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Meet Olivia Mignone: Unreasonable Woman Hall of Fame Inductee

Let me start this blog post by declaring that I know next to nothing about fashion. I own three pairs of earrings and only one ring – my wedding ring. My wardrobe primarily consists of black clothing and I wear nothing but sensible shoes. The only pair of heels I’ve purchased over the past decade were for my wedding and somehow I lost them at the reception. I don’t miss them.

Olivia and me dodging raindrops at The High Line

What I do know is hard work.  What I admire is determination and out-of-the-box thinking. What I LOVE is people who speak their dreams into existence. Let me tell you about Olivia (Livi) Mignone. When Olivia was in high school she dreamed of being a model. Growing up in Queens, Livi had dreams of working in the fashion industry. She wanted to be in front of the camera. Being only 5’1 she knew the deck was stacked against her getting what she wanted. Then one day she did something a lot of people don’t do when they have big dreams. She opened her mouth and told someone. Who was listening?

Me and Hal

Hal and I in 2010

If you’re a teenager and you have a dream, I’ve got just the man for you. Meet Hal Eisenberg. Hal is the founder and Executive Director of Windows of Opportunity (WOO). Here’s the short story. It’s 2006. High Schooler Livi says “Hal, I wanna be a model but I’m too short.” Hal says, “Livi, make your own fashion show. I’ll help you.” Boom! In 2007, with Hal’s oversight, she creates the 1st Annual Shortstack Fashion Charity Show. Being a great leader, she creates her own team of like-minded young ladies. They find the venue. They get the sponsors. They find the photographers. They find the designers they want to work with. They select the girls who’ll be the models. The day of the show arrives. 100 guests show up. It’s a big success. Livi makes her dream come true.

Here’s the interesting thing about dreams. When they come true their impact extends well beyond the dreamer. On June 22nd Livi and Hal will host Shortstack’s 6th annual show. The money that’s raised will go to fund other Windows of Opportunity programs for teens such as Rock Ur Heart Out, WOO Films, Youth Against Violence, H.E.L.P. (HIV/AIDS Empowerment Leadership Program), OUTReach and many others. Twilight actor Chaske Spencer will be there to be honored with the Unsung Hero Award for his involvement with WOO. The lives that have been impacted are too many to count.

So here’s to you, Olivia Mignone! Thank you for opening your mouth years ago, getting unreasonable about your life, and saying what mattered to you. We are all the better for it.

Hal, Olivia and me.

Shortstack’s 6th Annual Charity Fashion Show will take place on June 22nd at Midtown Loft and Terrace. Tickets are $55. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Show starts at 8:00 p.m. To buy tickets click here. For more information email info@wooshortstack.org.

Follow me on Twitter @juliamaddoxnyc. Email me at juliamaddox@outlook.com.

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Miss You, Mom: My First Mother’s Day Since My Mother’s Passing

Mom around 5 years old.

I always knew this Mother’s Day would come, but I never thought it would be this year, 2012, that she would no longer be with us. My mother passed away on March 7th after a month-long battle with pneumonia. Sometimes I can be perfectly rational when I speak of her, and other times I want to sit down and cry for a bit. I’m not one of those people who’s afraid to cry. I learned long ago that it’s OK to “power leak.”

My family and I were with Mom in her final hours, along with her priest and deacon and the medical staff who’d grown close to her during her stay. We were holding her hands and talking to her until her final breath. Afterward, driving away from the hospital I remarked to my sister that I felt like we’d just joined a club – the “Our Mothers Have Passed On Club.” Now that I’m a member of this club I see life a little differently, like the lens though which I see life got a little sharper. I have a better idea of what matters in life even more than I did before.

My mother struggled with mental illness for much of her life. Bipolar disorder and other issues really robbed her of the ability to be the mother and grandmother she always wanted to be. I knew that from early on and gave up expecting her to be different than what she was many years ago. A large part of my past has been defined by being with her in her day-to-day struggles. If there’s one thing I now live by it’s that life is much easier when we learn to love people not only for who they are, but also for who they are NOT. When I stop expecting people to fit into the boxes I try to put them in we are all much happier.

