Sunday, April 13, 2014

In Case You Missed It: Literary Orange 2014, Part 2

What: Literary Orange
Where: Marriott, Irvine
When: Friday, April 5, 2014

Please Note: The quotes are approximate.

Morning Keynote Speaker

Marlo Thomas, actress, author, activist
Books: Free to Be... You and Me, It Ain't Over...Till Its Over

"Never face the facts, or you won't get up in the morning."

I don't know Marlo Thomas.  I've heard of her from my aunt and uncle.  They say she starred in a TV show called That Girl and that her father, Danny Thomas, was a famous actor.  These names don't ring a bell.  In fact, the only thing I recognize is St. Jude, a charity that the Thomas family is associated with.  Aside from that, I'm a blank slate.

The woman standing on the stage has long blond-brown hair and a bright red blouse.

"Wow," Marlo says to the audience.  "You all look so much younger in person."

We laugh at the joke.  She continues to entertain us with funny stories and her favorite quotes.

"Laughter is an intimacy," she says.  "It brings us together.  I love being in places where women are talking and sharing ideas."

One of those places happens to be her website, where women post comments about their lives.

"One thing that really took me aback was how many of these women felt stuck in their lives.  These were the empty-nesters, women stuck in dead-end jobs, women who had lost their house, who were laid off, divorced, or caring for elderly parents.  And they were all asking, 'What do I want to do with the rest of my life?' "

This inspired her to write an article called, "It Ain't Over...Till It's Over."  The article was later expanded into a book of the same name, filled with the stories of real women who made drastic changes or accomplished great things in the second half of their lives.

"It's not a self-help book," she explains.  "It's a map, showing you where you might go."

Marlo tells us the stories of some of the women who inspired her, including a retired probation officer who, in her 70s, fulfilled her dream of becoming an actress and a mother who took scuff marks on a wall and turned it into a $4 million dollar invention.

"Age meant nothing to these women," she says. "Sometimes we think we're the only person... whose parade has passed us by.  A dream could run out on us or we might never make our dream happen or we might go through life unsure of what our dream is.  But it's not too late to still have a dream."

Marlo pauses. "So how do you start to change your life?"

Her acting coach gave her a saying.  "Acting is not in your head.  It's in the doing."  It may seem overwhelming at first.  But there's a way in.  And if, everyday, you do one thing toward your dream, you'll get there.

"And you're going to fail," Marlo adds.  "But you'll get through it.  Thomas Edison used to say, 'I have not failed.  I've just discovered 10,000 ways to do it wrong.' "

Marlo begins to talk about the process of reinventing yourself and how she did it time and time again in her own life.  Her father didn't want her to be an actress at first, so she studied English in college.  And when she received her bachelor's degree, she handed it to her father and said, "This is for you"  Then she went off to be an actress.

I've been enjoying the inspiring stories, but I must admit, its these personal tales that really draw me in.  I had assumed that having a famous father would make it easier for Marlo be successful as an actress.  It turns out I was wrong.  Marlo had to work hard to distinguish herself from her father.

At one point, she considered changing her name in order to avoid comparisons.  But her father told her: "I raised you to be a thoroughbred.  Thoroughbreds don't look at anyone else.  They put on their blinders and run."

When Marlo got her own T.V. show, That Girl, everyone told her how revolutionary it was to show a single woman living on her own.  She didn't think it was revolutionary, because it seemed like every family had a girl like that--a girl who aspired to be independent.

The show led to a lot of fan mail.  Many letters were frivolous.  But then she'd get letters from a 16-year-old girl who was pregnant and scared to tell her family or a 23-year old woman trapped in an abusive marriage.

"I was floored... and scared," Marlo says.  "I was just an actress.  I didn't know how to solve these problems."

But Marlo felt responsible and tried to find these girls a place where they could get help.  She looked and looked and found that no such place existed.  The girls were writing to her because they had no one else to turn to.

That's when she became an activist.

"My father always said there are two kinds of people in the world," Marlo tells us.  "Those who see an accident and pull over to help.  And those who just drive by."

Her father knew something about helping other people.  He founded St. Jude, which treats children with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses.  Each year they have to raise $830 million dollars--and each year they do.

But in the beginning, it started with $7 and a promise.

When Marlo was in the hospital being born, her father needed $50 to pay the bill and bring her home.  All he had was $10.  Now Danny Thomas was not a religious man, but in his desperate hour, he prayed to St Jude.  Help me get the money and I will build you a shrine.  He put in $7.  Then he got a phone call, saying he got a job as a singing toothbrush.  The pay was $70.

Her father always told his children that this was his burden, not theirs--so of course, they all choose to join in and help.  Marlo became a spokesperson for the organization.  When she goes into the hospital what she sees often stuns her and touches her.  She tells many stories, but my favorite is of a mother and a little girl patient.

The mother had spotted Marlo and brought the little girl up to her.

"Do you know who this girl's Daddy is?" the mother asked the child.

"Yes," the little girl replied.

"Who?" the mother said.

"Saint Jude."

The most poignant story is when a father asked Marlo if she would come inside and say goodbye to his son.  Despite the best care and treatment, the boy was dying.  Marlo held him and said goodbye.

"Holding a dying child in my arms--I never thought I'd be strong enough," Marlo says.  "But I was--and it changed me."

She ends by leaving us with two last quotes:

"Impossible is something that hasn't happened yet."  And, "If you want to predict the future, invent it."

* * *

To Be Continued...

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