No Regrets

“Of all the words of mice and men, the saddest are, “It might have been.” -Kurt Vonnegut

“I wanted to tell her everything, maybe if I’d been able to, we could have lived differently, maybe I’d be there with you now instead of here. Maybe… if I’d said, ‘I’m so afraid of losing something I love that I refuse to love anything,’ maybe that would have made the impossible possible. Maybe, but I couldn’t do it, I had buried too much too deeply inside me. And here I am, instead of there.” -Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Out of love,
No regrets–
Though the goodness
Be wasted forever.

Out of love,
No regrets–
Though the return
Be never.

― Langston Hughes, Selected Poems

You will never regret doing hard things. Even if things don’t work out the way you originally planned–they rarely do–you’ll gain so much from the experience.

You will regret avoiding or running from them.

What & Why

“Everyone sit down. Good. Feel the chair. Feel the floor. Feet. Cushion. Spine.
Knees.” –Stand Up If You’re Here Tonight by John Kolvenbach

Feeling overwhelmed? Stressed? Mind racing? Can’t concentrate? Struggling to be present? All of these things and more?

Try this…

First, breathe in and out. Do this a few times.

Next, ask yourself this question, “What am I doing?” “What am I literally doing?” Not what I want or need to do in ten minutes. But what am I doing right now, at this exact moment. Whatever it is, answer and name it for yourself. “I am washing the dishes.” “I am writing a blog post.” “I am walking the dog.”

Then ask yourself “Why am I doing this?” Again,answer it. “I am washing the dishes so that they will be clean. I am walking the dog so that he can get some exercise and fresh air.”…You get the idea.

This simple process grounds you and gets you back into presence. It’s calming and clarifying.

Actors…This also works if you’re struggling in a scene. Pause. (It’s okay. You got time.) Breathe. Ask yourself what you’re literally doing. Look your partner in the eye. Ask yourself what you want from him/her. Connect. Then proceed.

Plateau

 

“Last year, foolish monk. This year, no change.” -Ryokan Taigu (Zen Buddhist monk)

“You know when you’re walking in the woods on a dark night…and you see a light shining far off in the distance…and you think to yourself: even though I’m tired and it’s dark and the branches are scratching my face…everything is gonna be okay…because I have that light? And I’ll get there eventually? Well, I work–you know this–I work harder than anyone else in this county. I mean, I’m beaten down, Sonya, I suffer unbearably…but I have no light in the distance. I can’t see anything up ahead. I no longer expect anything of myself and I don’t think I’m capable of really loving people.” -Astrov to Sonya in Uncle Vanya by Anton Chekhov (translated by Annie Baker)

Anyone who’s tried to lose weight will tell you the most difficult period is when you plateau. The first few weeks on a diet and exercise program, the pounds come flying off. You feel tremendous as you get the positive feedback loop from seeing the fruits of your efforts pay off.

Then the inevitable wall hits. The plateau. You’re sticking to the program, yet you see no change. In some cases, you might even gain back weight. THIS is the hardest part. It’s so tempting to quit. You think you’re doing something wrong.

“Might as well quit and go back to my old ways cuz this sure as shit ain’t working.”

But anyone who’s been through it will say that at some point, if you stick with it through the plateau, if you can remain faithful and diligent, at some point you’ll see another breakthrough. One day you.get on the scale and you’re several pounds lighter. And the next day, more pounds come off. And the next day, again…

Whether it be weight loss, trying to make more money, writing a novel, manifesting a passion project, etc…any kind of goal, the plateau is coming. Depending on the length of time, many plateaus. Can you stick with it when there’s no light in the darkness?

Two things that might help.

Blind faith.

Perspective. Instead of looking forward. Look back. See how far you’ve come.

Project By Project

What if you thought of your “goals” as “projects”?

This forces you to get specific and remove emotion, fear and being overwhelmed.

For anything you want to do or accomplish, get out a pad and paper and start writing…

What’s my desired objective? How will I measure it’s success? What are the steps necessary to achieve it? What are the deadlines? How will I evaluate my progress? How will I iterate?

Read this excellent post from Seth Godin. Also check out his list of 35 plus years of projects. Notice how many of them didn’t work out as planned, yet he persevered and returned the next year with a different project.

Drip by drip. Step by step. Project by project. It all adds up to a lifetime of meaningful work, growth and experience.

How Far Can You Take It Solo?

One of the more frustrating things about being an actor is that because it’s a collaborative art form, you only get to do the actual work when you’re cast in something. When you book the job. Outside of a scene study or other class, you spend more time looking for work than doing the work you love.

This is where having an anchor play can help.

Pick something you want to work on for at least a year or longer. Something that challenges you. That inspires you. That scares the crap out of you. A part you’d kill to do. (For me right now, that’s “Astrov” in Uncle Vanya. Prior to this it was “Eddie” in Fool For Love which then led to me playing “Austin” in our Vs. production of True West.)