Brenda the Rock Star. Kentucky Lake, April 2010.

What I’m still not settled about is all the things Mom and I never got to do together. We always wanted to travel more. And it had to be travel involving delicious food. Although Mom was a little bird of a woman, she loved to eat. Heartburn be damned! That’s what Nexium is for! We were on the go together a lot when I would go home to Kentucky – trips to eat porkchops and flower pot bread at Patti’s 1880’s and wander around the petting zoo afterward, dinner with second cousin Maddie at the Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn in Owensboro…

We also walked our little legs off when she would visit me here in New York City – visits to The Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Lombardi’s for the best thin crust pizza, Chelsea Market for Fat Witch blondies, two trips to the Empire State Building, Jacques Torres in Brooklyn for chocolate, Rockefeller Center for the Today Show to see handsome Matt Lauer. Mom was a big fan of Victoria Gotti’s reality TV series, so we made a trip out to Long Island to Victoria’s favorite market. Alas, no Vicky sighting. We did have a lot of fun out at the 1964 World’s Fair site. We had to go there because, well, because why does anyone still go there? Men In Black??? No! Because of that famous episode of McCloud with Dennis Weaver and a very young Jaclyn Smith, of course!  Duh! ??? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fl-rtN_fCHg  For me, New York City is now a city filled with places I either took Mom to, or wanted to take her to on “the next visit.” It’s hard to take in that there will be no more next visit. My phone will never ring from her number again. All there is now is silence.

Mom and I at the 1964 World’s Fair Site, November 2001.

The Sunday after her passing we had an incredibly lovely service at her church to honor her life, culminating with the internment of her ashes in the Memorial Garden. She had been out in that garden having a good time talking to people during coffee hour her last Sunday at church before she went home and started feeling sick. It was where we knew she’d want to rest. We were so humbled by the many childhood friends, extended family and church friends who came out to tell her one last goodbye. Being Southerners, during the reception afterward we sat around and ate Bad Bob’s barbecue, baked beans and potato salad and listened to her favorite music – classic Stevie Wonder, Bill Withers, Carole King, The Spinners… To Mom, music wasn’t fun if it didn’t have a rump-shakin’ beat. When I think of that day I automatically hear the horn section blasting from Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.”  We looked at pictures of her from all stages of her life and laughed at memories that came to us from the good times – the birthday parties, the Christmas dinners, the graduations… All that was missing from the party was her. She would have loved it.

Mom gearing up for a trip to her favorite place!

My last trip with Mom was actually a week after her memorial service. It was my sister’s idea that I also take some of her cremains back with me to scatter someplace special in New York City.  But where? I settled on New York Harbor. A week after the memorial service my partner Jaime and I met up with a group of our friends at the Staten Island Ferry. We got on the ferry, took off, found a quiet spot on the lowest level and once we got face to face with the Statue of Liberty I cut open the envelope and scattered her ashes into the swirling sea. You were finally completely at rest. Goodbye, Mama.

Jaime and I aboard the Staten Island Ferry

When I reflect back on the last month of my mother’s life, what gives me peace is remembering one of the last things she said to me while she could still speak. “I love your heart, sugar.” she said. I know you do, Mama. I know you do. Happy Mother’s Day. We miss you.

Photo courtesy of St. John’s Episcopal Church. Murray, KY.

Follow me on Twitter @juliamaddoxnyc. Email me at juliamaddox@outlook.com.

