Race

Privilege 101

The star-belly Sneetches and their less fortunate counterparts, the plain-belly Sneetches.

priv • i • lege  (noun) a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people: education is a right, not a privilege  |  he has been accustomed all his life to wealth and privilege.*


This principle is easily understood and universally holds true. A privilege always requires that at least one criterion be met. Here’s three of my favorites, but I’m sure you can come up with your own.

The Bigger Picture

Walking Tall Through Depression

depression

April 15 is a red-letter day for everyone in America. For me, the day is permeated with a myriad of emotions as April 15, 1994, is the date my father died. Over the years the full body ache, akin to a blow to the midsection from a wrecking ball, subsided somewhat and on the 2013 anniversary of my father’s passing I was able to function reasonably well. I didn’t know it would trigger the beginning of a perfect storm of events (strained family relations, new friends behaving badly, the disappearance of a couple of decades-old friends in my time of need, spinning my wheels on a project that was way beyond my skill set, a little too much introspection with no self-absolution, and general isolation) that led me into a crippling depression.

Depression is definitely more than the pseudo-cute/very creepy umbrella that doubles as a hole in the ground you’ve seen in the Abilify commercials. Its affects left me feeling as if I had taken up residence at the bottom of an ever-deepening sinkhole during a thunderstorm. My disposition was worse than a general malaise. I lost interest in everything. An overwhelming sense of hopelessness engulfed me.

Since I recognized the symptoms of depression—but not before being put through the wringer—I had a pretty good idea of what I needed to do. First, I prayed and meditated on what was going on. I recognized that my withdrawn and sluggish mood was not my typical demeanor.

I sought out old and new friends I could talk with who would offer a listening ear as well as emotional support. Talking with friends shed new light on well-worn narratives and stopped the negative playlist from looping in my head. A chemical imbalance was a possibility, so I checked in with my doctor to have tests run.

Depression typically manifests itself in a change in eating habits. Some people eat more, I ate less often and when I did eat I ate all the wrong stuff. So I got back into eating more healthful foods on a regular basis.

A change in diet and simply getting out into the fresh air and sunshine worked miracles in lightening my general disposition.

Once I realized what I needed to do, I committed to my recovery. Granted I didn’t feel like making the necessary changes, but I chose to do what I needed to do to get back in the game and ultimately felt better because of it. As for the test results, they came back negative.

Everyone experiences feelings of depression at some point in their life. Sometimes it’s situational, like the bout I described and other times it’s something more serious. All it takes is the right combination of economic, interpersonal, and/or professional stresses to throw even the most stoic personality into a tailspin. The thing to keep in mind is that your situation is not permanent. This is all temporary. The bad times won’t last forever.

While the following may not be clinical steps to treating depression, I found them most effective in my case.

1. Recognize the symptoms of depression.

  • overwhelming sadness/unhappiness
  • loss of interest in normal activities
  • irritability/outbursts over small things
  • fixating on past failures
  • excessive sleeping.

2. Pray and meditate.

Take time to clear your mind and find your center. And go easy on yourself. Slide yourself a little grace. You’ll find, more often than not, that you’re your own worst critic.

3. Don’t go it alone.

Find people—close friends, family, clergy—you can talk to about what you’re going through. Sometimes a few in-depth conversation with those who know you will work wonders and can be just as effective as speaking with professionals (plus it’s easier on your wallet). Or if you prefer, speak with a professional. The search for the right psychiatrist, psychologist, or counselor can prove to be a wise investment of time and money.

4. Eat healthful foods and get out there and let the sunshine in.

The benefits of a good diet and physical activity are well-documented. Run with it.

5. Cut yourself some slack.

There’s plenty of people out there more than willing to tear you down. There’s no need for you to join them. You’re never as bad as you think you are.

Postscript

After I put the above steps into action, a couple of weeks passed before I felt like myself again. My doctor told me a great analogy during an office visit. It went something like this . . . imagine there’s a playground with all sorts of wonderful games and activities in which everyone can participate. But there’s one rule: over in a far corner there’s a barrel filled with all sorts of muck and slime and everyone has to spend some time in it. And when your time is up, you can get out of the barrel. Just remember to get out of the barrel.

