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Archive for January, 2013

Finding Nemo-Finding my Flow

It’s been a difficult emotional week.

Yah see, I have this deep fear of confrontation and there was one coming up.  Two highly creative and opinionated people are going to have some issues when they chose to work together.

I decided to avoid it altogether for a bit and write a Post here.

What to write? What to write? What to write?

What deep truth or life lesson can I find in one of my favorite pieces of art.

I kept thinking about Finding Nemo.

“So” I say to myself.  “What’s the truth about Nemo”. Fish goes looking for a fish with another fish.  I was thinking about tarter sauce.

Then it hit me.  It’s about fear.  Why does my subconscious keep trying to tell me stuff?

Marlin is afraid.  Of course he is; his whole family’s been murdered except Nemo.

Here’s what Nemo taught me.

1) THERE’S VERY LITTLE FEAR WHEN YOU’RE LIVING IN THE MOMENT.  Why do so many people LOVE Dory? It goes way beyond “she makes me laugh…especially when she’s speaking whale” People LOVE her…so do I.  It’s because she’s the most “in the moment” character ever created.  She has no past and no future, she only has now and she’s blissfully happy and happily blissful. She can be in the mouth of a whale and have a wonderful time, because it’s a great ride.  There’s very little to be afraid of in the present moment.  I was tying myself up in knots and losing sleep about something that had not happened yet.  I read Eckhart Tolle’s book A New Earth years ago but I don’t think I really understood it until I looked at Dory.

2) YOU’VE GOT TO GO WITH THE FLOW DUDE.  Crush, the Turtle, knows his Zen.  I don’t know if the oposite of fear is bravery or not, but I think the antidote is trust.  Stop fighting so much (I am speaking to myself here – I know you’ve got it all together on this one).  No one ever became great, or successful, or peaceful fighting against the flow. When you’re in the flow, things move easily, you’re working with your strengths and not your weaknesses, you’re trusting your instincts your intuition and your inner wisdom.

Here’s what I did with what I learned.


Not until I could relax and see things as they were…not as they might be.  I realized that I’m NOT good at confrontation; I am good at connecting, it’s authentic for me. I rejected all the hard, self protective and defensive e-mails I had composed in my head and I wrote an honest, simple, supportive note to my friend.  She responded with an honest, simple, loving note back.  We’re meeting tonight to work together.

There are times when we need to make a stand.  There are fights we need to fight. If we fight when we don’t need to, we can miss the important fights and even if we don’t, we’re exhausted by the time we do face them.

A Challenge To Change

This blog doesn’t say anything about art or animation, but it’s my blog and I’m keeping it loose . . . that’s just how I roll.

I took up a challenge at the beginning of the week.  My friend Arlene Moshe; a dietician, inspirational blogger and awesome person; set up a three day fitness/health challenge.  It was called “How to break the cycle of not following through . . . this is a bit of a problem area for me, so I signed up.


I got an e-mail with a HUGE list of simple small tasks that could make my health and fitness better.  I gulped down my feeling of being overwhelmed and then read the whole e-mail.  I had to choose one.  ONE.  ONLY ONE!!!!   Make one small change.  The pressure came off and for three days I packed some healthy snacks and ate them between classes (and sometimes in front of classes – nothing like modeling a healthy lifestyle for the youngins).    I’ve had healthy snacks now for a week and on Monday (tomorrow) I’m going to add some gentle, easy, simple morning exercise.

Arlene’s smart.

The part of her challenge that I loved the most (seriously, check it out) is the difference she makes between the words “should” “could” “would” and “WILL”.

There are a lot of things I should do…there’s not enough room in this blog for that list.

There are a lot of things I could do…that usually gets followed by “if” I could do _____ if.  So far, that didn’t work out for me.

Don’t even get me started on would.  I would do a lot of things if (this usually ends with blaming someone else).

Last week I took a hard solid look at what I WILL do . . . and I did it.

