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Monday, January 14, 2013

Clarity is Focus...


For me the greatest beauty always lies in the greatest clarity.
Gotthold Ephraim Lessing

For me, an area of moral clarity is: you're in front of someone who's suffering and you have the tools at your disposal to alleviate that suffering or even eradicate it, and you act.
Paul Farmer

The beauty is that through disappointment you can gain clarity, and with clarity comes conviction and true originality.
Conan O'Brien
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Does anyone else get lost in their work and forget the mission they started out on?  Do the raging waters of work ever swallow you up?   I know I sometimes start panting for breath as I drift out to sea, yet there always comes a moment when I reach shore bursting through the water as my clarity of purpose is found.  That happened to me the other day after receiving a comment on MY OTHER VOICE's indiegogo page (http://bit.ly/W42mcG). 

I’ve been working very hard on building this production company up, meeting with people, talking about the work, editing, rearranging, creating, sharpening, writing, and the list goes on!  I was doing so much swimming that I slowly started to lose sight of shore.  Two days ago, while I was singing through some of the show, getting frustrated with the way my voice sounded, my phone went off saying I had received a contribution and a comment.  The donation came from a woman that I have never met, a complete stranger, and was also one of our largest contributors to date.  Not only was I floored that a complete stranger had heard about our project, but when I read her comment I was immediately resuscitated.  She wrote, “This contribution is in memory of a Kirby who lost her life, at age 28, to ovarian cancer on January 30, 2012.” 

I immediately stopped what I was doing and went numb.  Then a surge of emotions rushed through my body… I felt overwhelmed that she lost her fight, grateful to be able to read such a comment, lucky to have made it, and finally empowered knowing that my play could be a voice for others like Kirby.   All of this happened in less than a minute as I read the comment over and over again.  One thing cancer survivors have to deal with is “survivors guilt.”  For some people it can be a very intense feeling, often overwhelming, while for others it barely enters their consciousness.  In my own experience my survivor guilt is not as deep as others but still dormant; however, I’m very aware of how blessed I am to still be here.  In fact, this blessing is what has always compelled me to give back with my play.  Though my journey was hard, it was not nearly as difficult as others, and ultimately I still have a voice to empower, motivate, and inspire. 

Comments like these are what keep me on this journey.  I’ve never met Kirby but in some ways I have.  In some ways, everyone who’s been told they have cancer knows each other on some basic level.  These are the people I write for, that don’t have a voice, or don’t know how to use it.  That wish they could see beyond another chemo infusion, hoping for tomorrow, and continuing to fight even when there’s no fight left.  So Kirby… this one’s for you, I hope you hear our voice.    

What have been moments of clarity in your work?  I would love to read in the comments!  


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Faith is Starting


"As your faith is strengthened you will find that there is no longer the need to have a sense of control, that things will flow as they will, and that you will flow with them, 
to your great delight and benefit."
-Emmanuel Teney


“Sometimes beautiful things come into our lives out of nowhere. We can't always understand them, but we have to trust in them. I know you want to question everything, 
                                          but sometimes it pays to just have a little faith.”
Lauren Kate, Torment

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Why is having faith so hard sometimes?  I mean, we’re all taught to have faith in our dreams, to really go for it… “Leap, and the net will appear (John Burroughs)!” Ah, it sounds so beautiful, right?  But then somewhere along the way we start to think, “well yeah, but there’s no way.”  But why?  These aren’t just fancy quotes by fancy people; these are people who have achieved by leaping.  The miracles in their lives are just as real as anything else.

Recently, I’ve really been trying to live in faith that all will be provided if I’m acting in a way that helps others.  Half the time I write about this to keep reminding myself.  When I first decided to come to Ann Arbor with my play MY OTHER VOICE, there was no road map, blueprint, or gps.  However, there was a final destination… yet, plugging in a final destination to your phone and then having it say “network error” is not always the most comforting.  But you know you have to get there, somehow. 

I talk a lot about trusting, believing, the power of positivity, and all of that so now I’m putting my philosophies where my mouth is.  This journey I’m on to make this show happen at the Arthur Miller Theatre is about more than me.  This show is about an entire generation that is just now starting to get a voice…. the young adult cancer population.  We’re starting to be heard and our voices are getting stronger.  I came here with one goal and it will be done… how?  I have no idea!  And I still don’t really.  Every day the Universe, God, whatever you want to call it, is revealing more and more to me. 

