It’s so interesting to me the idea of a New Year. We all get this feeling that we get a clean slate, we can start over and become anything that we want. The idea that we can totally reinvent ourselves and accomplish the impossible. What is it about the passing of a year that gives us that power to see ourselves rising above what we have been able to create in the past and reach the dreams that we have been keeping at bay? Why is it that we allow ourselves to slip down back off the wave of what is possible as soon as the high of what is New has rubbed off?
My wish for all of you is to have a magical holiday that will keep the fire of possibility burning inside you throughout the year. Everyday can be New Year’s Day, what is it that you want? Why not go after it?
Happy New Year!!
I had the incredible fortune to be invited to attend the Hollywood Premiere of DOLPHIN TALE this weekend. It is a new movie coming out about a dolphin, Winter, that has it’s tail amputated after getting it caught in a crab trap and the amazing team of experts that help rehab her back to health. It’s a great story if it ended there but the fact that she now uses a prosthetic tail to swim is what really takes it to the next level.
The man who is responsible for building the tail is someone who I have known and respected for years, Kevin Carroll, he is a joyful, animated, Irishman, who was a drummer in a rock band at one time, and someone I like to refer to as ‘The Leg Whisperer’. He is a very skilled prosthetist and the love for his work is truly inspiring.
Now, what you don’t learn in the movie is that the whole ‘tail’ idea was Kevin’s, he was driving home one day listening to NPR in his car and heard Winter’s story and the next day he called the aquarium and said, ‘I think I can help your dolphin’. He took on the unreasonable challenge of building Winter a prosthetic tail along with Dan Strzempka, fellow Hanger prosthetist, and it took them over a year and a half to figure out how to design a tail that would work for her. They had no idea that the work that they were doing was going to lead them where it did, they just wanted to make life better for Winter.
I had a moment of realization of the power that the simple chain of events can have while I was standing on the blue carpet at the premiere yesterday. The event was so large that they blocked off an entire city street for the day. It was there that I was aware that had Kevin not called that aquarium that day and not spent months and months of his time dedicated to making life easier for this dolphin, there would be no fancy Hollywood premiere.
Pretty powerful stuff.
There are few precious moments in life where we can see the impact that we have on the world around us and noticing it can be incredibly empowering. The simple choices we make on a daily basis change the course of life, not only for us but for all of the people that we come in contact with.
The one other thing about Kevin that I just adore is that he doesn’t make it about himself, he is happiest when he sees amputees doing well walking (or swimming) and living an independent life.
How many times in life have you had a thought to do something or help someone but ended up talking yourself out of it because you were being ‘reasonable’? How might your life be different if you were a little less reasonable?
My nieces have birthdays about a month apart, which makes this time of year generally busy trying to figure out what ‘kids are into these days’ – can’t BELIEVE that I’m even saying that! – and what ‘Awesome Aunt Katy’ should buy them!
My oldest niece, Kira, just turned 9, it seems like yesterday when she was 3 weeks old and throwing up down my shirt (that’s a story for another time) and it made think about being young and feeling like things took forever to come, like summer break, Christmas break, Spring break, basically anytime that I didn’t have to go to school or BIRTHDAYS. I remember feeling when I was younger that all I EVER wanted was to be grown up. So much so that you would add a fraction to the end of your age.
“WOW! You have gotten SO BIG! How old are you now?”
“I’m 9 and 3/4.”
I couldn’t WAIT to be 10 – DOUBLE DIGITS! That was a big one.
Could you imagine doing that now?
“Wow! You look so different! How old are you now?”
“31 and 3/4!”
I bet it would get a laugh.
It’s so interesting to me that I don’t feel THAT much different then I did when I was 22 – I’ve learned a lot about life, what I want from it and who I want to be in it, but I can’t say that I FEEL any older. I have grown to be more able to stand up for myself and know when to walk away from a situation and when to stay and fight. I have learned to cherish the special moments with the ones that I love dearly and try to tell them as often as possible that I love them and that they are really NEAT!
I appreciate those aspects of aging, the perspective, I love that! But I miss the simple joy and lightness of being a kid sometimes. We take things so seriously, don’t we, we ADULTS. Maybe we should take a lesson from our former selves and perhaps spend our time doing the things that make us the most happy, because we want to not because we have to.
What would happen if the next time that someone asked your age you replied, “48 and 2/3!”?
I have recently been called in to audition for a pilot for a tv show for one of the big networks. We were in Vegas for Jay’s birthday and of course as soon as I left town, opportunity came knocking… the role was for a girl in her 20′s that is an amputee, she has had a one night stand with the main character of the show. She is a tough girl who is self-confident, regardless of her physical situation. I had a great audition, hit it off really well with the casting director, knew that I was perfect for this job and left believing that I had booked it.
Then I waited. And waited. Didn’t hear anything.
I was very confused about what that meant, how could I be so wrong about how the meeting had gone?
I ended up having my agent call and get feed back for me.
I was wrong. They loved me. They agreed that I did a great job and they had said that the producers decided that they thought that the role was more of a sight gag and was a bit shallow.They then said that they wanted to bring me in again down the line for a role that wasn’t an amputee at all.
