I don’t usually comment on celebrity deaths for many reasons. One, they are no more important than the millions of other deaths that occur on a given day (like my aunt, Patricia. Also, the airwaves and internet tubes are usually so overwhelmed and flooded with related material that I see no reason to add to it. However, I’ve realized that whether people know it or not, writing these things isn’t really about the person who died, it’s about us. We write these words for ourselves because we need to do so. To help process our own feelings. And do understand the other side of it. How a musician or actor or anyone of note can feel like a part of you, an influence. An old friend.
However, the suicide of Robin Williams has sat with me in a way that I didn’t expect. Yes, I was a huge fan from an early age as evidenced in this photo:
I loved “Mork From Ork” and my Mork suspenders were a prized possession (that’s also the fedora mention in the post about my aunt that she bought me at a thrift store when I was really into the Blues Brothers). I remember sitting in my grandmother’s bed watching his comedy special on HBO (R.I.P. Mimi). I always thought he was brilliant and hilarious. I hadn’t really thought about him much in a long time now though, so the weight of this was quite a surprise.
In the days since his death, it’s sat inside me like a stone. I listened to Marc Maron’s repost of his podcast with Robin from 2010 and it was comforting, and also a little eerie and sad in places, but overall Robin sounded at ease, happy, comfortable and serene. Some have been shocked by the level of details that have been released concerning his death, but I personally, am thankful. For some people, like myself, it’s not about some morbid thrill or fascination with gory details but for some reason they help me process it. It’s just something about the very detail oriented type of person I am. It bothers me when I can’t fill in the whole picture. It’s like I can’t ever really fully process it to closure for some reason. I am one of those people who, upon hearing of a death, immediately think “how?” and want as much information as I can get. It’s probably linked to my highly analytical mind and such. It’s not about morbid thrills.
“Depression lies” is something I read that is so true, but also that, obviously, it’s a very convincing liar. I’m very lucky in that I am someone who is just generally positive and happy and can use the power of my mind and such. However, that’s me. I also recognize that for some, this may be much harder. There may well be physical, chemical imbalances and such. I would never think that someone else is weak or broken because they can’t just “be happy” or “get better.” I know I’m lucky. I do believe that all mental things are just like physical things in that your mind is like a muscle and you can build and strengthen pathways and though processes but it’s not easy, and it’s much harder to track and see progress. You can’t say “Last month I was only lifting 40 happiness pounds with my mind and this month I’m lifting 50!” It can be frustrating to feel out of control of your own mind, but I can tell you from experience that it can be done (obviously, individual mileage may vary). I couldn’t necessarily see the progress as it was happening, but now I can look back and see how far I’ve come in many ways. It’s a long game.
Something else that really sparked my mind into gear was some controversy (as detailed in this article) over The Academy and many other people posting pictures from Aladdin (in which Robin Williams played the Genie) with homages like “Genie, you’re free.” I had seen these as I’m sure they were intended, a warm, heartfelt goodbye with no malice but I had never even thought about how they very well could propagate the notion to depressed people that suicide equals freedom. There is no “freedom” in death. Only death. And the weight, absence and devastation it leaves behind.
Now that being said, I am not here to take a stand on any side. I don’t care whether suicide is “selfish” or not (and frankly, I don’t think “selfish” is an inherently bad word as it’s usually conveyed…it’s just as bad to not love and take care of ourselves enough because we sacrifice everything for others). I’m not here to condone or condemn. All I know is that one morning Robin Williams probably kissed his wife goodbye in the morning, (she also called him her best friend) and then felt like he had to go take his own life despite being one of the most beloved entertainers of all time with a loving wife and daughter and countless friends and fans. I wish I could Quantum Leap into his mind just to understand what he was feeling and thinking but we will never know. I certainly will not be angry or resentful. It’s just sad. I’m sorry that, for whatever reason, he felt this was necessary.
