Looking Ahead and Looking Back

Unless you’ve been living under a rock over the last few months, you’ve surely heard a lot about 16 year old Greta Thunberg. If you haven’t, young Greta has made it her mission to hold world leaders accountable for and mobilize all of us against climate change. She has inspired her generation to mobilize by staging climate change protests in the form of walk-outs. This is a 16 year old girl… on the Autism spectrum! I’m not calling her out or judging her. Quite the contrary. I applaud Greta. She is doing something that my generation never did.

For the last few weeks, I have been watching a lot of Left Tube (Leftist YouTube for those not in the know). Left Tube is home to some very inspiring Millennial minds. My favorites being Natalie Wynn (ContraPoints), Oliver Thorn (Philosophy Tube) and Harry Brewis (HBomberGuy). While Harry’s videos are mostly video game or pop culture related, he’s done some really good videos on socially relevant topics like climate change and dragging Flat Earthers (as they should be). Both Natalie and Oliver have offered up some truly incredible educational videos regarding the philosophy of social or political issues as well drawing much needed positive attention to Trans rights and culture as well as mental health.

Last year, a young man opened fire at a high school in Parkland, Florida. Rather than withdrawing from the world in fear and grief, the survivors rose up and mobilized to try to force the government to do something about gun violence in this country. Obviously, our government couldn’t possibly care less, but at least these kids have put in the effort.

Now, I look at my generation. What did we do? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. My grandparents were part of the “Greatest Generation”… the generation that actually militarily fought against fascism and white nationalism (only to have a bunch of middle class Boomers, Xers and disaffected Millennials embrace these ideals in 21st century America). My parents were Baby Boomers. The Boomers mobilized and protested racial segregation, sexism and homophobia as well as striking the first blows in the fight against climate change. Generation X, the “Me” generation…MY generation have done NOTHING!

I was born in 1980, so I was a preteen and teenager in the 1990s. I often joke that there is no teen angst like 90s teen angst. In retrospect, what the hell were we stressing out about? Seriously? Standardized testing wasn’t a thing yet. The economy was pretty good so even kids like me who had to work through high school actually had money to burn. Social media didn’t exist so whatever bullying we had to endure could be left behind us at the end of the school day. Gas prices were low, so if you had a car, you could grab some friends and just cruise if you had nothing better to do. School shootings were so few and far between that I don’t think any of us even knew it was a thing until the shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado… and that was at the ass end of the decade. And climate change? Well, we lived in world where our leaders still believed in science. We trusted scientists and knew they’d figure it out, so we didn’t worry too much.

Looking at all of that, you can see why my generation was so complacent. Why get your panties in a bunch if there’s no immediate danger? Yes, you had oddballs like me who were painfully aware and socially conscious. I guess kids today would say we were “woke”. We saw that there were real issues that needed to be addressed, but our concerns were largely dismissed by our elders. I see the same thing happening now. The difference is that now our elders are acting like children and the children are adults in the room.

I look at the youngsters of generations Y and Z fighting the battles that my generation should have fought and I feel like garbage. I feel like we let them down. When Columbine happened, we should have mobilized. Maybe, just maybe, Parkland and the myriad other mass shootings that happened between Columbine and the present wouldn’t have… or at least there could have been fewer. My generation was focused on animal rights. We should have been focused on climate change. Could we have stopped it? Not likely, but we could have made some real progress toward slowing it down.

When I was a teenager, I was a loud Leftist, feminist warrior witch. I got older and calmed down. I got older and moved more to the center. I thought it was a sign of maturity. Isn’t that what they say? You get more conservative as you get older? I figured that was what was happening. I calmed down and learned how to choose my battles. I was wrong. We all were wrong. We dropped the ball and now everyone is feeling the pain for it.

I want to say to anyone reading this who was born after 1990 that I am so very sorry for leaving you kids to shoulder these burdens. I know I’m just one person and I doubt many other of my generation would agree with me, but on behalf the ones who do, we are all sorry and we are proud of you for stepping up and doing what we didn’t feel we need to do. Keep fighting the good fight and know that you will have a lot of us fighting along side you.