That is what I have been working towards for years. I used to say, whatever gets your foot in the door, even if it’s a prosthetic foot…
But now I am not so certain that always getting cast as ‘disabled girl’, ‘sassy, confident, funny, even in her situation…’ is the best way to make a name for yourself.
People in Hollywood want to put you into your little box,
oh, you’re the chubby guy,
oh, you’re the funny girl
oh, you’re the hunk
But even the word, ‘DISABLED’ sits uneasily in my stomach.
I know plenty of people who have all of their body parts in working order and they can’t make it to the grocery store without a major issue. Some of the most amazing people I know are unable to walk or see or talk. But they live. They live life everyday to the fullest and keep their ‘disabilities’ out of it.
I have been meeting with potential managers recently too and it’s been very interesting (and empowering) to sit there and say, I am looking for someone who is not afraid to pitch me as a ‘normal’ person. Sitting down with people and saying this is what I need, if that’s you, great, if not fine too. I am pretty close to making a choice on my newest team member who can help take my career to that next level and that makes me very excited.
I think that we often get afraid to make changes or get comfortable in our current situations and don’t want to make waves but what can happen is then we get stuck – not moving forward. It’s really good for us, from time to time, to try to shake things up in our lives, however scary that may be. Stepping out of our comfort zone can be hard but what it can lead to is amazing!
Take a chance this week and try shaking things up!
My awesome and hilarious husband, Jay Cramer, is the Director of the Performing Arts Program at Rancho los Amigos National Rehab Center, it’s a program that is made up of past or current patients of the hospital who are all performers- singers, dancers, comedians. It’s truly amazing the amount of talent that has passed through Rancho and these people are mostly untrained. There is everything from an Elvis tribute artist to singer-songwriters to poets and everyone of them is living life after some sort of injury or disability. Every time I go to rehearsal, I leave with so much joy from the excitement of these people and their passion for their art.
Being a part of this group has been a great opportunity for me to remind me why I got into the entertainment industry in the first place.
When I was younger I would do ANYTHING to be involved with even the smallest project, without even thinking about being paid or what it might lead to later on. I just wanted to preform, to act, to sing. That is what I get from the members of the Performing Arts at Rancho, they look at it as an opportuntiy to share themselves with their community without the expectation of what it can lead to, it’s all about self-expression.
We had our first out door concert last week and I sang a song from the Broadway show WICKED and after I got done singing I was approached by a little girl, she was maybe 4 years-old, and her mother. She was looking at me like I had fallen from the sky and her mom looked at me and said, ‘She wanted to hug the princess.’ This little person heard me sing and thought that I was a princess from a Disney movie (which is one of my dream jobs – by the way!) So I reached down and hugged her and she smiled the sweetest smile at me and ran right back over to her mother’s arms.
What an important lesson to learn as an actor! We can tend to get wrapped up in the business of the business and end up forgetting about why we got into it in the first place. I am so thankful for the reminder from the amazing performers in this group and also from the people that we reach.
Not only did I get the opportunity to sing for over 200 people, I got to be a princess.
Take some time this week and think about where you might have lost the passion for the work that you do.
Check out the photo gallery from the show at the link below!
Today’s blog is a collaboration with a dear friend and mentor of mine, Mara Purl. We have been friends for many years and have seen amazing things happen for each other in that time! She is the author of a series of Women’s Fiction Novels being released in hard back next month!
Along with the release of her novel, WHAT THE HEART KNOWS, she is going on a Virtual Blog Tour, which she not only asked me to be a part of but she invited me to kick it off! So here it is, a co-authored blog – Mara’s first stop on her 2011 Blog Tour! This will be posted not only on Eternal Optimist but also Mara’s blog at http://marapurl.wordpress.com/.
Whenever we get the chance, Mara and I camp out at a local coffee shop and catch up on career, family, and life in general. These coffee dates are very special to me but also incredibly helpful because we really try to be sounding boards for each other. We wanted to try to capture a glimpse into one of our chats and what made the most sense to us was to create the blog in the style of a screenplay – Mara and I are both actresses – so what could be more natural?
Please enjoy the scene that we wrote and for info on all things Mara, visit her Facebook Fan Page - http://www.facebook.com/pages/Milford-Haven-Novels-By-Mara-Purl/129358801994?sk=wall.
A Conversation Overheard
Katy Sullivan & Mara Purl
EXT. – DAY – ESTABLISHING SHOT – NORTH HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA – TYPICAL SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA SUNNY WEATHER – A COZY NEIGHBORHOOD STREET WITH SHOPS, PEDESTRIAN CROSSINGS, FICAS AND PALM TREES EMBEDDED IN THE SIDEWALK. IN THE NEAR DISTANCE, THE “WARNER BROTHERS” LOGO POKES ABOVE THE BUILDINGS, ADORNING A WATER TOWER; AGAINST A HILLSIDE, A HUGE SIGN BLINKS “UNIVERSAL.”