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Thank you, Angela Shelton: The Transformation of an Emotional Chicken

It’s time for me to confess something very few people know about me. I can be a complete and total chicken when it comes to emotional situations, BUT not in the way that such things usually manifest themselves in the majority of the population. In person or over the phone I am great at dealing with people dealing with their emotional struggles.  I’m a pro.  You want me in your foxhole in a time of crisis. However, I become a total wuss when it comes to my favorite TV characters to the point that I stop watching my favorite shows for fear that something bad might happen to a beloved character. You would laugh if I listed all the shows I’ve stopped watching because I wanted to keep their character safe from harm in my mind. I stopped watching the last two seasons of the incredibly underrated USA Network series In Plain Sight because I wanted to believe in my mind that my beloved cranky Mary would ultimately have the ideal relationship with her disaster-prone mother and sister that she always wanted. I stopped watching HBO’s critically acclaimed series Six Feet Under after the third season because I so wanted David and Keith’s relationship to work out that I couldn’t bear the thought that they might nor find true happiness. I stopped watching Showtime’s The L Word after Season 2 because, good lord, who needs that much lesbian drama in their lives? I certainly don’t – and I’m a lesbian. Sheesh! I can’t stand to see characters I’ve grown to love continue to suffer. Don’t get me started on reality television. I can’t even go near any of it. If it involves a Real Housewife, a Kardashian, a Bachelor/Bachelorette or celebrity judges I can guarantee you I’ve never seen an episode.

This aversion to conflict I have can sometimes also extend to people I see on TV whose stories captivate my attention. In 2003 I happened to catch an episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show featuring the documentary filmmaker Angela Shelton. Even for Oprah standards this episode was beyond riveting for me. Angela was on the show to talk about the documentary film she’d made called Searching for Angela Shelton in which in 2001 she’d embarked across a 57 day tour across the U.S. to go out to interview the many Angela Sheltons there are in in our country. Turns out there are a lot of Angie Sheltons out there. She was able to interview 40 of the 76 Angela Sheltons she found via internet search. It turned out that of the 40 Angelas she talked to, besides having the same name in common,  25 of them had been beaten, raped or molested during the course of their lives, including our originating Angela. I was glued to my chair as Original Angela set up each clip for the audience to see of “Angelas” telling their stories of domestic violence and sexual abuse – some on camera, some not. The best clip of the show was when we see Original Angela visit her father on Father’s Day. We see her sitting on the porch respectfully confront her father, his face blurred, over the events of her childhood.  We see him lie and manipulate the truth, then cutaway to Angela’s stepbrother and stepsister sharing their own stories of how he had molested them all. I was so moved by Original Angela’s bravery that after watching the show I ordered a copy of the documentary off Angela’s website, http://angelashelton.com, excited that I was making a contribution to this worthwhile project. Yay!

And then the DVD came in the mail. And I promptly put it on a shelf to gather a thick coat of dust for eight more years. I never even took it out of the plastic wrap. I would think about it from time to time, even tell people about how great it was and how THEY should see it. Clearly there was something there I didn’t want to look at in my own life.

Life rolled on and with the advent of Twitter I was able to catch up with the Angela Shelton of 2012. Last Friday I tweeted her and confessed that I had, in fact, never watched her documentary I proclaimed to love so much. Being the newly self-proclaimed “Thoroughly Unreasonable Woman” I had to do this thing I’d been avoiding.

I tweeted her, “Afraid of looking at and experiencing the pain. I should get over that, shouldn’t I?”  She tweeted back “Yeah, get over it. It has a very happy ending, is funny in a lot of parts and the angry parts – scream along with them!”

I made a promise that I would watch the DVD by midnight Sunday night. On Sunday afternoon after making brunch for my partner/wife (I can’t settle on the right term for what we are.) I settled down with my laptop to finally watch this thing. I slit the dust-laden plastic wrap open, extracted the disc, popped it in my machine and hit “Play.” So how was it? In a word – cathartic. You see, I’m an Angela Shelton, too. What had me avoid watching the film was an unwillingness to own that I had much in common with many of these ladies. I am a survivor of domestic violence myself. Half my lifetime ago I was involved with a man who verbally and physically abused me. Not only did I tolerate the behavior, I married my abuser. I’ve been hit and kicked publicly, not to mention the things I endured in private. I know what it’s like to file a domestic violence petition and live in fear of what might happen to me as a result of that decision. I also know what it’s like to be served with a domestic violence petition myself. I now cannot buy a firearm in my home state of Kentucky, not that I had ever planned on it, anyway. I went through the system and it was ugly and horribly embarrassing to have to detail my personal life in such a public way. I remember sitting across from him in my lawyer’s office. He noticed a small can of pepper spray I then carried on my keychain.