For me, I know I’ve had very dark times in my life when I sort of wished maybe I wouldn’t wake up, but those times are like faded memories for me. Things that I know, intellectually, occurred but yet can’t really feel or understand now that I don’t feel like that. For some people, that’s how they feel about being happy. It feels like a distant memory. Maybe an unattainable dream.
If you take anything away from this, let it be this: no matter who you are, nothing and no one will ever be better without you. Removing yourself from this life will not improve anything or anyone’s life. Your absence will be felt in deeper and farther reaching ways than you will ever know, and yes, that’s a shame that none of us will ever know the depth of our reach and effect on this world or know just how intertwined we all are, but that’s just the way it is. Each and every day, people lose this gift of life that we are given and would give anything to keep it or have it back. And it is a gift, even if it sometimes seems a burden.
You are more important to more people than you will ever know. If you ever find yourself on that precipice, please do something. Call someone. even if it goes against everything you’re feeling in that moment. Call the National Suicide Prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK).
And while it’s good that this seems to have everyone talking and thinking about important issues, I’m sure Robin would not want to be remembered in death only associated with depression and suicide. Another good thing that’s come from all this is that I’ve read so many great stories about him and got to know him better than ever through other people’s words (One of my favorite stories was from Norm Macdonald). I won’t think of him and feel somber, I will think of him and laugh and smile and remember what a kind, gentle, generous and big-hearted person he was. Thank you to all who knew him for sharing your stories and memories.
Mork from Ork, signing off. Nanu-nanu.
On Sunday August 3, 2014, we lost my aunt Patricia, or “Trish” as she was known to me, to the illness she had battled for many years which I believe was Hepatitis based. This writing, however, is not about death or sadness or mourning. It’s about life. The life of one of the most amazing people I’ve ever known and a life that affected so many others in such a positive way. She is a huge part of who I am today and like a second mother to me, behind my own awesome matronly unit.
I have no memories of a life without Trish in it. She and my Uncle Mike have been married for almost my entire life (definitely at least around 40 years).
Yesterday and today I find myself more wiped out than I have been in quite some time. Last week was tech week before opening weekend for Cyrano De Bergerac (I play Le Comte De Guiche) so it had been a pretty long week not to mention the previous 5 weeks of rehearsing 4 times a week. I had also come down with some kind of minor cold or something.
Friday I had an audition for a commercial. The next day I got word they wanted to book me for Sunday. I reminded my agent that since it was in Dallas, I would have to leave by 2pm to get back to Austin just in time for our Sunday matinee. My agent relayed this information, and was told that my call time in Dallas would be 9am and I would be released no later than 2pm. I got a call from the Wardrobe department to talk to me about wardrobe options and I reminded her that I had to leave by 2pm. She didn’t particularly care since that wasn’t really her department. I got a call from the casting office to get some information and they said they weren’t sure I was booked or not because I had some sort of conflict. I relayed that I had been told my call time was 9am and I would be released by 2pm.
So we opened Cyrano on Friday night, and then after our Saturday night performance, I went home and got about 3 hours of sleep, maximum before having to leave for Dallas. I got to set a little early in Dallas, and as I checked in, I reiterated that I wanted to make sure everyone knew I had to leave by 2pm. The 2nd Assistant Director said he was not aware of that, but that was fine and he would relay the message along. Another friend of mine was on the call sheet but apparently had not shown up and they had been trying to call and find her all morning. I found out from her that she had to decline the day before due to timing issues and that the message had somehow not made it to production.
There was a short song we had to sing along to for the spot, and they had it playing on loop in the waiting area because the director wanted to make sure we knew all the words so he could concentrate on performance and directing. Time ticked on and I knew my scene was scheduled for 11:30-12:30 but it was looking less and less like that was going to happen. The 2nd A.D. again reiterated that they knew I had to be our at 2 so we would see what happened. At 12:30pm they broke for lunch for an hour.