EXT. – DAY – MEDIUM SHOT – A CAFÉ OCCUPIES A CORNER, ITS GREEN AWNINGS MATCHING THE GREEN MARKET UMBRELLAS OVER ROUND TABLES
INT. – DAY – THE SAME CAFÉ. AT A LONG COUNTER, A WAITRESS POURS COFFEE FOR THE TWO PATRONS SITTING THERE; SEVERAL BOOTHS ARE NOW EMPTY, FOLLOWING THE BREAKFAST RUSH, AND PRIOR TO THE LUNCH RUSH. AT THE FARTHEST BOOTH, TWO WOMEN ARE IN ANIMATED CONVERSATION.
INT. – DAY – CLOSE-UP SERIES ON THE TWO WOMEN.
MARA PURL, an auburn-haired writer-speaker who has penned her own series of novels and a hit radio drama, after a successful acting and producing career) and KATY SULLIVAN, a firey-red-headed actress and athlete who’s building a name for herself.
Good to see you!
You too! We’re both so busy . . . which is a good thing. . . .
I wish I got to see you more often! You don’t know how much I love our coffee dates!
I do too! Always such a treat to be with you.
Okay, you have to tell me about this blog tour. How does it work?
You know how authors with a new book go around the country being interviewed on talk shows?
Well, that still happens to some extent. But now an author can “travel” all over the country by visiting different blogs. And each blog I’ll be visiting has its own style, its own themes.
So, you’ll be talking about all kinds of different things during the tour?
Yes! I mean, people will be asking me about my books—why I write them, what they’re about. But often, that’s a springboard for bigger issues, or deeper thoughts.
Okay, so you’re visiting my blog, and I’m excited because I’m your very first stop on the tour! So we could start with some basics, like . . . what are your books, what are they about?
I write the Milford-Haven Novels. And they’re about life in a small, coastal town.
But they’re really about more than that. . . .
(Smiling) Yes, they really are. . . . They’re really about listening to your heart. In our culture, we focus so much on the “head”—on logic and reason, on strategy and tactics. And these are good, we need them. But when it comes to the “heart”—intuition and instinct, gut feeling and inner guidance—we often dismiss these as being less important.
That’s so true! We might have a feeling about something, but then we try to push it down, and talk ourselves into thinking we’re being “silly” or even “stupid.” So the title of your book, What the Heart Knows, that’s what it means, right?
Exactly. My protagonist “Miranda Jones” has always been told to “use her head” and now she’s beginning to ask herself whether she’s listening to her heart as well. All the characters are wrestling with this one way or another.
So, would you say your book is pure escapism? Or is there a message?
It’s both. On one level, it’s just a fun story, a way to escape to a gorgeous coastal town. I’ve been staying in favorite spots on the Central Coast for years, and you’ve visited there too, so you know how special it is. I want all my readers to be able to “travel” there just by opening my book.
Oh, it’s amazing up there. Jay and I would go there in a heartbeat.
(Laughing) A heartbeat! Good one. Yes, Larry and I love our times there too. Very romantic. Very restful and nurturing.
So your novel is a romance?
It’s certainly romantic! But it’s not a traditional romance. It’s much more unpredictable. It’s full of surprises, and has a sort of maddening end, because a lot of things are left unresolved.
Which is why your readers will need book two!
Right! It comes out a few months from now, and it’ll be called Where the Heart Lives.
Oooh. What the Heart Knows and Where the Heart Lives. I hear a heartbeat.
(THE TWO FRIENDS LAUGH, AND BOTH SAY YES WHEN THE WAITRESS OFFERS THEM MORE COFFEE.)
So I was thinking the other day about how we got here, you know, how we became friends.
Yes, when we took that terrific seminar.
I think it’s so interesting how you can have a common experience with someone and end up being a surprise gem that you never expected.
Well, we were looking for the same thing in life. The idea of transformation. That shift from believing we’re just living at the effect of outside circumstances, to realizing we’re actually living on the cause side of things.
(Laughing) For better or worse!
(Laughing) That’s the truth!
I can’t tell you how annoying it is to be having a ‘bad’ day and knowing that you are at the center of what is going on.
Annoying, but funny too, right? I mean, when we see how we get in our own way, we can’t help but laugh! I remember sitting there, waiting for the seminar to start. Since I’m a “good girl”, I was in my chair, very busy judging the people who weren’t being “good” because they were late. Then I realized, duh! The seminar wasn’t going to start till everyone was in the room! So after I finished laughing at myself, I realized I could either continue to sit there, or I could may think about helping.
Perfect example. Jay and I have a new catch phrase, which is, “You are responsible for the energy that you bring into a room.”
Good one! Emerson said, “You are what you think about all day long.”
So what are we thinking about?
When we’re really tuned in, we’re thinking about transforming this moment, or this situation, into one that’s inspiring, encouraging, that let’s you know you’re on the right path.
Right. I get myself stuck sometimes in my professional acting career when I want a certain job on this TV show or whatever and I forget the simple JOY of acting and why I got into this business in the first place.
