Magi Loucks

David

Magi Loucks headshot

Sixteen years ago today my brother David was brutally, senselessly murdered. No, the pain doesn’t decrease with time. That’s a bunch of crap. You have two options: you allow it to overcome you – which it will – or you incorporate it into who you are.

David and Me
David and Me

I am different because of this. Not just because he was murdered, or because he was tortured. Not only because of the loss of him in my life, still stumbling around here.

I am different because of the relationships in my life that changed as my parents and brothers and sisters changed; because of the interactions that occurred as we all struggled to deal with this in our different ways; because of the way friends responded inadequately, or with such tenderness.

I am different because of the insidious ways fear crept into my life, in places I am still discovering and attempting to eradicate. I am different in the material I choose to read, movies I choose to watch and stories I can even listen to without feeling my stomach tighten, my throat close, and my eyes start to glaze over. I am different because he was an artist, and I am an artist, and he is dead and I am here.

I have been forever changed by this event, but that does not mean that I have to live in the moment of this event. This, I refuse to do. There was much more to him and to his life than that last hour. There was more to him than the trials and defendants and witnesses and evidence. There is more to him than a headstone marking his remains. He is not stuck there, and I’ll be damned if I will be either.

Paralyzed

As of a few days ago, I should be paralyzed. My dog Grace and a neighbor dog were playing in the front yard of our building when the neighbor dog swept me WWF style, sending both of my feet to eye level, which was followed by the ingloriously dull thud of my back connecting with concrete, and the sharp exclamation point of the crack of my head.

I didn’t get up right away, illustrations from the American Red Cross First Aid seminar I’d taken two days before catapulting through my brain as I remembered my training, or rather, what to do if I see Someone Else has fallen.

My life has always been filled with synchronicities, moments where it all adds up and I can see how that moment then is helping me with this moment now in a way I could not have imagined. Suddenly, the importance of the Red Cross class was to mitigate damages, to avoid unintentionally compounding the problem by, say, bouncing up bravely as if nothing had happened, only to ironically sever the last connecting tissues of my spinal cord.

Oh, and my medical insurance coverage ended the last week of June.

I lay still, looking up at the sky, visions of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly racing through my brain (I rented that last week, dear god), and I have the thought to just continue laying there, because then, I won’t know. I won’t know for sure that I can’t move, that my spine has been snapped, that there is a stickiness in my hair that wasn’t there before. I won’t know, so there will still be hope.

But Grace is at my face, licking me, trying to crawl on top of me, nudging me, and I have to push her away in order to stay still, which means that I can’t stay still. That I have moved.

And therein lies the description of every fear-based decision I have ever made. If I don’t move, if I stay still, there is still a chance. It won’t be all wrong. There will still be hope. But then, of course, I am stuck here, laying on the hot concrete, staring up at the sky. Trying to push away Grace.

When I realize what she’d gotten me to do, I gingerly wiggle my fingers and toes, and begin taking stock, gently moving my arms, my legs, my head, until I’ve done a full assessment. I sit up, relieved that I’d been born flexible, that I do yoga every day, as I had certainly bounced off the concrete.

I impulsively move my hand to the back of my head and suddenly realized that my end of the day, half-in-half-out pony tail has acted as a bumper, sparing my skull the full force of impact. My spine? My bony hips took the beating. Make that left hip, as the extra 2×2 inch layer of tissue from an old injury (a teenage battle with a staircase) distributed the weight slightly left so that I landed to one side.

Now, there is currently in development a blue 5×1 inch rectangular strip of reminder, and I have a bit of difficulty sitting or laying on my back, but that will pass. I know that because shortly after I stood up, I went home with Grace and did some yoga stretches (so my muscles wouldn’t lock up) and while there was some uncomfortable pulling and tugging, everything was behaving as it should have been. Well, as it should have been as long as one hasn’t been paralyzed. Which I should have been. No, could have been. But I wasn’t.