At 1:30pm we finally got in the van and made the drive to set a couple of minutes away (good thing I got only 3 hours of sleep to arrive by 9:00am). They immediately pulled one of the other actors in to film him (and the wardrobe person mistakenly gave him one of my shirts to change into for the shot) and so I pulled the Assistant Director aside and just reiterated that I wanted to make sure they knew I had be gone at 2pm. Somehow, despite me telling every single person along the way as emphatically as I could, he was not aware of this nor was the producer. The producer pulled me aside to talk about it and I again told the story of how this had all been discussed and clarified before I was ever booked and that I had made sure to hammer it home ever step of the way with every person I spoke to. He went and made a call and then came back and asked if I could possibly give them until 2:15pm, to which I said that would be really pushing it, but I was willing to do it.
Somewhere around 1:45 or so they started setting up to film me against a wall but the director didn’t like the shot and went to look at other possible locations. There was a last minute call to change my shirt. Then we changed location and they had me throw on a different shirt. It was determined that since I was in the same location as 2 of the other actors I needed to have the same shirt as them (as we were all playing workers at the same business) so I quickly changed back into the original shirt I had started in. They had just pulled these work shirts from the back of the business and it was now an issue that there were two “Joel” shirts and two “Donnie” shirts and with three of us, someone was going to share a name. For no logical reason, They changed me from Joel to Donnie (which didn’t alleviate the name problem…now there would just be 2 Donnies instead of 2 Joels). Finally we were ready to shoot.
The director told me to “leave it all on the floor” and just really go for it. I could tell he was really frustrated by a lot of the previous actors not knowing the words (thus why we had the song on loop in the room all morning like some kind of psychological torture) and just being behind schedule and such. Take one, I nailed it, they loved it and were ready to move on to getting a small hand held GoPro for me to shoot myself with but it wasn’t ready yet so they got another take. One small line flub but the rest was perfect and since they would only be using a few seconds of me at most that wasn’t an issue. 2 takes with me shooting myself with the GoPro as if it were my cell phone (the first take I was still moving around wildly as I had been for the first shots, but that was too shaky and disorienting with the GoPro in my hand). 2:15pm, we were done and everyone seemed genuinely happy and complimentary.
I got a ride back and jumped in my car as fast as humanly possible. As it stood, my GPS said I would be getting back about 5:50pm when my show was supposed to start at 5:30pm. I relayed word and shared my drive via the Waze navigation app which allowed them to actually keep up with my drive and ETA in real time.
Not very far into my drive I got a “traffic delay warning” and my ETA was readjusted to 6:05pm. The app altered my route slightly and got it back to around 5:50pm. I hit a spot where I-35 was a parking lot and luckily, the app had me get on the feeder road which was still sluggish but at least moving. Eventually I got past what looked like a Semi-truck that had been part of an accident or maybe cuaght fire or something and cause the backup and traffic cleared. ETA 6:00pm.
Now, I am someone who never speeds. I always drive the speed limit. Let’s just say that this day, I was not myself. At one point my ETA was down to 4:43pm, but my need to urinate finally won. for the first time in my life, I seriously considered trying to pee into an empty bottle in my car (I was eyeing a nice, wide-mouthed juice bottle) but the logistics were just too much. I stopped. I was going to grab a quick bite to eat as well but realized my money and wallet were in the car and I didn’t have time to get them and come back and all that so I just got back on the road.
Normally, I wouldn’t fret too much about holding the beginning of the show a bit, but the play I am in is already 3 hours long so tacking another 20+ minutes of delay is not inconsequential. I rolled up to the theatre at 4:45 and they had just started the show. They had a made a few contingency plan alterations in case I wasn’t there for my first appearance. I got dressed as quickly as possible and while I did miss my actual entrance, I walked on stage literally just in time for my first line, which kind of croaked out of since, between my cold and no sleep, my voice was barely present. My hair and makeup weren’t done, my sleeves weren’t tied and one of my boot straps was undone and dragging behind me. As I sat down on stage, I discreetly tucked it into my boot.
