Friday, July 31, 2015

Write it Down, Make it Happen (Part II)

Read Part I

Ovation Theatre Company staged its first production on August 21, 1998. I and my fellow co-founders reveled in our accomplishment.

Opening night celebration at Arnolds
Fast forward to early 2000: I was managing director of Ovation and vice president of the newly-formed League of Cincinnati Theatres (LCT). LCT was formed in 1999 in large part due to the proliferation of small professional theatre companies like Ovation. The organization's mission: "to strengthen, nurture and promote Cincinnati's theatre community."

I was in an executive LCT meeting one day when the conversation turned to Cincinnati Playhouse in Park's upcoming season. They had slotted Talley's Folly in the spring of 2001. At that time, D. Lynn Meyers was the President of LCT and the producing artistic director (still is) of Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati. She informed us that ETC was planning to jump on Playhouse's bandwagon and stage Wilson's Sense of Place during the same time period.

An idea ignited in my brain. I could hardly contain myself. Ovation needed to jump on that bandwagon too. This was my opportunity to perform a dream role I'd been writing about for years, but how could I persuade Ovation to stage Wilson's one-woman, one-act, The Moonshot Tape?

I brought this up at Ovation's next board meeting. We were in the process of planning the next season, so it was the perfect time to have this conversation. Joe, our artistic director, suggested we do a night of Lanford Wilson one-act plays. Unbeknownst to me—and seriously, how did I not know this?—Wilson had written dozens of one-acts.

We read through many and selected four, one of which was The Moonshot Tape. I immediately asked my Talley's Folly director, Mike, to work with me, as I'd told him I would in 1997. I was going to be onstage alone for fifty-five minutes. It was thrilling but I had no idea it would get even more exciting.

Two other small theatre companies decided they would also stage Lanford Wilson shows that May. There were now five companies producing Wilson's work, so it was decided to create a Lanford Wilson Theatre Festival, which generated a good deal of publicity for the smaller companies. To kick off the festival there was a reception at Cincinnati Playhouse. The guests of honor were Marshall Mason, a long-time collaborator of Mr. Wilson's, and Lanford Wilson. I met my favorite playwright. 'Pinch me,' I thought.
With Director, Michael Morehead and Landford Wilson
While talking to Marshall Mason, he asked what play Ovation was producing. I told him about the one-acts and that I was performing The Moonshot Tape. He told me that was one of Lanford's most personal pieces. Knowing that Ovation's opening wasn't until the following week and Mr. Wilson would be gone by then and unable to attend one of our shows, Marshall suggested Ovation host a private performance at our rehearsal space for him.

Thankfully, I was performance ready. I had worked on my character religiously over the past year, creating a biography for Diane, breaking the script down into beats, memorizing the end of the play and working back toward the beginning. I took copious notes and researched the time period and references in the play with which I was unfamiliar. I knew my character intimately and my lines were memorized by the time we began the eight-week rehearsal period, which is what my goal had been.

Mike picked up Mr. Wilson that Saturday morning and drove him to our rehearsal warehouse where I gave a private performance for a Pulitzer-Prize winner, my Ovation colleagues, and select friends. Lanford Wilson loved it. It was such an honor to perform for him and because he had praised my work so highly, it gave me the courage to finally commit, after ten years, to move to the New York City area to pursue a professional acting career.

I never imagined in my wildest dreams that performing Diane in The Moonshot Tape would lead to one of the most exciting, pivotal performance experiences of my life. Moreover, I was thirty-five when I played Diane, the same age as the character. I had also been thirty-one like Sally Talley in Talley's Folly. I felt like Lanford had written these women for me.

Receiving notes from Lanford Wilson post-performance
Can I say with 100% certainty that writing about these goals made them come true? No. However, without envisioning them, thinking about them, putting those wishes down on paper time after time and then taking action, they never would have happened. This is but one success story, composed of smaller ones, in my repertoire of how writing has shaped my life.

Think about any moments in your life that have manifest through your intentions. Did you spend time envisioning them? Did you write them down? If you cannot think of any examples or only a couple, I encourage you to test it for yourself, putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. It may take some time to see the results, so don't get frustrated. It took eight years to make performing The Moonshot Tape a reality. That only happened because of Ovation Theatre Company, meeting my Ovation co-founders through the Cincinnati community theatre scene, and being brave enough to go back to college to earn another degree in theatre and drama, all of which I wrote about extensively.

Write down your wishes and dreams, imagine what your life might look like, keep writing about it and be sure to inject your writing with passion—get your emotions involved. Be sure to follow this up with concrete actions. The outcome may be so much more incredible than you ever dreamed.

