.com/Into-Woods-Original-Broadway-Recording/dp/B004VWXUWS/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1414430404&sr=8-5&keywords=Into+the+Woods a giant, some beans, and a whole lot of brilliant lyrics that will make you laugh and cry – and in the nuttiest of nutshells, you’ve got an idea of what Into the Woods is about.

Since I’ve been living in this world for a significant part of my waking (and non-waking, frankly) hours, it only seems appropriate that it warrants a blog post. And one that I think relates very much to the idea of “Little Bits of Good.”

The musical opens with the lyric “I wish,” as we learn what many of the characters are dreaming passionately about.  Each is hoping to escape their current existence and create or find a life that is better than the one they are currently living. I think about this wishing, as related to my own life.  I spend a lot of time looking ahead, and probably we all do. Wishing for something “better” than what I have at the moment, feeling so sure that it (“it” being whatever the elusive thing is, in that moment) will make me happier, more fulfilled, or more “successful.” All the moments spent trying to get somewhere, instead of looking down at my feet – at the path, and saying “Wow…this is pretty great, too.”

 

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(Wishing to go to the Festival!)

Striking a balance between a healthy dose of dreaming/reaching/wishing, and looking at our lives and being content/thankful/appreciative for exactly where we are at can be hard.  Because we live a little bit in a culture that tells us that if we aren’t striving for something more that we are lazy, or not keeping up with “them.” (*Who IS this “them,” is what I’d like to know!) But this week I am going to challenge myself (and I invite you to join me) to recognize all the little bits of good that are already present in my life, and really celebrating them. Some ideas…

  1. Instead of making my “three statements of gratitude” once a week, I’m going to get back to my gratitude journal and challenge myself to write daily statements, for this week
  2. Remember where you were at on this day, last year. Where were you at geographically, emotionally, mentally, etc? Make a list of all the ways you’ve grown, since then.  It can be easy to focus on where we want to be, or how far we feel from where we want to wind up…but take a moment to celebrate your progress, because we all make it!
  3. Who are your cheerleaders? Think of the important people in your life right now. Maybe some have been a part of your life for awhile, and maybe some are brand new.  Celebrate the people who are your supporters – who lift you up, keep you smiling, and remind you that you are doing great. The people who are helping make your life, at this moment, magical just as it is.
  4. Look at your surroundings. For all that you may want to change about your home or current living situation – what DO you like about it? There’s got to be something, whether it’s a perfect pillow, a window with a view that makes you happy, or a toaster that actually works. Celebrate those comforting little bits!
  5. For all that you hope to accomplish, make a list of all that you HAVE accomplished. It can be as simple as reading a book you didn’t think you had the focus-level to get through, or as big as accomplishing a career goal!

 

Have a great week, Celebrationists! A week of celebrating who we are, where we are, and what we are doing in THIS moment. That maybe if we focus on what we think we want…we might be missing out on what we already have. That sometimes sensible running shoes are better than a golden slipper.

And knowing that in this moment we are already enough, already on the path, and if we stray from it – it’s all part of the journey.

 

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Week 10 – Fear Monsters

Hello lovely Celebrationists! I hope you had a brilliant week.

I’m super stoked about this week’s GBD, because she addresses a topic that came up in four separate conversations I had recently. Which leads me to believe that this idea is relevant to more people than just myself and these fabulous four.

Some may call them Voices of Doubt, Crazy Makers, Energy Vampires, or The Mean Voice in My Head, (or you can do what I do and substitute Voice for something slightly more crass) – Jillian Ratliff calls them our Fear Monsters.

After a frustrated chat with a buddy about my own fear monster, I named the mean-head who lives in my mind. Being able to talk about her (mine is definitely female) as a separate entity has been super empowering, already!

Three statements of gratitude, and then read on, to meet Jillian and George.

  1. I am grateful for the cast/crew/and entire experience that is Into the Woods.
  2. I am grateful for Chad Jennings. Because he is a wonderful man.
  3. I am grateful that my parents are driving to Florida, and I’ll get to visit with them for a few days!

