Tag Archives: Optimism

Summer Camp

I do one 'kids show' a year, and I wish I could do many more, as long as they were as gratifying, as heartwarming, as the Charlotte MDA Summer Camp. Every summer for the past 11 years, I've been invited to entertain the campers and the counselors one evening, and every time I leave, I'm struck by how lucky I am to have been there.

The children and youth that attend have various forms of muscular dystrophy, but their enthusiasm is unmatched in any audience I've had the privilege to work for. Yes, it's your typical summer camp. There are multiple activities and campfires and sing alongs and home sickness and stomach bugs and everything that makes camp a silver memory that many of us treasure for our lifetime. It's so much more than that, though. As you might imagine, working with the individual challenges of each camper is a daunting endeavor, yet it's done with humor, energy, and style. So much grace …

And there's love. Man, the love in that place is so thick you could spread it on toast. The staff and the counselors bring their best for the campers and everyone looks out for everyone else. Maybe I'm gushing a little, but I'm sincere.

The past three years I arrived wrapped up in my own troubles, and they vanish within the first few minutes. I leave invigorated, happy, and hopeful. And moved. Lifted so high, emotionally.

I'm not …. writing about this to brag, or promote my image. I want to impress on you the value of giving of your ability. Taking your talent, your time, your vitality and using it to enrich the lives of those who need it and see so little in their world. It could be anything, any cause, listen to your heart. Believe this: it's been worth any 'sacrifice' I've had to make in order to be there.

The love you need is where you plant it.

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June 25, 2017

Tampa, Florida

Masters of Magic show at the Magic Emporium

Afterward, as I’m chatting with people and packing up, a lady approached. She took my hand and shook it, then pulled me close for a hug. As she did so, she said nothing, but she held my gaze and the expression in her eyes was so meaningful that I felt tears welling up in my own. You could feel it through the room, and all around us, for a moment, everyone was quiet.

My words have reached deep inside some people, and sometimes they just want to let me know. Some people can say more with their eyes than their mouths. And I can listen with my eyes –often better than with my ears.

I hope she felt my mutual gratitude.

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Joy in the Moment

There are days I wake up and feel like Sisyphus.

Do you know who I mean?

Sisyphus was an ancient mythological figure punished for all eternity to roll a boulder up a steep mountain, only to have it roll back down to the bottom when he reaches the top. Albert Camus called him an absurd hero; he struggled perpetually and without any hope of success.

That describes me on some days. Broken promises, lack of perceived ‘progress’, low bank accounts and good old self doubt are my boulder. I struggle daily to push it forward and upward, only to watch it roll back at day’s end. In the reality of my profession, the boulder is mine. I am aided and supported by an amazing set of friends and family, but the responsibility is on my shoulders. Sometimes this burden is crushing.

When times like this occur, I stop and breathe. I count my blessings and I look at my situation from a different attitude. Picture Sisyphus smiling.

The idea is so simple: here is Sisyphus, the wretch, interminably pushing his boulder up the hill, watching it roll down and repeating.  In my mind he was always completely defeated, hopeless.  And then, as I read Camus’ book on the ‘Myth of Sisyphus’, everything about the picture changed.  Imagining Sisyphus smiling, embracing his situation as his reality, not wanting a different past or a different future, but accepting the present, the scene totally rearranged itself.  He was no longer hopeless, but happy in his acceptance of the situation.

He must, in order to accept the absurdity of the situation, adjust his attitude and fulfill what has been put before him.

On the road to your dreams, there are certain absurd truths you must acknowledge. You must work as hard and as tirelessly as you can. There is no guarantee of success, but the burden and the struggle contain a successful measure of their own. To simply be doing what you love, and to master it, may be enough. Our ultimate fate is all the same, so why be miserable? Live your passion in the task at hand, and find satisfaction in your minor successes and your crushing failures.