Yes we get stuck on results. And that goes back to the cause and effect thing. We want the effect. We want the wake of the boat. But we can’t manufacture a wake behind our boat unless the boat is going forward. So we have to force ourselves to stop longing for the wake to happen just the way we want it to, go to the front of the boat, and move forward. If we’re moving forward, we can’t help but have a wake.
I’ve noticed myself pushing recently in my life and I have been getting frustrated with myself because I know I’m causing the wake in the water instead of the smooth flow.
Let’s switch metaphors. You’re SO right that “pushing” doesn’t work. Larry and I just got back from celebrating our anniversary by spending a quiet day in the mountains. We stayed next to a swollen creek, and I watched it rushing by for a long time. It became so obvious that we don’t need to push the river. And we can’t even if we try! And something else—we can trust the flow.
You mean trust that the flow is happening.
Yes, and that when we let ourselves, we can really see we are the flow, the events of our lives, the synchronicities, the connections, the synergies, are there waiting for us to accept and participate.
Wow! You’re so right! It’s right in front of me and it’s the most basic idea. Sometimes you just need a outside set of eyes to see what’s going on right in front of you.
We all need that other set of eyes sometimes. That’s why a friendship like ours is so valuable. That’s the kind of friendship I write about in my novels, too. Like Miranda, a young artist, and Samantha, her close friend who’s a little older, but needs and values her younger friend just as much.
We inspire each other.
Well, you certainly inspire me with everything you’ve been doing! The play with Phillip Seymour Hoffman in Chicago. The athletic events. And your motivational speaking!
And you, with this amazing book launch. You have a short story that gets released THIS WEEK as a FREE e-book! Tell me about that.
It’s called When Hummers Dream. Funnily enough, my character Miranda has a transforming experience because of a tiny hummingbird! It’s really a preview for the novel. It happens right before the novel begins. And the e-book is free this month, if you have a Kindle, a Nook, or any e-reader.
That’s awesome. So then, when does the novel come out?
What the Heart Knows gets released in early September, just over a month from now. It’ll be in hardcover, and it’ll also be an e-book.
Wish we could talk all day, but. . . .
Me too. But it’s time to get back to writing for me. . . .
Thanks for making this your first stop on your blog tour! I really want all my friends and followers to know that if they read your books and stories they’ll start to have their own transformation!
THE TWO FRIENDS LAUGH, THEN STAND, GATHERING THEIR THINGS AND HEADING FOR THE DOOR.
EXT. – DAY – CAFÉ PARKING LOT
MARA AND KATY EMBRACE, THEN GET INTO THEIR RESPECTIVE CARS. AS THEY PULL OUT OF THE PARKING LOT, WE SEE THEM WAVE. A GENTLE BREEZE BLOWS THROUGH THE LEAVES ON THE TREE-LINED STREET. THE “UNIVERSAL” SIGN CONTINUES TO BLINK.
Being an amputee that is in the public eye has brought me some incredible opportunities in my life. There are speaking events, TV appearances, acting jobs, track meets, these are all awesome but I have to say the ones that really, at the end of the day, mean the most are the opportunities to help kids with disabilities.
I had such an opportunity yesterday.
I met Melody a few years ago at a running clinic that was put on by the Challenged Athletes Foundation, she was an adorable bilateral above knee amputee (just like me) with miles of blond hair down her back! She was just the cutest thing ever.
I knew that I wanted to meet her and her family and maybe stay in touch or something. Well, I got what I wanted, and then some. She has an awesome set of parents that have invited me to be a part of Melody’s life and it has just been so rewarding for me. We have been working on getting her up and running on itty-bitty running legs, spending sometime at the park playing around. I truly feel that I get more out of knowing her then she does knowing me. I just think back to being a little kid growing up feeling like there was no one like me out there in the world and knowing that she never has to feel that way, is just awesome.
The world of prosthetics (healthcare in general) can be rough sometimes and Melody’s family has found that they are having a tough time paying for the co-pay for her big girl legs. So her community rallied behind her and created an event to support the cause. It was yesterday in Long Beach and I was there on hand to help the efforts and was even asked to speak to the crowd and share a bit about my relationship with my ‘Mini Me’. I have always been blessed to be able to pay for my prosthetics and have never worried about how I would cover the cost, so being a part of her journey and helping make that happen for her too was just pure joy for me.
My friends and family really stepped up and donated money to her fund. I don’t think I have ever been happier to write a $600 check. Thank you to those who gave for their generosity!
Her battle with co-pays is not over, she will need prosthetics as she grows taller. She is a very lucky girl to have such an incredibly supportive community to support her but there are many kids that don’t so it’s important to get the word about them and try to get them the medical care that they need.
If you would like to support Melody by making a donation you are welcome to send cash to me at my paypal.com account. Just send it to email@example.com and I will make sure that she gets it!
Or you can send it directly to her bank – Melody Bach c/o Wells Fargo Bank 4601 E. 2nd Street Long Beach, CA 90803.
Thank you for making a difference for her.
This week’s guest blog is an article that my friend, Ben Mathes wrote recently in Modern Ink Magazine. Ben is an incredible actor that I had the opportunity to act with in Webster University’s production of ‘The 5th of July’. He is not only a talented dude but my buddy and when I read this article, it resonated with me in a way that I wasn’t expecting. Take a few moments and check him out!!