All right, friends. This amazing lady is Jillian Ratliff, and she tames Fear Monsters. http://fearmonster.org

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For the folks who aren’t familiar with your work, (yet!) what is a Fear Monster? 

JR: Your fear monster is that little voice in your head that tells you what you should be afraid of, what to be insecure about, or what to worry about. It’s an imaginary friend, who usually means well but ends up causing trouble. We all have a fear monster, but depending on how healthy of a relationship you have with it, it can either be a powerful ally or a complete pain in the butt!

What inspired you to begin Fear Monster Obedience School? What were/are some of your goals?

JR: I created Fear Monster Obedience School because the process I went through to train George (he’s my fear monster) was a very long and frustrating one. Life has given George many completely valid reasons to be afraid, but I was determined to stay open to the good things in life, rather than allowing myself to completely shut down out of fear. My intention is to help other people do the same thing by sharing what I’ve learned.

Tell us a little about your background! You’re a stand-up comedienne and spiritual teacher – this sounds like a really brilliant and exiting combo…

JR: It is exciting! And it was pretty confusing for me at first too. I’ve spent a lifetime studying different religions and spiritual practices, and a lot of the people I’ve met seem to take spirituality very seriously. I’m just not one of those people. I take my work very seriously, of course, but I think life is just way too short to take myself seriously.

Through a bit of experimentation, I’ve discovered that laughter is actually a powerful tool to help others open up — to love, to new experiences, and to new ideas.  And in my own life, laughter was a pretty powerful force in getting me to change. I grew up in a very conservative branch of the Christian church. The first time I watched the movie Dogma, it changed my life because it got me to laugh at myself and some of the silly things I believed. By using comedy as a part of my brand of spirituality, I’m better equipped help others realize how silly fear can be sometimes!

Talk to us a little about your comics! They are amazing! How do they support the work you do/do you take requests? 

 

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JR: I started doing the comics mostly for fun. I figured it would be an interesting way to advertise my services as a coach. Now, they’ve really started to take on a life of their own, which is fun to watch, and I’m honored that people like them so much.

For the most part, the comics come from just observing my own thoughts and then putting a silly spin on it. But I absolutely take requests! Any suggestions can be emailed to jillian@fearmonster.org.

If you’re comfortable sharing, was there a situation/Fear Monster in your own life that led you to create Fear Monster Obedience Training?

JR: Well, the creation of Fear Monster Obedience School has actually been quite a long journey. I came up with the idea of George the Fear Monster because I had gotten to a point in my life where my fear was so overwhelming that it was nearly paralyzing.

A few years back, I had a stalker. It was such a scary situation, and I felt so powerless, that I didn’t really know what else to do anymore except to laugh at it. That’s where George came from.

I tried writing a book, but it wasn’t until I drew what was in my head that other people really understood why I thought he was so funny.

Now that I’ve learned how to have a healthy relationship with George, it was just the next logical step to share with others how to do the same.

I noticed Art of Elysium  on your website.  What can you tell us about these guys, and how to support them? 

JR: They are an amazing organization here in Los Angeles, and they use art to help sick kids feel better. A lot of kids at Children’s Hospital (or other hospitals) who are chronically sick are there by themselves a lot. Their parents usually have to work, so this organization visits and gives them some fun things to do. They have art days, and put on plays for them, and they have musicians who go room to room and play songs for them. They have makeup artists give them makeovers too! I volunteer for them when I can, and I also donate 10% of my proceeds to them.

What’s next for you and George?

JR: I’m going to take a time out next month and go to Bali with Mastin Kipp (who writes the Daily Love) and a bunch of other amazing writers, and I’ll be writing the script for the graphic novel! It’s going to tell the story of how I met George, what we’ve been through together, and I how the relationship I have with him has changed over the years. It’s a love story — but it’s just a love story with myself.