Christmas, The Bigger Picture

A Word About Christmas 2013

Final-Night copy

In 1991, I saw the Radio City Christmas Spectacular for the first time and before the curtain came down on the performance I added the goal of someday performing on the great stage at Radio City Music Hall to my Bucket List. Eight years later, I auditioned for the show’s choreographer and director and pulled off what I knew was my best audition at the time and was rewarded with two contract offers, neither of which I could accept. Little did I know the opportunity to don elfwear and a baby bear ensemble with a matching bonnet (as well as Frosty the Snowman gear) would present itself again two years later, thanks to one of my other wildest dreams coming true.

If you’ve read Walking Tall: A Memoir About the Upside of Small and Other Stuff, you know the story of God summarily closing a door, but also knocking a wall down to grant me access to people, places, and experiences that otherwise would’ve never come my way. (And if you haven’t read Walking Tall yet, click the link above for info on where to purchase your copy and get caught up.)

For eleven consecutive years I’ve had the pleasure of working with some of the best people in live theater across the country and in New York (six years in touring companies of the Christmas Spectacular and five years in New York).

At the close of my fifth season in New York (2011), I wept bitterly in the stage left wings as I knew in every fiber of my being that that would be my last year sporting elfwear for Radio City, but graciously God gave me another season, a bonus season if you will—the Christmas of 2012. That was pretty awesome indeed. And when that twelfth season came to an end, I shed no tears. I was filled with an overwhelming sense of gratitude and satisfaction for having been so richly blessed beyond my wildest dreams.

I think you know where I’m going with this . . .

So to dispel any conjecture, here goes. Plain and simple, I won’t be returning to the Music Hall this year. Calls went out yesterday and today and I was not offered a contract. Given the way I’ve seen God work in my life, I see this not as a snub of any sort, but as another instance of God closing a door. This time I suspect He’ll rip the proverbial roof off to present my next opportunity. So rest assured there’ll be no worrying or wringing of hands on my end.

With that said, I’d like to extend a heartfelt thanks to Linda Haberman for giving twelve unbelievably glorious Christmas seasons that will be forever etched in my memory. To all the singers, dancers, crew, front of house hosts, animal handlers, musicians, production people it’s been an honor to work with and for you—you freakin’ rocked my world in ways you don’t even know. You really have become a second family to me. And to the friends I’ve made in Atlanta, Cleveland, Dallas, Minneapolis, Seattle, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Boston, and New York because of my involvement with the show, thank you for opening your hearts and extending your hospitality to me. You’ve all given me memories and friendships that will last a lifetime.

To my friends who schlepped from as far as Honolulu and Amsterdam and points in between, thank you for deeming my small involvement in that little show at the Music Hall worthy of the your time, energy, and hard-earned dollars. This includes old Disney friends who had no idea I was even in the show until they saw me onstage, and everyone who ever asked for house tickets (yes, even those of you leisurely got me your ticket info). For me, seeing each of your radiant faces after a performance and parading you and yours around backstage made me feel like a king. Thank you for sharing your holidays, anniversaries, and once in a lifetime  moments with me.

As you can see this isn’t about me. It’s about all of you and how you, each in your own way, have enriched my life. With what you’ve all given me, there’s no way on Earth I could be bitter about it coming to an end.

So what’s next? I’m not at liberty to give details at the moment, but there’s been some exponential movement going on with one of my screenplays. All I can say is who knows what God’s got up his sleeve.

Break a leg, 2013 Radio City Christmas Spectacular Cast and Crew like I know you will!

I only hope someone’s going to pick up the Scones Thursday mantle and do me proud.

The Bigger Picture, The Write Life

In Memoriam

David T. Samuels
August 4, 1952–May 27, 2013

Dave at work in the art gallery located in NYC's Limelight Shops (http://www.limelightshops.com/) with a familiar guest.
Dave at work in the art gallery located in NYC’s Limelight Shops (http://www.limelightshops.com/) with a familiar guest.

The majority of you probably have never heard of Dave, but if you’ve read my posts over the past year, as well as Walking Tall, you’ve felt his impact on my writing.