Here’s the problem with dreams…one day, early or later in life, we realize our dream, and this is a problem—a big problem. See, dreams are great as long as we never realize what our dream actually is, as long as we can float through life and convince ourselves that dreams are for dreamers, and dreamers have no place here in the real world. As long as we believe that, we’ll be fine. But, as soon as the dream is realized, as soon as we allow the fullness of our imagination to take control, we recognize just how big that dream is and how impossible it would be to actually achieve it. Then, like an ant hill in a thunderstorm, we feel small and insignificant in comparison, so why even try? Why keep going? It’ll never happen. There’s no way. Just stop.
You want to know what sucks…? I was five when I realized my dream. Yeah, five. What a great way to start life—with a dream….silly kid.
When Mrs. Brotherton needed three volunteers to play the third, fourth, and tenth ”little indian” in the kindergarten class Thanksgiving Day skit, I jumped up to be all of them. “No. Don’ be a role hog, Benjamin.” But it was like this inner world began to burn in me. There was a fire in my gut that wouldn’t stop burning unless I was every “little indian.” I could do it, dammit, and I could do it better than Heather Hatfield.
I’m an actor.
I can’t help it.
It hurts not to be one.
This is where it began, and between kindergarten and high school I played three trees, two rocks, two Santa Clauses, and a spider.
And still it burned, this dream.
The Puberty Of My Art
I don’t think I realized the enormity of my dream until my voice started to change. I loved high school; it’s where my dream upgraded from playful, unabashed hope to a more structured if-then (as in, ‘if you want to be an actor, then you have to do it like this’) kind of passion. Looking back, I know that shift was a downgrade…but at the time, it felt mature—like late nights at Waffle House, smoking, and kissing.
Despite my new structured approach to dreaming, I learned to love the theatre: the smell of the wood, the heat of the lights, the taste of the make-up, the rush of the applause, the power, the twelve-hour rehearsals, even the notes, the lead roles, and the awards. It was here that I cried; I laughed; I loved; I fought; I felt my first boob (hers not mine), and I grew up.
I met Linda Wise, my high school teacher, and Hylan Scott, a mentor friend. Linda showed me what it meant to be an artist. She demanded respect for the work, and I respected her demands. Hylan opened my eyes to artistic freedom. He was a working actor, and I was enthralled by the life he seemed to live. That life was my dream—to be a professional actor.
But my adolescent fear took hold. I told myself that I could never be that good, I could never do that. That dream was too big. I’m fine right here, where I can do it right. Where I can do theatre the way it was supposed to be done: here in high school. That’s enough. No need to want more.
If only I could reduce my dream to something smaller, then I could achieve it–silly kid.
There it was. I had discovered the true path to fulfillment! Make it smaller. Expect less. Hope for less. Convince myself that being actor is stupid, childish, and unreasonable. Who needs all that attention? Those people are weird; I mean, have you seen what goes on in Hollywood? I was very reasonable, and reasonable people are good at finding reasons not to do something, so despite being recruited to some of the most prestigious acting schools in the country, I decided to go the traditional route. I went to the State University. I know! I’ll be a teacher! Something normal. Something reasonable. Something secure. I can do that. Reduce the world, and increase my significance within it! Big fish/small pond sounds good to me. Acting was just a high school thing. I’m a grown up now. Time to move on. Right?
It still burned.
So, to put a little water on the fire, I did a musical at the local community theatre.
I had one line, “me, sir, me!”
The director, Tom Coleman, asked me to stay after rehearsal. He liked the way I did my line and offered me my first, paying, professional acting job. For two years, I toured around rural Georgia playing Rumpelstiltskin for elementary school kids, and I had the time of my life. I must have signed more than 1,000 Rumpelstiltskin autographs–eat your heart out, Brad Pitt.
Then one night after a show, the fire in my belly started to burn to the surface. I began talking to Tom about what I thought acting was and how I approached it and why it was important to me. He stopped me and said he would pay me to teach what I was mouthing off about, if I was serious. And there I was, eighteen years old, touring as an actor, creating a class and teaching a way of working that I was figuring out as I went (some things I still use today), and beginning to regrow the dream.
S*** Or Get Off The Pot
Some say I did it for a girl…of course I did.
I left my fairy tale tour and my small class, and I went to finally ‘study’ my dream. I was accepted into a prestigious conservatory to study acting. Dreams and behavior were beginning to align.
I thrived in my studies, met creative people, wrote music, had my heart-broken (by the girl!) and rediscovered my dream in its full potential. It was dangerous…very dangerous…it’s dangerous because I was surrounded by people who had reduced the size of their dreams, and when in my third year, CBS called and offered me a role on the soap opera, “As The World Turns,” those people worked their hardest to pull me back down where I belonged. I was the crab trying to get out of the box, and they had their pinchers in me, pulling me back—“If we can’t, you can’t!”