I tell my students that stretching too far or too fast is a good way to hurt yourself.  I ate my broccoli, almonds and yogurt and . . . am down a pound.  Weight loss wasn’t the goal, but I’m feeling a lot better, it might be the broccoli, but I think it’s about celebrating a small victory.

Breakin’ out with my favourite Ogre

Story telling (animated or otherwise) depends on character arcs.  We’re all on some kind of journey; life is never static (even when we want it to be).  The character arcs we are most drawn to are the ones we need to learn from to help us on our own journeys.

My favourite is Shrek.  I’ll tell you why at the end, but you’ll probably figure it out before then.

Shrek starts his journey as a loner, he’s built some pretty serious walls around himself to keep everyone out . . . quite frankly, from the way the locals treat him, I don’t blame him.  People can be so freakin’ mean sometimes it seems that life would be better without the whole nasty stinkin’ lot of them.

He finishes surrounded by community, married and singing some rather rockin’ karaoke.

It didn’t happen by magic.  He took some very definite steps.  He had his trip forced on him, we don’t have to.  We can make decisions and take action that will take us to real friendships and love before the fairy tale creatures invade our swamps.

Sooooooooooo what did he do and more importantly, what can we do?

He accepted a deeply flawed, irritating, friend – who didn’t judge him.  Let’s face it, Donkey’s irritating, he has no concept of personal boundaries, or social norms and he doesn’t have a clue when he’s not wanted…but he’s a friend.   If you’re looking for a perfect friend/partner/spouse, you’re going to be very lonely.  There’s a difference between dangerous toxic people and people who can drive us crazy at times.  One of them needs to be avoided at all costs, one of them is . . . human (or a Donkey in Shrek’s case).  Some brilliant voice work here by Eddie Murphy By The Way.

He leaves his comfort zone.  Shrek doesn’t go willingly, he’s forced out, but he goes.  He moves into places that are uncomfortable, places he’s avoided in the past.  Do I have to explain this one? Nothing changes if nothing changes.  We can’t grow if we keep doing the same things we’ve been doing all along.  Albert Einstein defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.  Get out of your comfort zone.

He wins.  He lands in Duloc just in time for a tournament and he wins (with the help of his irritating friend).  We all have something we’re good at.  Often it’s something we dismiss because it’s so easy . . . for us.  Even small successes will yield amazing results to our self-esteem if we don’t totally dismiss them.

His journey continues and includes some really important points that I’ll come back to at some point, but I want to keep the Blogs short.

Accept people for the deeply and beautifully flawed individuals that they are, while you’re at it accept yourself for the same reasons.

Get out of your comfort zone.

Celebrate small successes.

I grew up feeling deeply alone.  I had very few social skills and suffered from a magical combination of pretention and low self-esteem.  I convinced myself I was happier alone and put a LOT of effort into proving I was right.  It’s taken decades to learn what Shrek learned.  I wish I’d learned it earlier.  I wish for you a whole community of irritating, loving friends . . . are there any other kind?

Making it real with Shrek

One of the techniques actors generally use (though not all of us) is to create character histories.  Generally there simply aren’t enough real facts about a character to make them real when all we have to work with is the script (or in the case of animation, the script, storyboards and soundtrack).  When we build character histories, our characters come to life, they become a little more real.

One of my favorite characters of all time is Shrek.  When we look at the facts we’re given we find a very two-dimensional character.  For over two decades I’ve been asking students what the “Facts” are about Shrek.  The list is always similar.  This is a story about a isolationist Scottish* Ogre who thinks he’s an onion.  This is NOT a character, it’s a REALLY rough sketch, we have to flesh him out or no one’s going to relate.  There’s no “right” answer, but two of my favorite histories to come out of classes are these:

