Trading Love for Something Better

I’ve learned a lot of lessons in my short time here on earth, and it doesn’t seem that the lesson-learning will end any time soon.  Usually, these lessons are after years and years of struggling to understand or comprehend why certain things happen.  When I do finally get it, it’s a huge epiphany.

One particular, lesson, however, has never let up.

I’ve never been a pursuant in relationships outside of what I have in friends and family.  I see loved ones around me finding love, and I have a calloused resolve.  One might blame it on heartbreak of the past, seeing too many relationships fail miserably, or whatever, but I try not to be so dramatic in my normal every day life.  I save the drama for the stage.

None of what I say reflects badly on any individual.  My struggles are my own.  I met someone last year that I thought was pretty profound.  We got to know each other quickly and our time together ran out just as quickly.  What I told my friends was, much to their laughter, that I shed approximately three tears, drank a glass of wine, ate some chocolate, and got over it.  He thought I was more of a booty call, and I thought of him as more of a person…but that could just be the bitterness coming out ever so slightly.

I won’t even go into the next guy.  I still have too much respect for him to say anything against him, although I know many people who feel differently.  I wish him the best in everything he does.

But it’s not easy to come back from things like that when it’s so rare to put yourself out there.  You find yourself wishing…wishing things would be different.  Maybe if I was prettier.  Maybe if I didn’t push too hard.  Maybe if I had even the slightest bit of confidence.  Maybe, maybe, maybe.

There was one particular night where I sat down with clouded judgement in anger.  I asked God through teary eyes, “Why?  Why, if everyone else can find love, can’t I?  Why is it so difficult for me?  Why did you make me unlovable?”  I wasn’t talking to God in prayer.  I was talking to God in anger and frustration, almost like I was talking at Him as if his grand scheme was stupid.  In my eyes, at the time, it was stupid.

But if you open up a conversation with God, prepare yourself for the message He gives you.  In a soft, lulling voice that I can only explain as His own, I heard His message.  He wasn’t angry at my anger.  He wasn’t frustrated by my lack of faith.  He was patient.  He was kind.

“I am more than enough.”

And He was right.

When had my focus shifted from God to myself?  God, who is to always be the center of my life–my ALL– took a back seat to my own wants and desires.  My world had shifted, ever so slightly, to revolving around me instead of Him.  It was about what I wanted, the money I wasn’t making, the problems I was having, the love I wasn’t finding here on this earth, when the obvious answer was staring me right in the eyes.

He is more than enough.

So I stopped looking for the romanticism in a relationship here on this earth.  God’s love is perfect and He is more than enough for me.  I’ve made a vow to myself to restore Him as the center of my life and remove my flawed self from the equation.  I must also learn to love myself, and that includes what I see when I look in the mirror.  Am I the type of person I would want to be around?  Am I still keeping positive or have I resorted to my cynical nature?

And for goodness sake, I have to quit taking all of my accomplishments for granted.  I’m an internationally distributed filmmaker.  I’m a published author.  I started a theatre.  I’ve been paid to act professionally.  I may not have found love like many others my age, but by God I love what I do.

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Today, I Ran…

I don’t know what I was thinking.  I hate running.  I hate it so much, but Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” started playing and I couldn’t help myself.

My usual route through the neighborhood contains more or less of the same thing.  A couple of kids in Ken Acres ride their bikes and look at me judgmentally as if I’m encroaching on their territory with my pedestrian ways.  A man stands outside his house on the phone, talking to whoever loudly and unabashedly.  People drive way too fast and there is a smell of diesel in the air that never goes away.

This particular day, I went by a house where a young boy was playing football with his grandfather and a little girl danced around them with a butterfly net.  All three laughed heartily–enough to where I turned my music off on my phone to hear the joy emitting from them.  A strange sense of nostalgia hit me and I thought of memories long gone of my own grandfather throwing baseball with me and my brother.

Not one for coincidences, I recognized that tomorrow is the anniversary of the death of my grandfather, Norman B. Yeager.  The B stood for nothing in particular.  He never had a middle name.  When drafted for the Korean War, they gave him the B because why not?  He was Norman B. Only Yeager.