Obviously, I came to Ann Arbor with a plan.  I never blindly go into anything without first giving it careful consideration, but already that plan is morphing and shifting into possibilities that I couldn’t have imagined.  I started with this indiegogo campaign, which has already seen enormous support thanks to many of you!  We’ve still got time left to reach our goal and this is only one small piece of the puzzle:  http://bit.ly/VUH67R

The ideas started there and then opportunities started presenting themselves.  Last weekend, I had the great privilege to meet with the President of the University Musical Society (http://www.ums.org), Ken Fischer, over coffee at Starbucks.  The meeting was set up by a chance run in through somehow who knew about my show, which lead to a meeting with him.   UMS has a huge presence at Michigan and is responsible for bringing in major acts like Audra McDonald, The Royal Shakespeare Company, Yo-Yo Ma, and the list goes on.  When I was student here I remember reaping all of the benefits, one of which was sitting three rows back center stage watching Patrick Stuart play Anthony in ANTHONY AND CLEOPATRA!  Well, last weekend the man responsible for all of these wonderful triumphs was talking with me about my show.  Now, before I got here I would have never assumed we would be having coffee discussing my show, but there we were rattling off ideas and possibilities for MY OTHER VOICE.

That meeting then led to a lunch yesterday with the associate producer of the original SWEENY TODD, Judy Dow Rumelhart.  Interestingly, she was my scholarship donor and provided me the opportunity to go here when I was a student.  Did I ever think we’d be sitting down at lunch talking about a show I had written?  No, of course not!  She was merely an untouchable amazing woman I used to write thank you letters to for her support.  Obviously, the letters haven’t stopped but the subject matter has changed. 

Now, finally I’m beginning to talk with a few doctors at the University Hospital who are deeply connected to The Medical Arts Programs at the University of Michigan.  “The Program’s aim is to enhance the ability of medical students, interns, and residents to provide high-quality, humanistic clinical care through experiences and analysis of the musical, dramatic, literary, and visual arts (http://themedicalarts.med.umich.edu).”  BAM!  This is exactly what my show and production company is aiming to do… make better Doctors, residents, and smarter patients.  Did I have any idea that this program existed before I got here?  No! 

And still even now, all of these meetings, upcoming discussions, and talks are seeds being watered.  Yes, more is being revealed but how this puzzle piece is going to come together is still not concrete… and that’s ok.  I’m trusting that that is ok.  Faith is starting.   


Is there something you’ve wanted to do for a while now?  How can you step out in faith?  I’d love to hear! 

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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Judgment Is Fun... Right?!


How often do you judge others?  Be honest, and I will too… pretty often.  In fact, the world we’re brought up in today almost encourages judgment.  Everyone has an opinion about someone’s style, work ethic, beliefs, lifestyle, and choices.    

But what are these judgments really saying?  Nothing.  Nothing at all really because there are just opinions and opinions are not facts.  “When you judge others, you do no define them, you define yourself as someone who needs to judge (Dr. Wayne Dyer).”  When I read this a light bulb instantly went off!  Who am I to judge anyone?  I’m just as flawed as the next person trying to figure out this life on earth.  And it’s true, judgment on a person does not change who they are… mostly it just separates you from ever having a connection to them.  Who knows what kinds of amazing relationships I could be blocking by keeping people away with judgment.  Everyone has the choice to live their life in the way they see fit and it’s not our place to say whether that is right or wrong. 

But this also applies to judgment passed on us from others.  Again, we can’t control what others think, feel, or put on us.  However, we can control the way we respond and receive feedback.  Ultimately, if you feel you’re being judged you have to know deep down that what they’re saying really doesn’t matter.  So many people constantly try to dictate where you life should go, what you should be doing, how you should be doing it, and so on.  But only you know what’s best for you.  Only you have the guide of your emotions telling you whether or not you’re headed in the right direction.  And if you feel good then that’s all that matters.  Nothing else matters but feeling good- today- not tomorrow… right now!  When people throw judgment into your field you have to view them as opinions and that’s all. 

I’ve been thinking about why I judge people and the answer is simple… to feed my own ego.  It almost always comes down to the ego.  You feel better when you “think” you are above someone.  But do you really feel better at the end of the day or does your ego?  Because they are two separate entities.  Your ego masks everything true about you by seeking the approval of others and weighing your worth on accomplishments, accolades, and achievements.  Your ego must prove to everyone else how important you are… trust me, I know all about the ego.  What about proving to yourself how important you are?  Well, if we can make others feel less about themselves then surely we will feel more powerful, right?!  Of course, most people don’t consciously think this way but subconsciously that is what we’re really doing.