Dave and I met a little over two and a half years ago via a mutual friend. At the time I took the meeting as a little more than a casual introduction, but when the relationship with that friend hit a momentary rough patch, Dave parceled out insights that helped me work through the transition with our mutual friend. Within a few months my relationship with the friend was back on the right track and my own friendship with Dave developed from there.

Dave shared with me that his life was in transition. We talked about his imminent return to Canada to tend to his mother in Toronto. I likened the angst Dave felt over the direction his life was taking to the way I felt over leaving L.A. years before. We both saw our exoduses from New York and L.A. as unexpected and accepted them as having some greater purpose in our lives.

Dave’s assimilation into life in Toronto went smoothly. He picked up the mantle of caring for his mother and brother (who had special needs) with aplomb. The move to Toronto proved to be a boon to Dave in another way, it helped lessen the severity of Dave’s respiratory issues.

Once I decided to self-publish Walking Tall, Dave’s excitement knew no bounds. He celebrated all the milestones with me along the way—the development of cover concepts, cover photo selection, arriving at a final title page design, venue choice, and the like. When I picked up the first bound and printed proof of my book for the launch party, I rushed a copy off to him.

You can imagine my shock and dismay when he gingerly informed me of copious errors that jumped out at him in the text. I was devastated. Friends and I had graciously combed through at least half a million times, but still mistakes slipped by. With the launch party a few days away, Dave talked me off the ledge and ever so casually revealed that he was an English major in college and offered to pore through the proof one last time.

I accepted his offer, and over the following week Dave scrutinized all 272 pages to within an inch of their lives. I couldn’t help but notice how respectful he was with of the text and took care not to add his distinctive cheeky sense of humor to the work. Lord knows if he hadn’t, every other paragraph would’ve been hysterically funny. Dave and I walked me through the edits for hours at a time, and when all was said and done Walking Tall made its debut online and at the launch party with relatively few blemishes and my reputation still intact.

Dave saw his gesture as no big deal, but in no uncertain terms he saved my ass. And in doing so, he taught me a very important lesson about to become a better proofreader of my own work. And I made it a priority to let him know how much I appreciated his efforts.

2013 began as a year of challenges for Dave with the passing of his brother Stephen and intensified respiratory issues. It’s weird how life works out, just a couple weeks ago a few of Dave’s good friends visited him in Toronto. He was elated to have them visit, despite the limitations of needing Oxygen. That was the last time he saw them.

Just last week, after several days of testing, Dave phoned me in tears to tell me of his approval for a lung transplant. He felt an overwhelming sense of relief and renewed optimism about his condition. And when I spoke with him yesterday, I had no inkling that it would be the last time I’d do so. I woke to an email from his account sent by cousin announcing his death.

Although, the total amount of time I spent in face-to-face interaction with Dave probably totals less than twenty-four hours, the impact he’s had on me will stay with me for the rest of my life.

Thanks to Dave’s unbridled love of life and wicked sense of humor, I know that he wouldn’t want to be sad over his passing. And with that in mind, one quote comes to mind—

Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.
—Dr. Seuss

P.S.

Any typos or grammatical errors present in this post exist solely to ruffle Dave’s angel wings. Anything less would be disappointing.

All the World's a Stage

The Rite of Spring: Christmas Auditions 2013 (Part 1)

Well, it’s springtime again. The weather has gotten a little warmer, once barren trees have sprouted new signs of life, and I returned to New York for my annual audition for the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. One of my friends, a resident New Yorker, went so far as to dub me a New York icon. I hope that doesn’t mean I’ve outlived my usefulness in the City That Never Sleeps.

The Bigger Picture

Expectations—They’ll Getcha Every Time

Oprah Winfrey interviews Chelsea Handler

Sandra, a not so well-known but dear friend of mine tossed out this pearl of wisdom over dinner a few weeks ago, “expectations are preplanned disappointments”. The adage made perfect sense to me as a litany of instances where my own pre- and ill-conceived notions of how a situation should unfold (or how someone should behave) ended with me getting the short of the stick. So I put forth the effort to change my modus operandi.