The Show Must Go On

My Seasonal Affective Disorder has already kicked in and the introspection has begun. Oddly enough, today’s meditation is on why I really stopped acting. I have told so many BS stories about why I stopped. The truth is that I stopped because I got scared. I’m sharing this because I wish someone had said to me then what I have now come to realize and if my insights are worth anything at all maybe I can help someone stay on their chosen path and not give in to the fear.

I am a natural born entertainer. This is not hubris. This is a fact. By the time I was reading and writing with any real proficiency I was writing and performing my own little plays or writing short stories. I loved to act and sing. Before I messed up my left knee at 18, I was a dancer. Above all, I LOVE making people laugh. I live for that sound.  Music and laughter are my favorite ice breakers, but I find getting people to laugh with me is easier than getting them to sing. I’ve often joked (though it’s really not a joke) that if my life was a romantic comedy I would be the funny fat friend. I accept my fate. It could be much worse, right?

When I was little, I was fearless. Nothing held me back. If I wanted something, I went for it. This changed when I was 8. Accompanying an obnoxiously early puberty were the first twinges of anxiety and depression that would come rule much of my life for a time. I decided at the age of 5 that I wanted to be an actor. At 8, I decided I was ready to actually start pursuing a career. Other kids had done it. Why couldn’t I? Crippling anxiety would be why. I had my first debilitating attack on my way to a movie audition with my mother in early ’89. (Yes. I’m old.) I didn’t know what was going on with me so I didn’t know how to communicate to my mother what I was feeling or why. All I could do was cry. She asked me if I still wanted to go to the audition and I said no. Thankfully, she wasn’t angry. In fact, she took me out to lunch then to Toys R Us. Even though she had taken the day off of work and had kept me out of school for this, she was wonderfully understanding.

You’d think that would have been the end. It wasn’t. I certainly changed my mind about doing film or TV work, but I still loved acting. I was comfortable on stage so that’s where I stayed. Yes, I got butterflies when I was getting ready to perform, but they were nothing like what I experienced that day and they usually went away once I got on stage. I shifted my focus from wanting to be movie star to wanting to be a Broadway star. I loved Shakespeare and musical theater. (Of course, I know now that I would never be allowed to do both… unless I did Kiss Me, Kate.) I worked hard to develop a decent repertoire I could tap for whatever.

In the late 80s and early to mid 90s, no one was really talking about children and mental health. I thought what happened to me in ’89 was just part of adolescence and it would get better as I got older. No. It got worse and to make my situation even worse, I grew up in a household where talking about feelings or problems was discouraged. Just suck it up, Buttercup and get on with life. My only outlets were acting and writing. The writing, I mostly kept to myself. In fact, if anyone saw what I was writing at 12, they’d have seen my one and only suicide attempt coming and stopped me.

But… isn’t that a good thing? Well, strange as this may sound, no. I have never felt like what I did or tried to do was bad. I see it as a test which I actually passed. How? Easy. I’m still here. I know what I was going through then and I know what I’ve been through since… and I survived it all. I came out of that experience 100x stronger than I was going in. Do I recommend it? OF COURSE NOT!!! Dear Gods! PSA time! If you feel like THAT is the answer to all your troubles, call a friend, call a hotline, take yourself to a hospital. I don’t care who you talk to, just talk to someone! You can talk to me!* I didn’t feel like I could because I didn’t have the support system I have now. It was BS! I could and should have talked to someone.

Anywho… back to the acting thing. So, acting was a great escape from the BS that my life was throwing at me. For a little while I could become someone else, someone who didn’t have the problems I had. I could be someone stronger or cooler or more free spirited. The thinking was that if I played enough of these types of characters that I would eventually take on those personality traits in my own life. (Playing Magenta in a couple of stage productions of Rocky Horror during my teen years was probably NOT the brightest idea. She stuck with me.)