When my scene was over, I finished my hair and makeup and got myself more in order. I sucked down cough drops, sprayed “Singer’s Saving Grace” spray, drank some tea with lemon and honey and limped through the rest of the show, squeezing my voice out as best as I could but being probably half volume and very croaky sounding. Not my best performance, but hopefully it was at least adequate.
After the show, though I was more exhausted than I could remember being in a long time, I was also starving so I joined some of the cast at a bar that also has great food. I wolfed down a burger and fries and tried my best to croak out some conversation. Then, finally, I crawled into bed and passed out hard.
I did as little as I could yesterday and today. Lots of laundry, picking up some checks, napping, TV, just trying to recover. Band practice tonight, Voiceover and photo shoot tomorrow as well as a dentist appointment and then the show kicks back up Thursday night through Sunday night.
Sure, I could use some serious rest, but I am very grateful to be so busy doing the things I love. That being said, I do also love sleep and rest and TV and food.
I listen to a lot of Podcasts. I can’t tell you the number of times the hosts have responded to criticism and comments from listeners by basically saying “Hey, it’s free, so quit your bitching.” This bothers me for several reasons. Firstly, it’s basically a big “fuck you” to the listeners that’s basically saying “I don’t really care what you think. You aren’t paying so you have no say in what we do.”
Now, I can see the logic here and it is true. I can do my own podcast any way I want and if I’m putting it out for free, you have no “right” to have input into it. However, here’s the thing: I want you to enjoy it and would genuinely like to know what people like and don’t like and how I can improve it. Sure, no matter what you do, you are never going to please everyone and will always have trolls and ass-hats who don’t really give any useful, intelligent feedback and just say “you suck,” or “eat a bag of dicks.” I’m not talking about them They are sad people who just want to make everyone else as miserable as they are and are jealous of any success and happiness that other’s have. But for people who really care and are submitting legitimate, constructive feedback, I would think that should be welcomed and considered.
I listen to a lot of Kevin Smith’s Podcasts on the SModcast network as well as Chris Hardwicke and the Nerdist podcast and have refrained from sending my personal comments to them because I am actually a fan and didn’t want to be dismissed or looked at as a “dissenter” or jerk who has the nerve to critique a free podcast, when the irony is that I want to help because I like them.
As an artist and a creator myself, I often tell others that the trick is to be open to all criticism while also not feeling like you have to act on everything. You need to be open minded enough to actually take it in and consider it, and then take what you think serves you. I’ve seen others go the other way and get overwhelmed because they feel the need to take every piece of advice and eventually lose their own vision and their project becomes a frankensteinian monster as they try to change everything that anyone thinks they should change and it’s no longer cohesive or true to their vision.
For example, I wrote a screenplay and I got a lot of very good feedback on it. After consideration, I found a lot of it was good, valid and helpful. Some of the other bits may have been good feedback but just didn’t fit the my own vision or the film I was trying to make. Then there was some feedback that I just had to discount because it was obvious that my film just wasn’t for those people and never would be. It’s a tough balancing act. To have a vision but be flexible and open to things that, in the end, may improve it.
This just as easily applies to Facebook or anything “free” (I won’t bother getting into the semantics of ads and such and whether something is really “free,” etc.) Stop using “Fuck you, it’s free” as an excuse to dismiss feedback. Criticism is not always from hostile people who are just jealous because they can’t do what you’re doing. Which brings me to another point: Also stop with the “I don’t see you doing it. If you think you know better, go out and do it yourself.” I think this argument is also a defensive, invalid response.
I don’t want to be an architect. That doesn’t mean I won’t have opinions and feedback on the design of a building. In fact, I posit that feedback from those outside the industry is equally valid. People who don’t see something in such detail with all it’s moving parts and such may have some great feedback you can’t see because you’re too close. You see behind the curtain. You know all the workings. They just see the overall picture or effect which could be very beneficial. Not everyone wants to be an actor/musician/podcaster/etc. But again, that does not invalidate their feedback and in fact may make it more valuable in certain ways.