Like Sisyphus, some see no other option than the mountain and the rock. Burdened with obligations, lack of control, hopelessness, low expectations and no alternatives, they continue to toil in dead-end jobs and uninspiring environments.

You, however, can see opportunity in obligation, freedom in failure and hope in hopelessness. You are unique, as are your burdens. Keep shouldering on, and be thankful for the journey.

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Renewal, Part Three: She

Arriving in LA on Sunday night I had dinner with Lili VonSchtupp and Funny Eddie, my best friends. I was so relieved to finally be with them that i must have babbled all night. We had Asian food and went on a pie quest, then I stayed the night at their house and spent the morning in a very long discussion with Lili about a million things. She had to focus on the Hollywood Burlesque Festival that week, so this was really our only chance to catch up. It was awesome, but far too short. I love these people. They are heart and soul to me.

May 22nd – 23rd, 2017

Monday I started my week at the Magic Castle in Hollywood, CA. My … 14th(?) engagement at that amazing establishment. I was greeted with ‘Welcome Home, Mr. Hannibal’ as I was ushered in the front door.

Yeah, welcome home, indeed. The old familiar sights, sounds and smells … here I am, once more. Home, showplace, playground. The happiness in that place, the magic .. I’m rambling. Four shows a night, late close-up. I love my work and I was especially ready after my long weekend at Beyond Brookledge.

Just before my first show, I was asked to help facilitate a proposal. This happens every so often and I was really happy to oblige. I had the couple seated at my table and … you can view the results here: The Proposal.

I stepped out into the main bar area, after. Pretty good crowd, especially for a Monday. There was a young woman called Monique there with some friends. Now, I’ve known Monique for a few years; she enjoys the Castle and she likes the Hannibal show, and so she’s often on my guest list when I’m in Hollywood. We’re casual friends. The group spotted me and said hello, they were in great spirits and really happy to be there. Who wouldn’t be. Monique asked if she could buy me a drink and I told her to surprise me. A few minutes later, the valet brought a tasty beverage back to my dressing room. Nice. Welcome home, right?

I make my living primarily by reading people. Little signs and body language broadcast how the act I’m doing is going over … when it’s time to do a move. So tell me: how did I miss the (now obvious) signs she was sending me?

I got a text from her, asking if I’d like to hang out after I was done for the night. A bite, or maybe a movie at home? I let her know how late I’d be getting out (around 1AM) but if she was still interested, sure.
I thought nothing of it. A friend wants to hang out a bit. Cool.
“Why don’t we meet at your apartment?” she suggested.
I thought nothing of it. My place is close to the Castle, so sure. Cool.
We met at my place and we drank some wine and watched part of ‘Chef’ and talked about … various topics. She touched my knee, my arm. She laughs easily and honestly. Her smile is almost always there, and genuine.
I thought nothing of it. This was pleasant. She’s interesting. Maybe I should ask her back to the Castle later this week, see if she’s interested in me. She’s really pretty and I really like her and maybe I have a chance of … romance? Cool?

Let me stop. Yeah. There’s a happy, affectionate, intelligent woman in my apartment at 2AM, and there because SHE asked ME … and I’m wondering if she MIGHT be interested in me enough to meet up later for a dinner date at work. How can I be SO bright and SO dim at the same time?

Finally, she recognized (thank God, who knows how long I might have remained oblivious) that I just wasn’t getting it, so she told me flat out. “Listen, I think you’re really beautiful, and I’ve been physically attracted to you for a really long time and … I’d like to stay the night, if you’d like that, too. Nothing has to happen, I’d just really like to keep talking and fall asleep together.”

I still came close to not understanding. My brain just didn’t process …
Look, for a few years I’ve been shown by several people I really cared about that I’m just not that physically attractive to them. Verbally, casually … and I get it. My girth does not lend itself to the typical Western social norm of ‘attractiveness’. Plus: I’ve been through some big storms, lately. Sex has been used against me as a weapon and as a punishment. I had completely convinced myself that … in a purely sexual sense, that that part of my life was over.

