THEM, Not you.

“Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; remade all the time, made new.” -Ursula Le Gun

“The Master, by residing in the Tao, sets an example for all beings. Because he doesn’t display himself, people can see his light. Because he has nothing to prove, people can trust his words. Because he doesn’t know who he is, people recognize themselves in him. Because he has no goal in mind, everything he does succeeds. When the ancient Masters said, ‘If you want to be given everything, give everything up,’ they weren’t using empty phrases. Only in being lived by the Tao can you be truly yourself.” –Tao Te Ching by Lao-Tzu (Stephen Mitchell translation)

It’s not about you.

It’s about THEM. What can you do to help them? To make things better for them? Your family, your friends, your co-workers, your readers, your audience, your scene partner, etc…

Always, always make it about the other person. Can never go wrong when you do that.

Let go. Flow. Trust. Surrender. Be the medium for your art and your work.

Will the good of the other. Love.

Ode To That Super Fast, Jacked Runner Dude

Speaking of feeling a little less alone

Not gonna lie, the last couple of months have been rough. Lotsa life stuff swirling around. Most acutely my dad–my rock, my best friend–isn’t doing so hot. He’s got incurable skin cancer and is back in the hospital.

I’m doing my best to be strong and help him and my mom get through it. I’m blessed to have a wonderful, supportive wife, two understanding teenagers, incredible friends, my faith and my art to lean on. (And 80’s movies on repeat like Fletch and Can’t Buy Me Love, books, plays, Vs. Tuesday Nights, music (thanks Joey for the daily Pearl Jam songs), podcasts and sports, especially the endless Lakers drama around Russell Westbrook.) But even with all that help, I’m struggling. We all are, right?

This past Sunday, I went for my usual, early morning run. It’s about 3 miles. Including an uphill climb which kicks my ass every time. I had to take a few weeks off as I was down with Covid and this was my first day back. There’s a few regulars I see out there Including this one dude who looks like he’s training for the Olympics. Young, no shirt, jacked, tatted up, very expensive-looking neon yellow sneakers, sunglasses, white hat. He runs like a gazelle. I run like a turtle in comparison. (One of the fun side effects of Crohn’s Disease is joint pain. Yay! Plus I’m in my late 40’s. But no excuses and alas, I persist.)

Over the years–other than the occasional, polite wave/peace sign–we’ve never said anything to one another. This day, this time, for whatever reason, as he approaches me from the opposite direction, he slows down and calls out:

“Where you been brother?! Good to see you back out here. Way to get after it!”

I reply with a stunned “Uh…thanks man” and he whooshes past me.

Five or ten seconds later, I start sobbing. Uncontrollably.

Then the waterworks stop, I feel strangely calm and resume the run.

That small act, that one gesture of kindness, meant everything to me. I didn’t know I needed it but in that moment, I desperately did. And in my low points this week, I think about it and feel a little less alone.

If you feel the impulse to smile or wave or compliment someone, do it. Go first. You never how it can positively affect someone.

And thank you super fast, jacked runner dude. Whoever you are.

A Little Less Alone

“You know what it’s like around here? I have watched television. I have seen Brochures. It is impossible to not All the Time be thinking about how other people have Lives, Jack. Other people talk to people. [There’s people out there that all they do is Talk to one another] and there’s me.” -from the play On An Average Day by John Kolvenbach

“During my years caring for patients, the most common pathology I saw was not heart disease or diabetes; it was loneliness. The elderly man who came to our hospital every few weeks seeking relief from chronic pain was also looking for human connection: He was lonely. The middle-aged woman battling advanced HIV who had no one to call to inform that she was sick: She was lonely too. I found that loneliness was often in the background of clinical illness, contributing to disease and making it harder for patients to cope and heal.” Loneliness, he wrote, is associated “with a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, depression and anxiety.” -Former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy writing in the Harvard Business Review

“School performance, public health, crime rates, clinical depression, tax compliance, philanthropy, race relations, community development, census returns, teen suicide, economic productivity, campaign finance, even simple human happiness – all are demonstrably affected by how (and whether) we connect with our family and friends and neighbors and co-workers.” -Robert Putnam from his book, Bowling Alone

But I’m just so tired of this loneliness
I’ve become so tired of this loneliness
-Coldplay, song “Yes”

I’m so tired of being alone
I’m so tired of on my own
-Al Green, song “Tired Of Being Alone”

As the below two articles and numerous books point out, we have an epidemic of loneliness in this country and the world.

One recent study shows that loneliness raises the risk of death by heart attack or stroke by a third. It’s a bigger killer than obesity. It also leads to extremism, division and violence.

We need to do everything we can to combat this epidemic. There are so many ways to do so. Especially through volunteering in your local community. Even simple things like smiling and waving at someone can go a long way.

