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necessary whispers

observe. connect. make new.

Month

July 2015

The Price Chopper Girl.

QT Price Chopper

I have been an on-air spokesperson for a regional grocery store chain for the past 8 years. Often, people ask how I acquired this role. The story is rather simple, actually: my agent in Kansas City made me aware that the audition was taking place, they sent me five paragraphs of copy (the scripts for five separate commercials), I memorized and prepared the copy, and a few days later I went to the audition at a local casting studio. After the initial audition there was a callback, then one more. At the end of it all, I got the part! I really had no idea what the role would turn into—I assumed I would do one round of five commercials and then be on my way to the next audition. Instead, I became a spokesperson. My contract for exclusivity with the company came a couple years later. Since then, my on-camera and voice career has included only one gig: being the Price Chopper girl. This role has included commercials, voiceovers, print work for newspapers and on the sides of 18 wheeler trucks, introducing acts such as the Harlem Globetrotters and Sesame Street live at the Sprint Center and, mostly, happily greeting people in public.

There are basically two main grocery store chains in this region: Price Chopper and HyVee. The former is not widely known outside the Midwest, while the latter has stores spread beyond the borders of Missouri, Kansas and Iowa. The fact that there are only two main grocery store chains in this region means the competition between the two is apparent. Thus, the commercials in which I am featured have been heavily played on all the local network stations for the past 7 years. The mere nature of the advertising beast means that my face and voice are easily recognizable. Especially when I go into the city—I technically live out in the country—I am often asked, “Excuse me, are you the Price Chopper girl?” Or, “Hm. How do I know you?” And one more, “Hey! You’re on TV! Jane, come here, I am meeting someone famous!” A few times I have been asked to pose in photos. A few times I have been invited to birthdays and backyard parties. A few times I have been asked to sign things. To be honest with you, I am not famous enough to ever mind any of these requests. Instead, I am of marginal fame in my region and I am, therefore, inspired to giggles and frivolity any time I am recognized. Ain’t nobody got time for pride in a business that can wash waves of feast or famine across your resume at any given moment. Fickle as this business is, I realize that I am nothing but blessed to have a long-running commercial job that I enjoy and it is fun to be recognized as a friendly personality.

Truth be told, I was never interested in pursuing the commercial industry. I attended Regent University, which is a school well-equipped in both the areas of faculty and facilities to teach the craft well. My MFA is in Acting and Directing for Theatre: in my mind the emphasis was always on the word “Theatre.” Alas, I was the only member of my 12-person MFA class who often announced that I did not care about TV, commercials or film. I only wanted to be in the the-a-tah. And I said it that way because that’s what theatre snobs in grad school do. Perhaps, I meant it. Perhaps, I was a little fearful that I wouldn’t be able to break into acting for the camera and shaped my career goals around the mold of my own fear . . .

There were two things that opened my mind to the possibility of auditioning for a commercial agent upon graduating: the first was an acting professor that joined the Regent faculty during my final semester, Mark Paladini. The second was an assignment given to me by Mr. Paladini, whom I will further refer to as Mark.

Mark taught me everything I know about camera acting. Namely, there are three specific lessons he taught me that I would say are solely responsible for any success I have had on the audition floor: buttons, positives-to-negatives and commercial style. (If you have any questions about any of these elements, please feel free to ask me. I share this wisdom freely as it was given to me). During my one semester under Mark’s tutelage, and alongside my fellow students, I began to see what makes a successful on-camera actor.

The assignment Mark asked us to complete that consequently began to change my career goals was to write a set of camera-related objectives for ourselves. Basically, he asked us to visualize the goals we wanted to have accomplished in our career 1 year after graduation, 2 years, 5 years, etc. I have to admit, I was extremely annoyed with the assignment. My inner monologue went something like this, “I have no idea where I will be living in one year from now, how the heck am I supposed to foresee what I will be doing in this unknown place? This feels like busy work. Now, let me go practice a monologue or sing to myself in the the-a-tah!” Looking back, I don’t think I liked this assignment because I was not fond of uncertainty. I didn’t like investing in dreams I wasn’t sure I could attain and I didn’t want to be disappointing: to myself, my colleagues, my family . . . anyone really.

