50 Over 50 Project for 2020
"We add experiences and years, like rings on a redwood. The core comes first and it stays. As much as we learn and grow, we need to continue feeding that innocent center that guides our journey."
Profession: Actress. Retired high school (and sometimes college) English instructor of writing and literature for thirty years.
What is the best thing about being your age?
Time. I am guided by my own schedule — if I get things done: fine. If I don’t: they’ll still be there waiting for me tomorrow. No pressure. But the list, fortunately, is never empty. There is always so much to do, so many options. It’s wonderful.
What hardships have you endured that you feel have made you stronger?
Loss has shaped me more than I probably would like, but it’s made me who I am, giving me a perspective that can honor the struggles of others. Losing my mother at the age of four; my father’s rejection because I married someone of another race; dealing with my husband’s alcoholism, imprisonment, and death — these experiences stay with me, help me to empathize with others, and infuse me still with the emotional resources to become the complex characters I love to play one stage.
What do you consider your greatest achievement? your idea of perfect happiness?
your most treasured possession?
For me, all of these questions go together, because they are defined by my children. I certainly do not possess them, but they are what I most treasure in life. As an only child with a single parent, having a family has been an exciting and challenging journey. My children teach me so much and fill so many spaces I didn’t even know were there. My greatest moments of happiness are those times when everyone is home for a visit: I am the first to awake in the morning, and my first awareness is that all my babies are again under the same roof — safe and asleep and mine again for a fleeting moment. They are my Holy Trinity.
What's your favorite thing you have checked off your bucket list?
The only bucket list I have ever had dealt specifically with roles I’ve wanted to play. I’ve been very lucky with checking characters off that list:
— Violet in August Osage County
— Catherine in Mothers and Sons
— Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
— Maude in Harold and Maude
— Scrooge in A Christmas Carol
— Eleanor in The Lion in Winter
— Fonsia in the Gin Game
Or maybe the very favorite thing on my bucket list, the only thing I really never stopped wishing for, was that I would act again. In theatre school, in my twenties, I played all old women. I was raised by my grandmother, so I had that character nailed! But after I graduated, no one needed twenty year olds to play old women — there were plenty of older actresses to do that. I realized I would never be the ingenue or leading lady, so I thought I’d never really get a chance to truly act until I was sixty-five! I was lucky; I got to fulfill that dream early . . . at fifty.
What is your greatest extravagance?
I’m a pretty simple person: the most extravagant thing I do is eat ice cream!
Oh, and I always wear make up — I guess that’s extravagant in Santa Cruz.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I can’t prioritize— it drives me crazy. It makes decision-making impossible. Everything seems so important to me. I’m never quite sure if I should be looking at the big picture or the details. I love to get lost in the details, but not necessarily the important ones.
What is a trait you are most proud of?
I pride myself in my ability to connect real life situations to archetypal models. This has defined my skill as a literature teacher, my ability to develop characterization in theatre, and my focus in writing. We are all out here learning the same basic human lessons in countless unique ways. Understanding the commonality of our stories can bind us, can help us in evaluating our actions and the actions of others, can help us honor our struggles and forgive our human follies. We are all threads in the same tapestry.
What is your greatest fear?
This is about my children, too. I have this longing for them to always be as close as they are now, as close as they have always been. My fear is that when I am gone, some conflict will divide them. I worry about it all the time — like they are one unit — and if one of them turns from the others, they will each lose a priceless piece of their identity, their history, their soul.
What do you most value in your friends?
My closest friends can finish my sentences, and I can finish theirs. We don’t try to fix things; we just listen. And we can say anything to each other or be silent, still knowing that respect and love and acceptance fill the space we share. We remind each other of our strengths, why we like each other so much, and how we’ve dealt with similar situations in the past and survived. And then we laugh.
What advice would you give your younger self?
1. The universe is not out to get you. It’s kind, and it too wants to evolve. If you make a wrong choice, it will let you stumble and fall, help you get back up again, and give you another chance to get it right.
2. All of our experiences have some value; they function as puzzle pieces in the
meaningfulness of our lives, of our identity. Some of those experiences that, at the time, seem the least important, become real benchmarks — “ah-ha” moments — in the wholeness of our lives. Cherish all of it: trust your own life.
3. We begin life believing we are perfect in who we are, what we need, how we should define our relationship with the world. Everyone else starts this way, too. What we come to label as self esteem issues really come from a group paradigm that does not honor uniqueness unless it profits the group. It’s not low self-esteem at all, it’s lowered value as defined by a group-esteem. We are all out here making decisions based on what we individually need. We have to remember that when we judge the actions of others. We’re all just trying to make sense of who we think we are compared to the mixed feedback we are getting from others.
What is your motto or favorite quote?
“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” – Eínstein
“He not busy being born is busy dying.” - Bob Dylan
We add experiences and years, like rings on a redwood. The core comes first and it stays. As much as we learn and grow, we need to continue feeding that innocent center that guides our journey. As the rings begin to form in our early years, life’s challenges tie us into a kind of gordian knot that truly becomes the starting block of our life adventure. If we run the race well, we get the knot unraveled before we reach the finish line.