I’m also working on getting an app for iPhone and Android published so you can read the comics on your phone, as well as some cool merchandise!

Next year, I’m going to be putting together a program designed specifically for artists. We artists have a very special brand of fear monster, so I’m going to be working with people one on one to help them get past their creative blocks for good, and start creating on a consistent basis! (Anyone interested in applying for that can just send me an email: jillian@fearmonster.org)

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What is another organization you believe to be doing Little Bits of Good?

JR: I really like “The Good News Network.” I’ve completely turned off the news because it just gives George way too many creative ideas. But The Good News Network is a Facebook page that posts only positive, uplifting stories. I enjoy seeing that in my news feed.

What is the best thing that happened to you today?

JR: Probably snuggling with my dog!

Thanks so much, Jillian! Celebrationists, give Jillian a like on the Facebook,  http://www.facebook.com/jillianratliffcomedy , check out her website, and learn more about training your own Fear Monster!

See ya next week!

Week 9 – Dark Days

Good Morning, Celebrationists! Hope you’ve had a great week.

  1. Today I am grateful for the day off after a wonderful (but long) tech week and opening weekend of Into the Woods
  2. I’m grateful for some really awesome communication and understanding that is happening in my life at the moment
  3. I’m grateful for my Toms, because I just think they are the most comfortable shoes in the world, and they make my feet really happy

Today is another “shakin’ things up” post! Next week will bring you another inspiring GBD, but today I want to talk about what I call “dark days.”

In theatre, a “dark day” refers to a day when your show isn’t running. So with Into the Woods for example, our dark days are Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday (but we DO have shows on Thursday, Friday, two on Saturday and two on Sunday…and you should probably come if you’re in Florida, and this isn’t a shameless plug at ALL ; ) www.freefalltheatre.com)

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Anyway. In the theater, a dark day is a day off/day when the theater is literally dark.

A more common way that people use the phrase “dark day,” is to describe a day when they just “aren’t feeling it.” When you wake up feeling tired, down, complacent, or like reading/looking/talking to anyone or anything positive makes you want to roll your eyes, throw a fit (or a blunt object) or crawl back into your bed. You feel no desire to “take a walk, call a friend, or bake for Grandma.” Doing or receiving Little Bits of Good couldn’t feel more impossible or annoying to you.  These days stink.  And when I have them, what I feel mostly, is a lot of guilt…and then I run and try to “fix” it. “It” being…basically everything I’m naturally experiencing/feeling in that moment.

I do think that when we feel ourselves closing down the most compassionate answer for ourselves is to reach out and look up – but I also think that there are days when it’s just ok to take a dark day. Turn off the lights in your theater, rest, and allow yourself to experience exactly where you’re at – with total curiosity, no judgement, and as much compassion for yourself as you can muster.

It’s no secret that we live in a culture that’s about quick fixes. What can I buy, use, eat, look at on my phone that will take the edge off and return my brain/heart/body to a state of relative content, which is where I’m “supposed” to be at?  I  know I do it.  But I think there is great value in allowing ourselves to say “You know today is a dark day for me. I feel unappreciated, like I’ve allowed my personal vampires to get too loud, I feel lost…” or however it manifests for you.  Hold your flashlight right in its face and look at it head on. Take the day to be alone, or be with people, or cry, or do whatever you need to.  I think that being present with our pain without extensive dwelling can be a great gift to ourselves.  When a part of our body hurts, it’s actually kind of cool, because it’s telling us “Look! There is some dis-ease here! I’m giving you this pain as a clue, so we can go deeper and figure out what’s up!” I think our emotional pain is probably no different.

So on those days when you’re not feeling it, instead of beating yourself with blunt objects, feeding great feasts to your crazy-making vampires, or smothering yourself with sunshine and butterflies and pretending everything is great, maybe try perking up to your pain, and giving it a good listen.  What does it have to tell you? Instead of guilting and shaming ourselves because we aren’t feeling positive or “good,” let’s play detective and just listen to the wonderful mystery of our minds and hearts.  We might discover something of great value.