Once I finally committed to contemplating Mark’s assignment I realized some things about myself: first, I was a little bit of a coward. I played my goals safe and I recognized the pattern as I continued to press into the honesty of what I truly desired in my career. The second thing I learned was that I was a little bit courageous. Whispering into my consternation was a voice that told me, “You can do this. Just don’t shrink back, set a goal and do the goal.” Eventually, after wrestling with my own hesitation, I wrote down:

“One year: have acted in one commercials.

Two years: have acted in three commercials.

Five years: have acted in five commercials.”

I immediately regretted writing these goals because I wondered whether I was setting myself up for failure in the mere penning of such words.

In a grand plan of God’s leading and through the day-to-day grind of auditioning, being disappointed and auditioning, again, I ended up acting in 22 commercials the first year I graduated from graduate school. My average significantly dropped off the following year because I was signed as the spokesperson for Price Chopper, thus, I was no longer permitted to audition for any other on-air work that would play in this region: they wanted to own my face and voice and I wanted to be owned. It worked out well for both parties.

As I look back to the year of acting before I auditioned for Price Chopper I am keenly aware that every job I did was further preparing me for the next job. I was learning technique, etiquette, poise, acting styles, patience and some really practical lessons such as, don’t eat too many snacks provided at the Craft Services table and negotiate for the comfortable shoes with the woman in charge of wardrobe. In summary, work breeds work.

Allow me to ask you a question . . . don’t overthink your answer . . . what is the one thing you want to be doing right now but are not even pursuing due to fear? Whatever that one thing is, I encourage you to set a goal for yourself. Make it specific! “In one year I will have done this [insert goal related to the one thing].” Then, tell someone who cares about you that you have set this goal. Next, activate. Spend at least 10 minutes a day activating some task or process of thought that will lead you to your goal.

My last piece of advice for the day . . . wait for it . . . “Never pay full price on gas, again!”

–Jill Szoo Wilson

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Stereotypes.

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There is a woman named Chimamanda Adichie who speaks on the topic of stereotypes. She has a TED talk called, The Danger of a Single Story. Her thesis is basically that the danger of stereotypes is not that they are untrue but that they are incomplete.

When I teach Public Speaking I share Adichie’s filmed speech with my classes and ask them to consider the topic of stereotypes. Adichie explains that we often believe “single stories” about other people based on our limited experience and/or knowledge of the category to which we relegate them in our minds. For example, a teenage boy, a black man, a lesbian, a homeless person: all of these profiles conjure not only images in our minds but we are also likely to assign some elements of character to the individuals themselves.

Single stories can also be based on a person’s choices: a pregnant teenage girl, an ex-convict, the man who cheated on his wife, the woman struggling with alcoholism. We see the actions of another person, and assign to him or her, an entire inner life, thus failing to see their true qualities, characteristics and lifetime of varying actions.

In my classes, I ask students to identify what they believe other people have labelled as their single story. Once they identify the way in which they believe they have been perceived and labeled, I ask them to write a paper about why the single story that has been assigned to them by others is false, or at least incomplete. Once their papers are written, I ask for volunteers to share the “other side” of their single stories.

I give this assignment in the beginning of the semester because I feel it creates an awareness of both self and others. In a class that thrives only in the midst of trust, it is important that the students learn to trust the people around them with something that makes them feel vulnerable. Something real: something that allows each student to truly be seen. It is my role to protect their hearts during this assignment by encouraging, rewarding courage and monitoring (not controlling) the reactions of other students to those who are sharing.

What I have learned from watching my students complete this assignment is that they are keenly aware of the stereotypes into which they have been pigeonholed and they are burdened with a feeling of hopelessness in being able to release themselves from these perceived classifications. They want to express themselves as the whole people they are. In other words, they feel stifled by the single stories assigned to them and, conversely, most students feel a freedom when they can identify their single story, confront it and verbalize why this single story is creating a false narrative in their daily lives. When a student can identify the false narrative, the narrative no longer has the power to “be” their identity.

I have also found that the students who are able to free themselves from believing the lies about themselves, and when they stopped telling themselves lies about their own abilities, experiences and identity, they begin to see others differently. They begin to identify their own attitudes and moments of stereotyping and, instead of trusting in quick judgments of others, they learn to ask questions.

Because this assignment helps students trust their classmates, their speeches become more in-depth, they choose their topics with bravery and they speak with more confidence. What’s more important: they begin to consider the idea of extending grace to others, even without knowing “the whole story.”

