Thursday, June 6, 2013

Sleeveless Tops, Yoga Pants and the Deal Memo

So, I’m at a film audition looking forward to diving into the scenes I have prepared.  Sitting in the small area outside the casting directors inner office as ready as I’ll ever be, I overhear her talking on the phone.  Most likely speaking with an agent or manager, she is lending her opinion on some preliminary particulars of actress Lili Taylor’s Deal Memo.  For those who don’t know, a Deal Memo is a form that lists the pertinent details of salary, guaranteed conditions, and other essentials of a work agreement negotiated between a member of the cast or crew and a production company.  It’s like the “last step” before the actor officially signs on to the project.  Anyhow, Ms. Casting Director also makes sure to convey to the lady or chap on the other end of the phone, how very, very excited the producers will be to have Ms. Taylor on board.

It is then that my eyes pop open as the “needle being pulled off the turn table” sound effect goes “vvvvrrriiiip” in my head. For I am here to read for the very role Ms. Taylor is just about to land. 

Ugh, that is such a frustrating position to be in!  It’s difficult enough to walk into a room and make oneself vulnerable to a stranger, now ya gotta add this little tidbit to the mix?  The truth is, it's also  one of those “get over it” moments.  As not spin out and obsess over why you’re even there in the first place.  I mean really, what good will that do?  I'm not saying it's time to just be all "Doodly-doo, it's fine, whatevs," but seriously, take a breath, shake it off, and treat the audition as a great opportunity to play the role you’ve been brought in to read for.  It may ultimately end up belonging someone else, but for the next 10 minutes it only belongs to you.

The legendary acting teacher Stella Adler used to tell her students, “in your choices lie your talent,” and in acting (as in life), our choices are always filtered through and informed by our personal history, our unique desires, and our one of a kind physical and spiritual essence.  Sure, there may be 50 other people up for the same part as you -- but no two people will EVER bring the exact same thing to the table.  Nobody can inhabit the role as you do, and no interpretation will ever manifest the exact same way as any other.  So for all you actors out there, hold onto the notion that you’re not competing with anyone other than your best self.   In fact, this seems like a pretty good concept to absorb no matter the profession or circumstance. 

Note to self:  Please remember aforesaid advice the next time you find yourself on the playground surrounded by 25-year-old Mommies in sleeveless tops and yoga pants.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Fantasies of a Private Pee-Pee

My West Hollywood digs were very modest (with the exception of my time living in a 1920’s 7-room bungalow complete with heated salt-water pool, fire pit, and a Diego Rivera hanging above the fireplace mantle.  But that’s another story altogether!), and for a good amount of my time on the west coast, I rented a studio.  It was basically a large bedroom with a separate kitchen and a tiny dressing area.  Fantastic location, great price, and perfect for a gal with commitment issues and a penchant for fleeing to NY on the reg.   Despite spending most of my childhood in a big colonial in the ‘burbs, and then always having pretty great-for-NYC-sized apartments, I suddenly found myself not only sleeping in my bed, but conducting all sorts of business from it, because, well, there was no where else to do it from!  A bit stifling at first, I soon found I could handle this kind of “coziness” and embraced the less is more philosophy.

There were months when several days in a row were spent inside that studio, alone and quiet.  Not in any Travis Bickle/Clint  Eastwood’s character in Gran Torino sort of way. Just living the way many actors live when they are without a gig, or an audition or a significant other. On more than one occasion while living in LA, I thought, “you know, if I were ever convicted of a white collar crime and sent to one of those minimum security prisons, I could totally survive.”  I was kidding, of course, but there was certainly truth in the fact that I had no inherent issue with solitude and that I could be quite content with my own company when that was all there was. And yet, there definitely were bouts of loneliness and moments of questioning…the kind that often accompany extended introspection.  But this was of my choosing, I’d remind myself, and silently congratulate myself just a little for managing to (mostly) live life on my own terms.