To be absolutely clear, I LOVE Kevin Smith and Chris Hardwicke. I only mention them because I listen to so many hours of podcasts from them and they can both get a bit defensive and prickly and employ these responses I’ve mentioned here. I do understand it, and have reacted that way myself in the past, but it’s purely an ego defense mechanism. I’ve had constructive criticism I would have liked to have submitted and agreed with some of the criticism I’ve heard them cite and dismiss, but didn’t feel like I could contribute without being dismissed as one of the “uncool kids” even if I tried to present it non-confrontationally in a constructive way.
If you are putting something out into the world, then chances are you want acceptance and for people to enjoy it. Few people create something, legitimately just for themselves, to enjoy in solitude with no care whether others enjoy it as well. So let’s all put our egos aside and listen with an open mind and an open heart. Sometimes what is perceived by the ego as a hostile attack, is a friend reaching out a hand and wanting to help.
I try to live my life in gratitude, Never taking for granted or losing sight of what I have and all the wonderful things in my life and the world. It’s so easy to adjust our perspective and let our norm become mundane or lacking somehow. My iPhone is a good, if a bit obvious, example. I’ve often thought that if I could go back 10 years, 20 years and show myself my iPhone, my mind would be utterly blown (metaphorically, not literally). It is science fiction come to reality. There is a reason my lock screen is The Hitchhikers Guide To The Universe.
On a less obvious note, the other day I really thought about my keys. What an amazing piece of technology a key and lock is. A little piece of metal cut so uniquely as to open one lock which can only be opened by this magical combination of ridges. It’s really almost as magical as Gandalf illuminating runes and speaking Elvish to enter. A friend of mine also brought up what a status symbol keys really are. It says that you are prosperous enough to have a car or a house or whatever, and that it’s all locked away for your use only, you fascist ass-hat!
Sorry, I got a bit carried away.
I’ve taken up meditation and started using an app called “Insight timer” to time and log my meditation. It’s a really great app with a nice community layer to it. When you’re done meditating it will tell you how many other people were meditating (using the app) around the world. You can send message to people saying “Thanks for meditating with me.” I quite often think how vast our world is and all the things that are going on at any given moment. Right now, there’s almost certainly many people around the world doing just about anything you can think of.
At this very moment people are having sex, being murdered, getting fired, sleeping, shaving, climbing a mountain, watching a TV show, making a movie, vomiting with the flu, tickling a koala, snuggling, writing blog entries, plotting a scheme, eating way too much ice cream, getting married, achieving a lifelong dream, feeling depressed and useless, viewing the quivering fringe of a special doily draped across the piano with some surprise, pondering the significance of short-person behavior in pedal-depressed, panchromatic resonance and other highly ambient domains*.
The world and universe is filled with wonder. Never lose sight of it. With all we know, the fact is we know nothing. Only 4% of the universe is matter. The other 96% is still a mystery to us.
*-Frank Zappa “Evelyn, A Modified Dog”
Today I was listening to a podcast with a studio head and he said something that I often hear people in the entertainment industry say. Basically that we are just making entertainment and we aren’t as important or noble as doctors, firemen, soldiers, teachers, etc. Now, I am guilty of saying this as well and a part of me agrees but then I started thinking deeper and I was uncomfortable with this devaluation and dismissal of entertainment. While I don’t believe it’s a competition and I don’t feel there’s any need to compare one profession to another, I think entertainment is very important. The problem is that we humans are not good with amorphous and intangible things. We want everything to be quantifiable.
A doctor’s job, for instance, is very tangible and quantifiable. He sews up your wound. She transplants hearts! They fix brains! Entertainment is much less tangible. It makes you happy. It makes you feel things. It makes you think.
Many people seem to view entertainment as “fluff” or just pure leisure and luxury, but I don’t believe that. I believe there’s a reason that entertainment has been around in some form or another since the earliest recorded history. There’s something to be said for something that can affect your spirit. Make you laugh. Make you cry. Make you think. Manipulate your emotions. I believe it is a vital part of a healthy brain and soul.It feeds you in so many ways you probably don’t realize. Inspires you. Relieves stress. Puts things deep into your DNA that you don’t even realize.