Friends spoke badly about me, lied about me, and ignored me. Teachers had meetings and argued about whether I should be punished for accepting the role–even the Dean had a meeting with me. I remember the university had a giant event to celebrate my first episode…none of my actor friends showed up, just a few higher-ups and random people who didn’t know me.
I felt alone…but I wasn’t.
Before I knew it, my instructors requested individual meetings with me to offer their support and to let me know they were sorry I ever had to defend a success. They encouraged me to follow it and go to New York City before I finished the four years of training.
So I did.
I followed the show to the city.
The dream was big, too big. I had to do something to shrink it, and I had to do it quickly.
A Bite of the Apple
As soon as I got to New York, I began making my rounds to different agents. Because of the soap opera, I was the new kid on the block, and everyone wanted to meet me—to see what I could do for them.
I learned very quickly that there are different levels of agencies: small, medium, and large. In general, the bigger the agent, the more powerful, and the more opportunities they could create for me.
It came down to two agencies: a small one and a large one.
The small one was a two-person, one room operation. Good people, blue-collar, lots of phone calls, and a water fountain.
The second one was in a huge office off of Fifth Avenue, with plenty of suits, receptionists, security checks, a beautiful elevator, and they offered me a drink every time I was in the office.
Clearly, the large agency was more in line with the size of my dream, but they were so big, I convinced myself that, like my dream, they were too big for me. I came up with every imaginable reason why I shouldn’t sign with them—I’ll get lost; they’ll be too cut-throat; the office is so far from my apartment; the views are too good from their high rise…again, I was very reasonable, and reasonable people will always find reasons not to do things.
So, I signed with the smaller agency.
I stapled my own headshots and resumes, walked five flights of stairs, and had to get my own water when I got there.
They worked very hard for me, and though I was able to work in theatre in New York and around the country, I was never able to get into huge Broadway auditions or in for major films.
But that was ok. After all, I didn’t want things to get out of control…didn’t want things to get too big.
I remember “going to producers” (which is what we call the second or third round, or in this case, the fourth round of auditions) for an unknown HBO pilot called “Entourage.” I was reading for the lead role, some hotshot actor who navigates the ins-and-outs of Hollywood with his entourage, and they liked me. My agents called and told me to keep up the good work; HBO was excited about me, and this could be a great way to start a career in New York—HBO even had me clear my schedule for a possible cast-bonding trip to Vegas.
I was getting excited.
But reasonable people aren’t supposed to get excited. If we get excited, we may be let down, and could hurt. Better to prepare for failure. I worked hard to convince myself I didn’t really have enough television experience; they would probably find someone in Los Angeles with a more impressive resume and more powerful agent; I didn’t really want to have to deal with moving to Los Angeles, and I wasn’t good looking enough; I was too young, or I wasn’t in shape enough to play this role. And besides, that show would probably never get picked up anyway…
That way of thinking affected my auditions. On my last read for “Entourage,” the producers and casting directors asked me if I was ‘ok’…The feedback they gave my agent was something like…” Yea, he’s great, but something was missing in his last read. Don’t call us, we’ll call you.”
At the time I didn’t know it, but I was very good at sabotaging myself…very reasonable.
Head West Young Man
There was only one place to retreat after I reduced my dream: graduate school.
Of course, that’s not what I told myself. I told myself my dream was just changing, not being reduced. Now, I wanted to be a professor of acting. Settle down in some cute college town, get a steady income, work within the system, and get a real taste of middle class crack—security. Silly kid.
Two and a half years into my time in New York City, I decided to go to grad school and get an MFA in Acting. Sure, they’d train me to be an actor, but I also needed that degree if I ever wanted to settle down into the new version of my dream. I chose a school in Southern California with a good reputation for training actors, and one which would allow me to teach. I turned down a school that had a much better reputation for training actors, but wouldn’t allow me to teach.
I was awful in school…just wanted it to be over. Give me my piece of paper and let me move on–not the best attitude, and it blinded me to many opportunities and lessons. I was not an artist—quit treating me like one.
Try as I might, I couldn’t escape the flames of acting, and upon graduation, a very powerful manager (as opposed to agent) decided she wanted to represent me. I rolled my inner-eye at the thought of being an actor again and at living under the enormity of that dream. But, I convinced myself that getting a few small roles would make me a more marketable teacher.
I’ll act so I can teach. My manager wasn’t on the same page.
She used to tell me that being an actor was like being an athlete, and she was right. She worked me. She had me in rooms I believed were above my pay scale. I was meeting with agents, lawyers, and producers—people who made Hollywood run. I was auditioning for lead roles on every show that’s on TV—from “Glee” to “Law and Order LA,” you name it; I read for it…and I sabotaged myself all along the way.
I did book a few things. If you saw the movie, “City Island,” there I am, working with Alan Arkin and Andy Garcia. It’s a great film…go see it. If you’ve seen Chris Rock’s, “Death At A Funeral,” I had a hand in the development of that film and got to work with Chris Rock–also worth the watch. But mostly, I spent my time defending my limitations. I argued with my manager, telling her she expected too much from me; I was new to LA. Why wasn’t I reading for smaller roles? I was tired of driving…
I learned that when you defend your limitations, they become yours–you get to keep them.