And she put her hand on my face and she looked into my eyes and I saw real desire. She wasn’t acting. More, she was leaning in to kiss me.
There was a spark I haven’t felt in a very long time, and we were kissing honestly, deeply … and I let myself relax into the moment. That also hasn’t happened in a very long time. She was warm and soft. I could smell her skin, and lightly, her cologne and a vague hint of whiskey. Her kiss tasted of wine and a sweetness I don’t have words for.

She stayed.

She stayed well into the next day, until she had to leave: her family was coming into town, and she had some prior commitments. I watched her ride away and wondered in my betraying brain if I’d ever see her again.

I busied myself about my week. The Castle rocked every night and I was in my element, taking the people on my magical 20 minute journeys. I had a giant of the industry compliment me publicly on how I handled a particularly tough crowd. (Read: drunk) I was loving every minute of it.

I had an extended day with my friend Lindsay, who is nearing her one year wedding anniversary and happier than I’ve seen her in awhile. Lots of conversation, lots of jokes back and forth, lots of catching up. We had dinner at the Castle (with a rainbow of Macarons for dessert!) and watched Murray Sawchuck’s show (dazzling, but I was disappointed he didn’t do his signature CD act) then off I went to work while L enjoyed the rest of the artists.

Wednesday I joined my friend Andrea Marie for food in Hollywood. We eased our way past the colorful people on Hollywood blvd and to our chosen restaurant … which was closed while they shot a show on the street it was on. Welcome to LA. We Ubered (it’s a verb, too) over to Toi and had a splendid Thai dinner among the sights. Seriously, check it out sometime. Again, stories of Faire (AM is a Rennie, too), catching up and an all around great evening. I could get used to this city, you know? Afterward we headed over to the Castle where she met up with some friends and I did my ‘job’.

My LA friends really have a way of bringing my joy to the surface, and I treasure them all.

And Monique, you ask?

We had ourselves a nice, though brief, romance. We talked. We shared. Talking on the phone, texting back and forth. We made plans for part of the weekend, and we hoped for more time together. As it turns out, because of Memorial day, I had an extra day on the apartment, and so we had our first actual date. (May 29th) I took her to 25 degrees for my traditional Orange Whip and truffle fries, then to the final night of the Hollywood Burlesque Festival. Lili had asked me to do a number in the final show, so here we were. My friends: Monique is an absolute delight. She understands my passion for my work and my humor. She literally spreads joy everywhere, and her laugh is never far away. Beautiful, sophisticated, yet not afraid to be vulnerable and honest with me. It was a great date.

For my act, Lili wanted ‘Bookends’ (the elf boot story) I wasn’t sure it was the proper thing to close a burlesque festival, but I trust Lili so of course, that’s what I did. My last act of magic in my whirlwind two weeks in Cali, and it went over huge. Laughter, tears, people’s hearts were moved, and the woman who was there with me was looking on with adoration.

We went back to my place for the final night, and talked into the wee hours, and loved, and held each other.
The next day we soberly said ‘Farewell’ and parted. There’s a whole country between us.

But we communicate every day. And when she knows I’m going through rough experiences, which of course I still am, she calls and gives me her time. She heals my hurts. She posts her affection for me publicly on her social media. She tells her friends about me. She makes art for and about me. She’s still interested, and I finally understood. We don’t (as the saying goes) ‘complete’ each other:

“Two beautiful, whole people. Two people who worship love and sow joy. Two complete people with beautiful scars that fit together … beautifully.”

We are making plans to be together soon, in North Carolina, so she can see Christopher’s hometown. Did I mention she likes Christopher a little better than Hannibal? Seriously. We aren’t labeled: For now we are simply taking it as it comes and patiently enjoying each other. As it should be.

My friends and fans have noticed that I’m happier than I’ve been in a long time. I’m wearing it proudly, and it’s easing the journey.