So while it may seem now like a tale about something that didn’t happen, to me, it’s a reminder of how dangerous fear can be. That being too scared to move is far worse than not being able to move. To me, it is a moment where Grace intervened and I couldn’t help but listen because she was all up in my face. Which is how Grace tends to be.

How To Help Animals

Emma on porch

Over the past few weeks, several people have asked me for suggestions on where and how to volunteer in their communities.  With the recent Ohio Conklin Dairy Farm video scandal, even more people have asked for suggestions on how to get involved in animal rights and welfare issues.  Hopefully, this will help.

First, let’s briefly cover what are often called “factory farms.”  Farms of the Old MacDonald variety are disappearing as industrialization has consolidated and almost completely automated the process.  Small farms exist, but most have contracts with larger corporations that push industrialization as a means of survival.  As of 2002, only three companies controlled nearly 80% of the U.S. cattle slaughter/packing market: Tyson Foods Inc., Cargill Meat Solutions Corp., and Swift and Company. Animals are no longer mated, but artificially inseminated, genetically modified and injected with steroids and hormones to increase production.

Animals bred for food, or “livestock,” are not governed by the same rights as your cat or dog.  The initial argument (by the FDA, the Department of Agriculture, the Dairy industry, etc.) was apparently that since these animals are being bred, and ultimately killed, for their meat or byproducts, they are an exception to animal cruelty laws.  What has resulted is an industry fraught with common practices and procedures that are horrific, yet legal.   Unanesthetized tail docking, debeaking and lifetime cage confinement are a few of the tamer methods: sites such as FarmSanctuary and Vegan Outreach describe these inhumane practices and others in greater detail. Undercover investigations by such organizations as PETA and Mercy For Animals have accumulated a catalog of videos that show not only these methods, but the sadistic animal abuse that so often that follows.  In 2002, Sierra Club researchers created The RapSheet on Animal Factories, documenting “crimes, violations or other operational malfeasance at more than 630 industrial meat factories in 44 states.”  That’s just the ones that were caught.

So what can you do?

1. Educate yourself about where your food comes from.  Reading labels isn’t enough.  For example, free-range and cage-free are terms that sound nice, but apply only to birds raised for food (not for eggs), are only partially regulated by the USDA (cage-free is not regulated at all), do not require third party certification, and are  thus essentially meaningless.  Organizations like Vegan Outreach attempt to educate the public on these types of issues  (labeling, certifications, common practices, etc.) through their website, educational programs and booklets – and so does  almost every organization mentioned in this blog entry.

2. Sign up for Action Alerts about upcoming legislation in your area.  Many different non-profit orgs, such as FarmSanctuary, AmericanHumane, The Humane Society (HSUS) & WSPA have email alerts, and will send you a notice when a new measure is up for a vote, or a petition is looking for signatures.  Born Free USA and Wildlife Conservation Society cover a broader spectrum of animal issues, such as animal abuse in circuses, zoos, puppy mills, and wild horse slaughter.

3. Modify your diet.  Voting with your dollar has an impact, and even one day less of animal products makes a difference to animals, to environment, to health.  For example, a 2006 United Nations report found that the meat industry produces more greenhouse gasses than all the SUVs, cars, trucks, planes, and ships in the world combined.  Meat Free Monday is a non-profit started by Sir Paul McCartney with the goal of raising awareness about the climate-changing impact of factory farming.

Target, and even Costco, sell “meatless” garden burgers, bacon and sausages, as do more health conscious stores like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods.  There are some great faux cheeses out there (Daiya is a personal favorite) that melt just like the original.  Soy or rice milk are easy to find alternatives (I prefer almond or hemp), and there are even dairy-free coffee creamers!  Experimenting with foreign foods is fun, and a lot of the ingredients are now available at your local supermarket.  Other cultures are often a lot less dependent upon animal products in their food, particularly milk or cheese.  The web is full of incredible recipes and suggestions on how to widen the scope of your eating habits without sacrificing taste: the site GoVeg even has a free Vegetarian Starter Kit to give you ideas and help with the transition.