SHREK HISTORY VERSION 1: As a teenager, he was driven out of Scotland by his fellow ogres who hated him because he was too soft.  He comes to this mythical place where he’s heard everyone is nicer.  They take one look at him and hate him because of the assumptions they make.  He moves to the swamp and tells himself he’s happy there – – – truth is, he’s a lot happier alone than he is being with people who hate him.  As an adolescent, he notices one of the girls in town, the mean girls pick on her and she’s a bit of a social outcast.  He wishes he were brave enough to say something, but he doesn’t.  One day the mean girls in town drag the poor girl out to the swamp, knock on Shrek’s door and leave her there in the mud.  He goes to help her and she FREAKS OUT.  Runs to the mean girls and tells them how awful it was.   They hurl obscenities and rocks at him.  Then she tells her father that “The Ogre tried to touch me.”  Out come the pitchforks and the torches and they try to kill him.  Suddenly, with a bit of imagination, Shrek stops being two-dimensional.  He becomes a person we can relate to.  Seriously, is there anyone out there who hasn’t thought at some point that the world was just too fricken mean and wanted to shut them all out?

SHREK HISTORY VERSION 2: Young Shrek lives in Scotland where he’s totally in love with a very cute Ogress.  One day the entire village is celebrating a great victory.  There’s going to be a huge banquet and fireworks.  Shrek and his main squeeze sneak off to a convenient barn (which happens to be where the fireworks are stored) to get some Ogre love action.  The hilt of his sword sparks on a stone and the entire town, including his honey, is wiped out . . . and it’s his fault.  Now he lives far from Scotland and refuses to have anything to do with friendships or love…everyone he gets close to dies.

Neither history is “right” Shrek is fictional (sorry, you had to hear it eventually).  The object is to create a character who is “real”, to find the humanity in our characters.

In our world, we have a tendency to judge, to look at the surface and decide what’s inside.  Most, if not all, of us work to not judge on issues like race, gender, sexuality etc. but do we make assumptions based on things like posture, grammar, clothing . . . etc.?   When we do that, we turn people into two-dimensional characters. We stop seeing them as real people with real lives.  Do we ever do the same thing to ourselves?

Everyone has a story**, we may not have access to their stories, many people are private about there lives, but when we realize that everyone around us has lived through hard times and great times, failures and successes, our own lives become richer.

I think in the end, we’re all onions . . . just like Shrek.

Check out my next Blog – we’re going to look at how Shrek changed his life in some pretty coolio ways . . . and how we can learn from him.

*Scottish heritage courtesy of Mike Myers 🙂

**A former student of mine says he now uses this as his principle pick up line.  “What’s your story?  Everyone has one.”  He says he gets to know a lot of really great girls this way.  😉

STATUS pt 2 -Sparking a Dream

Yesterday I was Blogging about Status and being true to your authentic status.  Great leaders come in high status individuals (Martin Luther King Jr.) or low status (Gandhi).  http://animatingyourlife.com/2013/01/21/status-part-i/

What about times when a higher status character intentionally lowers her status to move into a supporting role.  Here comes one of my favorite moments in history.

Of the many brilliant and inspiring things Martin Luther King Jr. said, the most famous and stirring may have been his “I have a dream” speech on August 28th 1963.  His original intention was to speak about how America had defaulted on her promises to people of color.  He spoke brilliantly and with great energy (very high status).  Then he finishes and starts to sit down.

From the crowd his friend and coworker Mahalia Jackson shouts to him “Tell them about the dream, Martin!” He looks up from his notes, this is a speech he’s given before, it’s not quite ready for an event this important.  He starts to speak about his dream….and changes history.

Mahalia Jackson was the greatest gospel singer of her age; possibly the greatest of all time.  She was without question a high status individual commanding audiences with passion and energy.  She sang earlier in the event and the pressure is now off; she gave up the stage and the status and moved to a lower status support position. With the pressure off, she could see (or feel) that the world needed a different message and she spoke aloud what she knew to be true.