You see, our ego is counterintuitive because feeding it actually makes you starved like an insatiable thirst that can’t be quenched. Our ego- always without a doubt- separates us from love, abundance, and self-respect.  There’s no fulfillment to filling your ego, just constant ravenous hunger.  When you have self-respect for yourself you don’t need an ego that always has to win because you have already won.  You don’t need to seek the approval of others because you approve of yourself.  You know that the Universe, which we are all connected to, loves you no matter what.  You aren’t hungry… you’re full. 

That’s why when we judge ourselves and others we are basically saying, “Everything is WRONG in the world!  God is wrong!”  But is it?  Or is that just how we choose to perceive it? Perception is everything… would it be so terrible to perceive everyone like they are capable of great feats.  Imagine if everyone was instilled with this belief, with this mindset, or we saw the infinite possibilities in everyone.  Envision others treating you this way and you can feel how this effect would be contagious.  Spread encouragement, hope, and joy and that’s what you’ll receive back in your life because you know that judgment is worthless.  

This is something I know I definitely need to work on but by being consciously aware of my judgments towards others I’m slowly chipping away at my own ego.  I want to see the best in everyone, to encourage people’s dreams, motivations, and desires.  In the end, that’s all that matters.  And when I’m living in a state of non-judgment I have an easier time of not letting judgment affect my own life. 

Have you felt judged recently?  Or passed the judgment unknowingly?  I’d love to hear in the comments. 

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 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye?” – Matthew

“People hasten to judge in order not to be judged themselves.”  Albert Camus


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Let Out Your Song

Here's a little poem I wrote last night... how does it speak to you?  

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A Heroes journey through the foot hills,
Past the lilacs and daffodils
A wanderer with a goal
To find his missing soul.
No burning expectation
Just quiet deliberation.
Mindful opulence,
Blissful presence.
Childlike wonderment.
Pure bewilderment.

Sends out his vibration across the land
Thoughts bring objects to his hand.
Mountains move, the world then bends.
His visions cleared, the earth sends
What he was seeking all along,
Once he let out his song.
The note soars past mortar and brick
Reaching minds faster than quick.
To the sound of his voice calling within.
Finally trusting himself to begin.

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How can you let out your song today?  I would love to hear... 

"A bird doesn't sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song."  -Lou Holtz





Saturday, December 1, 2012

Power of an Idea... MPOW!



Everything in life starts as an idea.  A small thought that continues to fester in the mind until it must be released.  A seed so small that if planted could grow into a tiny plant or a rain forest.  Everyone has these inspired ideas but many refuse to plant the seed.  Look around you… ideas are everywhere.  The chair you sit on, the computer you’re reading this from, the electricity that’s powering your place.  Ideas are all around and there are truly remarkable when you think that it all started with a thought in someone’s head.  Well, yesterday I had the distinct privilege of seeing one of those tiny ideas manifest into something incredible. 
About four years ago when I was a senior at the University of Michigan I happened to stumble into an outreach program for inner city kids in Detroit.  I had no intention of participating; in fact I had no idea it was even going on!  I walked in that day dressed in sweatpants and a wife-beater ready to do a yoga class, or so I thought; instead, I stumbled into a room full of elementary school kids running around like wild animals.
Immediately one of my professors approached, “Oh, Alex!  I’m so glad you came!  You can help lead one of the groups…” 
Huh?!  “Oh yeah, right… that’s why I’m here…” the lie was probably more than obvious but I jumped right in.  I can’t even remember what happened that day because I was so thrown off guard and probably pissed that I wasn’t going to work out!  All I knew was that forty inner city school students from Detroit were staring at me and the six other volunteers.  Alright, let’s do this!  The idea was simple, “sharing the positive powers of the performing arts to inspire the urban youth of Detroit (http://www.mpow.net).”  Again, an idea.  An idea that had no idea what it would amount to or how much it would impact the lives of others, just an idea with a mission.
Four years later, I witnessed the power of an idea come to life with The Michigan Performance Outreach Workshop.  The seed, planted by Ashley Park, Laura Reed, and Linda Goodrich, grew into a beautiful rainforest where over 110 kids got to swing from the trees.  Four years ago, there were about 40 kids involved cramped into a rehearsal space, now an entire three stories of a giant building were given to the organization, and that rehearsal space was strictly the lunch area catered by Cottage Inn Pizza and Trader Joes.  The six or so volunteers from four years ago had multiplied into a hundred students from every discipline of the School of Music.  If you weren’t apart of MPOW, you knew it, and you were missing out.  And how could you not want to partake?
The 110 kids were bused in from Detroit where they were greeted by a herd of cheering students forming a tunnel like they were football stars running onto the field.  Their field was a majestic performance room where the game began with a dance troupe, a band, clowns, singers, classical chamber musicians, jazz ensembles, one woman shows, and even a boy band number set to One Directions, “What Makes You Beautiful.”  And it was beautiful… kids were crying, cheering, and smiling from ear to ear.  Then, all of the kids broke off into smaller groups where they learned how to make films, dance, sing, act, communicate, interact, and explore their creativity!  I was shocked to say the least and they were too.
An entire community of STUDENTS made this all happen… again, students!  There was hardly any faculty supervision, illustrating the power of community and that anyone can make a difference.  Many of the students from Detroit had never stepped on a college campus, let alone been exposed to anything artistic.  Some of them just wanted a free lunch.  Some of them just wanted a chance to break out of their shell.  Regardless of what they wanted, they all left with something, as did every person involved with the event.  This is what it’s all about, using our gifts to help others, and we all have gifts that can truly change peoples lives.  After MPOWs event some kid is going to go home and have an idea after an idea that was inspired by someone else’s idea.  If any one of those kids start planting their own seeds who knows what will grow from their gardens.  