It is worth noting that even in the glory days of “girl power” I felt compelled to play male characters because they were typically better written and tended to be more heroic. I still feel perfectly at home playing traditionally male roles. I’m a huge MCU fan and I’ve been DYING to take a run at Loki. Tom Hiddleston is fantastic and I know he can’t be replaced, but our Lokis could coexist. Lady Loki exists in the comics. (Hint, Mr. Feige.)

So, all of this escapism was in my preteen and teen years. Around 20 I started finding myself gravitating to characters more like myself. The two that come quickly to mind were Hamlet and Josie Hogan from Eugene O’Neill’s A Moon for the Misbegotten. I didn’t play either, I just read the plays. But the fact that I was attracted to them started messing with my head and my heart to a degree. I didn’t lose the love of the craft. I just started feeling like what I was doing was dishonest somehow. I felt like I should be portraying people to whom I could relate thus making it easier to connect to the audience. However, I was painfully uncomfortable with idea of allowing myself to be that vulnerable in front of complete strangers. I couldn’t be that vulnerable around my own family. How was I going to just drop my guard around a few hundred strangers? Oh! I know! I’ll apply  to drama school!

This is the part that has killed me for almost 20 years and has become an even greater embarrassment since I started following the career of Tom Hiddleston. The overwhelming majority of actors I grew up admiring, watching and learning from came out of a British drama school called the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art… RADA for short. THAT was the school I wanted to go to, but I applied to a few American schools first. RADA was going to be like my post grad work. Well, the American schools weren’t the least bit interested in me. I figured the problem stemmed from the fact that I learned everything I knew from RADA grads so that surely meant that I would have no trouble getting into RADA.

With that assertion firmly planted in my brain, in late 2001 I began the process. (Hiddlestoners, I can feel you holding your breath.) I started off pretty confident. I was all in. Then anxiety started nibbling away at me. I wasn’t afraid of rejection. I’m actually used to it. What I was afraid of was failure. The big scary question that hung over my head was “What if I get there and then wash out?” I couldn’t face that possibility. The thought of getting that far only to flunk out just paralyzed me and I panicked. I couldn’t go through with it.

Why mention Tom? Because I could and would have gotten in and we would have been in the same class. Not only did I screw myself out of the career I had dreamed of since I was little, but I also screwed myself out of what could have been a once-in-a-lifetime friendship. I’ve never met Tom so I can’t speak from my own experience, but I have yet to come across anyone who knows him who has anything other than the utmost praise for him. He’s one of the good guys which means he could have been a powerful ally, but I’ll never know for sure. Why? Because I let my fear control me.

There is a happy ending to all of this. I may not have gone to RADA with Tom, but I’ve been learning from him the same way I did from Alan Rickman and Trevor Eve (both were/are also RADA trained) which is how I know I could totally beast Lady Loki. (Again… hint, Kevin!) And I may be knocking 40’s door, but I still love the craft and I know that anything is possible if you’re willing to take the chance. Is it going to be harder to get started at my age? Yeah. Will I get the big parts I want? Probably not. I have set a goal for myself, though. I WILL have my SAG card by the time I’m 50.

Moral of the story? As the title of this post would suggest, the show must go on. I see the last 18 years of my life as an extended intermission. The second half of the show is getting ready to start. Setbacks aren’t the end of the world. Sometimes you need the time to get your crap together. I follow Ava DuVernay on Twitter and I got a great quote from her that I will share because it’s been a huge inspiration to me and I hope it inspires you, dear readers. Until we meet again, peace, love and cheesecake!

“Sometimes life leads you down side roads to avoid traffic before you can really start cruising.” – Ava DuVernay.

*I said you can talk to me and I mean it. I’m on Facebook and Twitter. Look me up. Sheri-Lynn Gleason. Yes, I have stuff going on in my own life, but I’m hardly bogged down with correspondences. If you need to talk to someone, message me.

