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Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself by Alan Alda

"And that's something else I want to tell you as we stand in this doorway today. Love your work. If you always put your heart into everything you do, you can't lose. Whether or not you wind up making a lot of money, you will have had a wonderful time, and no one will ever be able to take that away from you." ......

Throughout the decades that make up his nearly sixty-year tenure in the acting industry, Alan Alda has been asked to give countless motivational speeches at places at which he will be the first to tell you he had no business speaking. He was asked to give these speeches for many reasons, most of them probably having to do with his recognizable face and the character he became synonymous with in the early 1970s, but also because in addition to everything else that he is, Alan Alda is a man whose intellect reaches no bounds, and who dares to ask the questions that everybody else has always been afraid to ask. Where most people tip-toe over eggshells their entire lives, this guy tap-dances through mine-fields, daring to say the things that everybody else wants to say but can't manage it. He *gives* these speeches because, in his words, he likes to do things that scare him. Out of the hundreds of reasons to admire him that he has offered me in his two autobiographies, his fearlessness, or rather his willingness to accept fear as part of human metamorphosis, is right at the top of the list.

Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself picks up where Never Have Your Dog Stuffed left off: Alan Alda having been spared death by emergency surgery on a mountain-top in Chile. "I was so glad to have not died that day that I made it my new birthday," he says, and subsequently he was inspired to take an insightful look back on all of the things that he has done, everything that he has learned in his life, and decide whether the life he has lived has been as meaningful as it could have been. If it has then he's among the small percentage of the population who could say that. If he's not then, he asks, what can he do to "squeeze the most juice out of his new life"? In search of the answer to his questions, Alan turns to the bevy of inspirational and motivational speeches that he has cultivates over the years, and using the collection of his own words that has built up over critical points of his life, he strives to determine out of what one, or several, things comes a "life of meaning."

Now, I'm not saying that this autobiography is in any way interchangeable with the first one. Never Have Your Dog Stuffed is one of my most favorite autobiographical offerings in a long time. What *this* book *is*, though, is honest, and insightful, and candid, and witty, and filled with the things that in some dim part of the 90% of our brains that we don't use we have always known to be true, but we just needed somebody else, somebody that, for whatever reason, we have grown to trust, to tell us.

In this book Alan gets personal: and contrary to popular belief, getting personal is not such a simple thing to choose to do when you're an actor. Truth be told, *acting* is about 70 % pretending ---- but the other 30% is having the courage to dig deep into yourself and coax out of the privacy of yourself a passion that maybe you never knew you had, but that is a part of you and needs to be brought forth in order to make the work that you are doing great. That can be a terrifying thing to do, because it exposes a deeply personal part of yourself to thousands of strangers who would take any opportunity to pick your bones clean. Alan admits that he wanted fame --- every celebrity, no matter what they say, *has* to have *wanted* fame at some part in their lives, otherwise they wouldn't be where they are: they would be in grad school, or an office building, or selling half-assed used cars out of a dumpy parking lot in Sarasota --- but he also admits that the concept of *celebrity* is an intimidating, surprising, disbelieving thing. It's difficult to get used to. Celebrities have to give a part of themselves over to the character that they're portraying in order to make it worthwhile to themselves as well as the audience. Therefore, when a character is a hit, and accepting into the hearts and homes of millions of people, it can be extremely taxing for the actor portraying that character, because he has to give a piece of himself up to everybody else. He runs the risk of becoming idolized, worshiped, loved, hated, despised, loved ---- *but*, as he says in the beginning of the book, *if you love* what you do, you *cannot lose*. Alan Alda loves what he does: everything that he does.

You will take a lot of inspiring messages from this book. You may love it, you may hate it, you may read it a million times, you may never read it again after you shelf it, but *you will take from it.* Alan Alda has the distinction of being one of those people whom is so masterful of our language that he knows how to bend it to his will in order to make it the most powerful when it reaches the people to whom he is speaking. If he believes in something enough to talk about it then it's worth hearing, because he knows how to say it in a way that makes you wonder why in the hell you haven't thought of that before.

Because of his first autobiography I thought I had become some kind of authority on actors ---- and judging by this tome that I have constructed I now think I'm some kind of authority on giving speeches. I don't profess to be an accomplished writer, and maybe I ramble too much to be completely well understood, but if I have learned anything else from Alan Alda is that I have to do what I love. If you don't even make it to the message at the end of this book, at least take the one from the beginning: do what you love.

I'm going to close this review with a quote, taken from the book, by a man whom Alan Alda both respected, admired, and portrayed in a Broadway play despite knowing that he could never fully make the audience understand how great a person that man was. As he was dying from cancer, the brilliant scientist Richard Feynman refused an anesthetic at the end, because, as he said, "If I'm going to die, I want to be there when I do." I love that. I want to do that. But I also want to be there when I live.




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