I also experience this on a more microscopic level. As an actor, I love what I do. It doesn’t feel like “work.” It feel easy and effortless (not that it isn’t sometimes hard and challenging) and just like what I do. I’ve often found myself saying what many others say in that actors have it so easy! We play pretend and get trailers while other crew member haul around heavy equipment and get there before us and leave after us, etc. But then on certain occasion, a crew member has said to me “Man, I don’t know how you do that. I could never do what you do,” and expressed a real appreciation for the work an actor puts in and it re-framed everything for me.
There is great value, skill and work in what I do. As there is in whatever you do. As with most things in life, it’s all about perspective. It’s not about comparisons.
Whatever you do, don’t devalue yourself. Entertainment is as important and noble a profession as any and a very important part of life. It may not be as easily quantifiable, but I promise you it not meaningless fluff. It changes lives. It is magic. It is not merely an extraneous luxury. It is a vital nutrient.
I’ve noticed that a lot of people like to post birthday or holiday greetings on social media the day before the actual holiday. I don’t get this. It’s not the event yet. Wait for it. My only guess is the strange internet phenomenon of “Firsties!” The desire to be the first person to comment like it’s some kind of badge of honor.
It just seems like sort of a cheat. If the day before is fine, then why not a few days. Or weeks. Or months.
“Happy birthday for the next 5 years!”
“Merry Christmas for infinity! Whew, glad I got that out of the way. Now I never have to say it again!”
Look, patience is not one of my virtues. I get it. But wait for the day. It’s kind of like if you open your presents on Christmas eve, that seems all exciting at the time, but then it’s kind of a bummer when you have nothing on the day. Same with greetings. Hold out. Ask Sting for Tantric sex techniques or something and maybe you can apply them to holiday greeting. I hear Sting can give holiday greetings for like 6 days.
I was recently contacted about being in a short about 2 German immigrants. They asked to just read the English with a German accent for the audition. Luckily I’ve always been really intrigued with accents and tend to pick them up quickly and do fairly decent job. They liked my audition and signed me on. The director then wanted to meet to see how well I might be able to handle the actual German dialogue. I’ve never spoken German in my life, but I have a very intuitive and natural understanding for languages. This was the first time it had ever been put to the test though. He literally just had me read the German script, totally cold (which I found an exciting challenge). He actually was very pleased with my reading and said he felt confident that I could do it and therefore was going to leave the script as it was instead of paring down the German and making it more English with a German accent.
Also lucky for me, my co-star is actually German and from the specific region of Germany as our characters. She was kind enough to send me a recording of all my lines so I had an authentic reference to refer to.
So now I just have to memorize the entire German script and understand what it is I’m saying as well, and act while doing it. I am terribly excited to take this on.
In last night dream I was part of a live sketch show at a place not unlike The Institution Theater. Steve Glazer was directing the show I think and at the last minute someone didn’t show, so Steve filled in at the last moment since he knew the part. He came on as part of a trio and was dressed in a pink furry one piece kind dress thing, sort of like The Flintstones wore. It was not very long and Steve was not wearing underwear so everyone kept getting glimpses of his bits and pieces. When he sat on the ground with his knees up, he was full on flashing everyone.
After that act, I was up next. Me and a partner were lip syncing to “Mahna mahna.” However, instead of a backing track they were using some really old, crappy recording that was really hard to follow and that was very erratic rhythmically almost like if a really inebriated person was trying to sing it. Consequently, the lip syncing did not go well. I remember wondering why they didn’t just use a karaoke like track for it like the one Ralph Garmin and Kevin Smith use on the “Hollywood Babble-On” podcast when Ralph sings “Mahna Mahna” in various character voices.
During one of our first Macbeth rehearsals, I sat down at a piano and started singing “Macbeth” to the tune of “Beth” by KISS. This inspired both Brian Villalobos and I to write parodies. I painstakingly recreated the music and we recorded both versions.