I separated from my manager and decided to go it alone.
The big wake up call came from my wife (go figure).
It didn’t take long before I was teaching at a university, at a studio in LA, and I had lots of private clients. I was making pretty good money as a teacher, and I remember saying to my wife, “I’m doing exactly what I said I would do—teaching!” to which she replied, “Then you should have said you would be acting!”
Like a ton of bricks, my self-imposed-dream-reduction hit me across the face. Why didn’t I do that? I used to —I used to tell people I was going to be the greatest actor in the world. I used to call myself an artist. Now I was just avoiding the difficult. I was hiding out in the “great in between,” where there is no risk of failure and no promise of success. I had reduced my dream to something achievable… and I had achieved it.
Don’t Be Scared To Turn On A Dime
“Don’t be scared to turn on a dime.” My dad told me that one day, and so did my mom, but I bet neither remember it. I guess I never realized I could turn on a dime–my own dime.
You can change the way you see your place in the world, and you can regain the significance lost when you realized the scope of your dreams.
I found a teacher, Stuart Rogers, who has changed the way I see my art. He taught me that art isn’t a mystical thing we roll our eyes at like the new-aged section of Barnes and Noble. Art is defined by the amount of ourselves we bring to any process. It doesn’t matter what you do, if you put all of yourself into the process, it’s an art.
That was it! I never brought all of myself. I was always leaving something in the reserve tank, playing it safe and hoping not to mess up, trying to do things right, and not having the courage to do things wrong.
I decided to surrender to my dreams and my abilities, to allow for possibilities and for greatness, and to follow everything that happens as a result. Sounds like some cheesy “Oprah” episode, but it’s the way I approach my acting, and I guess its silly to assume the way we approach our art is different from the way we approach our lives—it’s the same brain, last I checked.
“So turn on a dime, son. Stop being so reasonable. Go to bed on empty. Leave nothing in the reserve tank. You can’t be an artist if you’re trying to get things right. And take your work seriously, but don’t take yourself seriously…”
I decided it was time to live in my integrity, to align my behavior with my dreams—embrace a true fidelity to life.
Everest didn’t get smaller for the people who reached the top, and Hollywood didn’t get easier for the people who’ve made it. It was something inside them. It’s the actual belief that the only thing I can’t accomplish is the thing that is larger than my commitment…my attitude will monitor my talent.
It’s working out pretty well so far.
I quit the university job and even turned down two tenure-track offers. I teach on my own terms, which has made me more in demand than I ever imagined. I work with celebrities, actors, clergy, business people, and even family. I see my teaching as an art, and I bring everything I have to the process.
I’ve connected acting and teaching, approaching one the same way as the other—with all of myself. I recently shot my fifth project this year, and a short film I shot last year has won five “Best Picture” awards around the country. I have a full team of representation on my side, and the future looks bright.
Oh, and I live at the beach.
Now that sounds reasonable.
I know that this is not the first time that you have heard the idea that the things in our lives happen for a greater purpose. Even the seemingly negative things. I know that this idea can be REALLY hard to swallow, believe me, I know. But maybe the real lesson here is to be present in the moment when something ‘bad’ happens and step back and say, ‘What can I learn from this?’ or ‘Perhaps I’m that wasn’t meant to be.’
I had a recent ton of bricks land on my head recently about this principle – and it only took 3 years to see it clearly.
The year was 2008, I had just booked a large role on the popular TV show, My Name is Earl, I was also preparing to compete at the US Nationals Championships to qualify for the Paralympics Games in Beijing, China later that year.
What a year, right?
I had to kiss Jason Lee in the episode that I was in (and YES, the mustache was REAL) and very shortly after that I came down with Mono, so I like to say that Earl gave me Mono (not CERTAIN that that is true but it makes for a better story).
I was sick for many weeks and was getting very concerned about my upcoming track meet. I wanted to attend a race before the big one just to get the nerves out, big mistake. I was still sick and I really shouldn’t have been out there. I was warming up and went to do a short sprint when I caught my toe on the track and went flying through the air, landing on my neck and face and injured my back fairly badly. I had to have stitches in my face by my left eye, I had a huge shiner, I was taking pain killers every few hours just to be able to move and I realized that I had to run at Nationals in 5 days to be selected for the US Team.
It was bad.
I was already asked to sing the National Anthem at the meet and being an actress you know that the show must go on so I attended the event with big sunglasses to cover my black eye and on enough pain killers to numb a horse. I sang then I sat in the stands and watched my 100m run by me and with it my chances of becoming a Paralympian.
Being the Eternal Optimist that I am, it wasn’t long until I was looking for the silver lining to the incredibly dark cloud that I was currently in. I said to Jay, “There is going to be something that comes up during the time that I would have been in China that I would have missed out on. There had to have been a reason that I didn’t get to go.” He smiled back at me.
Fast forward three months. I received a call from a director of a short film that I had shot earlier that year called ‘The Break Up’, and she told me that we had been selected as finalists in the NBC Short Cuts Film Festival and they wanted to fly me to NYC to attend.
