In the summer of 1978, I lived on the island of Martha’s Vineyard off the coast of Massachusetts. I was a singing bartender. I got people hammered and then sang pop and show tunes to them for tips. It was ok to be 19 and on my own, though all I wanted to do was get to New York and start my life. While I was there, I heard that the actress Ruth Gordon lived not far from me in town. For those of you that don’t remember her, she played the scary satanic neighbor in Rosemary’s Baby. More famously, she played Maude in “Harold and Maude.”
I wanted to see if I could meet her to get some advice for a young actor starting out. In preparation, I felt it made sense to read her autobiography. I finished the book and then took several weeks to get up the courage to walk up to her door and try and meet her. This is anti-climactic here, because when I did finally knock on her door, the housekeeper said she was gone for the summer. She always left then as the tourists were too much (probably just sick of aspiring actors just walking up and trying to meet her.) I would say I never ended up getting her advice, but by reading her book it wound up that I did. One thing she wrote never left me, it was this simple but brilliant phrase: “Never face facts.”
At the beginning of her career she struggled. Several times she tried to go home. Early on she received some hideous reviews and had a terrible time getting roles. She was told more than once that she didn’t have what it took to make it, but she kept going anyway. She persevered even though many around her did not believe she could make a living. However, amidst mounting evidence that they may be right, she believed in her heart that she could be successful, would be successful. And she never faced facts.
You can be the hardest worker and have the most talent of anyone you know, but if you don’t solidly believe in your heart that you will get to where your dreams want to take you, you will fail. You see, if you don’t fill your heart with YOUR beliefs about you, others will be happy to fill it with their beliefs about you.
Take a moment during each day, close your eyes and search your heart. Be sure not to let your mind “face facts” about what the obstacles to the ideal career you imagine are. Instead, picture all you imagine your life can and will be. Use your mind to support the belief in yourself with positives about all you have to offer your art and the world.
It doesn’t matter what the facts are. I could bore you with stories of people faced with overwhelming negatives, who proved they weren’t too old, too short, too tall, too settled into a career to manifest their dreams. There are so many success stories that go against the grain of the norm it’s ridiculous. We’re wowed by these stories, but perhaps the people who DO think they are too old, short, tall, settled etc. just fail because those are their core beliefs.
Remember, your beliefs are YOUR beliefs. Since they belong to you, you control them and only you can change them. That’s the beauty of your heart. It may break sometimes, but it will always obey you. As Henley famously wrote in his poem ‘Invictus:’ “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”
A few years after that summer on Martha’s Vineyard, I did end up meeting Ruth Gordon and her husband Garson Kanin. They had come to a recording session I was involved in with Stephen Sondheim in New York. Turns out they were old friends of his. It was brief and I never got to thank her for her advice, but 30 years later, I can say without a doubt it has served me well.