How to Be Both

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The Tig - 24th October 2016

I'm consistently asked how I keep a foot in two contrasting worlds – one in the entertainment industry, predicated on wealth and indulgence, and the other in humanitarian work. To me, it's less of a question of how can you do this, and more a question of how can you not? Below I share my candid thoughts on this very topic...

"I don't know, Flower. You were just born that way." This is my mom's response to the aforementioned question, and indicative of the character traits she knows me to have so well: opinionated, driven, and with a deep desire to affect change. "It's just who you are," she says. (And yes, she calls me, "Flower.") I'm sitting in my trailer with her in Toronto where we film "Suits," now in its sixth season. This in and of itself is a novelty – the idea of my mom sitting in my trailer, on a show in which I am a series regular, and that's lasted more than half a decade. It's surreal. We never would have dreamt that this would be my reality, our reality, as my mom eats the special order of scrambled eggs the production assistant just brought her from the catering truck. This is not where we come from. Yes, my hometown is Hollywood, California, but what you think of as The City of Angels, and what I know to be home, are two very different things.

So let's begin there.

I was born and raised in Los Angeles, a California girl who lives by the ethos that most things can be cured with either yoga, the beach, or a few avocados. I'm being cheeky, clearly, but it speaks to the temperament I grew up around. With a free-spirited clinical therapist for a mom, and the most hardworking father you can imagine (a television lighting director by trade), I always had a foot in two worlds, because their work and home environments were so vastly different. With my mom, we spent time traveling to remote places – taking trips to Oaxaca, Mexico where I saw children play in the dirt roads, peddling chiclets for a few extra pesos to bring home. My mother raised me to be a global citizen, with eyes open to sometimes harsh realities. I must have been about ten years old when we visited the slums of Jamaica. I had never seen poverty at that level and it registered in my glazed brown eyes. "Don't look scared, Flower," she said. "Be aware, but don't be afraid."

My father was the lighting director on two television shows as I was growing up. And there I was, behind the scenes of a glossy soap opera and a TV sitcom, surrounded by famous actors and their glam teams, multi-million dollar budgets, and crew lunches that always included filet mignon and enough sweets to make you think you were at Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. What I didn't know then was that just twenty years later I would appeal to the executives on my show to ensure that our extra filet mignon and sweets aplenty were no longer thrown away, but rather donated to a soup kitchen I had been volunteering at since my arrival in Toronto. Or that they would say, "Yes."

Despite the contrast of my two worlds growing up, there was a powerful commonality: both my parents came from little, so they made a choice to give a lot – buying turkeys for homeless shelters at Thanksgiving, delivering meals to patients in hospice care, donating any spare change in their pocket to those asking for it, and performing quiet acts of grace – be it a hug, a smile, or a pat on the back to show ones in need that they would be alright. This is what I grew up seeing, so that is what I grew up being: a young adult with a social consciousness to do what I could, and to, at the very least, speak up when I knew something was wrong.

I was just eleven years old when I was in my classroom at Hollywood Little Red Schoolhouse and a commercial came on for a popular dish washing liquid. The tagline of the campaign said, "Women all over America are fighting greasy pots and pans." The boys in my classroom yelled out, "Yeah, that's where women belong. In the kitchen." My little freckled face became red with anger. I went home and wrote letters to powerhouse feminist attorney, Gloria Allred; to a host of a kids news program; to the soup manufacturer; and to Hilary Clinton (who was our First Lady at the time). With the exception of the soap manufacturer, they all pledged support – and within a few months, the commercial was changed to, "People all over America are fighting greasy pots and pans."

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