Ties That Bind

A few weeks ago, I thought I had finally convinced my mentor to write a book about his incredible life. I pitched the idea by saying he could do it in a fictionalized context. Most writers use their craft to tell their own stories and work out their own personal drama. I would know. That’s entirely why I write. It’s my therapy.

While I was waiting for him to come to definite decision, I started thinking about my life and my stories. Mostly, I thought about family. Not just the people DNA says are my relatives, but the friends – said mentor included – that I love, respect and cherish as family. The sad truth is that I know more about my friends than I do about the people I inherited so much of myself from. Well, perhaps it isn’t really sad, but is the truth. My biological family dynamic has always been… different.

Sometimes I wonder if it’s just the way I’m hardwired. The only people I was close to outside of my immediate “nuclear” family weren’t related to me by blood. My maternal grandmother’s adoptive mother, my mom’s step-father (though we NEVER used that term) and my mom’s adopted brother (later… her sister). These were the people I looked forward to seeing when we would go back to Chicago from our home in on the north shore of Massachusetts. There were still more people I wished I had known, but never got the chance to because they were either already gone by the time I was born or died when I was too young to remember them. I grew up on lots of stories, but I they were always conflicting. Everyone who remembered them remembered events differently or were so addled by dementia in their old age they hardly knew where they were let alone who I was or who I had asked about.

My father’s side of the family… well… that’s really complicated. I come from one of those unfortunate Irish families that songs are written about and jokes are old. It’s been an annoying truth – even if we have turned it into the family joke – that Gleason men only call each other when someone is dying or dead. Unlike my mother’s family, my father’s family has a legacy that they have carefully archived over generations. We know who we are and where we came from. That being said, I still just have stories. I never really knew my father’s family. Grandma died when I was about 2 and a half. Mom was pregnant with my brother at the time. I only vaguely remember seeing her in the hospital the day before she died. That was only time she saw me. That was the only time Grandpa, Uncle Pat and Uncle Pete saw me, too. I can’t remember if Uncle Dave was there. (So many Gleason men to keep track of. Mom’s family seemed to be female dominated.) I had had phone conversations with my uncles and my grandfather. My Uncle Pat was my first pen pal. He was career Army and would always write to me from wherever he was posted. He’d send presents and foreign money so I could see how it was different. He’d tell me all about the people in the country. I remember him being stationed in Germany at least once and sending a 5lb bag of German gummy bears.

Here I am, all these years later. Both sets of grandparents gone. Both parents gone. Down an uncle, an aunt and a sister. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention my two older sisters, didn’t I? How bad is that? Though, that should give you an idea as to how we grew up.

You see, both of my parents came from Catholic families. My mom’s parents were very Catholic. They were CATHOLIC. I often describe them as putting the “ick” in Catholic. (I can completely understand why my parents converted to Wicca in their 20s.) Don’t get me wrong, though. Religion was never an issue with that side of the family. I loved my grandparents dearly, especially Grandpa. He was sort of my spiritual advisor when I was little. If I couldn’t find an answer in Wicca, I always found it in Grandpa. (While he would have been a wonderful priest, he was a much better grandparent.)

My mom was a flower child. She protested the Vietnam War for 2 reasons. 1. She believed in peace and diplomacy… even though she herself wasn’t terribly good at the latter. 2… I’ll get into that in a bit. In addition to believing in peace, she believed in free love. Hence… my two older sisters. Both born out of wedlock to different fathers… and years before she met my father. Grandma and Grandpa raised my sisters in an attempt to give mom a fresh start. About a year after my brother was born, the family unit consisting of my parents, my brother and myself moved to Massachusetts. My sisters stayed in Illinois. So even though I had 3 siblings, it was just me and baby bro growing up. This is why I laugh when I take those birth order quizzes. I exhibit all the text book behaviors of both an eldest child and a middle child because I’m technically both. With the second sister now gone, I am smack in the middle.