In the theater, those dark days allow us to launch back into the show with fresh energy, excitement, and perspective.  If art imitates life…I think we might be onto something here : )

Do something nice for yourselves today, and see you next week, Celebrationists!

Week 8 – Embracing the Curveball

Hello Friends!  Another week to celebrate.  Going to jump right in, today…

  1. I am grateful for the delicious home-made juice that our choreographer brought for our first day of tech week, which started yesterday. It.  Was.  Delicious.
  2. I am grateful to be surrounded by a cast of inspiring people.  Both theatrically and personally inspiring.
  3. I am grateful for the lack of humidity these past two days.

Rachel Handler - Prosthesis

So I am SUPER excited to introduce you to this week’s ridiculously cool and highly inspirational GBD, Rachel Handler.  Rachel is a singer, dancer, actress, motivational speaker, and solo performer who recently lost her leg.  Rachel says it perfectly – “The prosthetic leg I wear isn’t a sign of loss, but a reminder to master fear and embrace life. I choose to find the opportunity in adversity.”

Can you tell us as much as you’re willing to share about your accident, and what that was like for you?

RH: My accident happened in North Jersey on my way to an audition. I was in a minor fender­bender around a curve on the freeway so I pulled over on the shoulder of the road, along with the other driver. We parked right next to the guardrail and called the police. There was barely any damage to either car, but we wanted everything to be properly documented. While we were waiting for the police to arrive, the other driver got of her car and asked to borrow my phone, since her phone just died! I gave it to her and we both leaned against the guardrail while she called work to tell them she’d be a little late. Little did we know that a few minutes later she wouldn’t make it to work that day, and both of our lives would change forever.

Another car flew around that curve, I caught it out of the corner of my eye and knew that the driver had completely lost control of the car. I had a split­second to wonder if the car would travel from the left lane to the shoulder of the road where we were standing. In that split­second I knew I was in serious danger. Before we could get to the other side of the guardrail we both were struck by that car, I didn’t even have time to scream in fear.

I lost my leg on impact at the ankle and part of my leg was crushed. The doctors believe that the reason I didn’t bleed to death waiting for the ambulance was because my leg was crushed so badly it almost created a tourniquet. I spent a month in the hospital as doctors worked to save as much of my left leg as possible. Luckily, that was my only serious injury.

While we wait for ambulances to arrive, a woman pulled over and stayed with me as I laid helpless of the side of the road. She held my hand and prayed with me. Since that day we’ve kept in touch and I even spoke to performing arts students at the school where she teaches!

You’ve really taken this experience and made incredible things come out of it.  Two part quetion – What is one unexpected bit of good that has come out of this experience for you? and What is one challenge that you find you are still working to overcome?

RH: Ever since I lost my leg I’ve noticed that there aren’t many actors with disabilities on TV, and there definitely aren’t any disabled actors on Broadway stages. Being disabled myself now, I have this new awareness and passion to advocate for inclusion in the arts. I’ve met so many incredible people on my journey to recovery, some have been disabled and some specialize in working with people with disabilities. These stories need to be told and acknowledged for the good of society! We are missing out right now.

I’m still trying to get auditions for non­disabled roles, but the road has been challenging. Many casting directors will use able­bodied actors for disabled roles, but I have a hard time thinking of an example of an actor with a disability playing a role that isn’t necessarily written with a disability.

You’ve been doing a lot of film, theater, and TV projects recently! Can you give us some hilights?

RH: Last summer I got to play Chunks in a feature film called Smothered written and directed by John Schneider. He wrote the role hoping to find an actress with a real prosthetic running leg. His casting director took the time to think outside the box and contact Alliance for Inclusion in the Arts. Inclusion in the Arts sent him my headshot and resume, he told John to check out my website, and then I got an email to send him a video audition. A few days after I emailed my audition I was told that I got the part. A few days after that I was on a plane to Baton Rouge, LA to film my first scene in a feature film! It was a dream come true and the most incredible opportunity I have ever received.