“Is that for me?” he said. “Don’t you know that if I was going to kill you I would have done it a long time ago?”

Well, that was a relief.  I could cross off being murdered from my list of worries. Ugh.

What made it worth it to me to reclaim my life started with a thought I had one January night in 1995. I looked at him while we were watching TV and I realized the relationship I created with this man was something I alone had chosen. No one else put me in the space I found myself in. I also saw no one was going to get me out of the situation but me. This realization gave me the strength to change my situation. As part of my domestic violence petition I was ordered by the court to attend four sessions with a domestic violence counselor. Very nice lady. I remember being happy to meet with her because I knew, no matter what, I was never going back to the life I’d had before. And I never did.

Our happy day last November. I’m the luckiest woman in the world! Thank you Governor Cuomo!

When I look back on my life at that time I can’t believe that girl was really me, but it was. I have tremendous compassion for her now. I understand her completely and I’m at peace with that time in my life.  I’ve also forgiven my ex-husband. I wish him well wherever he is. I also want to say I like men. I love all people. And no, what happened with him didn’t turn me into a lesbian. It just took me a lot longer than most people to figure out that part of my life for myself. I’m incredibly proud of my recent marriage last November to my partner of 10 years. (More on that event in another post!) Someone close to me recently remarked at how Jaime and I relate to each other. They thought we are far too nice to each other.

“After 10 years together you all really speak to each other so lovingly?” this person said, rather incredulous. “Listen,” I said, “Given what she and I have been through in our lives, all either of us has ever wanted in a partner is someone who can be truly kind to us, so get over it!” Ha!

I hear our Original Angela is getting married again soon. I’ve never met her, but I’m incredibly happy for her. I know she settled her past with her father long ago and has moved on to the next stages in her life. I imagine all the other Angelas have, too. I hear she wrote a follow-up book about her experience making the documentary called Finding Angela Shelton. Good for her! I can’t wait to read it soon.

If you’re reading this post and have never had these kinds of life experiences, count your blessings. Be open to the possibility that there are people in your life who are in such a bad spot who might really need a friend to confide in.  Create an environment for people to tell you the truth about what they’re going through. If you’ve been in an abusive relationship and have come out on the other side of it, I acknowledge the heck out of you. Share your story, especially with the younger generation. They need to see how to choose differently and change the predictable course of their lives and see that you are now thriving. Show them the way out. Even better, show them how to avoid going down the road of domestic violence at all. If you are still with your abuser, email me. I’m here for you. I will always listen.

In the meantime I’ll be on Netflix. I’ve got a lot of shows to catch up on.

“You did then what you knew what to do. When you knew better, you did better.” – Maya Angelou

Want a copy of Searching for Angela Shelton? Click here –  http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0031P33PU  Worth every penny and more!

Follow me on Twitter @juliamaddoxnyc. Email me: juliamaddox@outlook.com

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Machine Gun Mouth: How I Learned to Lose My Victim Story and Take Responsibility for My Life

“It’s simple: When you haven’t forgiven those who’ve hurt you, you turn your back against your future. When you do forgive, you start walking forward.” — Tyler Perry

I was startled yesterday to hear from a bright, young gay friend that recently he’d been receiving some particularly nasty hate mail from an anonymous source claiming to know him well. The emails had been escalating in their nastiness, going from calling him a faggot to accusing him of all sorts of lewd acts. “I don’t trust a damn soul,” he wrote online. Now I have an agreement to do what I can to build the leaders of the 21st century, so stop the presses, we gotta talk. I especially love to work with the young gay folks who will one day be taking care of me when my partner/wife and I will be at the Queens location of the Ellen DeGeneres Retirement Home for Aging Lesbians. I want them to have a better experience than what I did when I came out in the mid 1990’s. After getting the details of what had been happening with my handsome friend, basically a lot of character assassination, I shared with him how I saw the situation. “You can look at this situation as an opportunity to develop your muscle for being unstoppable in getting the things you want out of life,” I said, more or less. “You can either let this bring you down, or you can just say ‘Thanks for your opinion. Got it.’ and go on.” Really all I did was hold up a mirror for him to see his own power again. I helped him get out of the stands and back onto the court of life where he belongs.