Millions of people were encouraged and uplifted by King’s dream that day.  Hundreds of thousands had tuned in to hear what this “upstart” had to say for himself and were changed as a result of the dream they heard.  They heard about the dream because a high status person choose to move to a supporting role and did it with utter integrity and strength.

When we are in leadership positions, can we be humble and open enough to hear the voices of wisdom that come from our supporters, when we are following, can we be open enough to truly support and brave enough to speak up.

“Tell them about the dream Martin!”

STATUS pt I – leading from authenticity

In my acting classes this week we’re talking about status.  For an actor, status isn’t about the social or economic hierarchy; it’s about who’s in charge, who’s calling the shots and who’s wearing the bossy pants.  Actors are encouraged to find the status battles in their scenes, most characters will at some point fight for status, unless of course you’re a Hobbit who just wants to be left alone, then you’re fighting against status.

Every character has a level of status where they are comfortable – so does every person.  Some of us are leaders; some of us support great leaders.  The secret in life is to know where your real status lies and live authentically there.  This is not a limiting idea.  Don’t think for a minute that lower status characters are the drudges or losers of our world.  Some of my greatest heroes are low status individuals.

Take for example, two of my greatest heroes: Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi.  Here are two men with a very similar message, but with very different levels of energy, or status.  Both were astoundingly focused and true to their authentic selves. Can you imagine Gandhi with a blow horn, shouting out his message of equality and justice?  Can you see King working patiently, gently and quietly for years on end?  King certainly had his gentle side, and Gandhi had NO problems speaking his mind, but they were both strongest and had the greatest impact on our world when they moved with the status level that was most authentic to them.

Status is neither a good nor a bad thing, finding the energy level that works for you, finding your true voice is a VERY good thing.

Check out my next blog when I look at the stunning things that can happen when a high status individual chooses to take on a supporting role.  http://animatingyourlife.com/2013/01/22/status-pt-2-sparking-a-dream/

Love and Romance in Agrabah

Let’s look at Disney’s Aladdin and see what we can learn.

Shortly after Aladdin and Jasmine meet in the market he takes her to his home on the rooftops.  It’s pretty clear to anyone paying attention that they’re falling in love.  There’s lots of eye contact, some “accidental” sexual contact (seriously, her bare cheek is on his naked chest at one point) and some pole-vaulting between buildings, a pretty normal teen romance. Bring on the violins and the cheesy love songs they’re in love.

BUT wait a sec.  They don’t know each other.  Here’s a great example of what I was talking about in my last post.  Just why are they falling for each other?  What does her subconscious mind see in him?  What does she represent to him?

Here’s what I think . . . because I know you want to know what I think.

Jasmine’s a young woman who needs freedom.  She lives in a prison, it’s a very nice prison, but she has to break out to go for a stroll around town.  She needs to be free.  It’s not just the palace that keeps her imprisoned, she lives an utterly ridged life: follows the rules, afraid to think for herself, she needs freedom.  He lives by himself, steals for a living and makes up his own rules, how could she not fall for him?  It doesn’t hurt that he looks pretty hot without a shirt on.

Aladdin’s a young man who is a diamond in the rough.  He lacks focus, drive, direction.  He doesn’t have a clue what he wants past his next meal.  His subconscious mind (much smarter than our conscious mind) sees a woman who knows what she wants and has gone to some lengths to get it, she’s focused and strong.  He doesn’t know she’s a princess yet, but have you seen her posture and her walk cycle?  Oh and she’s got pretty awesome eyes that you could get lost in for days.

Over the course of the film, they get to know each other and something like the beginnings of real love start to grow, but here on Aladdin’s rooftop, they’re being sucked in by their subconscious projections . . . and the crazy pole-vaulting.

I Want to be really clear here, I want you to fall crazy in love every once in a while (BRING IT ON – I WANT IT TOO) I just want you to know what’s really going on when it happens.

For a little more on the egghead Psych stuff around love and romance check out


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