Having a two year old, and being a Mom who is home with him, means that there are always two little feet following on your heals to accompany you to the kitchen, or to the backyard, or to the bathroom.  There are two sticky hands that tug on your dress for attention, grab your cheeks to pull you in for a kiss and swat away your efforts to wipe a dirty mouth with a washcloth. There are two big brown eyes watching your every move for social clues and assurances, and two arms that wrap themselves so easily around you in an expression of unconditional love. With the exception of the one hour on Saturday mornings when Ravi and Daddy go to their music class together, there is no other time during the week that I know I’ll be alone.  Yes, it’s true, I will drive to meetings or auditions without the little guy ensconced in the car seat  -- but in terms of a consistent, planned break from having to talk, or entertain, or listen?  That golden hour is all there is, baby.

I know the amount of time Ravi and I spend together may not be for everyone.  But oh my god, do I love it!  I will tell him at least once a day, “you are the funniest person I’ve ever met,” and really, really mean it.   Ravi loves morning time with his Dad, and he has friends – real friends, independent of his family, people he talks about and looks forward to hanging with who are aged 3 through 75.  But still, it’s Mommy…Virtually. All. The. Time.  For all you full-time caregivers out there, I know you can relate to the fantasies of a private pee-pee, or a lazy mid-day lunch that flows into an extended Happy Hour, or a full nights sleep without the threat of somebody wanting to come into your bed because they don’t want to sleep alone.  There's no private time...kinda like Maximum Security Prison!  But those things will come soon enough, and in the meanwhile, I’ll have those memories of solitude to look back on fondly.   I’ll also congratulate myself just a little for managing to (mostly) live my life on my own terms, and say thank you, thank you, thank you for the abundance that surrounds me.  Happy Mother’s Day to all you Mommies.  Straight ahead.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Caldonia, Caldonia, what makes your big head so hard?

A couple of years ago,  I went with one of my best friends to visit her brother's new baby.  The first thing she did was grab the squirmy little bean, and nuzzle her nose in the crook of its cute little neck.  Inhaling deeply she said to me, "Ahhh!  Sniffing babies is so good for, smell his head!"  Turns out, my friend is not only kind and beautiful, but as extensive research shows, smart, too.

Bonding experts say that babies’ heads give off pheromones, and when we inhale them, we feel protective, with our “urge to love” measurably increased. Oxytocin -- the “feel good” chemical, works as part of the neuronal network to reduce anxiety, boost well being and lower blood pressure.  And scientist are now clear that oxytocin also plays a role in the cardiovascular system, reducing free radicals, inflammation and the arterial plaque that can result in a heart attack. Wow!  So much for the cliché that if it feels good it must be bad for you…
My point is, oxytocin is pretty rad.  Like its comrade in pleasure serotonin, oxy-T (ok, I just made that moniker up ‘cause it was starting to feel like a science class) is activated through touch, and also doles out its yummy goodness during labor, orgasm and breastfeeding.  I don’t see any more childbirth in my future, and as for orgasms…well, let’s just say my honey and I have the best of intentions, but share quarters with the boy we lovingly refer to as “the ruin-er,” as he likes to wake up and scream at the most inopportune of times.   But breastfeeding?  Despite his current love of chicken and collard greens (Run DMC in da house!), my little milk lover and I still nurse about 5 times a day.  With so much fact-based evidence regarding nutritional benefits and accelerated cognitive achievement in breast-fed babies, the decision to continue to breastfeed Ravi past the 12 month mark was a no-brainer for me.  We are unapologetically addicted to the calmness, connection and benefits it fosters, and in terms of oxytocin, let’s just say that here on the banks of the Hudson River, I’ve got my own pheromone emanating wonder-machine in the form of a curly-haired little boy.  And we all benefit from this:  Nanny, Poppy, Me-Mom, Daddy, Maya -- the whole family!