After getting off the phone, I suddenly remembered an incident about an anonymous letter I got in the mid 1990’s when I was in graduate school. It contained a weight loss flyer with some obnoxious comments written in the margin about my large ass and about how much I “needed” to buy this particular cheap, off-brand weight loss product. I remember feeling humiliated and ashamed, but mostly I remember feeling angry that I’d never know who sent the letter. He or she would never get the comeuppance I had in store for them.

Now that I’m 41 I see so many situations from my past differently, especially that whole weight loss letter incident. What happened was I had a leadership coach a few years back who had me see that I was nobody’s victim in life. How did he achieve this near impossible feat? By holding up a mirror to me that had me see that I could be just as nasty to people as my anonymous letter writer. Instead of writing anonymous letters I cut people off at the knees in conversation or talked about them behind their back relentlessly.

 “Julia,” he said, “You need to get that your mouth can be like a machine gun. Sometimes like a RPG launcher. You spray bullets indiscriminately and you don’t realize who you’ve hit in the crossfire. Your opinions are just that – opinions. They’re not the truth. Even your opinions have opinions about how right you think you are. Don’t believe me? Go back and interview people from your past and find out for yourself.”

I was furious when he gave me that assignment. What did he mean? I WAS A NICE PERSON, DAMMIT!  However, it was an assignment I chose to complete. Lo and behold, after some honest conversations with friends and former co-workers who had the guts to be straight with me, I had to admit he was right. I wasn’t nearly as nice of a person as I’d claimed to be. You aren’t either, by the way. When I told him what I’d found out about the bad taste I sometimes left in others’ mouths he asked, “Now that you know this about yourself, what are you going to do with this knowledge?”

Here’s my answer. I took responsibility for my own power. I went back and apologized to a few former bosses, friends and co-workers. It wasn’t easy to hear how I’d hurt people when I said x, y or z. It was painful to realize that my reputation for being snarky behind other people’s backs diminished how people saw me. I cried big tears, often with the very same people I’d hurt. What I learned was that there was so much for me to gain by rebuilding those bridges. I’m a much better leader of people for doing it. When I create the environment for a friend to really tell me what they think and feel there’s no more need for fakery. No one need ever again send me an anonymous letter spewing bile at me because they’re afraid to tell me something to my face. If someone has an issue with me I know how to create a space for them to tell me what they need to say without fear that I’ll take their head off. I don’t have to agree with everyone, but I do choose to honor people’s dignity. I now get that I am 100% responsible for my own happiness. I’m too strong of a person to have it be any other way. You, too, are just as strong, by the way.

With that realization comes the responsibility for every word that comes out of my mouth for the rest of my life. Now I’m not perfect. Sometimes I get in knee-jerk reaction mode and I can slime people. Truth be told I’m always gonna think that snarky comedians like Kathy Griffin are hilarious.  What’s different now is that when I stumble I have the tools to pick myself up and check on other people to see if I hurt them on my way down into the mud. In spite of my still-large ass I’m not too big to apologize to people when I need to. If you know me and there’s something for which you’d like an apology I’m open to the conversation. You can email me at unreasonablewoman at gmail.com. Let’s talk.

My mouth. Now a safe space.

Follow me on Twitter @unreasonablew.

 

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Realistically Failing Forward: My History with the Arts and What I Want Now

“One of the saddest lines in the world is, ‘Oh come now – be realistic.’ The best parts of this world were not fashioned by those who were realistic. They were fashioned by those who dared to look hard at their wishes and gave them horses to ride.”