As I scroll through my Facebook news feed lately, I see a lot of judgment. I see people trying to define their own sense of self worth by quickly shutting down thoughts that are contrary to their own. It is like the old arcade game, “Whack-a-Mole”: the more people you can control by shutting them up or making them feel less than yourself, the more points you get. The points transfer into a sense of self-worth and self-aggrandizement.

Or do they?

Perhaps the more Moles you whack on your way to higher self worth the lonelier you become once the game is over. Are we to gain our worth from being right? Or, more accurately, are we to gain our worth from showing how much better we are than other people because they are wrong and maybe even kind of stupid? What kind of game are we playing? It seems to me it is a game of trying to establish our own importance amidst a sea of voices that is as deep as it is wide. What is our culture becoming when instead of throwing out life lines, we kick the heads of those trying to reach the surface, hoping that they drown: one less set of lungs, more oxygen for me. Are we now a world of pirates?

I will admit, I do believe some stereotypes and I think you probably do, too.

For example, if you happen to support abortion as a woman’s right to choose, I assume that you also are outraged by the death of an innocent lion, you are probably a Democrat and you probably had a party when Same Sex Marriage was turned into law.

Another example, if you support Donald Trump’s ability to speak his mind freely because he is an American, I assume you are also outraged by basically everything Obama has done in the last 7 years, you are probably a Republican and you probably think Michael Brown was shot because he was being aggressive toward a police officer.

Here is my point: stereotypes are dangerous not because they are not true but because they are incomplete. So, we can become aware of the stereotypes we believe and still make a conscious choice to make the effort to see other individuals as individuals. To treat them with respect, ask questions and then extend a grace that makes room for differences: grace that connects instead of dividing.

I have an assignment for you. If you have read this far you are not allowed to now stop and choose to avoid the assignment. You’re in it now and you will be graded (mwa-hahaha!). Your assignment is this:

In one paragraph, identify a single story that has become the lens through which others see you. Then, write a second paragraph stating why that single story is not complete, or maybe even untrue.

In a third paragraph, tell the truth about yourself in this area.

Then, think of someone you have chained within a single story; be honest with him/her about your perception and then ask 2 or 3 pointed questions that will help you understand their broader story.

Class dismissed.

Here is the link to Adichie’s Tedtalk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D9Ihs241zeg

–Jill Szoo Wilson

Ravenous Needs.

lighthouse

Every person has three God-given inner needs: for significance, security and love. If one or more of these needs is going unmet, the void left can conjure feelings anywhere from discomfort to pain to loneliness to despair . . . I suppose the list of ways in which we each react to not having our inner needs met is as varied as the people you see walking down the streets around you everyday.

Sometimes, in our effort to fill the emptiness we quickly hurl our hands out in every direction, hoping for someone or something to come along side us to soothe our pain. We strive and flap our wings and by the end of the day we are panting and disheartened.

This sonnet is about the danger of those moments when you want to hastily fill your own needs in your own way, instead of walking through difficult seasons with circumspection, patience and a prevailing hope that you are, indeed, on this earth for a reason. Remember: as long as you can blow breath into the palm of your hand, you still have a purpose.

Ravenous Needs.

Beware the seeping search significance holds

Illumined by imagination

To forge with fiery steel ‘gainst burdened molds

Created inside expectation.

Each calculation of the heart demands

A reckoning of purpose stirred in breath,

Security of body, mind and plans,

The constancy of love untouched by death.

If any need be cavernously black

The soul of man might lift his vacuum wand

To twist the air and hearts and rack

Each counterfeit to press’ed makeshift con.

A thing of truth cannot be got in false.

Attune thy will not to a dirge but to His waltz.

–Jill Szoo Wilson

Anger.

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Anger.

There is a little boy who lives next door to me. He is 3-years-old and while his speech is, perhaps, a little better at this mid-point of summer than it was at the beginning, he is not as far along as he should be. His parents are aware of this delay and will get him help when the school year begins. They care deeply for their son and his progress. I will call the little boy Joshua.

A few times, Joshua and his sister have come to my house for playtime. While both Joshua and his sister are highly intelligent, his sister is currently the sibling among them who can clearly and quickly communicate her needs and desires. She is 4-years-old and extremely, delightfully, verbal. Thus, there are times when Joshua wishes to be heard and if he feels he is not being heard through the obstacles of his sister’s vivacious communication and his own inability to tell me what he wants or needs, he becomes quickly angry.

