Sunday, April 9, 2017

"If you can't make it here, you can't make it anywhere"

In August I visited Berlin for perhaps the sixth time. (I lost track after a few years!) While I was strolling down a warm city street, I spotted a bag in the window of a store that read "If you can't make it in Berlin, you can't make it anywhere." My friends and I (two native Berliners and my American traveling companion) had a laugh and went on about our nighttime adventure.

But the phrase stuck in my mind.

There's a perception that Berlin is the easiest place to live. By California or New York standards, prices are comically low, it's very international and accepting of all cultures, the public transportation system is stellar, it's flat and there are a million places to park your bike... perfect, right?!

I certainly felt that way.

The truth is slightly more complicated.

First of all, EVERYONE wants to live here - people from everywhere have flocked here, lured by the low cost of living, and so everyone is also looking for a place to live. It's a constant conversation. Since moving here in February, I've already moved three times and I'm moving twice more before I settle into a 3-month sublet. You have to roll with the punches.

Yesterday I met up with two French friends for an avant-garde dance performance about female Bolivian MMA fighters. One of them told me that her therapist said this week that all her clients are disappointed and depressed because of the disconnect between their perceptions of what it would be like to move to Berlin and what the actual reality is to live here. I felt better in that I'm not alone, and worse knowing that there may not be a solution.

Amidst all this, I've started to reframe this experiment. Rather than doggedly clinging to the idea that I must stay here, I'm letting it unfold more organically. I'm opening up to people about the fact that it's not all roses and chocolates. I'm treating it as an adventure. There's only so much we can control in life. (VERY LITTLE, in my experience.) So I'm letting Berlin speak to me instead of trying to conquer it.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Sia and the art of finding your own path

On Saturday night, I went to hear Sia at the Hollywood Bowl. Her concert isn't just a bunch of lights and sets and performances - not that I don't enjoy those. :) It's performance art, and it's inspirational - she has found what works for her, which is to stand in the corner in her signature face-covering wig, and let the dancers express visually what she is singing. I loved it.

I first started listening to Sia a few years ago when my friend Tyler turned me on to the song "Be Good To Me" and of course there are dozens of hits on the radio written by Sia and recorded by other artists, but what truly inspires me about Sia is that she is on her own path. Because in my mind, in order to "make it" as a singer, I have to be young and skinny and beautiful, and most of all, sexy. And the older I get, the less that makes sense to me. But Sia is writing her own rules. Her video for "Chandelier" was so inspiring to me as a survivor of abuse, assault, loss and addiction. (It doesn't hurt that Maddie Ziegler's expressiveness is insanely fantastic!) And her performance Saturday night was transporting - as we were leaving the venue, I overheard the conversation a man near me was having and he said "It was the best concert I've ever been to. I didn't even feel like I was there with anyone. I was transported into another world."

It's such a good reminder for me that as an artist, it's not my job to give the industry what it is looking for. It's my job to find my own path and be true to it, whatever it may look like. And it may take years and years (it already has) but it really is a navigation of uncharted territory.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

How to stay positive between gigs

Everyone knows that being out of work can bring up a lot of feelings, fear and depression being the toughest to deal with. Not only don't you know where your rent is coming from, it can be lonely and hard to maintain a positive attitude. As a freelancer, these times can be frequent. What to do?

The first thing that has helped me in these times is to get super clear about my expenses - every dollar I spend, and develop an awareness of the difference between *needs* and things that are nice to have but can be on hold in dry spells.

If you're committed to self-employment, it's recommended to have anywhere from 6 months to a year's worth of expenses in a prudent reserve. You may want to put it in an account that is difficult to access so you won't be tempted to splurge on a fancy handbag during rich times, only to find you don't have enough during your next break between gigs. Either way, this account should include all the expenses you'll need to live on regardless of whether you have money coming in that month - not just rent, food and bills, but gifts, vacation money, taxes, clothing and charitable donations. If you feel too restricted for too long, you're bound to swing in the other direction and overspend to compensate for that feeling.

Once you've taken care of that, the best thing you can do during lean times is have your own projects. If you're a photographer, schedule free shoots with friends of friends. Challenge yourself to enter a group show.  Shoot subjects you've never explored before. I have a tv writer friend who writes childrens' books in between tv staffing gigs - and she gets paid good money to do it! If you're an actor, write yourself a part. You may end up filming it, or it may just help you understand writing structure and introduce you to new collaborators. You can host a reading for free in your living room. If you're a wardrobe designer between gigs, create costumes from your imagination and post them on a free website.

Lastly, open yourself up to the possibility of doing work you hadn't considered. Share with people who like you that you have free time and would like to earn. It's amazing what people will come up with! Some of the things people suggested to me sounded awful, others I hadn't even thought of and were really fun. The more I explored, the clearer I got about what I *did* want to spend my time doing and how to actually get there!

If you have other suggestions for the woefully unemployed, please comment!

Friday, January 15, 2016

Spotlight, Marc Gafni, Bill Cosby and the legacy of sexual abuse

Starting at age 5, I was molested. Last year, at age 36, was the first time I spoke about it. 31 years of suffering in silence. And not just suffering on my own, but sometimes causing pain to others as a result of my wounds. Now granted, I didn't abuse anyone, and I probably didn't do lasting harm to others, but I definitely developed some self-destructive addictions. And when I hit bottom with those, I landed in a 12-step program.