So, there you are. Renewal in three parts. My twelve days in California renewed my purpose, my heart, and my motivation.

I feel beautiful, again.

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May 11, 2017

Journal

Bit of a whirlwind, the past couple of weeks. The Monthly Monday Magic show pulled about 15 people. Strong audience, powerful feels, but I question my ability to draw people anymore. This wasn’t helped by the small crowd at Citylight the following Sunday. The people who came were awesome … but I’d certainly like to attract more.

Short travel to Greensboro to see Lexie in Peter Pan: she’s powerful and rules the stage, but doesn’t have the confidence in herself offstage, yet. She cannot see how she affects people. (Doesn’t that sound a bit familiar?) Toodles almost stole the show, he’s a natural. The following night was a corporate show in Durham, followed by dessert and a deep conversation/ confessional with Katie A. (which was more needed than I knew). I see some things from a better perspective. Time to leave Faire? I think so … I never want to dread working, and I know that bitterness wouldn’t be helpful at all to that atmosphere. It was a great run, and lots of laughter happened … I want to part on good terms and on the proverbial high note.

USO Warrior Reset – three great days in Jacksonville. I’m getting the groove better, feeling the message and relating to the group. I’m proud of my role, helping them connect with the USO team, and with each other. I want to reach out further than these boundaries.

Long time in the car over the past couple of weeks, lots of time to look at myself and what needs improving, where I want to go next, what kind of legacy I’m leaving in my wake, what does success really look like? I wonder if the help I’m giving really lasts.

Hollywood is upcoming, so I’m in rehearsals for that. Performance therapy … Eddie and Lili therapy … straight, hard talk and love on the west coast.

In my prayers I’m dealing with regret. I hope I’ve decisively broken some cycles … so people can heal and move on. Time will tell.

After the final day of USO I went over to Topsail, where i spent my summers as a boy. I collected some shells for an idea I had for a routine20170510_141906, then sat on the beach as the evening turned to twilight. The ocean was calm, and I studied the horizon, getting the nostalgia I’d left there when I was 12. The sea was bright green in the shallows, and rolling over to deep blue about thirty yards out. I reflected on the journeys I’ve been on in the four decades since I last sat there. Have i lived up to that boy’s dreams?

You know … I have. I’ve even exceeded what he imagined. I can be proud of this road. For the most part, I’m walking it well.

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The Guts of the Matter

“Deep inside, all folded up … where real magic happens? Is your signature and hers. Maybe.”

Me and my friends? We live to serve. We serve You, our audience. The artists, the performers, the show people. Dozens of different names and flavors.

We will perform sick and loaded up on medication. We will perform in pain, our backs hurting, our feet or knees screaming. I know personally that several of us have taken the stage with kidney stones in full press, barely able to stand upright just beyond the curtain, but full arrogance, pomp and swagger under the lights, smiles wide and voices booming for all we are worth. Even then, the little voice in the very back of our mind telling us: ‘You’re going to pay for this.’

We play with our hearts broken. We’ve taken the stage mere moments after a loved one has said something cruel, or even said goodbye. I got the call about one of my parents, fifteen minutes before curtain, and the house was full. I went on, and I delivered. I took it to the stage, and I left it there.

When asked to choose, I chose the art. Even though I lost almost everything else.

We go on and do our jobs. We strive to be better, to reach for excellence. (Not perfection. Perfection is a lie that is lethal to real art.) We were made such that we cannot do anything else and be true.

I do this for You.
I do this for Art.

Selfishly, the Truth is … I do it for me, more than anyone else.

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The Warrior, Part One

I am inspired by people who pour their heart and soul into their craft. Usually this kind of dedication comes from someone more seasoned in life, but my story today is about a truly passionate young lady who is only twelve years old.

She has lived her dream for most of her young life, overcoming obstacles and kicking past barriers. She has guts and determination … this warrior will change the world! Her name is Elena, and I’m going to let her Mom tell her story.