The examples I've provided in this two-part post demonstrate the power of imagination and writing, but action is also required. Work, even if only baby steps, is also necessary to propel you toward your goals and fulfill your potential. So, dear reader, what do you want to manifest?

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Why Journal? (Tip/Reason #5)

Tip #5  - Take it out on your journal. It is the ideal place to vent your frustrations.

Sometimes one needs a place where they can safely express negative feelings. Rather than losing your cool at the office or with a loved one, which can easily escalate and lead to regret, retreat to your writing space at the first opportunity. There, lay it all out on the page or computer screen. I find venting is more effective when typing because I am better able to keep up with the thoughts racing through my head as opposed to handwriting them, which is considerably slower.

Allow all thoughts to appear on the page/screen. Do not censor them, just proceed with this task until you cannot, or do not, want to write any more. I guarantee you will feel a huge release from any pent-up negative energy. Do not read this entry immediately, if ever. Allow it to sit. Wait a few days if you do decide to review what you wrote. You can also choose to get rid of it. There are no rules.

If after a few days you are still stewing over whatever happened that incited your anger, take some time to read through the entry, if you still have it. Are there any solutions?  Do you feel the need for additional angry writing? If so, go at it. I repeat this exercise two more times if there is a situation over which I am obsessing.

However, if you fail to find peace or resolution, you may need to talk it out with the offending person. If you cannot directly speak with that person, perhaps a trusted friend or a professional can provide some guidance that will lead to relief.

Anger is stressful. I've found writing out my anger to be an effective way to not only alleviate it, but also to find solutions for dealing with whomever or whatever has upset me, or at least resolve to get over it. The next time you want to strike out at someone, take it out on your journal first.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Write it Down, Make it Happen (Part I)

I sat in the silent warehouse, breathing in and out, following the rise and fall of my breath and trying to ignore my racing heart. It was a Saturday morning. My shaking foot belied the serenity I hoped to convey to anyone watching, knowing that soon I'd be giving—what I imagined to be—the performance of my life. It was still unbelievable to me that an event at the beginning of the week presented this opportunity; that something wished for years earlier could manifest in such an extraordinary way. This outcome was so much more incredible than I ever could have imagined: I had thought about it, written about it, but had no idea how it would all unfold.

I can attest to the value and power of the written word as someone who has been journal writing for twenty-three years. Not only have I written for my life during times of crisis, but I have actually written my life, which is exciting and empowering—knowing that I am the creator of my life.There are numerous examples in my writings to support this assertion. The above experience contains several layers of manifestation that culminated in one extraordinary outcome.

I always wanted to be an actor. My best friend, Lynn, who is a bigger pack rat than I, sent to me when I was going through cancer treatment a list that our fifth-grade teacher had compiled. All her students' names were on it and next to each name was the occupation we wanted to be as adults. Next to my name was the word "actress." I hadn't done any acting in grade school or high school, but I mustered the courage and returned to college to study drama at the age of twenty-three.

During that time, I auditioned for all the theatre department's plays. One play (of many) in which I failed to get cast was Talley's Folly, a two-person show by the late Lanford Wilson. I fell in love with the character of Sally Talley and knew I had to portray that character someday. Exposure to this play turned me into an admirer of Lanford Wilson's work, reading nearly every play he wrote, or so I thought.

I began keeping a journal in 1992 and would write about roles I was exploring in class or in a play. Lists of shows and characters I longed to perform were recorded in my diaries too. One day, I came across a show by Lanford Wilson titled The Moonshot Tape that was in an anthology of one-act plays. This one-act was a solo project, and I was immediately drawn to Diane, a deeply flawed yet fascinating character. Diane is thirty-five years old, an accomplished short-story writer, and possesses a rather sordid, complicated past. Here was another role I committed to one day performing, not having a clue how, when, or where it would happen. I was twenty-seven at the time and had also been contemplating starting my own theatre company upon obtaining my drama degree. All of these goals were written about in my journals.

I ended up in Cincinnati, Ohio, after graduation, initially getting involved in that city's vibrant and massive community theatre scene as both an actor and director. While directing The Diary of Anne Frank, I met Lisa, a talented actress whom I'd cast as Mrs. Frank. We began discussing starting our own semi-professional company. I did research, constructed a business plan, and wrote about this endeavor constantly in my journal. In the end, it seemed like too monumental a task for two people; it started to overwhelm me. Plus I longed to focus solely on acting.