How did MPOW affect you yesterday?  Do you have a seed waiting to be planted?  I'd love to hear about it in the comments!   
Footage from yesterday:

2011 MPOW Event:
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 "If at first, the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it." - Albert Einstein
"If you do not express your own original ideas, if you do not listen to your own being, you will have betrayed yourself." - Rollo May

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Drive Past "How."


Why do we sometimes become numb in the wake of our greatest opportunities?  When our desires start manifesting often it can be scary or overwhelming.  Suddenly our minds start racing with endless scenarios, routes, and roadblocks that don’t even exist.  We immediately start panicking and exhausting our peace over the very thing that should be bringing us bliss.  But why?  Well, if you’re like me maybe you’re caught up in the “how” of it all. 
So often when we have some giant venture approaching we become paralyzed by the daunting question, “how?”  How am I ever going to get this done? How am I ever going to find the time?  HOW!!  Well, first off, by not asking “how” is how you’ll get it done.  When we ask “how” constantly we’re not trusting in what we’ve set out for ourselves, or more importantly what our desires are revealing to us.  No one ever knows how anything is going to get done because the how is unimportant.  The “do” is… the action of making it happen.  Sounds so simple but it’s hard to put into practice. 
Think of driving in the dark.  When you’re driving home from work late at night you know that home is the final destination.  Now, before you get in the car you don’t stop and think, “how the hell am I going to get home!? It’s so dark!”  You just start driving.  Your headlights can only reveal so much road before you… your headlights can’t see 20 miles ahead of your car, but you continue to journey home taking the road one mile at a time.  You know where you’re headed and yes you can’t see the path in front of you, but your headlights reveal more and more of the road as you go.  You are driving!   
We have to be drivers!  Once you start driving you find that it’s not nearly as bad as you thought.  But we have to be willing to start the car and go.  Throw the car in reverse, put your foot on the pedal… easy!  See, we don’t even think about it, we just do.  We venture out into the darkness knowing we will reach our destination.  Our headlights will reveal the way home one-mile at a time.  Why can’t our work of manifesting our desires be the same way?  You know what you want… that’s what matters.  If you know what you want in your life, that’s where you start.  The drive to that destination will be revealed one mile at a time.  Don’t get overwhelmed by the big picture or the “how,” just focus on the first thing in front of you.  Inevitably that will lead somewhere else which will lead somewhere else, and so on. 
Know what you want and start building it one task at a time.  There is no “how” or “when” because everything will be revealed in good time if you are in line with your desires.  Just like Rihanna said, “Baby, you got the keys.  Now shut up and drive!”  Oh yeah, I went there!  Maybe it won’t be as scary as you thought, or maybe it’s more terrifying than you ever imagined!  Either way you’ll have learned something and will forever be changed.  How can you take action today towards your greatest opportunity?  I’d love to hear in the comments.
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“The best way out is always through” - Robert Frost
“Do not wait to strike till the iron is hot; but make it hot by striking.” -William B. Sprague


Monday, November 26, 2012

“Feel the Fear and Do It Anyways.”