– Richard Nelson Bolles

Mom in her "squaw" days

When I say I love being a part of the creative process, I mean it more than anyone can imagine. In my earliest, happiest childhood memory I am three years old. It’s western Kentucky in the spring of 1973. Big sister is at school. Dad’s at work selling Buicks. It’s nap time. Mom, a 5-foot tall, better-looking version of Cher, has set up her easel and canvas in my bedroom. With her palette of oils in her left hand, brush in her right, I watch her dark, pin straight hair sway as she starts a new still life, a simple bowl of fruit. The world’s preoccupations melt away and she is in deep conversation with her muse, creating, creating, creating…oranges, apples and grapes starting to pull into focus. She is elated and fully engaged in her choices. Fascinating to me, I fall asleep, fully relaxed in that harmonious, consideration-free energy.

My father is also a “creative type,” but with a decidedly different, sometimes more strenuous process. A blogger before there was such a thing, in the early 1980’s Dad had his own column in our local paper, The Madisonville Messenger. Entitled “Madisonville after Hours,” Dad would write mostly fictional stories that had some kernel of truth to make them fun and engage the locals. At the time we lived outside the city limits in a brand new subdivision that lay a couple hundred yards from a train track mostly used by the coal industry. In the summer of 1982, Dad was laid off from his job at a local trucking company. With more free time than he knew what to do with, Dad took on his personal health. For reasons lost to time, he often chose to go jogging out on those grimy, lonely train tracks in the sweltering sun. Being a twelve-year old, I had nothing else to do, so I would go with him from time to time. I remember huffing and puffing along in my Bloom County t-shirt, shorts and Nikes, doing my best to space out my steps on the creosote-laden railroad ties, hoping to God I wouldn’t pass out and bust my hind end in the process. At night from my bed upstairs I would hear him downstairs typing away, weaving his stories. Being older now, I could offer one of my gifts to his creative process, the gift of spelling. Often on those summer nights, he would pause, come up the steps to my bedroom, and softly whisper in, “Julia, how do you spell ‘cousin?'” The result he produced from his time a’ workin’ on the railroad led to this chestnut of a story, “Tales of a Train Jogger.” Shortly after its publication we were headed into the local grocery store when a local man stopped Dad to tell him he’d seen that guy, the Train Jogger, out on the other side of town. “Oh, did you?” Dad said with a chuckle. What an incredibly cool trick to play, I thought, grinning ear-to-ear.

I'm Aemilia the Abbess. Think you can find me?

What was my medium? I got closer to it when I was introduced to speech and theater in high school. I remember as a freshman going to see my high school’s production of “Grease,” being absolutely blown away by how the spectacle of it all was put together so brilliantly. I remember saying to myself, “Yes, I wanna do this.” My first introduction to actually being associated with a production was when I stage managed the school’s production of the musical “Barnum.” Being labeled as “responsible” (Read: reasonable) at a young age made me a shoo-in for this position. I really aced the assignment. Props were where they were supposed to be, everyone was on time, we were golden. I finally got to be on stage when I was a serior as Aemilia the Abbess in our production of Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors.” While I was good, I was certainly not great. However, the creative world of the theater was where I really blossomed and I adored every second of every production with which I was connected.

Decision time set in. With college looming ahead of me, what major did I want to have? There was no way I was going to go in undeclared. College was expensive and I wasn’t going to waste anybody’s money or time. In retrospect I feel like I chickened out. In my 1989 thinking I chose to be a “responsible” (There’s that word again!) Speech Communication major rather than a “frivolous” Theater major. I had always been a good talker, if not the best listener, so Speech Comm was fairly easy for me, but down deep I knew it wasn’t what I wanted. I still managed to be involved in all kinds of productions, from stage managing the spring dance concert in 1990, to acting in several of my theater major friends’ directing projects. I always felt like I was on the outside of my dream looking in, too afraid to ask for what I wanted.