We put that venture aside and  both continued performing. Not long after, Lisa was cast in a community theatre production of The Secret Garden where she met Joe, Mark, and Scott who too had the desire to start a professional theatre company. They approached her to see if she might be interested in joining them. To which she responded: There is someone you need to meet. We did and soon Ovation Theatre Company was on its way to becoming a reality.

With Ed Cohen (Matt Friedman) in Talley's Folly
The next year was spent planning, budgeting, fundraising, and on July 4, 1997, we signed Ovation's incorporation papers, filing as a 501(c)(3) organization. During this preparatory period, I was cast in the role of—you guessed it, maybe—Sally Talley. Finally, here was the chance to perform one of my dream roles. Sally is thirty-one and I was thirty-one when I portrayed her. Mike, the director, was fantastic and because I enjoyed working with him so much, I gave him a copy of The Moonshot Tape and told him that if I ever performed this role, I wanted him to direct me.

In September 1998, Ovation staged its inaugural production, the two-woman comedy, Parallel Lives: The Kathy and Mo Show. Lisa and I starred in it. We directed it too, along with one of our co-founders Scott. It was thrilling. Another dream had come true. To reiterate, these were all goals and hopes I'd written about either in my journal or strategized about in lists on separate pieces of paper. I was constantly writing, thinking, and putting those ideas into action. However, the best was yet to come...

With Ovation co-founder and co-star, Lisa Hall Breithaupt, on opening night of Parallel Lives

What goals or dreams have you written about that have manifest in your life? Please let me know in the comments or email me at I may use them in a future post, with your permission of course.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Why Journal? (Tip/Reason #4)

This site is about how journaling and expressive writing can be tools for bettering your life. A series of weekly tips will be posted as of July 1. The first several are reasons—rather than tips—to consider starting a journal. However, for consistency, these reasons will be categorized as tips.

Tip #4 - Why Journal? 

It’s a great tool for setting and achieving goals. The mere act of writing down your goals increases your chance of success.

Write down your goals, make them SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely), commit to them, and hold yourself accountable by reporting weekly, or at least monthly, your progress to someone who supports your efforts.

There is much more to write on this topic and I will do so in the future. For now, below are some related articles you may find helpful and interesting.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Journaling Tip #3...Related to Tip #2 (working through challenges)

Journal writing as a tool for working through challenges was journaling Tip #2 posted on July 8. Today's tip expands on that.

One strategy for solving a problem is to write your challenge or issue down in your diary at night. Include the solutions you've already considered. Now, go to sleep and allow the unconscious mind to work. In the morning, before you start your day, pick up the journal and start writing about your situation and see if any new solutions have presented themselves overnight.

If no new ideas have appeared, try this exercise every night—or as often as you are able—for a week. If after a week, you still haven't discovered new strategies, it could be time to reach out for assistance, be it from an expert, a colleague, or a friend. However, give it a try. The unconscious mind works in mysterious ways.

Related article - Got a big decision to make? Sleep on It:

"We tend to consider the time we spend sleeping, for instance, as a mentally inactive period. But sleep is associated with better memory performance, and "slow-wave" sleep in particular has been shown to enhance our ability to make mental connections and integrate unassociated information. 

This sort of mental heavy-lifting during sleep could be useful for discovering creative solutions to problems and could potentially help combining factors in a way that allows us to make decisions." 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Value of Rereading Your Journals: Remembering Treasured Moments

When I visit my hometown in southern Indiana to celebrate the Christmas holiday with my family, my mother and I take a day, just the two of us, to drive to Evansville to do some last-minute Christmas shopping and have lunch. It is a day I treasure and one that I make sure happens. This has been our holiday tradition since 2004 when I was still recovering, though mostly healed, from my June 1 bone marrow transplant.

I had forgotten the date this yearly outing began until I came across the brief December 15, 2004, journal entry while reorganizing my manuscript for the second edition of Rebirth. The entry provides no details of our interactions or conversations. However, it transported me back to that day, searching for the perfect present for my (then) almost-two-years-old nephew Aidan.

December 15, Wednesday:

Mom and I went Christmas shopping in Evansville yesterday. I found a Hokey Pokey Elmo and a play Home Depot drill at Toys "R" Us for Aidan. The drill comes with screws, bits, and a small plastic board in which Aidan can drill the screws. All the pieces are over-sized. The toy is designed for kids ages three and above, but Aidan loves toys that are similar to adult items, especially tools and phones. I think he'll really like these gifts. 