So, what was the other reason mom protested the war in Vietnam? Well, I will tell you. There’s a reason why my Grandpa Poche was my mom’s “step-father”. (I really did grow up hating those qualifiers. Note, I never said “half-sisters”. Family is family.) Both my mom’s biological father (Grandpa Lewis) and Grandpa Poche served in the Army in both WW II and Korea. Only Grandpa Poche made it home from the latter. Like myself, my mother loved her country and she was proud to be American. She was then and to her dying day respectful to and grateful for our servicemen and women and their sacrifices and taught my brother and to do the same. However, she abhorred war and never wanted to see any of her children in a military uniform. (Guess which of her 4 children wanted to be a Marine! Yeah… that never happened. She was DEAD serious about that.)

So, this kind of brings me full circle to my mentor. The end of this month will make 3 years since we met, but I grew up watching him on TV. (Nope. Not name-dropping.) The first thing that struck me was his personality. He reminds me so much of my Grandpa Poche. Like Grandpa, he’s a combat veteran. His war was… surprise… Vietnam. Also, like Grandpa, he is one of the kindest, most unconditionally loving people I have ever known. He doesn’t have much patience for assholes, but who does? I also know how fortunate I am to have these men in my life (or to have had in Grandpa’s case). I know that if one thing had gone differently in those war zones, they would just be names on a memorial in D.C. like Grandpa Lewis and I never would have known them.

I used to get so frustrated with my mother because she was obsessed with clinging to the memory of a father she never knew. She was 6 months old when he was deployed and just a year old when he died. All she ever had were stories, but she treated them like active memories. As I get older, though, I wonder how much of who I am came from Grandpa Lewis. I know I got his height and his nose, but what else? Did I inherit any of his talents, intellect, sense of humor (though I’m pretty sure that aspect of my personality is very distinctly Gleason genes), aversion to or affinities for certain foods? Anything… anything at all. I’ll never be able to answer these questions. Would I trade a single day with Grandpa Poche to get those answers? No. In fact, I’d gladly forget the questions entirely for one more day with him. He wasn’t my blood, but he was my Grandpa.

As 40 looms ever closer (I’ll be 39 in a few weeks), I’m taking stock of the lessons that life has taught me and the greatest of all is this: Love is the tie that binds. Nothing else matters. My family dynamic is the stuff of soap operas, so I built my own family out of my friends. We’re weird and mismatched and probably shouldn’t all be in the same room together at one time, but this is my family. This is my tribe. I love all of them with the loyalty and fierce devotion of my zodiac (Leo) and the badass warrior woman that my mom taught me to be. Not too sure if they would say they feel the same for me, but I know who I can trust and who will be there when I need them. That’s good enough for me.

Local Haunts

The story I am about to tell you took place in the summer of 1988. It is completely true and I have only ever told 3 or 4 other people about it. I’m telling it now because… well… people tell ghost stories this time of year and growing up in New England has given me PLENTY. (I could write a book about the 2 years I worked at The House of the Seven Gables.) All I ask is that you keep an open mind.

When I was in second grade my best friend was in the fifth grade. Now, we all remember the pecking order of grade school. Fifth graders did not mingle with anyone under the fourth grade. Being best friends with a fifth grader and having undiagnosed anxiety issues led me to push myself to my absolute limits because I didn’t want to lose my friend. I wanted her to think I was cool when I was anything but! This is how and why I ended up where I did in this story.

It must have been around my 8th birthday. I was sleeping over at Amanda’s for the weekend and her family decided to have their own birthday celebration for me. They asked where I wanted to go and I said Lynch Park (Beverly folks know it well). It was my favorite place mostly because of the Rose Garden. So, off we went. Amanda’s folks brought a grill and we had a cookout and everything was awesome until…

“Hey, Sheri-Lynn! Let’s go swimming!”

I never learned to swim. I couldn’t then and 30 years later still don’t know how. Did I have the sense to tell my best friend this? Nope! No way! I didn’t want her thinking I was a baby. So, like an eejit, I followed her and her brothers into the water.