My Dad, who for 89 years never had an illness of any consequence, suddenly found himself at a point last April when, as my Mother says, “the shit hit the fan.”  Since that time, one thing after another has tested my father’s physical and mental limits.  And not little things, either – big, serious health issues that men half his age might not come through.  There were more difficult days than good ones these past 10 months, and throughout the spring, summer and fall, it was clear to anyone with a set of eyes that despite struggling, his happiest and most peaceful times were with Ravi. Still, each time a new setback came up, the bounce back was infinitely harder.  We spent Christmas (and New Year’s) at his bedside in ICU.  He was intubated and hooked up to many monitors and medication lines while he recovered from emergency gall bladder surgery that his doctors hoped he’d wake up from.  A few days later, once the tube came out and he was able to talk, he spoke mostly of “checking out,” “being done,” and “never being able to make it at home.”  It was a very, very dark time.   My mother was with him round the clock, and I was at the hospital at least twice a day.  She’d meet me in the lobby to look after the baby while I went upstairs. But after a few days of this arrangement, I finally said “f this,” (as I am occasionally known to do), sneaked the kid past the “no children under 12 sign” and did the only thing a daughter who was now a mother could do – give my dad and my son an opportunity to have as much time together as they could get.

It’s now February, and the breathing tube is gone along with the talk of death. He’s chatting with friends, eating peanuts by the handful, and picked up the trumpet he hadn’t touched in a year.  Naturally, the heart medication, ongoing physical therapy, my Mom’s unyielding efforts and the Zoloft prescription certainly have something to do with this.  But do the many pills he swallows and the strengthening exercises he’s (supposed to be) doing each day tell the whole story?  No way, Jose.  Not a day passes that doesn’t find Ravi hangin’ with his Poppy. The kid just adores time spent with his grandparents, and my Dad is absolutely in love with this little boy.  He watches him throw around his blocks, and sits him on his lap while he plants a kiss on his forehead.  Dad’s newest thing is to sing a lyric from the blues song “Caldonia” to him: “Caldonia, Caldonia, what makes your big head so hard?”  The kid does have a large head.  
So yes, 8 weeks post-surgery, the nearly-91- year-old Joe Cabot is alive, at home and thriving. His visiting nurse is on top of things , my Mom is a caretaker par excellence, and things continue to move along in the right direction.  It is so wonderful to see!  And I'm quite certain that that there’s a (very) big head in all its oxytocin emitting splendor that most definitely has something to do with it.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Fine and Mellow

I once broke up with a man over the selection of music he chose to play in the car.  Well, perhaps it wasn’t entirely his road trip soundtrack.  But that – combined with his tendency to constantly reference the Hermann Hesse book Siddhartha with the pronunciation “Sid Arthur,” certainly created the perfect storm.  Looking back I realize I should have been less judgmental…at least in so far as the music was concerned.   'Cause let me tell ya, payback is a bitch!  Ravi, my little budding music aficionado, lets me know in no uncertain terms (read: loud grunting with an occasional scream) what is and is not acceptable to his 11-month-old ears. I’m sad that some of my staples like Marvin Gaye and Bruce Springsteen haven’t made the cut, and the fact that at this point he wants nothing to do with Billie Holiday really bums me out.  But I’ve got to tell you, the kid has pretty great taste. Easy listening for sure...and smooth, like a perfect martini from back in the day served cold and dirty at the Plaza Hotel's Oak Room.  Fine and Mellow!
Just in case you’ve forgotten just how flippin’ good these tunes are, here are some video’s to remind you.  Enjoy.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

About Happiness...

Simply put, our kid has got charisma. Palpable charisma of the JFK/MickJagger/Michael Jordan variety. Yes, he's a baby and yes, everyone loves a joyful baby.  But this is something beyond that. Wherever we go, it's clear – it’s Ravi's world, and we're all just livin' in it. For his part, he appears to dig this arrangement, and the more good energy you throw at him, the greater he amps up his own wattage as if to say, "Ya like? There's more where that came from, ladies and gents!" He has meltdowns, of course, and there are times when he is downright over it, and no amount of goofing or cajoling is going to help.  But at least twice daily I hear from strangers, "Oh, I just love him! He's the happiest baby!"  This is true.  He is an extremely happy baby and his joy is infectious. 