Papaw was a man of great character and integrity.  He was slow to anger and wise in his ways.  He was mischievous with a sly grin and always (unassumingly) found ways to cause a ruckus with the typical, “What’d I do?” expression.  He never held grudges except for one:  his boss, back in the day, demeaned him and practically called him stupid to his face.  “Ya finished?” Papaw responded.  “If you talk to me that way again, I’ll kick ya ass.”  Recalling that story 20 years later and his face would still turn red with pent up anger.

I loved him more than words can express.  His time on this earth was cut too short by Parkinson’s Disease, the same thing that has afflicted others in my family including my father.  I’ll also note that this year I’ll have lived longer without my grandfather in my life than with him in my life.  None of that negates the fond memories I’ve hung on to over the years.

A few months has passed after his death when my aunt Sherry Yeager succumbed to a disease of her own:  two funerals of people I loved dearly, father and daughter, in such a short amount of time.  I remember clutching my dad’s hand during Sherry’s service and the minster took note.

“Hold on,” he said.  Hold on to one another. Hold on to hope, faith, and most of all love.  Through the struggles and torment, through the curve balls life throws you, hold on.

I ended my workout in the driveway and stood silently by the front door.  In that moment, I remembered my first train ride with Papaw, his brain freezes when eating ice cream too quickly, making enough peanut butter crackers to make you sick, baseball, his rebellious love of UofL sports, watching fireworks, playing Rook, him teaching me the ropes to poker (and cheating), visiting the Stephen Foster house, and so much more.  All of that completely negates the memories of the bad things he suffered through.

To my friends and loved ones:  make good memories.  Make life count.  Do not wallow in self-pity and misery.  Live your life in abundance, in joy, and in love.

Whatever you do, just hold on.

Professional Theatre: Who Knew?

I am staying in the basement of my cousin’s house in Indiana.  Yup.  I relocated temporarily due to the unique opportunity I’ve been presented.

All my life I’ve been a connoisseur (not really) of community theatre.  In reality, this was an escape for me.  I was never worthy of speaking roles at an early age because, well, I wasn’t very good at it.  But over the course of time, I became a people watcher, a film watcher, and a theatre watcher.  I learned back in high school that the only way I could learn was by observing.  Lectures didn’t do it for me.  Quite honestly, as much as I love reading, that didn’t do it for me, either.

I had to see.  I had to experience.  I had to watch.  Observation was my education.  It always has been and always will be.  The more I watched people on stage and in film, studied their craft, their movements, their motions, the more I learned.

It wasn’t until very recently when all the dots were connected that it finally made sense.  All the observations would be put to good use.  I was cast in a show called “I Ought to be in Pictures” by Neil Simon.  It was my first straight play in a few years and my first Neil Simon show.  What separated this particular show from his others was how serious the drama in it was as opposed to the comedy.

A young girl seeks a relationship with the father she hasn’t seen in many years.  Their short time together is strained and any serious issue is often overshadowed by jabs and small quarrels.  The real issues, however, lay just below the surface and threaten to spill over at any moment.

When that moment in the show came, I knew what was to be expected.  I was to cry.  The script called for it.  The director called for it.  The only problem was that I’m not a crier.  I hardly ever do so and certainly not in public.  I didn’t even know what feelings to conjure up in order to make this happen.  I didn’t want it to be a Demi Moore from Ghost moment.  It had to be real.  It had to be genuine and it had to come from a place somewhere deep inside the recesses of my tormented soul.

Note:  my soul isn’t that tormented.

I asked for patience from my fellow cast members and director, trying to remember my observations and what I had learned.  Before long, I was sobbing in near hysterics, tears smearing my makeup and snot clogging my nose.

The scene was over and I turned off the switch.  I laughed and wiped the tears away, but not before looking at everyone else.  They were doing the same thing.

“You sure you’ve never done that before?” The director asked.

“Pretty sure,” was my response.

