Trying To Get On Top Of It

“At around twenty-eight, twenty-nine, or thirty years old, after my kids were born, I figured I’d hit some plateau that was adulthood—where I believed things would just stay level for about forty years while I would do great work and have interesting experiences—then rather uneventfully I would begin to decay and die. But this was just not the case. I was not on a plateau. I was descending, tripping, stumbling, and burning. My whole being, or personality or self or whatever is supposed to be the seat of me, or the soul behind my eyes, was being boiled away in a giant iron cauldron like the flavor leaving a carrot.” –A Bright Ray Of Darkness, novel by Ethan Hawke

For the actor…

There’s a huge gulf between trying to get on top of it and being on top of it.

How much time is spent on the summit of a mountain versus the climbing up and down? Let alone the preparing for the climb.

“Trying to” involves struggle and obstacles. Internal and external. Real and imagined. It’s the struggle that’s fun to play and riveting for the audience. We wanna watch you go through some shit.

Resist the natural human impulse to want it to be easy. To be on top of it.

Get down in the muck. Litter the text with obstacles. Give yourself behavior that’s difficult to do.

The harder you can make it on your character to accomplish the objective, the more memorable your character will be.

P.S. – The pic above is from the original production of the play “K2” by Patrick Meyers at The Arena Stage in 1982. Legendary production designer Ming Cho Lee built an incredible set.

Don’t Owe

“Friends don’t owe! They do because they wanna do.” -Rocky’s advice to Paulie in Rocky III

Don’t do it out of guilt.

Don’t do it because you think you owe it to them.

Don’t do it expecting a certain response or result.

Don’t do it to get some kind of status or reward.

Do it because you wanna do. Do it because you’re a true friend. Do it out of love. Will the good of the other, as other.

P.S. – This scene.

The Right Path?

“The desire for security and the feeling of insecurity are the same thing. To hold your breath is to lose your breath. A society based on the quest for security is nothing but a breath-retention contest in which everyone is as taut as a drum and as purple as a beet.” ―Alan Watts, The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety

If we knew 100% it would all work out in the end, we’d probably endure just about anything, including being thrust in a pit of poisonous snakes, to get there. Remember the game show “Fear Factor”?…Contestants would do all these crazy hard, scary things. But if they completed the task, they’d get the reward.

What often stops us from trying isn’t hard work or the trials we have to endure.

It’s not knowing if we’re on the right path. Not enduring the right trial. Not doing the right kind of hard work. That maybe we should be doing something else. And what if we do our absolute best and it’s not good enough?

Yep. Those are all real possibilities.

Do it anyway.

Some thoughts that might help you go forward and choose a path…

One: You’ll never know until you try.

Two: Trust yourself to iterate and figure things out along the way.

Three: You can rest knowing you gave it your best shot.

Four: No matter what, you’re gonna grow from the experience and learn something.

Five: Nobody knows what the right path is.

All that matters is you make a choice. You take a step. And then another. And then another. And then another…

Don’t Play The End

For the actor…

Yes, you know how the story ends.

But we in the audience don’t. It’s our very first time.

Therefore, play each moment, each beat, each scene, as if you’re in the audience. Expect your actions and tactics to work. Fight for what you want right up until the very last line.

And who knows? Maybe this night will be different. Maybe this night you’ll break through to the other person. Maybe this night you’ll achieve your objective. It should feel like it, anyway.

P.S. – Speaking of concealing your intentions, this Seth Godin post.

The Concept Statement

“Good thinking is expensive. Bad thinking costs a fortune.

One way to force yourself to think is to write. Good writing requires good thinking. 

Forcing yourself to make your thinking visible gives poor thinking nowhere to hide. You can’t simply take a few minutes here and there, get the gist of the problem, and expect to have clear writing. It doesn’t work that way.

Good writing, like good thinking, takes time.” -Shane Parrish

If you’re directing (or even producing) a film or play, one of the best initial practices you can do is write out a concept statement.

It’s basically a distillation of all your thoughts, enthusiasm and vision for the art you’re trying to make. It should be anywhere from a paragraph to a a few pages. No more.

Make it clear, concise and inspirational. Use it as a reference document to go back to when you’re struggling or feeling overwhelmed.

The process of writing one will clarify your thinking and strengthen your “why.” It will help you communicate better. And it will give you and your fellow collaborators more confidence for the journey that lies ahead.

Write your concept statement now.

Save a ton of time and unnecessary frustration later.

The Unusual Way

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
-poem, “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost

“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.” — Steve Jobs, 1997

If you chose to risk. Or live an artistic life. Or devote yourself to loving and serving others, for better or worse, you’ve chosen the unusual way.

You. Chose. It.

Therefore, embrace your unusual choice! And stop looking to the world for the usual way.

For the usual reward. 

For the usual validation.

For the usual praise.

For the usual success.

For the usual status. 

For the usual wealth.

For the usual power.

For the usual guidance of how to think and do and be.

Seek out and cultivate the Unusual. Find the others.  

You picked the unusual way. 

How long can and will you stay on it? Do you have the guts to follow it through to the end?  Especially when there is no usual end in sight?

P.S. – This haunting Frost recitation. This iconic commercial.