Once you have your anchor play, ask yourself how much work can you do on your own. How far can you take it solo?

A thought experiment/exercise…Pretend that in one year from now, you will show up to the first day of rehearsals. The director will expect the following from you:

-You will be off book.

-You will be in costume.

-You will have fully investigated the text. You will know the facts of the play, what your character says about him/her self, what your character says about others, and what others say about you.

-You will have broken the play down into beats. You will have strong actions for your character in each beat.

-You will have written your backstory.

-You will have fully explored behavior.

-You will have pushed the limits of your imagination and senses within the given circumstances of the play.

-You will know your character’s spirit animal.

-You will know how your character walks and talks. Where their center is.

-You will have read other plays by the same playwright. As well as biographies and articles including theatre criticism about the playwright and the play(s).

-You will have watched various films that might inspire your character.

-You will have created a soundtrack to listen to that helps get you into character.

-You will have observed people and nature. You will have found some things that inspire your character.

The above are just some various ideas and approaches to doing the work. There’s plenty more and different things one can do. Point being, this should keep you busy for at least the next year or two. You can do it in the margins. And you don’t need anyone else to make it happen. You’re solo.

If you commit to this anchor play, process and mindset, not only will you grow as an actor, but you will have fun and be empowered. And you never know…it just might lead to you doing the play and part someday. The universe is weird like that. Just think how ready you’ll be on the first day of rehearsal!

“Not My Best Stuff”

Warning: another sports analogy….

Sometimes after a game, the winning pitcher gets interviewed and says he didn’t “have his best stuff.”  But he battled through and gutted out a win.

That type of victory is just as impressive–if not more so–as throwing a complete game shutout when you’re on fire.

For any passion project, anything you’re trying to do, know that there will be hours, days, weeks, even months when you just don’t have it.  And don’t feel like doing it.

Discipline is doing it anyway.  Mucking your way through. 

Experience provides the confidence that you can still perform at a high level. 

Blind faith is the belief that your best stuff is right around the corner.

P.S. – Bonus points if you can name the former Cubs ace pictured above.

P.P.S. – RIP Sonny.

The Obstacles Are Real

“An iceberg, sir.” -First Officer William Murdoch’s reply to Captain E.J. Smith’s question as to what the Titanic just struck

“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” -Marcus Aurelius

The greater the thing you’re trying to do or make, the greater the obstacles. They are real and should not be ignored. (Unless you want to go the Ostrich route.)

For any project, write down all the obstacles (You can also call them “limiting factors” if that helps you brainstorm. Examples might include time, job, money, health, etc…). Once you’ve exhausted your list and gotten granular, ask yourself three questions.

One…Can I overcome them?

Two…Do I want to try?

Three…Is NOW the best time for me to try? You might have legitimate priorities and commitments that will interfere with your ability to try. You’re not set up for success, and therefore will be miserable in the attempt.

If the answer to any of the above questions is no, then put this passion project on a back burner list. Save it for another time. Revisit in three, six, twelve months.

If you have a yes on all three questions (and you have a strong “why”), then you can start thinking about how to not just overcome the obstacles, but how they can become the way forward.

P.S. – “If it were easy, everyone would do it.”

Letting Go Of Everything

Let the good times roll
Let them knock you around
Let the good times roll
Let them make you a clown
Let them leave you up in the air
Let them brush your rock and roll hair
Let the good times roll
Let the good times roll-oll
Let the (good times roll)
-The Cars, “Let The Good Times Roll”

Good times, bad times
You know I’ve had my share
-Led Zeppelin, “Good Times, Bad Times”

Hey
It’s your tomorrow
(Right now)
C’mon, it’s everything
(Right now)
Catch that magic moment, and do it right, right now
Oh, right now
It’s what’s happening
Right here and now
Right now
It’s right now
Oh
Tell me, what are you waiting for?
Turn this thing around
-Van Halen, “Right Now”

Think I’m going down to the well tonight
And I’m going to drink ’til I get my fill
And I hope when I get old I don’t sit around thinking about it
But I probably will
Yeah, just sitting back trying to recapture
A little of the glory of, well time slips away
And leaves you with nothing mister but
Boring stories of

Glory days yeah they’ll pass you by
Glory days in the wink of a young girl’s eye
Glory days, glory days
-Bruce Springsteen, “Glory Days”

Being present means letting go of everything so that you can focus on this one moment. Right here. Right now.

Intuitively it makes sense to wanna let go of the bad. Who wants to revisit bad memories?

But to be present, you gotta be willing to let go of the good times too. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck in nostalgia and can’t grow.

It’s a new day. It’s a new moment. Begin again.