At the Palace Theatre in Downtown LA, several hundred broken-hearted people gathered to pay tribute to my beloved friend, mentor, teacher, boss, and hero, Sam Christensen.
The photo above was taken from backstage by my friend Jeff Davis, and I love that you can see my shadow, and the lights from the balcony, and mostly: Sam’s thoughtful face.
Here’s what I said:
Hello. My name is Sam Bennett, and I am an actor, author, playwright, teacher and the CEO of The Organized Artist Company. I was also a Senior Facilitator at Sam Christensen Studios and Sam’s Number One Work Wife for nearly 15 years.
I say all this with great pride. Because that is one of the lessons Sam taught me: Never apologize for who you are. Never apologize for what you do.
I’ve written several books now, but the first one I ever made was a little book of poetry called, “By The Way, You Look Really Great Today,” and I dedicated it to Sam.
The dedication reads, “To Sam Christensen, who taught me everything I know.”
And that’s how it feels.
As though everything that is really worth knowing – and everything I try to teach others – I learned from Sam.
So I thought I’d recap a few of my favorite lessons. Six, to be exact. Because God knows that man loved a list.
#1: God don’t make no junk.
As I said when I started, never apologize for who you are.
And never apologize for what you do. If you’re an actor or an artist or if you shine shoes – stand up tall when you say it. Don’t shuffle or slouch or demur or say you’re “aspiring.” Claim your work with dignity.
#2: People Have Remarkably Strong Feelings About Tomatoes.
And you can discover a great deal about a person if you just ask them, “So…what are the circumstances under which you will, or will not, eat tomatoes?” Try it sometime.
#3: Trust the Process.
When Sam and I were teaching together, it would sometimes happen that an individual, or a group, would come through who didn’t seem to be “gelling,” and we’d turn to each other, worried, and say, “I’m not sure this person is going to get it. I’m not sure the Process is going to work this time….” But it always did. Trust the process. Trust Sam’s Process. Trust the creative process. And trust the process of your life.
#4: People Tell You Who They Are Almost Immediately
I would sometimes wait in the Studio early, so I could be there as the students came in to take their seats for the first time, and I would write down what they said.
“I got lost 3 times on the way here!” says one. “Umm…excuse me….is this seat taken?” whispers another. “When’s lunch!” bellows a third.
And I would write down those statements and include them in their Essence work, and I was often met with amazement – “how did you know?!?” they would exclaim.
Well…you told me.
#5: Depression Is a Valuable Teacher
Sam and I both lived with depression, and he taught me that it can be a gift. Depression forces you to slow down. To examine the soft, wounded places and see if they still hurt. (They do.) And depression gives you a deep appreciation for the interplay between light and shadow.
#6: Art Matters. Actors Matter. Stories Matter.
In fact, art may be the only thing that matters. Sam knew that being an artist and a storyteller was the most important job in any society, and he dedicated his life to helping creative people use their identity to bring their stories to life.
Your art matters.
Your acting matters.
Your stories matter.
And on behalf of Sam and myself, please do everything in your power to do your work, and to get it out into the world in a way that is so powerful, and so indelible, that when it is your time to go, we’ll need to rent out a thousand-seat theatre to celebrate you.
After, I heard too many people say, “I wish I had called him more often.”
Or, “I wish we’d actually had that lunch we kept talking about.”
And, “I wish I had told him how much he mattered to me.”
If you have a favorite teacher, or maybe just a friend you’ve fallen out of touch with, please let me urge you to reach out to them today.
You will be so glad you did.
P.S. BTW, the work Sam & I did together is called The Image Design Process, and it was an identity definition and personal branding process by which individuals – many of them actors – could arrive at their “Essences” and end up with a vocabulary they could use for marketing and also in their creative process. It was a life-changing experience for everyone who got to do it. It gave people a chance to feel seen and heard and appreciated. It was a lot of fun – a big word game – and wonderful to help people self-actualize. So that’s the “Process” that I reference above.) – S.
Guess what? It’s okay to have some positive thoughts about yourself.
Many of us were raised in intellectual households, where if you couldn’t prove your point, well, you were just being delusional. I’m asking you to be a little delusional. You may be reluctant to think nice thoughts about yourself. I understand. You may feel that your negative thoughts “keep you in line” and you don’t want to “get a big head.”
Darling, you will not get a big head. I promise.
EXERCISE: TEN NICE THINGS
Step 1. Write Down Ten Successes, Wins, or Blessings from the Past Year.
Grab a pen and write down ten good things that have happened in the past twelve months. It’s time to give those chattering critical voices in your head a rest. It’s time to change the tape. It’s time to accentuate the positive.
If it doesn’t work, no worries — you can always go back to thinking negatively any time you’d like.
(“I paid off all my credit cards” or “I learned how to cook a perfect roast chicken”), things that happened to you (“My cousin gave me that wonderful birthday present” or “I got asked to perform the solo”), things that happened around you (“There is some jasmine growing right next to my bedroom window, and it smells heavenly” or “Those noisy neighbors finally moved away”) or (most likely) some combination of the above.
Don’t have a contest with yourself about the “best” things that happened to you; just list some things that, when you reread the list, make you nod and smile to yourself and think, “Yep. That’s pretty good.”
Step 2. Write Down Ten Nice Things about Yourself.
Now make a list of ten nice things about you. They may be nice qualities that you were born with, like your quick mind and your lovely eyes. They may be nice skills you’ve learned, like your gorgeous gardening skills and your ability to run a mile without losing your breath.
Or maybe they’re things other people appreciate about you, like what a safe and courteous driver you are, and how you always remember everyone’s birthday. Push yourself to come up with ten.
After all, the assignment is not to write down ten extraordinary things about you, or ten things that no one else in the world has ever done — just ten nice things that, again, you can look at and say, “Yep. That’s pretty good.”
Your good humor is as graceful as a baby giraffe,
Even if that joke you were trying to make to the hotel clerk fell flat
And your toast at the wedding came out sounding a little….funny.
But you have gifts that no one knows about.
You have the strength to bend in the wind
You have the joyful spirit that loves a good belly laugh,
You have the wisdom to understand that everything will all come out all right in the end and
You have the faith to light a candle rather than curse the darkness.
That is, if you could find the book of matches from that romantic restaurant that you went to for your anniversary but since you didn’t have a reservation they made you wait at the bar for half an hour during which you had two appletinis and the rest of the night is a bit of a blur.
So much for the overpriced lingerie.
You are beautiful.
You are beautiful.
Frazzled and overworked and underpaid
You are the one who forgot your wallet
And forgot your receipt for the dry cleaners
And forgot your keys which you just set down five seconds ago, so where could they possibly have gone?
But you never forget to say, “I love you”
And you never forget to give a big smile to that nice parking guy
And you never fail to show endless patience when the
Too-tightly wrapped and overly-conscientious start to offer their Oh-so-helpful suggestions about how you might feel better if you would just learn to alphabetize your spice rack.
You are beautiful.
So, wear the lingerie on Monday for no reason.
And why not just refuse to participate in the bake sale this year?
And give yourself a compliment for something you did well today.
Because you are the most beautiful woman I’ve ever known.