Dodging Bullets

Navigate Hurdles & Mundane Responsibilities

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“Dodge a bullet”: To successfully avoid something negative. Something that your future self will thank you for.

I want to tell a story about dodging bullets. It begins about 20 years ago, in New York City.  I was working for a church in midtown Manhattan, assisting with programs in exchange for free housing in their on-site dormitory. I always wanted to take acting classes in New York and see if I could find success as an actress, and because of a previous summer internship at the church, the pastor invited me back to live and work.

ads-architecture-billboards-802024 copyAside from my duties with the church and a non-profit based there, I also had a job as a hostess at Texas, Texas Restaurant and Saloon near Times Square, on 48th and Broadway. Free housing in Manhattan was a huge blessing, but I still had to pay for food and living expenses in one of the most amazing, yet expensive cities in the country. Fortunately, I had saved up money before moving there to pay for acting classes. I took a scene study at HB Studios, an on-camera class at T. Schreiber Studios, and a handful of others. All of it was engaging and fun. Of course, like any aspiring actress, I had a headshot made with my television, film and theater experience printed on the back. I remember some of the advice given to me as a newbie in the acting scene – “Don’t give out unsolicited headshots.” In New York, industry people were all around you, on the subway, at a restaurant, so the implication was use your discretion when bombarding someone with your acting experience.

One morning, while standing at my perch at Texas, Texas, having wiped off the seating chart from the night before, menus straightened and in their correct spot, two men walked in and asked to be seated. I immediately recognized one of them from across the hostess stand. It was Harvey Weinstein. One of the most powerful men in the entertainment industry. The executive producer of Shakespeare in Love, Good Will Hunting, and so many of my favorite films from my teen and early adult years. He was standing less than 2 feet away from me.

Our restaurant was very touristy.  Rarely, if ever, had celebrities dined there. This was a big deal. Mr. Weinstein asked if we served breakfast, I said we did not. He said that’s okay and proceeded to show me where he wanted to sit, away from the windows, at a circular table near the bar, no one seated nearby. All the servers knew who he was, everyone on the floor that morning kept looking at each other like, is this for real? We all noticed that his assistant kept his hands on or near a briefcase the entire time they were there.

Courtney Craven HeadshotAfter seating him, I went back to the hostess stand and remembered I had brought my headshots to work! I had an acting class that evening, and the teacher asked that we bring in a few. My mind started racing. I could give one to him. I could ask, very politely and quietly, if he’d accept it. I could ask his assistant, maybe on the way out, so it’s no pressure, just in case it was a little off-putting to extend an unsolicited headshot. So many thoughts ran through my mind. A server walked up and egged me on, “You haveto give it to him, when will you have this chance again?! It’s Harvey Weinstein!”

After a short meal, Mr. Weinstein and his assistant paid and walked back by me to exit the restaurant onto Broadway. This was my chance. I looked at him, and he looked back at me. We made eye contact. I think he knew I wanted to say something. Right then two guests walked in to be seated. I turned to them, afraid it would be rude to ignore them. I looked back and Harvey Weinstein was walking out the door. I missed my opportunity.

Failure Redeemed

Most people, when I tell them about living in New York during that time period ask me about September 11th, what that day was like, how close was I to the twin towers. Very few ask me about my acting classes, or did anything come of that endeavor. But when they have, I’ve replied pretty much the same way for 20 years:  I had a really good audition in front of Conan O’Brien’s people for a sketch comedy bit. And I sat Harvey Weinstein at the restaurant I worked at and didn’t give him my headshot. It was definitely a ‘fail’ in the grand tally of failures in my life. And I never allowed myself to forget it.

hands-information-magazine-6053 copyFast forward to October of 2017, I see some breaking news online. Various employees at the Weinstein Company are accusing Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment. I’m shocked. No way, surely it’s hearsay, or jilted employees. The next day Ashley Judd, one of my acting and philanthropic heroes, comes forward, as do several others. Almost instantly, 16 years of holding on to a failure starts flooding to the surface in the form of tears. I find myself walking to the bathroom to compose myself because I’m at work. My mind races back to that morning at Texas, Texas. Had I handed him my headshot, would Harvey Weinstein have taken advantage of me, given the opportunity? Would I, at age 24, agree to meet a very important industry figure at a hotel for an audition or work meeting? Would a red flag be raised once I realized it was a hotel room, not a conference room or hotel restaurant? Would I have still entered the room??

Knowing Why Something Failed

How rare it is that we get the privilege of knowing why something didn’t work out. How often we go about our lives thinking, man, I messed that up. If only I’d done something different, everything would be better. I want to encourage you to do something I did not do: Trust God. Trust that He’s got you in the palm of His hand, as it tells us in Isaiah 49:16. We want so badly to be in charge of our own destiny. But there is so much we do not see happening behind the scenes, and He sees it all. Jeremiah 29:11 says, ” ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’.” When you look back at a failure or missed opportunity, remind yourself that God is in control. And trust that even if you have veered off the course He set for you, He can get you back on it.

Secondly, let go of your failures. Move on. I truly didn’t realize how long I’d held on to that moment, and how much it had controlled my perception of my time in New York. I really believed I could have become ‘the next big thing’ had I just passed Mr. Weinstein my headshot. That’s silly. Do not allow yourself to hold on to mis-steps from the past. It’s easier said than done, but re-hashing scenarios or failures is a waste of your precious time! Isaiah 43:18 says, “Forget the former things, do not dwell on the past.”

Lastly, be smart. Even today, months after the first accusations against Harvey Weinstein, numerous high-profile individuals are being accused of sexual harassment and assault. Several of them have admitted to it, and are leaving their respective posts as congressmen, restaurant owners, record label moguls, TV show hosts, the list goes on and on. Guard yourself, especially at work, from unwanted advances, and report them to a supervisor when and if they occur. In my opinion, teenagers are easy to take advantage of because it’s not “cool” to snitch. Sometimes it’s easy to shrug something off than draw unwanted attention to yourself. Please fight for yourself. Tell someone – a teacher, a parent, if anyone threatens you sexually. Your body and mind are yours alone.

My Current Reality

Yes Ma'am Band Shoot-100 copyI never “made it” as an actress. I played a bit role in a documentary that aired on ESPN, and I’ve done some voice-over work, but that’s pretty much it. In recent years, I have channeled my love for performing into a country-folk band, called Yes Ma’am. I song write and sing, and have enjoyed performing at various venues in and around Charlotte, North Carolina. My bandmates are friends I met at church. Sometimes God helps us dodge bullets, then puts us right where He wants us. It just takes time.

Photography of Yes Ma'am by Daniel Jones
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