'What a difference a year makes,' I thought after reading it. Christmas 2003 was scary and sad because I was diagnosed with leukemia on December 18 and chemotherapy commenced at 8:00 pm on Christmas Eve, so Christmas 2004 was a true celebration. I was healthy again. Joy, not fear, was the state in which I resided. Shopping, having lunch, and talking—about whatever—with my mother was wonderful; so wonderful that I have made sure that experience has been recreated every year since.This one-on-one time with her is special. I cherish it. It's our time to reconnect.

One reason to keep a journal is to preserve moments. An event or person you may not have thought about in years can be rediscovered by rereading your journals. That may not always make one comfortable, depending on the event or person, but it always provides an opportunity for reflection and self-examination. Rereading journals, or only select entries, provides the writer with information from her past that may prove helpful in the present or the future.

Should you come across entries that are inspiring or bring a smile to your face, mark those pages with a paper clip or a small post-it. This way when you are feeling down or going through a difficult time, you can immediately find these positive entries. They will remind you that life is good, they may improve your mood—even if only for a little while, and they may provide encouragement to make the changes necessary to transcend the situation or feelings with which you are struggling.

Take some time to explore old journals. You may be surprised and delighted by the discoveries you uncover in the pages.

Do you reread your journals? If so, what memories have resurfaced for you? Were they positive or negative and how did you feel revisiting them? I'd like to know your thoughts. Please leave a comment below or email me at I may use your response in a future post, so let me know if I have permission to reprint it. Thanks!

Friday, July 10, 2015

Protecting Your Journals' Content

Phillip Seymour Hoffman's death on February 2, 2014, at the age of forty-six saddened me for several reasons. One, being an actor, I always feel a sense of loss when a young, talented performer exits this world, especially when it is a self-imposed exit, be it accidental or intentional death. Two, as someone who has fought my own demons, I empathize with someone struggling to overcome addiction. Three, as a long-time diarist, it was disturbing that some details in Mr. Hoffman's private diaries were made public.

Some of what I read included:

His diaries did not include suicidal thoughts or chronicles of drug activity, according to sources who saw them, though the entries did provide insight into the actor's state of mind. The private journals contained musings about his struggles with addiction, as well as thoughts that were tough to decipher.

...and this:

Writing in his private diaries, the 46-year-old Hollywood star talked about feeling 'caught in between' long-time girlfriend Mimi O'Donnell and another woman he had recently met. Hoffman's journal entries suggested that his relationship with his unidentified new paramour may have triggered his split from O'Donnell, who asked him to move out of their Manhattan home three months before his death.

In his often incoherent 'secret diaries,' Hoffman had described being troubled by 'demons,' wrote about drug deals, and his struggle to overcome his addiction with Narcotics Anonymous meetings".

I understand the public's curiosity surrounding the actor's death, especially the sordid details. I also know that the authorities used this information to shed light on the investigation. While the exposure of his writings seems to have been minimal, for anyone to reveal portions of his diaries for public consumption infringes on his privacy; these are his personal musings. Yes, he's dead and he was a celebrity, but even dead celebrities—and their families—deserve some degree of privacy. This situation prompted me to consider the security of my own journals.

Twenty-three years of journal writing have helped me transcend challenges and achieve goals. These journals are repositories for life events, a chronicle of my time on this planet. While there are many positive and inspirational entries, there are also dark ones that contain information that I prefer remain secret.

When one keeps a record of her life, how to keep those records from prying eyes is an important decision. It is also critical that there be instructions upon one's death for the disposal, storage, or transfer to someone else's possession of these diaries. Some questions to ask yourself are:

  1. Do I want anyone else to read them? If yes, who?
  2. Do I want them destroyed? If yes, how and by whom?
  3. Do I want them stored and made available for research or publication? If yes, where would the storage facility be located and what would the timing be for publication (5 years, 10 years, etc.)?
  4. Do I plan to pass them on to a family member or friend? Who?
  5. Do I want any of them published? Who would be appointed to do that? (Note: If you think you may publish your journals, start editing them yourself now or select an editor to do it upon your death. This way the task won't fall to a family member or friend.) 

Consider all these issues and include the instructions in your will. The last thing we want is for our most intimate thoughts and struggles to be broadcast to the world without our permission. What is shared publicly should be dictated by our wishes, not haphazardly released by the media, police, family or friends, no matter how well-meaning their intentions. This is your life story and how you decide to share it should remain in your hands alone.

It's time for me to make these plans; I have yet to do so. I'll let you know what they are once completed as a follow-up to this piece. If you haven't made provisions for your journals yet, I encourage you to do so. If you have made plans for securing your journals, please share them in the comments. You may help me or other diarists decide what actions to take.

Good luck!