Had I qualified for the US Team that year, I would have been in China.
The festival was great and I met a lot of people, including Kendra, the Director of the Diversity Program at NBC and we really hit it off. I flew home thrilled to see what was going to come of this event!
That ended up being nothing, for a while.
As an actor you have to get very good at the picking up and moving on, for better or worse. So we did. Quite sometime later Jay told me about a program that he wanted to audition for called Stand-up for Diversity, put on by NBC and run by Kendra. Interesting. I tagged along to San Diego to maybe have the chance to say hi – which was an understatement. She was so happy to see me that she had me take pictures with her staff and then asked me to stay and watch the auditions. It was a fun trip and an opportunity to reconnect.
Again we moved on with things and I didn’t run into Kendra for another year or so. NBC was hosting a showcase for diverse actors, writers and directors and I wanted to be a part of it. I reached out to her to see if they would be willing to see me for the project and she invited me to audition. After two meetings I was called and told that they wanted for me to perform in the show! I was super excited!
It ended up being a really great time working with my scene partner, writer, director and the NBC team as a whole. The show has proven to be a great opportunity for me to be seen and it wasn’t long until I was invited to meet with the Senior Casting team at NBC.
As I was sitting in the waiting room on the Universal Studios Backlot, it hit me, everything happens for a reason. If I had not been hurt and missed the film festival I would not have built the relationship with Kendra and the meeting that I was waiting to attend might not have ever happened. It took me 3 years to see the forest through the trees.
The meeting went really well and they are interested in helping me take the next steps in my career. Couldn’t be more thrilled about that!
The next time that you are experiencing something that appears to be a bad thing, perhaps it’s just the universe’s way of clearing the path for you so that you get to where you need to go. You might not understand the meaning for a long time, or ever but just knowing that can take some of the sting out of the bite.
My first stop was the Amputee Coalition Annual Conference in Kansas City where I was there to work with new Bilateral Above Knee Amputees to learn the best ways to cope, get around and just offer support in general. There was a clinic on Saturday for all the bi laterals and we took a picture of the ladies in attendance and there were 9 of us! That’s the most I’ve ever seen in one place. It’s nice to know that you are alone in the world sometimes.
I came home for three days to kiss my husband and to be featured in the NBC/Universal Diversity Showcase. It was a really fun experience to work with my scene partner, Carlos Mendez and the young writers and directors that we were teamed up with. I just LOVE live theatre! It’s that instant feedback and the moment that you get a laugh! There is nothing like it! I have some awesome meetings coming up because of the show and I am excited about what it could mean for my career! SEND GOOD ENERGY MY WAY! I was trying to not make a big deal about who I was meeting with but then I realized that I was being WAY too levelheaded, it IS a big deal and I AM excited.
As soon as the show ended, I was off to Oklahoma City to run in the Endeavor Games! Almost as soon as I touched down I wondered if I should even be there. I have history with this track, in 2008, right before the Paralympics in China, I took a horrible fall at the Endeavor Games – lost my chance at the Games due to a back injury. I still have the scar on my face to prove it. I haven’t been back, until this year. I don’t even think that my equipment wanted me to be there – I got out to the track the day before my race and my running sockets would not hold suction. (Thank god I had help close by! Shout out to Hanger!) But literally up until about 10 minutes before my heat, I wasn’t sure if I was running in it or not. So, no real stretching, no real warming up, and I was at the starting line. I ran a decent time but more importantly, I was thrilled to find out that there was another bilateral AK chic there that was going to run with me. It was the first time that 2 American Women in my class completed in the same event ever! Pretty special day.
Not a week later I was in Miami to compete in the US Paralympic National Championships, the meet that will determine who will attend the Para Pan Am Games later this year. My mom traveled down to hang out with me, which was really fun and always a treat. We stayed at the beach, caught up with some of my US team friends and tried to relax before the big event. All went well on the day! There was another woman in my category this year, which has never happen in the US before and I was the one on the track that had the experience and wisdom, how RARE and COOL is that? I had a decent race, I was hoping for a few tenths of a second faster, but all in all, great race, great day, new shiny gold necklace!
I think the thing that means the most to me is seeing that these younger athletes are starting to show up and it feels like I was a part of getting them there, like I am part of a legacy in US and Paralympic sport. They are the future and I am so proud to someday hand off the reigns to them!
It’s funny, I thought that I just needed to get past Nationals and things would get easier but it feels like there is even MORE to do now. There are a lot of changes going on here in the Sullivan/Cramer camp, I have a new publicist (they are so awesome), I am working towards some new sponsorships, building new motivational speeches, writing a book and taking meetings with some major decision makers in the entertainment world.
I have shaken up the ‘snow globe’ that is my life and it seems like everything is up in the air. It’s exciting but scary at the same time. These are the things that I have asked for and when they finally show up it can be a bit alarming! What I have realized is that when you shake things up so much it takes some time for the particles to settle back down.
Now, you can be anxious about the outcome OR you can step back, look up, say thank you and watch the beautiful show unfolding all around you. You asked for it, after all!
Take some time this week to watch the show!