Are You Being Served

It’s been quite a trip here to Chicago.  I’ve been in Los Angeles for 6 months and was able to see my thesis film, finally, on the big screen.  I also had one other thing to do this weekend that was just as important as seeing the fruits of my film school labors.

The one thing I think any student should take away from school – whether it’s grad school or undergrad – is to find a mentor, a teacher who truly inspires, who truly believes and who know your potential.   I had some great teachers at Columbia that really ushered me into my filmmaking career.  However, it was a teacher in my undergrad years at Marquette University that became a beacon of hope for me as an artist.  Without her, I may have never even tried to go to Columbia.  Last week, on November 4th — election night — she passed away at a Hospice in Milwaukee.  She had bravely battled cancer for years.

Even before her passing, a bunch of her former students were asked to write up a “Lollypop” moment that they would then compile and present to her.  What’s a”Lollipop” moment?  Give it a watch — it’s worth it.

Today, I rented a car and drove to Milwaukee to visit with her husband.  I just wanted to pay my respects to a woman who without, I may never have come to Los Angeles, never have braved the artistic front and quit my dreams a long time ago.  I hope you enjoy this.


Here’s the problem with describing a Phylis Ravel lollipop moment – those moments when someone helps define your path even though they may not have realized it: Phylis Ravel hasn’t given me a lollipop moment.  She’s handed me the keys to the candy store.

I could never adequately describe the many moments in my relationship with Phylis where she said or did some funny, stupid, inspirational or downright honest that sent my life into a tailspin.  A good tailspin.  The kind that twists your perceptions so you can see the horizon better when it’s over.

In other words, Phylis Ravel always had this stubborn jackass’s back.  Always.  In many ways, she knew me better than I did.  She understood my talent (“Timmy, I’m casting you in Hedda Gabler – it’s a dramatic role.  Deal with it.), my desires, (Timmy this is the difference between New York and LA.  In LA, they tell you how great you are and as soon as you turn around they stab you in the back.  In New York, they look you in the eye and say you suck and stab you in the heart.  Where do you want to go?”) and my wanderlust (Mr. Tamisiea!  Why are you’re studying abroad?”  “Cause I want to.”  “Oh.  Okay.”).

There is one defining lollipop moment that I will never, ever forget.  A few years after I had graduated from Marquette, I was wallowing away in actor fear.  I was unsure of myself, unsure of my talent and unsure of my direction.  So, I did what any actor with a BA in performing arts would – I applied to grad school.  As many of you know, Grad School auditions are awful.  You go to a hotel, sit around with other young actors and feel the palpability of nervousness and tension.  Everyone thinks, aloud, that if this doesn’t work out “I don’t what I’ll do.”  It’ the equivalent of being strapped into a chair, gagged and put in a dark room where strangers tell you how much you suck . . . So, Phylis agreed to coach me.

On the weekend before the University Resident Theatre Auditions in Chicago, I headed up to Milwaukee for a weekend coaching boot camp.  I was staying with my brother, Patrick (also a theatre major) in his  “Not an official Frat house but could be if they put Greek letters on the door” house . . . and I started to get really sick: sore throat, fever, congestion, cogging, sneezing (See: Nyquil commercials).  The big thing was my voice.  It was leaving my throat faster than a shot of rancid tequila.   Phylis and David demanded I stay the rest of the weekend with them.  I looked around at the squalor of my brother bedroom (A Simpsons and Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Magazine bazar) and figures, “Why not?”

What I wasn’t aware of was that Phyllis and David were having a dinner party that Saturday night.  I felt like I was intruding.  Majorly.  But they insisted that I take over their bedroom on the second floor where they had set up a TV and videos and Kleenex . . . An official Ravel Rehabilitation Suite.

Every 30 minutes or so, Phylis would leave her dinner party and check on me; she’d bring me soup, water, OJ, medicine.  I felt bad.  At one point, she came up to drop off dessert – YES! Dessert.  I said, “Phylis, please you don’t have to do this.  I’ll be fine.”  She looked me square in he eye and her whole body and tone changed.  You know what I’m talking about.  It’s that moment when Phylis goes from quirky theater professor to serious civilian.  I knew something was coming . . .

“Tim.  Sometimes we have to LET people serve us.  We need to accept their help.  You need to allow yourself the courtesy to say that you deserve help and you are worth being served.  Sometime you have to just shut up and let people help you.”

It seems like a weird Lollipop moment, but that moment was a catalyst for me to stop being stubborn and taking the world on by myself.   And not because I can’t do things on my own, but more as an indicator of my own self worth.  Not accepting help – not allowing others to be a part of your life – has nothing to do with self-confidence.  It’s the opposite.  You think you are not worthy of other’s assistance so you deny them.  IN denying them, you catapult yourself into further misery; you’re always alone.  It was after that moment that I started to cultivate true, honest confidence.

I was so lucky to have been at Marquette when Phylis first arrived.  She became a surrogate mom, a mentor and a true friend for many of us.  I love her dearly . . . How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Phylis Ravel lollipop?  There’s too many of them to even try.

And while were on the on topic of candy . . . On behalf of myself, John Collins, Monica West and Ruth Lyons, we apologize for eating the concessions when the candy box would “explode.”   But everyone knows that when the candy box explodes, you can’t just put the candy back into the box.  You have to eat it.  Everyone knows that.


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