My journey in Columbus has ended.  THE LITTLE DOG LAUGHED to see such sport, and everyone from cast, crew, to audiences alike shared in the poignant hilarity.  When I left New York to do this show, an inkling to re-focus my energy into something different kept nudging me.  Obviously I’m still an actor and writer but something was calling while I was in Columbus and visiting Ann Arbor.  People were thrown in my path offering new routes to where I’m ultimately headed... as if the Universe was whispering, “Listen...” So, I did.    

And sooooo… drum roll please haha… I’m going to be back in Ann Arbor for the next 6 months or so to produce my show MY OTHER VOICE.  While I was visiting Ann Arbor during my weeks off I kept having these chance encounters with different key individuals in the artistic and health industry in and around Michigan.  Specifically, a big health movement that’s going on called, “Get Healthy Michigan” (http://gethealthymichigan.com).  This movement is one that I’m very passionate about: holistic approaches, energy healing practices, nutritional advisement, and learning how to shy away from pharmaceuticals. People are sick, suffering, and confused… yet, there are healing practices out there that many are unaware of and it’s time to reveal them.  I became immersed with the build up of energy around this topic but was stuck as to how I could help.  Then chance meetings with key professors at Michigan also started to nudge me in a different direction.  Well, two days later I get a call from the man running all of this asking if I wanted to help by producing my play in Ann Arbor.  He had seen MY OTHER VOICE in Columbus and thought it was a great way to inspire a movement.  But wait!?  I’m supposed to go back to New York!  I can’t just go to Ann Arbor!  My play has to be done in New York!  New York, New York, New York…   

My fears started protesting immediately: fear of embarking on something new, fear of making the “right” choice, and fear of failing.  So for about two days my mind went to war, weighing all the pros and cons, the logistics, and all around feasibility.  But my heart was telling me to go… my soul was crying out, go Alex… face the fear!  And when my pre-determined notions of New York started to dissipate I realized it was not only the perfect timing but also made perfect sense. 

I have an amazing community in Ann Arbor full of artistic people who are willing to help, the story is set here, the local Hospital is a great springboard, and ultimately I’m doing everything I’ve always wanted… writing, acting, performing… just not in New York, or not yet.  I haven’t really written about this but as most of you know my voice is what used to define me.  Everyday my thoughts were consumed with singing, and honestly they still are.  But a giant shift happened when I lost it all and I went from a narcissistic performer to one who now realizes that everyone in this world is blessed with certain gifts, and those gifts should be used to better humanity.   Somewhere along the way I lost that clarity, then when I lost my voice, I started to believe all the Doctors who were saying, “you may never sing again.”  Again, fear.  But then I reminded myself of the power of the mind, shifted my focus, and started telling myself, I can singI will sing for other people.  Once my mind committed to the affirmation, my body began to respond.  Of course it’s a process, but I am singing again! 

So not only will I be here producing the world premiere of MY OTHER VOICE but I’ll also be joining the class of 2013 for the Senior Showcase this year.  I’ll finally have the chance to showcase in New York and will also have a wonderful show that’s been produced as well.  Now, I’m not expecting the Showcase to dramatically change my life, it’s not about that… it’s about accomplishing something that was taken away from me.  It’s about moving past Doctors telling me I’d never sing again and proving once and for all that you can do anything you put your mind to.  The expectations are unimportant, but the clarity, focus and peace of mind are.  

So Ann Arbor, here I come… Again!  But this time not as a selfish student only concerned with himself: instead, as a vehicle of hope, inspiration, and knowledge.    

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From Susan Jeffers, “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyways:” 

“Truth 1. The fear will never go away as long as I continue to grow.
Truth 2. The only way to get rid of the fear of doing something is to go out and do it.
Truth 3. The only way to feel better about myself is to go out… and do it.
Truth 4. Not only am I going to experience fear whenever I’m on unfamiliar territory, but so is everyone else.
Truth 5. Pushing through fear is less frightening than living with the underlying fear that comes from a feeling of helplessness.”