Elena Maree Sarmento

“I found out my (soon to be) baby girl was destined to be a “survivor” during my ultrasound at just 16 weeks pregnant, 1970469_303422263145432_216369535_nalthough I already suspected she was a girl, the technician had confirmed the news. What I also learned at this appointment was that she did not have two functioning kidneys developing as they should have been. They diagnosed her with severe (UPJ) stage IV Hydronephrosis in her left kidney. (http://urology.ucsf.edu/patient-care/children/Hydronephrosis) This is one of the most terrifying moments in a mother’s life. During any women’s pregnancy, regardless of religion, she prays only for her child to be born healthy. Elena was born November 28, 2001 after 22 hours of labor and less than a week after celebrating Thanksgiving. Just a few hours after arriving into this world Elena underwent a series of diagnostic tests and exams to check her kidney function and determine whether or not surgery would be immediate or if it could wait. Fortunately her surgeon opted for the less aggressive approach and decided to wait…for the next three years of her life, we waited…throughout numerous trips to the hospital, one infection and illness after another and an endless amount of medications, we battled on. Although she has always been just a tiny little thing, she is one tough kid. At just three years old, after over 8 ½ hours of surgery (pyeloplasty), she came out of anesthesia ready for battle (tearing out her IV & pulling on the stint sewn into her side) she looked straight into the nurse’s face and shouted, “I want to go home”. For the next two weeks, I remained in the hospital room by her side, learning how to care for her because the nurses couldn’t get close enough to my little warrior. After just a short week home, we ended up back in the hospital with a serious staff infection raging through her tiny little body. Two weeks later we were finally home and beginning the process of healing both the wounds from the surgery but also the emotional toll we went through. Just a short year later we were to see a new specialist, ENT Physician to determine what could possibly be causing Elena to have problems with sleeping, breathing and even swallowing at times. It turned out she required a tonsillectomy, adenoidectomy, & repair of a partial deviated septum, she was only four years old! Because of her previous and ongoing visits to the hospital and Dr. offices, my warrior developed what the medical world calls “White Coat Syndrome” and this is serious stuff. Taking your child to the doctor can be scary for any parent, but when you have a child that is normally a happy, strong-willed child turn into a creature you don’t recognize it is terrifying. I would watch my daughter become a scared, caged animal each and every time we had to see the doctor. It was devastating.

Once she started school a whole world of challenges presented themselves because no parent wants their child to be “different” or teased because of a health condition they have no control over. Living with kidney abnormalities caused her to have incontinence and she lacked the ability to “hold it” like other children could. I learned this the hard way after the first day of kindergarten resulted in tears because the teacher would not let her use the bathroom right when she needed to go. The next 6 years of elementary school began each year with a quick private meeting with her teacher, an explanation and a change of clothes being left in the office.

The warrior becomes a mighty soccer player at just 5 years old. She is one talented little athlete and plays soccer for the next four seasons. At 8 years old she decides she wants to try cheer-leading and the fire ignites in her heart, she has found her passion…we also find out during this same time that not only does she have kidney/ bladder abnormalities (left over from surgery) but she has developed further complications as a result of the antibiotics and other heavy medications she had to take during the majority of her life until now. Another round of testing and visits to the doctor cause more emotional strain on the entire family. We are so concerned about not only her health physically but also her emotional well-being. No child wants to be teased or have the peers around them know they suffer from an illness like this.

Her ailments are obstacles that my warrior will continue to battle for the rest of her life, yet to the outside eye you see a strong willed, very athletic and courageous girl who fights for the things and people she loves with more heart than most people I know. She is strong and mighty and doesn’t allow anyone or anything to stand in the way of reaching her dreams.

She has broken bones (performing a Nationals Champion Competition with a fractured wrist), suffered a concussion and never lets any injury sway her determination to get back to what she loves.”

 

If only we could capture that spirit and share it with the world.

Elena: You are my hero!

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