For example, one afternoon he wanted me to change the channel so we could watch a different cartoon while the three of us were coloring together. I had just switched the channel from Doc McStuffins to Dora the Explorer and when I was scrolling through our options, he saw a different program he wished for me to choose, Bubble Guppies.   First, he stated his request calmly and I could not understand him. I asked him to repeat his wish. Second, he repeated it, this time more loudly but no more intelligibly. Third, I asked his sister to help me understand his request. Joshua repeated himself and while his sister can usually decode his desires to me, this time she was also stumped. Fourth, Joshua began to scream, he threw his crayons to the ground, hit the paper on which he had been coloring and then pointed at the television, his eyes blurry with tears. It was not until I observed his nonverbal cue of pointing that I understood that Joshua was displeased with the show upon which I landed. Finally, I quietly spoke through his screams and tears and asked, “Joshua, I think you would like for me to change the channel. Is there a different cartoon you would like to watch instead of this one?” He nodded his head and, together, we all found the desired prize, thus restoring peace to Joshua’s emotions and the general environment in the room.

In considering Joshua’s reaction of anger in this moment, I learned something about anger. As an intelligent and practical psychologist named June Hunt describes, anger is a secondary emotion. It is secondary to the emotions of hurt, fear, frustration and/or injustice. Anger is like the light coming on the dashboard of a car that alerts the driver there is something wrong under the hood. In Joshua’s case—the case of the skipped-over Bubble Guppy—frustration built quickly into anger and, because he is only 3-years-old, anger built quickly into a loud cacophony of sound. In this moment, as the adult in the situation who knows how to close the gap between cognitive dissonance and restored balance, I was able to calmly focus on Joshua’s cries for help and, eventually, to hear his request. This does not make me a better human being than Joshua, it only means that I have the communication tools and experience that come with age, as well as the ability to oversee such a situation. Joshua, however, was stuck in a moment, as Bono once sang, and he couldn’t get out of it until his need was met.

Does this remind anyone else of our relationships to God? In our limited perspective we can often cry out in short bursts of anger, or in long drawn-out dirges of waning hope and despair, for that one thing we desperately desire—a desire we are just positive God is either not aware of or does not care about. “But He should be!” we cry. We lash out at others in anger, or even turn our anger inward in bouts of self-deprecation, loss of hope and we look at ourselves in the mirror with squinty eyes and steely gazes. We roll around in the anger produced by the distance between desire and resolution and this anger, like the light on the dashboard of our hearts, begins to grow brighter, thus blinding us and those around us.

Because we are not 3-year-olds, like Joshua, it would be socially unsavory for us to scream and throw things (though some do resort to such behavior). Instead, we manifest our anger in other, adult ways . . .

What if there is another way?

I suggest to you that in moments of anger we can ask ourselves, “What is behind my anger? Is it hurt, fear, frustration and/or injustice?” If we spend a few moments allowing our minds to educate our emotions, we can arm ourselves with a deeper understanding of our reactions and, thus, anger loses its power and becomes helpful, instead.

Personally, I have recently come through a season of anger. I had been touchy, easily annoyed, short-tempered and uncharacteristically introverted. I could feel my anger and I always regretted when I allowed it to be seen so I, in turn, isolated myself so as not to allow my anger to be seen. It was not until I went to visit with my sister in Oregon, and through some conversations I had with her, that I finally realized why I was so angry: I was frustrated. Just like Joshua but for age-appropriate reasons.

I was frustrated for several reasons—that I will name in a different blog—and I did what any normal person does when she allows her anger to go uninspected: I became more internally agitated, depressed and then I allowed a quiet anger to build toward God. Instead of yelling, screaming, throwing my crayons and pointing at the things I wanted, I pouted, crossed my arms and grew silent (perhaps the female equivalent to Joshua’s male reaction). But again, my “anger” toward God was only a signal to something deeper . . . I felt hurt, fearful, frustrated and I felt that He was forgetting about me. It was not until I went to God, told Him the truth about my frustrations, pointed my finger at the things that were hurting me and then made a decision to once again trust Him that my anger subsided.

Consider, again, Joshua. What if he did not even have the ability to communicate through his anger? What if he had no voice; or the ability to point and throw things? His frustration could have sunk into isolation and that inability to communicate could possibly turn into depression.

Consider those around you: we never know the battle someone else is fighting. What if the people we have labeled angry or impolite or rough around the edges are stuck in a moment—even a moment from their own childhood—and they need someone else to react not to their anger but to see their sense of hurt, fear, frustration and/or the injustice?