In "Program" as it is called, I've learned how to stop the cycle by focusing on myself, my healing and the things I have control over. And sometimes I've sat in meetings with sex offenders and people who did real harm in their addictions. It has opened my eyes and given me a perspective I wasn't expecting when I entered the rooms, and I've come to believe that the kind of punishments we dole out as a society, from "correctional" facilities to public shaming, really aren't solving anything. I believe we need to recognize these things for what they are - a disease - and encourage real change. Otherwise we are just perpetuating a cycle of abuse and congratulating ourselves for punishing a few extreme cases.

One of the things I love about the movie Spotlight is the character of the grandmother. She shows us why some good people look the other way - they're just trying to cling to some guidance and grounding they have experienced in life. Another thing I thought was excellent about the film was the portrayal of the various victims who are interviewed by the journalists. The eating issues, drug addiction, depression, difficulty with healthy relationships, the terror. The effects of abuse are devastating, lifelong, and those survivors who are shown are the "lucky ones" because those who couldn't stand it had already taken their own lives.

In Sara Kabakov's article on Marc Gafni, she talks about the various times she tried to tell trusted authority figures about her horrifying experience. Each time, they didn't want to hear it. Sexual abuse is so hard to talk about, there's already so much shame associated with it, and when people hear about it, many don't want to believe it. How many people have swept Bill Cosby's abuses under the rug or brushed them off because they can't reconcile someone so wonderful doing such horrible things? Most abusers are charismatic. They create a persona that makes abuse by them seem unbelievable. They surround themselves with enablers, and when that doesn't work, they use threats, or they move. There are hundreds of examples of this. Two of my favorite quotes from Spotlight: "If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse a child" and "this is how it happens, huh? A guy leans on a guy and the whole town looks the other way."

Let's not look the other way.

Friday, November 6, 2015

speaking in the first person

I've spent a lot of my life telling other people how to do things. I think that felt less vulnerable than facing my own monumental issues, or it was just what I learned from my environment growing up.

In the past couple years, I've learned to start speaking in the first person. Sharing my experience instead of advice and assessments. (I can still share those when asked for feedback.)

It's incredibly freeing to say "this is my experience" instead of "this is what you should do." And it's also a lot less alienating. When I tell you about my experience of losing my sister at age 25 to a drunk driver, I'm not telling you what to do or how to act or how to feel. I'm sharing my life. I'm learning to use language, like every other tool of healing, like "a loose-fitting garment." I don't need to zip myself into tiny spaces, restrict myself (or you) or create a prison. I can allow, I can be, I can breathe, I can live and I can heal.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Pride in the Negative

I love people. That's my caveat. :)

But sometimes I get frustrated by people, too.

I see a lot of people posting how they hate math, or don't need math. Or how they're proud that their home is a mess because it makes them more interesting. Or that they just can't be on time, because that would be too restrictive.

I have to respectfully disagree with these point of view and other "pride in the negative" mindsets. For me, doing a little home cleaning or washing my car counts as self-care. And being on time is my way of showing you that I respect YOUR time. This isn't about perfectionism, and God knows it's easy for me to swing in that direction. Sometimes when I make a bunch of commitments I have to take a step back and reevaluate and realize that I actually can't do all that stuff, and a lot of times that happens when I'm late or my room is a mess. Then I get to look at all the things on my plate and ask myself, is this all serving me? Where can I simplify? And if that involves disappointing someone, I can take the time and care to let them know it's not personal and that I apologize for overcommitting.

And the kernel at the center of that acknowledgement is vulnerability. I can't do it all, I'm not perfect, I make mistakes, sometimes I have to disappoint someone. But I don't have to cover it over with a fake pride where I pretend that I intended to screw up. Ya know? Every time I trip it isn't because I wanted to entertain you with my hilarious slapstick comedy skills. Sometimes I just didn't see that uneven pavement, and I can take a deep breath and admit that I'm not perfect.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

"I can be with your feelings but not with your stories"

A few years ago I went through a tough breakup. I loved him deeply and when it didn't work out, I had a lot of disappointment, resentment, sadness, anger, fear and frustration. We had been together for a while, so we had a lot of friends in common, and I really wanted them to side with me and see it from my perspective. He was wrong, right???!!!

One day on the phone our mutual friend stopped me. "Harmony, I can be present for your feelings but not for your stories." Fuck you, I wanted to scream! What does that mean? Through the Radical Aliveness Core Energetics work I do, and meditation, and recovery, and Byron Katie, I am starting to understand my friend's boundary. It's not that she didn't want to support me. She wanted to be present for me. But she wanted to be present for my FEELINGS.

Feelings are really simple yet often verrrrrry difficult. I'll do a lot to avoid feeling my sadness, my disappointment or my fear. I'll tell my stories to anyone who will listen (and many people who wish they weren't listening!) My stories are "He should have done it this way. She is a jerk. They are assholes. They don't get it." It's about labeling. Closing doors. Separating myself from others. I'll also drive too fast, get impatient in traffic, drink, smoke, shop, complain, criticize myself, eat crap... but am I willing to just slow down and FEEL? I can cry. I can breathe. I can call someone and just ask for a few moments of witnessing. It's very vulnerable, which is why I say it's difficult. But it's also simple. And though I often believe there's no way out and that if I allow myself to have these feelings, they'll overwhelm me and I'll never get past them, the truth is that in my experience, they pass much more quickly if I just sit with them.
So, you've been in LA for a year or more - you found a place to live, you bought a car and you even signed with an agent.

Now what?

This blog is about taking your career to the next level - thinking big, thinking outside the box and working collaboratively to achieve success. Success in LA.