By 1997 I was back to my hometown of Murray, Kentucky. I’d managed to get a Master’s degree in TESOL, another “reasonable” choice that didn’t truly light me up. The experience was like buying that great V-neck shirt you buy in the store only to get it home and realize one sleeve is too long, or it wasn’t quite the right color that best suits you. While I loved being with my students, sweet souls from South Korea, Thailand and Saudi Arabia, right hand to God I really did not care if they learned how to say “pin” instead of “pen,” or “I sit on the seat,” versus “I shit on the sheet.” If you were ever my student and my classes maimed you in any way I apologize to you now!

One September day in 1999 my phone rang. It was an old friend from college who’d moved to New York to be an actor. The apartment across the hall from him was becoming available and did I want it? DID I WANT IT? HELL YEAH!!!! My chance to finally become an actor? I told people I didn’t care if I was a dancing pickle, come hell or high water I was gonna pursue my dream. I sold my Ford Taurus piece of crap car, sold my furniture, loaded all my stuff into two huge black duffle bags and off I went in a Greyhound bus bound for Manhattan. 26 hours later on October 27th, 1999 I arrived at the Port Authority, kissed the ground and set off in a taxi for my new home in Queens.

After playing tourist for two days, I settled down and got a job as a bartender for Broadway shows. I trained at the musical “Chicago” for five days, then settled in at my post at “Les Miserables” toting ice, pouring shots for harried school teachers during matinees (true story), and accounting for boxes of Junior Mints and Swedish Fish. As Les Miz was such a long show, I was sent out to do intermission help at other shows. I’d run through the streets of Times Square over to “Cats” in time to hear “Memory,” over to “Phantom of the Opera” to hear “All I Ask of You.” Back at Les Miz I was in the coat check in time to hear the encore of “Do You Hear the People Sing?” booming from the stage to thunderous applause. While it was great fun, it was not what I’d come to New York to do and the pay really sucked. With bills and rent coming due, I moved over into the corporate world, eventually spending eight years in corporate training and development in the incredibly dull, gray, soul-sucking, cutthroat, gritty world of government-sponsored health insurance. Don’t ask.

Me with one of my favorite interviewees, Hal Eisenberg from Windows of Opportunity (wooinc.org).

One day I saw something different was possible. I made friends with a guy who was an honest-to-goodness working screenwriter. I remember feeling instantly jealous, wondering how he did what he did. I peppered him with questions. This was his job? Wow! How did you get there? I met a lady who had her own production company and she showed me the basics of how to set up a shoot and how to use her equipment. What I quickly realized was with the rise of the internet and advances in technology that there was nothing stopping me from creating my own video projects. It was clearly time to take the plunge and invest in what I’d also wanted to do. With a friend experienced in production to advise me, I nervously entered B & H Photo on 33rd and 9th in Manhattan to make my purchases. I selected a Canon HD camcorder, two lavalier mics, all sorts of cables, and a basic lighting kit. Expensive! I went to the Apple store and bought a MacBook Pro. Just as expensive! Now I had to figure out how to use all this stuff. It was confusing to figure out so many new bells and whistles, but I felt more alive than I had in over a decade. Learning how to upload, edit and share video online was truly revolutionary to me. Knowing that I didn’t have enough equipment or experience to produce something on a grand scale, for my first project I created an interview show I hosted called “In The Gayborhood.” With that I learned what interviews connected with people and what didn’t. Long interviews didn’t work for the web. More interesting location shoots did. Some people who worked with me knew more of what they were doing than others. I got great feedback from my viewers telling me what a difference my show made for them. I also got harsh criticism from people who either hated the concept, or who disliked me for “stirring up trouble.” One day I got a call from a lady in Oklahoma telling me how brave I was for doing what I was doing. “Make more!” she said. I was on to something.

At Dolce Vizio making tiramisu. Biggest whisk ever!