Rachel Handler - Smothered

I also just played Maria in The Sound of Music this summer and it was wonderful to be back on the stage playing that iconic role. I’ve had many issues with my prosthetic leg, but for the first time since my accident I was able to get through all of the rehearsals and performances without crutches!

What advice would you share with people who are trying to be supportive to a friend (or stranger, for that matter) with a disability? What are some things that you do NOT appreciate, and then – what’s most helpful and supportive?

RH:  I hate being asked the question, “What happened?” by strangers asking about my leg. That story is so traumatic and emotional for me. And most times when I reply that it was an accident they just keep asking more and more questions. Lately I’ve been telling people I don’t want to talk about it but they can check out my website.

The best ways a friend can be supportive is by letting you talk and really listening. Just like other challenges, living with a disability isn’t always a struggle ­ but we have our good days and our bad days.
Recently I went to a friends wedding and was looking forward to dancing! But out of nowhere my leg started hurting like crazy and I couldn’t dance at all. It was so disappointing. My friend drove me home and I couldn’t help but cry in the car. She listened and we talked about the daily struggles of living as an amputee, and ended up screaming F*CK THIS LEG a few times out of the window. It really made me feel better!

What advice would you share with someone who has been thrown an unexpected curveball, in their life?

RH:  If you’ve been thrown an unexpected curveball, allow yourself some time to adapt. Human beings are so good at adapting to anything! Give yourself time, don’t be afraid to ask for help, think about how lucky you are in other aspects of your life, and adapt.
It takes time to put things into perspective. I lost my leg in 2012, but in 2010 I had broken that ankle so I was already used to using crutches.

You’re doing some motivational speaking, as well! I think that’s SO incredible.  Tell us about it.

RH:  I’ve been doing some motivational speaking at colleges and high schools, I especially love to speak to performing arts students and other people with disabilities! I also do disability awareness talks at colleges. This month I’m singing at the Disability Pride Parade in Trenton, NJ.

After my accident people kept telling me that I was inspiring them, and I liked that! But I didn’t feel entirely worthy of that praise. I was handling my loss the only way I knew how, by staying positive and relying on others to stay positive when I couldn’t. I want to be that positive reinforcement for others when they go through those times where there doesn’t seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel.

What are some goals you have for yourself, moving forward? What are you working on, excited about, passionate about pursuing, at the moment?

RH:  Right now I’m working with KMR & Associates. They are a talent agency dedicating their amazing resources to advocate for inclusion in the arts. My agent there works tirelessly to submit actors with disabilities to roles with and without disabilities. I’m also really looking forward to being home for the holidays and doing some shows with Cape May Stage in November and December!

Inspiration Whore Guitar

What is your dream role? 

RH:  I would love to play Nessarose in Wicked on Broadway. I think this role is a perfect example of how we can integrate a performer with a disability into a Broadway show seamlessly and effectively. Nessarose is in a wheelchair for most of the show, but she has to stand up at the end of the show. Although they couldn’t cast an actual wheelchair­user in this role, someone with a prosthetic leg or cerebral palsy who has experience living with a disability and using a wheelchair in real life could bring so much to this role!

 What is another organization or individual you believe to be doing  “Little Bits of Good?”

RH:  My friend Tiffany has the kindest soul. Her mother went through a battle with breast cancer for many years and Tiffany was there for her every step of the way. Now she’s raising funds for breast cancer research.

My friend Leigh lost her father to leukemia. Now she runs a successful non­profit company called “Broadway Lights the Night” where they have raised over $45,000 for different charities.

What is the best thing that happened to you today?

RH:  I got to sing the National Anthem at a golf tournament for wounded veterans this morning!

Thank you so much, Rachel! Have a wonderful week, Celebrationists! : )