Making art is another way. One of the reasons I love theatre so much is people gather together in a shared space. We watch live persons going through some intense stuff, which powerfully connects us. It engenders empathy and greater understanding for the human condition. And I believe it can literally change us at the molecular level.

Today and every day ask yourself what can you do to help people feel a little less alone. Let’s be kind and take care of each other. Cause we’re all we got.

Our Way

And now the end is here
And so I face that final curtain
My friend I’ll make it clear
I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain
I’ve lived a life that’s full
I traveled each and every highway
And more, much more
I did it, I did it my way
-Frank Sinatra, “My Way”

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” -African Proverb

There’s definitely something admirable and heroic about the individual who lived life on their terms. Who didn’t take any crap. Who did it alone. Did it “my way.”

But you know what’s more heroic, more noble, more stoic?

The person who made things better for others. Who did it “our way.”

We have just shy of 8 billion people on this planet and a whole lotta challenges.

We can solve them. But we got to start thinking “our way.”

Fix 10 Things

The actor/writer/director Austin Pendleton was recently interviewed on the excellent “Back To One” podcast which I highly recommend listening. In it, he talks craft and process and tells some amazing theatre history stories. One of which surrounds his acting in the very first production of “Fiddler On The Roof.”

The legendary Jerome Robbins was the director/choreographer. They were in Detroit’s Fisher Theatre for an out of town tryout in hopes to eventually get to New York. The early reviews were disastrous.

The cast all gathered together in a bar lamenting the bad reviews and drowning their sorrows in alcohol. Off in a corner by himself was Robbins furiously writing notes in the script. Pendleton sidled up to him asking what he was doing, how he felt about the negative press, what his plans were, etc…

Robbins replied: “Tomorrow, we’re all gonna meet early to rehearse. I’ve found ten small things I want to fix. After we fix those ten things, the next day we’ll get together early and fix ten more, and so on, and so on, and so on.”

So that’s what they did. Every single day. Right up until the end of the run.

The show got better and better and better. Producers came to see it towards the end of the run, loved it and put it up in New York.

And the rest as they say is history….

Fiddler became the first musical to surpass 3,000 performances.

-It held the record for the longest-running Broadway musical for almost 10 years until Grease surpassed its run.

-The production was extraordinarily profitable and highly acclaimed. It won nine Tony Awards, including best musical, score, book, direction and choreography.

-It spawned five Broadway revivals and a highly successful 1971 film adaptation and has enjoyed enduring international popularity. It’s also been a popular choice for school and community productions.

The lesson(s)? Never give up. Control what you can control. Find and fix ten small things every day.

A Reason To

At the end of every hard-earned day people find some reason to believe. -lyrics from the song, “Reason To Believe” by Bruce Springsteen

“If we want to feel an undying passion for our work, if we want to feel we are contributing to something bigger than ourselves, we all need to know our WHY.” -from the book “Find Your Why” by Simon Sinek

“Once you apprehend the vacuity of a life without struggle, you are equipped with the basic means of salvation.” -Tennessee Williams

We all need a reason to do something, a why. Doesn’t necessarily have to be, but better if the reason is specific and measurable and tangible. And has a deadline. It springs you into action.

For example…

A reason to lose weight might be you want to fit in that old suit again for your 25th high school reunion. Rather than “look good.”

A reason to update your resume might be to apply for a specific job posting you see that generally excites you. Rather than doing it just to have “in case.”

A reason to save and invest more money might be for that pink Cadillac (Yes, I couldn’t resist the Springsteen nod) you’ve always wanted and is now on sale. Rather than to “feel rich.”

We all need a reason to get out of bed in the morning, a reason to work hard, a reason to make art, a reason to be disciplined, a reason to devote ourselves to something bigger than ourselves.

We all need a reason to believe.

Once you find it, you’ll never look back.

Easier Said Than Done

“I will not avoid the tasks of today and charge them to tomorrow for I know that tomorrow never comes. Let me act now even though my actions may not bring happiness or success, for it is better to act and fail than not to act and flounder. Happiness, in truth, may not be the fruit plucked by my action yet without action all fruit will die on the vine. I will act now. I will act now. I will act now. I will act now.” -Og Mandino

“Easy choices, hard life. Hard choices, easy life.” -Jerzy Gregorek

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.” -Samuel Beckett

“Fall seven times. Stand up eight.” -Japanese Proverb

So many things, especially when it comes to advice, fall under the category of “easier said than done.” It’s because it’s true. It’s way easier to give advice than to act on advice. It’s way easier to hear advice–even if it’s incredible, amazing, earth-shattering, world-class, “if you do this, then you are guaranteed to get that” kind of advice–then it is to actually ACT upon that advice.