4.  Donate.  Donate your money, donate your time.  Hands On Network is a great site to connect you with volunteering opportunities in your area.  If you’re here in Los Angeles, Animal Acres and The Gentle Barn are just two of the farmed animal sanctuaries in the area that hold tours, and always welcome volunteers. There are dozens of companion animal rescues throughout the city, that rescue animals from city shelters, then foster, rehabilitate and often train them to prepare them for a loving forever home.  American Humane and FEMA both offer animal rescue training for all kinds of disasters, from tornadoes and flooding to hoarding situations.

I’m sure there are a million other ways to help, but hopefully this will get you started.  Please feel free to add suggestions and links in the comment section.  To paraphrase a favorite parable, helping one animal may not seem like it makes much of a difference, but it makes all the difference to that animal.

Foreign

Not too long ago I had a third callback for the lead villainess in a major Broadway musical by Tony award winner Julie Taymor.   It was a huge deal.  I was totally psyched for the audition, excited about the material, and completely prepared to enjoy myself.  I got there, sang the two songs they’d given me, and they said, “That was great!  Your voice is beautiful.”   Phew!  Fantastic!  And then they asked, “Can you be more foreign?”

I’m sorry, what?   In relation to what, exactly?  I take a breath and politely ask them what they mean, and she says something about not meaning an accent, really, but a sort of sound, maybe just ignore the sheet music…  and I am startled to realize that they don’t know what they mean, either.   The wheels in my head start spinning, trying to figure out what to do.  I know they’re interested in a Celtic sound, maybe that’s what they mean?  But the music isn’t written that way.  It’s the New Broadway – or perhaps old, now – of pop songs and Top-40 hopefuls.  I love what’s been written – it’s melodic and ethereal and clever – but it isn’t Celtic, particularly with a piano for accompaniment, which automatically makes anything from the seven nations sound like a deranged polka.   They’re asking me to fix it, to rewrite the music right there, at the audition.  I shoot a quick look at the local accompaniest they hired, and she turns towards me and rolls her eyes.   Thanks.  I say, “Okay,” take a moment, and give it my best shot.

As actors, we get asked this sort of thing all the time.   It even comes up in our training.  Yes, I absolutely ride horseback, scuba dive, speak fluent Russian, know Karate, interpret sign language, dance en pointe, parachute, sharp-shoot and race stock cars – who doesn’t?  The answer is always Yes, even when it’s No.  They expect it, and we deliver.  There’s even a whole sub-industry of (expensive) crash courses we can take to become trained/fluent/belted in a weekend.  You’ve got to give them what they want.   It’s an accepted form of lying overlaying an art form already relying heavily upon imagination, invention and illusion.

You even lie when you’re late to an audition.  You never say you were stuck in traffic, got a late start, or spilled your coffee on your shirt.  You say you were coming from Another Audition that was running late, sorry!  What audition?  Oooh, can’t say, I’m superstitious about these things, wouldn’t want to jinx it!  (wink)  So when it comes time to perform aforementioned amazing feat of skill and daring, one that will indeed be asked of you, and you fail miserably and are outed, don’t worry about it because “if they like you, they’ll hire you anyway.”

If they like you.  Does that mean if they don’t hire you, they don’t like you?  Ouch.

Auditions for me are not the anxiety driven nightmare they are for a lot of actors, in large part due to a workshop I took a few years back by Michael Kostroff entitled “Audition Psych: 101.”  I have learned to enjoy the entire process as an opportunity to perform, often for some great people, and the chance to work my chops.  It’s a wonderful gift that certainly transformed what was once a time of fear to a time of fun.

But even if we’ve mastered a healthy audition mindset, we still have to deal with what the breakdown says is the description of the character.  It might say they’re looking for a “hot blonde, big-breasted 25-35yo”, or “real to slight character looking”, or “geeky intellectual engineer/scientist”.  We take that information and pick one of our many headshots with the right look, the right monologue, the right song, the right resume stressing the right credits (is the weight right?), the right clothes, the right hair, and transform ourselves into what we think they mean.