P.P.S. – “It’s Not Unusual” to listen to this song and immediately be in a good mood.


The more you’re in …ing mode and not …ed mode, the better.

…ing implies possibilities, open-mindedness, a growth mindset, willingness to learn new skills, suppleness, flexibility, you’re still on the journey of life.

…ed is past tense. You’re done. Closed off. Finito. Hardened. Brittle. You know all there is to know. Where’s the fun in that?


Practicing. Not practiced.

Mastering. Not mastered.

Learning. Not learned.

Playing. Not played.

Trying. Not tried.

Process. Process. Process.

Work On Your Life Force

“When a patient commits to pursuing their potential, it triggers their Life Force, and it’s the Life Force that gives them the vitality to heal themselves. You can bury your symptoms with meds, you can avoid situations that trigger them, but if you want to change yourself in a lasting way, you need to put yourself in forward motion and pursue your potential.” -Phil Stutz

“Though the Life Force supplies us with its own purpose, it has no other brains to work with than those it has painfully and imperfectly evolved in our heads…This is the true joy in life, being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one. Being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it what I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.” -George Bernard Shaw

“May the Force be with you. Always.” -Obi-Wan Kenobi

Struggling today? Feeling anxious or lost? Unmotivated to do anything?

First, go through the self care checklist. Did you get enough sleep? Water? Exercise? Etc.

And then, per renowned therapist and psychiatrist Phil Stutz, work on your life force.

He explains it in this excellent documentary, “Stutz”, directed by Jonah Hill. (Hat tip to my friend Melanie and her production company, Fishbowl Films, for producing. They’re also nominated for an Oscar this year for their documentary, “Navlany.” Go Mel!)

Every day, but especially those bad days, those “dark night of the soul” days, work on your life force.

Start with exercise. Get out. Get moving. Be in nature.

Next, call up a friend. Meet up for coffee. Have a good, deep conversation. (Bonus points if you go for a walk together.)

Last, get out a pen and paper and start journaling. Use the Julia Cameron technique from the Artist Way–write three pages without lifting your pen from the page. Don’t think. Just write.

You’ll immediately feel better. If not, rinse and repeat.

Do this today. Do it every day.

May the Force be with you.

P.S. – For more Stutz, this LAT article. And this New Yorker article.

P.P.S. – Yesterday, I forgot to attribute the quote about intention and obstacle. You may have guessed from the Jack Nicholson/”A Few Good Men” picture. It was writer Aaron Sorkin.

Intention and Obstacle

“I worship at the altar of intention and obstacle…When you’re talking about things like theme you have to be really careful because that’s not what’s going to make the car go. Okay? It’s what’s going to be what makes the car be good and give you a good ride. But that’s not what’s going to make the car go—at least not for me. You know, everybody writes different. But for me I have to stick—really closely, like it’s a life raft— to intention and obstacles. Just the basics of somebody wants something, something is standing in their way of getting it. Make sure you have that cemented in place. Themes will then become apparent to you and you can hang a lantern on the ones you like. Bring them into relief, you can get rid of the ones that aren’t doing you any good and you can paint the car and make it look really nice. But the car isn’t going to turn over unless you see to the basics of drama, and drama is intention and obstacles, somebody wants something, something is standing in their way of getting it.” -Aaron Sorkin, writer

For the writer writing the scene and the actor playing the scene (and come to think of it, anyone else’s who’s trying to do something great)…

What do you want? So much so that you’d die (literally and metaphorically) if you don’t get it.

What’s the obstacle? What’s standing in your way from getting what you want?

What are you gonna DO about it.

Now…Take action.

Bonus points actors, if you can conceal your want from everyone else. Say one thing, but inside, you desperately feel and want something else. (Just like we do in real life.)

P.S. – This scene.

We’re All Rough Drafts

“We cannot treat other people as if they’re final drafts while expecting people to look at us as if we’re rough drafts. Everybody’s a rough draft. We’re all writing ourselves in real time…All of our erasers are chewed up, we’re trying to figure it out, make ourselves and discover ourselves in real time. And that is an impossible thing to do. But that’s the thing that makes us human. -Lee Edward Colston, playwright (The First Deep Breath), writer, actor, artist

“Be tolerant with others and strict with yourself.” -Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

“A great man is hard on himself; a small man is hard on others.” -Confucius

Then she found a small clearing surrounded by firs,
And she stopped…and she heard what the trees said to her,
And she sat there for hours not wanting to leave,
For the forest said nothing, it just let her breathe.
-excerpt from the poem “Breathe” by Becky Hensley

“Nana korobi, ya oki” which translates to “Fall down seven times, stand up eight.” -Japanese proverb

In our interactions with people, can we assume positive intent? Can we think of them as rough drafts and not final drafts? Can we put ourselves in their shoes? Can we have more empathy and sonder and understanding?

And if something they say or do causes us anger or hurt, can we take one, giant, deep breath before responding?

Let’s give it a shot.

And if we or they come up short, let’s give ourselves and them a break.

Take another deep breath.

And try again.

P.S. – Awesome Vs. Theatre Club outing last night! Go see THE FIRST DEEP BREATH at the Geffen Playhouse before it closes. Support live theatre.