After a bit I got tired of being both behind and in front of the camera. I wanted to see if I could produce something for someone else. Could I make someone else look good on camera? From that desire has come my most recent project with my buddy Nicole Cooper, a food travel web series based out of New York City called “a Taste of Nicole with Nicole Cooper.”  (http://nicolecooper.tv) Could I actually go into a restaurant and ask them to let us in to do a shoot? Who the hell was I? Would they see right through me and laugh me out of the place? Could I really create something fun that would look good as well? I was determined to be unreasonable and find out. Our first big shoot was in the spring of 2011 at Mia Chef Gelateria on 27th and 3rd. The owner was a young fellow I’d met at an charity event. He was happy to invite us into his downstairs kitchen and show us his process – fig and tequila gelato, Ferrerro-Rocher flavored gelato, strawberry sorbet… We had a fantastic time and created a fun video that has served us and his business well.

What’s next for this unreasonable woman? I want to take my creative expression to the next level, go beyond what I’ve ever thought possible for myself. I’m putting it out into the universe that I want my work with Nicole to be my full-time career. I want Gordon Elliott from Follow Productions, the man who “discovered” Paula Deen, to call me to schedule a business meeting to discuss a partnership. I want to be scheduling our next shoot in Paris at some little, out-of-the-way chocolatier. I want to be developing other new talents who would work and play well with us. This is who I am and this is what I want.

So now I want to hear from you. What’s your self expression? What’s your creative dream that you put on the shelf long ago? What do you want to do to make it happen? Are you open to looking at what’s possible now? I welcome your comments below. Share!

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Are You Unreasonable, Too?

On Wednesday of this week I had a profound realization. I am a thoroughly unreasonable woman with a thoroughly unreasonable life. Say what, lady??? Much more on my unreasonable life in future posts. While I am mostly rational, I have almost never been reasonable. So what’s the difference, you may ask? Here’s how I explain the difference. Rational means my five senses work properly. I have my “marbles.” I’m sane. Reasonable, however, has a nebulous, subjective definition. One definition Merriam-Webster.com lists for reasonable is “based on good sense.” Another definition is “having sound judgment; fair and sensible.” This begs the following two questions. Who decides what is sound judgment? Who decides what is considered fair and sensible? Confused? You should be. Unreasonable people are people who are not content with the status quo, who cannot accept it when someone tells them “that’s just the way it is. Get over it.” To me, unreasonable people can see what’s possible, don’t stand on ceremony, say what needs to be said in a way that others can hear them. They do what they do for the common good of the people.

Here’s what I see. We adults live far too reasonable lives in which we only want to be bothered with the bare minimum of outside intrusion. It’s the “I’m-too-tired-leave-me-alone-let-someone-else-fix-it-I’m-not-rockin’-the-boat” syndrome so many of us suffer from. That is until it’s your friend’s teenage son who is shot for “walking while black and wearing a hoodie,” or it’s your vagina the government wants to be “all up in,” as the kids say today. Then we become unreasonable as a reaction to some outside tragedy or annoyance that temporarily propels us outside of our comfort zones. We’ll go to a march wearing our hoodies, make grand statements on Facebook and Twitter, create agreement amongst our friends and family on how wrong something is. Good for you! I do it too every day. But then we go back to the couch, curl up with our iPads confident that we made a difference when in reality we actually took few meaningful actions to impact anything.

What’s wrong with that? Absolutely nothing. However, if we look at it from a sales perspective we’re leaving money on the table. There are more opportunities to be had from those experiences, bonds to be created, society to transform. Most adults just have an extremely weak muscle for creating sustainable change. They’re not bad or wrong, they just don’t know how. They don’t have buns of steel for getting what they want out of life. That comfy couch beckons with a “come hither” look like Kate Upton on this year’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition. If you’re not familiar with this image, Google it. 🙂

My purpose for this blog is to start a dialogue to show what’s possible when we stop being reasonable (complacent, really) and see how to create the kind of lives we all dream of for ourselves and our families. I will share stories from my own life, warts and all. I’ll share what other people are doing to create meaningful and lasting change in their families, neighborhoods, and society at large. There may be video or audio interviews involved. I’ll invite guest bloggers. I’ll make one promise to you all, dear readers. When I give feedback to your responses I’ll only listen for what’s possible to create in any situation. Deal? You can respond below, tweet me @juliamaddoxnyc, or email me at juliamaddox@outlook.com. Let’s start talking…