There’s a huge trap for us there, one that can degenerate into an endless mind game that we will always lose.  Some of us try for a slightly healthier approach and go for a suggestion of what they’re looking for over the literal translation.  If the character is a pirate, leave the eye patch, peg leg and parrot at home and just dress a bit rough around the edges.  But what if even they don’t know what it is that they are looking for?   How do you prepare for that?

Of course, you can’t.  You could drive yourself crazy trying to second and third guess what they want, what they are looking for.  So instead, we might be told to showcase Our Best Self, but that, too, is so often another lie.  We leave out the day job, don’t mention how long it’s been since our last acting gig,  that we’re on hold for a commercial that conflicts, or say we really do love opera.   We edit our truth to, again, fit what we think they want.  And they pretend to believe us.

What if we don’t pretend to be someone else, or show some pressurized and sanitized view?  Does the audition change?  Does the outcome change?  I don’t know, but I sure as hell am more relaxed.  Maybe it’s more important to  know who you are and just be that.  Maybe it’s time to show up and say, I realize that the breakdown said this, but I made it this far, and This is Me.  The professional me, yes, but Me.   Less crazy making.  More honest.

If I had the opportunity to do it again I would take a longer moment, ask the accompanist to lay out, close my eyes till I could feel it, and then I would sing – a Celtic song.  Would it have made any difference?  In the end, it didn’t matter.  A few weeks later, a friend emailed me a week-old article breaking the news that this particular production was shutting down: money trouble.  That’s curious, I thought, as they’re still advertising next month’s open casting call at the LA Convention Center.  And they continued to do so.  Sometimes auditions aren’t even about finding talent, or even the charade that is the required local union call, but rather creating a relationship between a potential audience and a production in hopes of generating ticket sales.

BTW, my agent hadn’t submitted me on this one: they found me, my headshot and some mp3’s of my voice through a series of industry connections.  This breakdown?  It said, “Female, 25-35 yo with amazing rock vocals.  Foreign world music types are great, foreign accents are great.”  And they called me in.  Three times.

Blue Dress

blue dress

I’m a jeans and tee shirt kinda gal.  During the summer, I’m a shorts and tee shirt kinda gal.  I do have some summer-thrift-store dresses I trot out when it’s hot (like today) because the bottom line for me: it’s gotta be low maintenance.  I won’t bother to insist that I’m low maintenance In General – my diet alone would make Mother Theresa cry – but when it comes to clothes, I hate spending more than 5 minutes of thought on an outfit.  The cornucopia that is my closet is damn near completely color coordinated so I can grab this and that and just go already.  My inner ugly fat girl is part of this, I know, and I choose to make the experience as painless as possible.

However, there are times when a special event is coming up and I need something nice, and that’s where this dress came in.  I bought it on sale (duh) at a little boutique for about 70% off, but still paid a bit more than I usually spend.  I even had it tailored, thinking I’d nabbed an awesome go-to dress.  But when I got it home, I couldn’t get Madeline out of my mind, and it always seemed a bit too dressy for just going to Trader Joe’s or the post office.

But not today.  I stopped waiting for special occasions a long time ago.   I use the nice dishes for lunch, drink water from goblets, and wear bling with tee shirts.  Today, I am wearing this dressy dress all day, wherever I happen to go, because I can.  I am a grown up and if I want to completely overdress on a gorgeous Palm Sunday afternoon for a trip to the laundromat, then I will do so.  What the hell is the fun of having a dressy outfit if you don’t create the occasion to wear it?

Plant

Plant for DGL

I was sent this plant in 1995 by my former employers when they learned that my brother David had been murdered.  Former, as I had recently quit this job I passionately hated due to A) an inability to conform to an office mindset, B) pressure to play along with the Boys Club/Casting Couch mentality of a potential career in advertising, and C) I felt my soul slipping away from me.  If I hadn’t quit – with the intention of pursuing my dreams to act – I’m certain they would have fired me.

