Upon my return from directing A FREE MAN OF COLOR in Louisiana where I survived hurricanes literal (Isaac) and figurative (bomb threat, a delayed opening, a departing lead during tech week due to a family emergency) I discovered on my kitchen refrigerator a sheet of paper. Hung by a flat floppy magnet the photocopied page had printed upon its dull whiteness a lengthy list of what I first perceived as self-empowering psycho-babble bullshit. Thirty-five listed sentences of Pollyanna prose that the author intended for the reader to digest eagerly and walk away with a shit-eating grin.
As my euphoria from the marvelous high bundled in my memory of Louisiana began to wane upon sadly realizing that my feast had suddenly been stolen by famine, I fell into despair’s darkness.
I would reach into the refrigerator. Grab a Vanilla Coke Zero to mix with coconut enhanced rum (a reminder of my Baton Rouge feast). Then that damned page of Pollyanna prose would pull my attention like a near-naked image of a young chiseled Abercrombie & Fitch twink on a Times Square billboard. Alluring. Seductive. Annoying. And like my eyes drawn to a male model’s gym-created form my attention remained gazing upon the mantra menu.
Oddly, my staunch cynicism waned. I discovered myself nodding slightly in agreement as I would read make-yourself-feel-better-mantra #1, “This too shall pass and my life will be better.” Then my sight moved lower to mantra #4, “Look at how much I have accomplished, and I am still progressing.” I often dismiss my accomplishments despite friends and strangers constantly reminding me of my mile posts. (Virgos are rarely satisfied.)
As my draws of Vanilla Coke Zero and coconut rum lessened after having re-re-read the list I began to think…this wallowing well I’m drawing from is one from which all creatives at some point sip unsatisfactorily. Either, when career opportunities are as barren as Mother Hubbard’s cupboards or when sitting alone anxiously pondering, “Is this what my life will be like in 10, 20, 40 years from now?”
After the turmoil of Sandy which I, my peers, neighbors and nation have suffered and survived, now seems an apropos opportunity to share a snippet of the list. We’re moving forward. But tragedy need not be the only reason for looking to the wisdom below. Return to these words when you find yourself doubting your career choice, when work and/or auditions are misty phantoms never fully formed, or for any moment of moving forward against adversity.
And recall: Adversity is a moment’s spur within time’s endless marathon.
1. This too shall pass and my life will be better.
2. I am doing the best I can, given my history and level of current awareness.
3. What is, is.
4. Look at how much I have accomplished, and I am still progressing.
6. I will remain engaged and involved instead of isolating and withdrawing during this situation.
7. This is an opportunity, instead of a threat. I will use this experience to learn something new, to change my direction, or to try a new approach.
8. I can stand anything for awhile. I will respond appropriately and not be reactive.
9. There is less stress in being optimistic and choosing to be in control.
10. I am willing to do whatever is necessary to make tomorrow better.
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Paul Russell’s career as a casting director, director, acting teacher and former actor has spanned nearly thirty years. He has worked on projects for major film studios, television networks, and Broadway. Paul has taught the business of acting and audition technique at NYU and has spoken at universities including Yale, Temple and the University of the Arts. He is the author of ACTING: Make It Your Business – How to Avoid Mistakes and Achieve Success as a Working Actor. For more information, please visit www.PaulRussell.net.
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