I totally get it. I do. And like all these blog posts, I’m always partially speaking to/admonishing myself when I write…But here’s the thing…if we do nothing, we get nothing. If we do something, we might get something. Might make an improvement. Might make things better for ourselves and others.

While it’s easier to do nothing and stay with the status quo, that doesn’t mean it’s the better choice.

Try this out…The next time you get some advice that rings true, see if you can take one small, tiny, infinitesimal step right after hearing that advice.

An example…you read some inspiring and practical advice about how to declutter your house. Before you move on from that advice, throw out ONE single item and resolve to do it again tomorrow. It’s a minor, insignificant win I know. But it’s a win nonetheless. It’s precious momentum. You can feel good that maybe for the first time in a long ass time, you didn’t just get advice and do nothing with it. It didn’t go in one ear, make you feel good, give you a quick dopamine hit, and then out the other. This time, you got the advice and then you actually did something with it.

Step by step. Drip by drip. Action by action. That’s the way, the only way, anything worthwhile gets done.

Personalize! Personalize! Personalize!

“I’m probably more personal when I’m acting than at any other time. More open, more direct. Because it allows me to be something that I can’t always feel comfortable with when I’m living my own life, you know? Because it’s make-believe.” -Phillip Seymour Hoffman

I’m not exactly sure why this is, but the more personal you make your art, the more universal it becomes.

Perhaps it’s because the audience can feel the investment of self, the authenticity of the work and the risk that was taken. The more the artist risks, the more the audience (and they do so subconsciously) opens their hearts, minds and souls to the art. That goes for the writer as well as the actor.

A friend relayed this story to me about the late, great Phillip Seymour Hoffman…

One night after a performance Mr. Hoffman was asked by some students his “secret” to acting. His response:

“Personalize! Personalize! Personalize!” And then (I’m paraphrasing this next part)…”You have to find a way to take everything personally.”

In every beat, every possible moment, make it personal. Take it personally! Act as if it’s happening to YOU now. It is. Risk! Let us in. We so badly want to go with you on the ride.

P.S. – I was inspired to write this post after a beautiful, magical Vs. Tuesday Night Reading of Paula Vogel’s “How I Learned To Drive.” Everyone from playwright to sponsor to director to cast made it personal. Bravo, Bravissimo! to all involved.

Guest Post: “Mentorship”

Nothing makes me happier than when someone tells me they were positively impacted by one of these posts. So you can imagine my level of joy when my good friend and active reader of this blog, Jason, aka “Sgt. Hulka”, (Can you guess the classic 80’s comedy reference?) emailed me a “guest blogger” post for me to use however I see fit. It’s a beautiful post. Here it is unedited, below. Enjoy!….

Mentorship is one of those things that can happen in any job, at any age, and at any stage of life.  But you do have to ask for it, and that might just turn out to be the heaviest weight you ever pick up.  But once you take that action, you will unlock a unique part of life that can’t be quantitatively measured.  After all, how do you put a value on someone who says “Make no mistake. I don’t care where you come from, I don’t care what color you are, I don’t care how smart you are, I don’t care how dumb you are, ’cause I’m gonna teach every last one of you how to eat, sleep, walk, talk, shoot, and shit”?  (I actually said that to some new recruits I was training for a new job).  Mentors come in all shapes and sizes and sometimes you don’t even know – a mentor could be in the room with you right now as you read this.  You may not like them at first, but if you hear them later on refer to you as their Uncle, well then you know you’ve made an impact. -Sargeant Hulka, United States Army

Thank you Sargeant for these words of wisdom. I hope we get more posts from you. And anyone else out there…if you’re so inclined and want to write a “guest post”, I would love it!

Ask The Big Questions

Another post inspired by George Saunders excellent book “A Swim in a Pond in the Rain”

One reason Saunders focuses on the classic Russian writers in his class at Syracuse, besides their excellence of craft, is that they weren’t afraid to “ask the big questions.” There’s a weight and depth to their stories. They’re epic in scale and scope. You can feel them wrestling with these questions at every turn. The degree of difficulty they’re pursuing in their art is off the charts.

If you’re looking for some writing inspiration, it might be helpful to pose the following “big” questions (I cut and paste them directly from Saunders’ book) to yourself and your characters:

(1) How are we supposed to be living down here?

(2) What were we put here to accomplish?

(3) What should we value?

(4) What is truth, anyway, and how might we recognize it?

(5) How can we feel any peace when some people have everything and others have nothing?

(6) How are we supposed to live with joy in a world that seems to want us to love other people but then roughly separates use from them in the end, no matter what?

Put your characters in a room and see how they duke these questions out. This might just be the fuel for your next play or story or novel. (And perhaps for your own life’s work.)