This is the only plant I have ever had that has lasted more than 6 months under my care.  It’s not so much that it’s received any extra attention, as I have a notoriously black thumb and any concerted effort on my part would likely have disastrous results (I drowned a cactus once)  but I do think we are somehow connected.  It has gone through stages of almost bushy growth, teeming over the sides of a too-small pot (you want me to do what?) to a single, spindly branch bare of leaves. 

About two years ago, I thought it had finally died, and I burst into tears.  I left it on my porch, unable to toss it in the trash, and was granted a reprieve when my Mom visited a few weeks later, working her garden magic on the comatose branches.

I don’t even know what kind of plant it is.  It doesn’t flower, which is good for my allergies, and sometimes its leaves are corrugated with a simple yet exquisite pattern, a burst of random, improvised beauty.  It rests on my patio outside my office where I can see it clearly from my desk, and something about its existence, however full or threadbare, is often just enough of what I need to keep going. 

Illegitimi non carborundum!

Saturn’s Rings

saturn at park

My Saturn suffered a heart attack last week on highway 14, one so severe that no defibrillator would resuscitate it.  My situation such as it is, I hardly need a new major expense.  The choices are to scrap it and buy a new one, purchase a new engine from the dealer to the tune of $5k, or take my chances at a mechanic replacing the engine with a used one for about $1500.  Incredibly, I didn’t get upset until I told someone what had happened.  Then I cried like a baby.

Shortly after that, a phrase pinned to my bulletin board flashed through my mind:  “I realize that I do have a choice in all that matters to me.  I can choose how I respond to life’s situations and to those around me – in what I do or do not do.”  Okay.  Let’s see if I can put my money where my affirmation is.  What if I don’t have a car?  Is it the end of the world?  What would I do if I didn’t have a car for say, a few months?  Inhale.  Exhale.

LA isn’t exactly known as a walking city, being ridiculously spread out, and where side streets and sidewalks are a sporadic occurrence. I know a few people who don’t have cars, and I’ve received more than a few panicked voice mails searching for a ride to a last minute audition.  The subway system is in its infancy, and the bus system is basically, well, scary.  Even by car, auditions and gigs are at least a 45 minute drive or longer.  It’s no wonder we Angelinos are so attached to our cars, and that, here, the Extras are considered Necessities: the sun roofs and A/C, the mp3 players and satellite radios.  We spend quite a lot of time in there, so it damn well better be pleasant.  It’s not so much a love affair, as a co-dependence.  It’s very true that, quite often, you can’t get there from here – without a car.

And I love my car.  I love driving.  I love road trips.  My car is more than what gets me from Point A to Point B.  It’s my ticket to adventure, to freedom!  It takes me to the beach.  It takes me to the mountains.  It takes me wherever I want to go, when I want to go.  It’s I Can Get The Hell Out Of Here, If I Want To.

On the flip side, I also enjoy walking.  It’s how I start my day – a habit that began back in Seattle in ‘97 when my dog Emma adopted me, and the Vet told me that this wee little puppy would need to be walked 15 minutes each day, for starters.   The 15 minute walk for her quietly transformed into a 30 minute walk for both of us, growing to 60 minutes, adding in sprints,  and quickly becoming the required pre-production meeting of the day, no matter the schedule, no matter the hour.

That expanded even further in ’06 when I did a play in Cardiff, Wales.  We walked everywhere – to the theatre, the museums, the pubs – without a second thought.  So, in January of ’07, further inspired by the New Year, I decided to adjust my lifestyle and start walking even more.   I began walking to the bank, to the post office, to the grocery store, to the video store – anywhere within 3-3.5 miles round trip.  Skyrocketing gas prices cemented that lifestyle choice: I drove my car less than 7,000 miles last year.