I do not advocate that anyone allow another person to treat him/her badly, no matter what the reason. This is not a call for you to allow yourself to be abused by another person’s out-of-control emotions.  It is, however, a call to lean into your ability to see through the crayons being thrown to the ground by a person within your own sphere of influence and to quietly choose to treat them with grace, kindness and patience remembering that you may never know the depth of their story.

–Jill Szoo Wilson

Ghosts.

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Many of you know that I have spent nearly three years writing a play based on the life and ideas of Eva Mozes Kor. Eva is a forgiveness advocate who survived the blackness and requiem of the Holocaust in Auschwitz when she was 10-years-old. The play, Throwing Stones, weaves in and out of the lives of perpetrators and victims, dipping into darkness and climbing into light. This blog entry is not about the play itself. It is about my struggle to let go of the play and finding a new relationship with the piece itself.

Stepping into the world of Auschwitz, both literally and through the ushering of survivors’ first-hand memories, as well as through books, documentaries and any number of Holocaust scholars I have met along the way, has been like walking through a haunted house. Please allow the metaphor to do its full work in your imagination: haunted houses can either be dark, lonely places weighted with cobwebs, dust and the occasional flickering light or they can look like any ordinary well-kept home filled with sunshine and the scent of freshly brewed coffee. The latter of the two is—in my mind—more terrifying. The normal places that look bright but feel heavy. Think more Poltergeist than The Haunted Mansion. Walking through the remnants of the Holocaust has been like walking through an average looking home on an average day and being slowly bound by invisible chains from ghosts hiding under tightly made beds, hiding in closets full of clothes and grabbing my wrists from inside stocked refrigerators. The ghosts of the past have lived with me for nearly three years.

There have also been ghosts from my own past, whose stories are also in the play, who have set up invisible tents in my living room and in the backseat of my car. I have allowed myself to face them, talk to them through dialogue on the page, to make the connections between their faces, words and actions in the past and my own face, words and actions in the present. Their names have been filling the cavernous parts of my mind and spilling through my fingers. Names I would have preferred to forget in the first place. Faces I would have preferred only to see in the light of day have been winking at me in the darkness of memories I would rather consign to disregard. I have allowed them to haunt my space for nearly three years for the purpose of gathering all the details I could and sharing those details in the context of forgiveness.

Now, the play has been written. It began as a one-woman show in which I was to play 7 men and 8 women. After the first read in front of a director we decided that the play needed more voices. So, Throwing Stones became a 4-person play. That sentence makes it look so easy! As though the play simply morphed itself into a new version of its former self. The truth is that the play is on its 21st and almost-final version. I share this statistic with you not to amaze you but to add a weight to the scale of how much space these stories have been given in my daily life. And now, the play has been written. And now, I can let it go.

And now, I can let it go. But how?

Since realizing the play is “finished,” as finished as any work of Theatre can be “finished,” I have struggled through several weeks of depression. It was difficult for me to understand why I was feeling so low, so lost. I could not understand why I did not feel the will to celebrate the completion of the work. Instead, my house was still haunted and I realized that these ghosts had been floating about my house with a purpose, attached to my fingertips like ceramic horses are attached to the center pole of a merry-go-round. For nearly three years I scowled at them, tried to look the other way, I rode atop of them, I smashed them and cried with them. All the while, they spun around me.

And now I can let them go.

Through the help of a brilliant mind, I realized that sitting with the pain of these stories held a purpose. Sitting in the center of the merry-go-round, exhausting the view of each horse from every angle was courageous. I do not mark myself with this word, “courageous” as an act of pride. Instead, I mark myself with this word in an act of low-bowing humility before God. He gave me the strength, the time, the purpose and the will to call each ghost to attention and to march them through the pages of my play like a reluctant army of rebel soldiers fighting a war against hate, bitterness and unforgiveness. And now I can celebrate the courage.

This courage is the same brand of courage with which I must now trust that the play is in the right hands. I can now tether the boney fingers of each ghost to the pages of the script, contained not in a coffin, which seals in death, but in a living story that will be told for generations to come. A story of forgiveness, letting go, finding freedom: redemption.

I used to watch a lot of scary movies as a child. If there is one thing I know about bad guys and ghosts it is this: they cannot withstand the light. My purpose in writing this play was to shine a light into dark places. May it ever be a torch to those whose houses are haunted and to those who choose to face the enemy and forgive.

–Jill Szoo Wilson

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