As a kid I was made fun of.  Not that there wasn't stuff to legitimately make fun of...I was an 11 year old with striped corduroy coulots, a gold lame belt and fabric flowers in my "ital-fro." On some level I knew I was a bit of a weirdo when it came to fashion, music -- the externals -- and I was cool with that.  Never much of a "follower," I preferred to do my own thing.  Any insults that came my way based on looks and such, I'm sure stung, but they certainly didn't stay with me.  What I remember being teased the most for?  Being too happy!

I was a really cheery little girl.  I know this by looking at photos of my pint-sized smiling self, from stories told by family members and through my own memories and recollections. I remember genuinely liking life most of the time, and being quite happy. Teachers and parents always seemed to enjoy me, but there were plenty of kids that wanted nothing to do with me.  And when you are a school-aged kid that really sucks.  Even if you have a strong sense of self – which I did have, thanks to my family and the way we related at home -- that kind of treatment is not pleasant.   

So I learned how to dial it back, to make myself smaller.

The crazy thing? Charles had the same experience growing up...mocked for being too happy.  He says that it hardened him at an early age, created a cynicism and an uncertainty that I find kind of heartbreaking. Right now Ravi is like a little bundle of love and light, and although I can't say for sure what will happen as his personality continues to evolve, I have a hunch that an enduring joyful countenance is as much a part of his DNA as the robust thighs, dark brown curls, and dimples on each side of his mouth.

It took me many years to embrace what I thought I had to modulate and temper for the benefit of others.  These days, I couldn’t dial it back if I wanted to. Just like everyone else in his orb, I’m awash in the glow of my 21 lb sidekick.  My cheeks hurt, I smile so much.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

From Hollywood to Mommyhood

The scent of jasmine that hung outside my private bungalow at Chateau Marmont was almost too magnificent to believe, and as I zipped up the back of the H&M dress I was going to try to pass off as vintage Norma Kamali, I inhaled deeply, taking it all in.  In an hour or so, I would be walking the red carpet for the premiere of "The Incredible Hulk," a summer blockbuster in which I had a leading role.  This premiere was without a doubt an important event for me – a high-profile shout-out for a decade worth of dedication to a career that historically sports more downs than ups.  There would be photographs, “live from the carpet” interviews, and parties afterward.  Roots colored, cleavage cradled in La Perla, and false eyelashes the MAC gal had applied earlier, lush and curled to perfection.  (Sidebar: not the $250.00 a lash, real mink perfection sported by Madonna and J.Lo, but the $25.00 a pair, very-best-MAC- has to offer kind.  Hey…good enough for me!) I was  proud of what I had accomplished, and thrilled to be able to share the experience with the people I loved.  I couldn’t have felt more beautiful.

Cut to: Me, earlier tonight. Dried oatmeal in unwashed hair, a nursing bra large enough to house a small litter of newborn kittens, and lashes that just might require those mink falsies in order to regain any semblance of presentability.  And...I couldn’t have felt more beautiful.

Our son Ravi Alexander Cabot-Conyers is now 9 months old.  Everyday is filled with to-the-bone exhaustion and oodles upon oodles of belly-laughs.  There is a tacit understanding that no matter the depth of challenges faced, this life-long commitment to parenting another human will most surely bring the sweetest brand of satisfaction and joy.  Well, I’ve always been up for a good challenge (Did I mention I make my living as an actor?), and I’m a sucker for joy. Since the little guy joined the party, the lens with which I view this world has been unequivocally altered in the most profound and prolific of ways.  Will it change the way I approach the work I do with myself and others?  I'm kinda hoping it does!

Well, we’ll just have to see.   For now…straight ahead.