And that’s when the connection was made.  I was finally able to breach the wall between an actor and someone playing make-believe.  It wasn’t about pretending.  It was about escaping into another world, embodying another persona entirely and creating motivations, ticks, accents, wardrobes, hand placements, postures, and so on.  It was that play that I finally felt I was worthy enough to consider myself an actor.

And apparently others felt the same way.  Many people suggested that I go and audition for a local professional theatre:  Derby Dinner Playhouse.  Now, in my neck of the woods, that’s the cream of the crop.  It doesn’t get much better than DDP.  The actors are revered and praised (as they should be).  They are very deserving of all the accolades they receive.

My business partner, and one of my dearest friends, found out that open auditions were being held on Oaks Day.  In that very moment, she described herself as my agent and demanded I go audition.  Not one to suffer the wrath of a Pisces, I did what she “suggested” knowing that I’d probably regret it if I didn’t go.  If anything, it’d be a learning experience.

I just didn’t know how much of a learning experience it would be.

A month later I got a callback.  My friend/business partner/self-described agent bet me $20 I’d get in.  I, being the realist that I am, bet against myself.

I now owe her $20.

We’re in the middle of our run of “The Most Famous Reindeer of All” and I couldn’t be having more fun.  This show is a part of the children’s theatre at DDP.

Two years ago, if you were to tell me that I’d be doing theatre for/with kids, I would have laughed in your face.  After becoming an acting coach at Henry County High School last year, I fell in love with the idea of being an influence to kids, helping them through their formative years and guiding them through the more difficult times of adolescence.  Now, I get to perform for children and it warms my heart to hear their laughter and joy.

In other words, I’ve become a softy and it’s weirding me out.  All in a good way, I suppose.

Instead of driving the hour and some change from Middle-of-Nowhere, Kentucky to DDP, I moved my life over to Indiana temporarily.  My cousins have been very accommodating by allowing me to live out this dream of mine while sleeping in their basement, no matter how short-lived it may be.

Once this is over, there will be a lot of craziness waiting for me in the film world.  However, I love that I was granted a break from that side of life to experience this.  I wouldn’t trade it for anything.  The cast, the crew, the everything, has been wonderful and has temporarily relieved the stress from reality.  I couldn’t be more pleased.

And Ashley: I got your $20 dollars.  You’ll get it next time I see you.

Unconditional Love Does Not Equate Unconditional Acceptance

If I were to pen a letter to you, it would sound a little like this.

I don’t know if you are aware how much you are loved. How much people care about you. How people anticipate your safe return back to normalcy and safety.

Sometimes all it takes is single mistake-one fell swoop-to change the course of your life. This is just an alteration in your path, not a death sentence.

I’ve seen you stray for some time now. You keep falling further and further down a pit of despair unwittingly.  I question whether or not you are smart enough to realize the eternal ramifications of your choices. You are sweet. You are kind. And you are naive.

How could you not realize that you are ruining your life? Your actions are not just your own. They affect all those who love you unconditionally.

But, my friend, unconditional love does not equate unconditional acceptance. 

It took me quite some time to realize I don’t owe you that acceptance.  I refuse to stand by idly and watch you destroy your life over and over again.  It hurts me more than I can bare: to say goodbye to you. You were one of my best and closest friends. But that person is gone now.

I hope and pray that he comes back. 

God, do I still love you.  I want nothing more than to pick up the phone and call you, see if you are okay, if you’d like to get some coffee sometime and see a movie. I want that, but not with the person you are now. I want the old you back.

I don’t know where you are in life anymore. I don’t know what city you are in, what state…if you have a home, a car, a job, or even a place to sleep. If I saw you today, I would be torn between hugging you until my arms went numb, or rattle your brain and shake some sense into you.

Your actions and choices nearly ruined my hopes and dreams for my own future.  Truth be told, you screwed up quite a bit.  But I don’t care about that anymore. I just wish you’d come back.

You still can, you know. If you give up your selfish ways, you can come back.

Just know that when you are ready, we’ll all be waiting.

What You Know

Write what you know, yes, but more often times, write what scares you.  

