You might be wondering what a soap opera actress, dispatched from the land of outrageous and hilarious plots, has to say about a difficult, painful, and emotional real-life issue like aging.
TV and movie actress Tina Sloan shares her journey both on screen and in real life, as she balances work, family, aging parents and unwanted wrinkles. Her book, Changing Shoes: Getting Older - NOT OLD - with Style, Humor and Grace - was released by Gotham/Penguin on September 17.
Tina graciously took time from her busy schedule (she's travelling with her one-woman show, a.k.a. "Changing Shoes") to chat with WOW!'s blog "The Muffin" about her book, career, show, and aging. Grab a cup of your favorite beverage - or your favorite Manolo Blahnik strappy heels - and join us!
WOW!: Welcome to The Muffin, Tina. I must tell you, I'll be nearing that mid-life mark known as 50 next year. I could see situations from my life that were quite similar to the stories you share in Changing Shoes, so thank you for writing about your life so honestly. Plus, the title caught my attention. I have close to 50 pairs of shoes! Shoes are a symbolic part of a woman's life due to all the varying roles we play: daughter, sister, wife, mother, artist, etc. What led to your decision to focus on how a woman's role or time in life is defined by her choice of footwear?
Tina: I LOOKED DOWN ONE DAY and realized I was putting on the same scuffed black flats I had been wearing for months and months and I saw the gorgeous shoes all sitting there silently unused - just like me.
WOW!: (smiles) I completely relate! I tend to wear my most comfortable pair of black sandals the majority of the time. I haven't slipped into a pair of heels in six months. Maybe I'm avoiding the aging process! In your book, the humorous tone snagged my attention immediately. You balance it with heartwarming moments with friends and family. It's a great tool to use to tell your story. Why do you believe humor plays such a large part in navigating the aging process?
Tina: Well, humor does keep perspective and I just love laughing and being around funny people. I mean AGING is happening and you can't stop it even with facelifts or exercise - it is still happening so why not laugh at yourself as you wander around looking for your glasses or as you can't remember your best friend's last name for a minute. It is better than being furious with yourself the whole day.
WOW!: Great attitude! Tina, you were so lucky to have several wonderful mentors who were your cheerleaders, encouraging you to strive for your dreams. Talk about your friend, Aga, and how those initial shoes she presented to you served as a catalyst for your future achievements.
Tina: Well, Paris and Aga are so intertwined and Paris is the city of love and elegance and sophistication, so when she bought me shoes that were CHANEL no less, I instantly felt elegant and sophisticated even though I was neither. But her lessons in life and in following your OWN shoes were invaluable for my life. So I followed my own "shoes" and became an actress - and wrote this book and the play, also called Changing Shoes.
WOW!: Sounds like she provided so much inspiration for you. You've experienced so many different roles, both on stage and in real life. Most women have to wear so many different shoes. What's the best way for aging women to juggle career, family, and aging parents without getting blistered?
Tina: Very good analogy, so good - getting blistered!! Because, of course, we get blistered from changing our shoes all the time, caring for so many people and jobs and friends and family - I don't think we can juggle things without getting blisters, but we can put band-aids on them to keep them from getting infected, to continue your analogy. And the band-aids are things like going to a movie or taking tap dancing lessons or making brownies and decorating them with silly gooey coconut. They are the ways to stay in touch with the joy in us that gets tamped down with all the DUTIES we have in our lives. We love and honor our duties, but they can drain us if we are not careful.
WOW!: Taking time for ourselves and finding joy in everyday moments is so important. Thanks for sharing some of your band-aids! I'd like to talk about "Changing Shoes" as a show. You adapted the book into a one-woman performance. How did that writing process differ from writing the book? And, how did you determine which stories to include in the show that maybe aren't in the book?
Tina: That process was so different as I wrote it with a 32-year-old man who was brought up in the theater and was my Shakespeare teacher (he was a band-aid for me) and he read the book and we talked for months about what it is to age and what it feels like to be invisible all of a sudden and what can help one from "giving up" and how to start living again even though you are invisible. It was fascinating because he really didn't understand it so I had to verbalize things I had lived. We argued a lot over the writing of the play but it was fun and he would have dinner with my husband and me every night and then Joe Plummer (his name) and I would go write in one room and I would act it out to see if it was the truth. The book is the truth as I have lived it, but it was harder to do it on stage.
WOW!: The truth - the essence of memoir and the reality of stage. Staging one's life story would be hard because the story becomes the naked truth - exposing vulnerabilities to the audience. It's a brave step! You aren't a stranger to the stage or screen. You've been in films with Jodie Foster and Ben Affleck. For 26 years, you played Lillian Raines on Guiding Light, where your character survived quite a few catastrophes. Which storyline stands out as your favorite? And, to what do you attribute your longevity on the show?
Tina: Longevity was simply staying in the game and not leaving when I was diminished to three lines a day. I knew there was a yin and a yang and when I was in the yin for what seemed like an eternity, it did swing the other way just by staying there.
My favorite storyline was when Lillian had breast cancer and I was the first woman on television to have a mammogram and sonogram on TV. We really helped so many women during that storyline - women would write me and say by crying for me they were finally able to cry for themselves - they had been so busy taking care of their children and jobs and husbands that they never fully grieved for what had happened to them.
WOW!: That's wonderful to know you made a strong impact on so many women's lives. Your family and Guiding Light family provided a strong love and support base. What lessons did these wonderful people teach you about aging gracefully?
Tina: They just loved me no matter what and were there for me in the hard times that we all go through. I think just loving someone no matter what is the answer to all our life problems, be it aging or having one's heart broken or the really bad ones like losing someone we love.
WOW!: Awesome advice! In your book, you offer practical tips at the end of chapters. Those ideas are full of common sense, but as we age, many of us forget the basics that can make our lives easier! Plus, those tips advance your platform. As an actress, you've established a huge audience fan base, but that doesn't necessarily translate to a huge book audience. What advice would you offer other writers about formulating a solid platform?
Tina: I think the play I am doing has helped, as have Twitter and Facebook. But I also did funny things like make cute plastic bags with a flat black shoe on one side and a sexy heel on the other with CHANGING SHOES at the top. And I made a darling video. Well, a fan made it, but it was my idea to add the photos and put them together. Loving the marketing - that really helps. I also think as I am an actress, I loved being with people, and as a writer, I love being alone, so I combine both in the platform.
WOW!: Great marketing tips, Tina. Thanks for sharing your ideas.
Tina: Thanks for asking such great questions.
WOW!: For more information about Tina's book or her show, visit the Changing Shoes website.
Interview by LuAnn Schindler. LuAnn is a columnist and blogger for WOW! Women on Writing. To read more of LuAnn's work, visit her website.