But I still manage to find myself falling into a rut.  I’ll navigate a new route for one reason or another, and then stick to it for months. This one has less lights, so I don’t have to stop for traffic.  This one is mostly in the shade.  This one has working street lights, which is important in the wee hours before an early call.  I wake up, meditate, do yoga, and head out there on autopilot for My Morning Walk, no thinking required.  Actually, that’s kind of the point.  It’s my moving meditation.

So this time, I’m hoofing it out of necessity, and decide to incorporate an errand into my morning ritual.  I ambitiously forge a trail to my favorite grocery store two miles away, not the chain store that’s a lot closer.  Since it doesn’t open until 9 a.m., I’m heading outside later than I’m used to, so I feel safe cutting through the neighborhood, and veer through some side streets I haven’t been down recently.

Oh, that’s right, Halloween is this weekend.  I don’t have kids, and I live in a secure building, so Halloween can come and go like a Tuesday in April if I don’t pay attention. There are ghosts hanging from trees, and headstones in almost every front yard, and a few KEEP OUT signs that make me chuckle.  There are more people out later in the morning, it seems, and I pass a few human-dog pairs, some cyclists, and some other walkers, and we all greet each other with a smile, and sometimes a hello.  I pass some small storefronts I hadn’t noticed before.  Can places really survive just selling wedding cakes?  A pub is closed.  A liquor store is open.  Birds are chirping loudly from an open pet store.  A few folks are in their yards, adding flowers to flowerbeds, raking leaves and grooming their homes.

Are the people that live in these houses in the industry?  Maybe, maybe not. Hollywood is not Los Angeles but it’s easy to forget that sometimes.  The biz, my career, and financial concerns can become a gold coin held two inches from my nose: one that I can see clearly, but also blocks my view.

I love my morning meditation.  I love that I can step out into nature and turn off the chatter while I move through my body, shaking out the kinks and crimps and twists of the day before, enjoying the world outside, knowing that if an inspiration comes through and I become lost in thought, my legs will keep on going home, home, home.  But there is a delight, too, in a different neighborhood, where Halloween is as important as a Snow Day, and the pagan New Year Samhain is a reason for people to decorate their houses, dress in ridiculous costumes, open their doors and share treasures with passing children.

Make no mistake, my car is currently in surgery undergoing a heart transplant, and I’ve been given every reassurance that it will enjoy a full recovery, but I am choosing to respond to this latest adventure with another phrase that stamped itself in my psyche long ago, a nod to one of my favorite trios.  I’m choosing to take a cue from The Three Wise Men, and sometimes, going home by a different route.

On the death of David G. Loucks

Magi Loucks headshot

One thing invades my thoughts, a terroristic image that attacks, hurts, and hides in the dark: DAVID is DEAD.

I have my faith. I know where he is. But oh, my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Monotonous Life has continued on. I work, I follow-up, I prepare; all for the same great future that he did. Then the 45 seconds of utter hell where I REALIZE.  Physical pain, till this point, was non-existent. Emotional Pain… No trauma, no car wreck, no tumor, no disease has come close to this. Nothing in my life. Then the scrim comes down again, the glare of the harsh lights is muted, and auto pilot takes over.

I watch my family, as I am being watched, and wonder if we’ll all make it.

I’m not afraid of strangers. Perhaps I should be. I don’t blame God for not protecting him. I am instead angry that I didn’t know before.What good is a gift that’s easily mistaken for PMS?

I’m not afraid of strangers. I’m afraid of the 45 seconds that becomes a full minute and then five minutes and the hours that follow and the days to come and Oh, God, I don’t think I can

I need to do something! I am SUPPOSED TO do something! There is something I’m not seeing, not recognizing, not remembering: the key to the Agathe Christie novel that’s currently taken over my life. A few things plague me – his glasses, the ring. But the coat. There is something about the coat! And the phone. The Phone! I’m yelling but he’s not answering. Damn it all to hell, David TELL ME! I’M LISTENING, GOD DAMMIT

Yet how much is just my unshakable need to feel useful, to do something, to help somehow. How many clues, how much significance will I see and hear because I need to?

When can I put the book down?

 

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