The Creatives must push the boundaries of fear, go to that dark place, and bring the audience back full circle.  Creatives take the expected and manipulate it, morph it and create a ruckus.  Creatives cause people to think, pushing their imaginations to the limit.

I have watched a lot of movies, read a lot of stories, but that’s one thing Creatives don’t do enough–delve into what scares a person.  Instead, they settle for ordinary.

When was the last time you read or watched something that surprised you?  When, no matter how hard you tried, you couldn’t predict the ending and it still left a gaping hole in your stomach?  A hole that couldn’t be filled by any other means besides your own imagination?

That feeling is what we should strive for as artists of any sort of medium.

In case you haven’t found that something that surprises you, check out this show:  the killing

The Apple of my Eye

Kaleb and me

To Kaleb,

You’re turning five. It’s hard to believe it has been this long since you came into the world and changed all our lives for the better. Your beautiful, curious blue eyes (one with just a hint of brown), light up any room you enter. There has never been a happier boy to grace our presence. Your love and adoration for anything mechanical and technical keeps you learning, keeps us busy, and keeps us excited for what the future will hold for you.

And then there are all the fans. Big ones. Small ones. Industrial and ceiling.

You are hilarious and quirky. The stories you tell and the unintentional one-liners keeps us laughing with joy at the young man you’re becoming. Right now, your favorite song is “God’s Not Dead” by Newsboys. You play the drums unabashedly while singing, praising God for his Son at the top of your lungs. You have definitely schooled me on different dinosaurs, teaching me the difference between a dilophosaurus and a velociraptor (I may need a refresher course).

You keep us on our toes with your unending energy. You run hard; you play hard; and you eventually crash hard. But the beautiful thing about this is that you live hard. You live life to it’s fullest in the highest capacity. That’s a lesson for all of us who are older than you.

But you see, dear Kaleb: you are more than just a nephew to me. You are a promise. The worst day of my life preceded the best day of my life. You came into this world when I had hit rock bottom, struggling with my faith and the physical limitations of this world. You see, Kaleb, I was going blind and there was nothing I could do to stop it. The doctor’s told me I had a 50/50 chance of recovery and that nothing was certain. I’d never be able to work. I would never fulfill my dream of becoming a filmmaker. I would never get to do the things I was supposed to.

Your mother had an emergency c-section the next day and I rushed to the hospital as quickly as I could. Once I arrived, they wheeled her into surgery. We waited with baited breath for your first appearance. Mere moments had passed that stretched a lifetime, and there you were in your father’s arms. You were crying and a little goopy, but nothing had ever been more perfect. God created you, Kaleb. He wove a beautiful love story between your father and mother over the span of many years that faced struggles, trials, but most of all, love. And here you are.

While everyone peered through the glass, watching you move your tiny fingers and toes, I snuck off to see my sister. She doesn’t remember the conversation we had due to the effects of surgery, but she was there for me and I her. We cried together and laughed together. We spoke of the unfairness of life, but we also spoke of the miracle of life.

When they brought you into that room, your mother held you first. She fell in love with you. How could she not? In that moment, she became your Mama. And when it was time to hand you off to your loved ones so we could all share in this once in a lifetime moment, she chose me. I held you in my arms and I knew then that God was working in my life and he was using you to do it.

I refused to grow older in a world where I couldn’t look at your face. I refused to not be able to see your smile, your deep blue eyes with the fleck of brown, your kindness displayed, your curiosity shining. I would see that. I would see you open up Christmas and birthday presents. I would see you as you played your first sport. I would see you drumming in band. I would see you become a lady-killer. I would see you graduate high school. I would see you rebel and do silly things teenagers do. I would see you get married and have children of your own.

I would see you.

You were a promise that God made to me. Through the resurgence of my faith while holding you in my arms as you cooed and slept soundly, I knew that everything would be all right. Your miraculous life restored my faith faster than anything else could do and here we are. You, a strapping young boy that will too soon be a man and me, a filmmaker doing my best to follow God’s plan with my vision restored.

Happy early birthday to the apple of my eye-Kaleb. I can’t wait to see you on your big day.