I knew the park had once been private property and there was an old boat launch that led into the water where the public beach is now. I thought that if I could just keep the launch under me, if something went wrong, all I would have to do is put my feet down and find my way back to the shore. Best laid plans of mice and men…

The waves weren’t so bad that swimming was prohibited, but for someone as inexperienced as I was, I might as well have been a rubber duck in a jacuzzi. I got pushed too far away from the launch and pulled under for…I can’t say how long. To make matters worse, no one in Amanda’s family saw me go under! I was on my own… or so I thought.

I could feel myself being pulled farther out into the water and down and was sure that this was it. Miraculously, a man jumped in and pulled me back up. I can still see him clear as day in my mind. Heavy set, sandy blonde hair, mustache, red bathing suit like a lifeguard. I hadn’t seen him at all that day, but his timing was perfect. I was too winded to thank him when he got me back on to the beach, but I knew I had to find him and tell him how grateful I was for saving me.

Well, when I told my friend’s parents what happened, they looked at me like I was crazy. I even described the man to them and they just shook their heads. No one matching this man’s description had been seen by anyone that day on the beach or anywhere else in the park. I knew I wasn’t crazy. I knew I had seen him and that he was the reason I was able to walk away from one of my more painfully stupid mistakes. I had to find him and find out who he was and why he disappeared.

For the next 8 years, this incident stuck with me and bothered the hell out of me. If no one else saw him, could he have been a helpful spirit? A guardian angel, perhaps? Having grown up Wiccan, we don’t use the term, but we believe in helpful entities that will intercede for us. This COULD have been the case and I would soon learn that it kind of was.

In my sophomore year of high school, I took 2 classes taught by the same teacher. They were U.S. Government and The History of Beverly. In the classroom was a poster depicting all of the then presidents from Washington to Clinton. I can’t even begin to explain the fear and surprise as I saw the face of my rescuer looking back at me from the poster. The name below the picture was William H. Taft.

Seeing my face go completely white, my teacher asked what was wrong. I asked him if Taft had any connection at all to Beverly, specifically Lynch Park. He said that what is now Lynch Park had been part of Taft’s summer estate. When he aske me why this is important I just shut my mouth and found a desk. He asked again and I just shook my head and said “Dude, you’d never believe me.” To be perfectly honest, had I not lived it, I wouldn’t believe it!

So that’s one of my many ghost encounters. Perhaps I will write about my adventures at the Gables sometime. Until next time…

Back to Basics

There’s no greater feeling for me than sitting down with a good cup of coffee and either burying my nose in a great book or catching up with an even better friend. That was the original plan for this blog page. A coffee klatch of sorts. Thought provoking or entertaining content and good conversation. The train jumped the track somewhere. I’m back and putting things right…or “write” as the case may be. (I know… badumtss.)

Getting back to the plan, I will be posting more frequently and less aggressively. My sporadic and inane posts were doubtlessly off-putting. I got stuck in that vicious cycle of contributing to the negativity of social media while complaining about it. That lesson has been learned. While I’m not putting myself on any kind of schedule, I will try to post something new at least twice a month.

As far as content is concerned, I have some short stories I have been working on that I would love to share and maybe get some feedback. I’ve also been taking some screenwriting courses for film and television and I have learned WAY more than I ever wanted to know. (I just wanted to improve my skills as an editor. I now have outlines for 2 films and 1 television series started.) I will certainly be sharing what I’ve learned.

Of course, I’ll be posting some of my random thoughts, observations, weird dreams…anything that I think might enlighten and entertain. I’m steering clear of politics and keeping my rants to myself. Okay…I’ll be relegating the rants to Facebook, but doesn’t everyone?

Now for you, dear readers…all 3 of you…don’t be shy. If you want to talk about something I posted, comment. I would love to hear what’s on your mind. This is meant to be a conversation. While I can talk the balls off of a wooden donkey, I enjoy listening more than talking. This page is for you, too.