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Essays inspiration issues life Making Changes motivation musings poems reflections Success

Giving Up to Get Ahead


Sunset Over MexicoEvery so often, it’s not such a bad idea to give up.

The word I really want to use is surrender, but I’m not really sure what that word means in the truest sense. I’m going to barge right ahead and use it anyway.

Once every ten years or so, I get to the point where I just want to surrender. I feel like I have done everything that can be done to accomplish my goals, and nothing seems to be happening. The feeling usually lasts for anywhere between three minutes and three days.

The funny thing is I find that I actually get somewhere when I reach this point. In one sense, it’s a scary place, a place of desperation, a feeling of being at the end of my rope. But I’ve found it can be an auspicious place. I wrote this yesterday on the subject (in less than three minutes).

I want to go higher, but don’t know how. It seems like I’ve tried everything, only to fall, crashing back to earth, unkindly.

I think, however, I’ve been this way before. When it seems like I have looked in every crevice and corner, turned over every stone, in search of the faintest glimmer of light—the light is usually not very far away.

There comes a time when Grace is met by human effort. I know that Grace will have to come sooner, rather than later, because I have been relentless in my pursuit of peace, joy, and love. Life becomes much easier when you know what you want.

One of the good things about advancing age is that it makes it easier to focus on priorities. I mean real priorities—the meaningful stuff, because the clock is ticking, louder and louder. There simply isn’t time to screw around with trivialities and false values. I’m tired of the tricks my mind plays on me. I’m tired of chasing my tail. I’m tired of being lost in the fun house of illusion.

I want the real thing—the beauty within my heart—and I know that it can’t be far away. I’ve been everywhere, done everything, made a fool of myself, and accomplished a few things. You can’t elude me much longer, dear Friend.

Photo Credits: “Sunset Over Mexico” by Bettina Schwehn / uniqraphy , Illusion Photo by Mateusz Stachowski

Lost in the Fun House of Illusion
Lost in the Fun House of Illusion
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Essays humor international issues life Making Changes musings reflections

Can We Make Fewer Babies?


All this talk about overpopulation is finally beginning to hit home. Lately, it seems like almost everywhere I go, hordes of people come crawling out of the woodwork.

It’s really becoming annoying. Take, for example, a trip to the mall. You have to use a slide rule to calculate the ideal time to go, to avoid peak hour pedestrian traffic trampling you underfoot.

At the rate the world population is growing, many of us will have to consider living on another planet in some distant galaxy.  It won’t be long before scientists discover a suitable planet to colonize and they build a faster-than-light-speed spacecraft to take us there. I’m going to make sure my retirement account is healthy enough to buy a one-way ticket for me and my family to make the journey.

Starting over, however, is not going to be easy.  There won’t be any NFL or NBA games to watch, golf to play, books to read, or computer games to play—save the ones we take with us.  My wife and daughter will miss Lifetime, Housewives, nail salons, and shopping malls, to mention only a few life staples, before civilization reasserts itself.

How did we get ourselves into this situation? According to an actuarial study commissioned by the US Social Security Service, life expectancy has increased by 28 years for men and 26 years for women from 1900 to 2001. According to the same study, this is due to several factors:

• Access to primary medical care for the general population

• Improved healthcare provided to mothers and babies

• Availability of immunizations

• Improvements in motor vehicle safety

Clean water supply and waste removal

• Safer and more nutritious foods

• Rapid rate of growth in the general standard of living

I’d like to add one more item to this list: Thanks to medical science, people are living longer. In my humble opinion, some people are living longer than they should. Please allow me to explain.

As I write this, I’m sitting in a cancer center waiting for a vitamin B-12 shot and thanking God I don’t have cancer. I see people shuffle in, many in their eighties and nineties, supported by walkers and canes, wearing bandages, heads bent, half asleep. You have to feel sorry for these people while praying you don’t wind up like them.

Certainly, cancer has many causes, but one of them is simply the aging process. We reach a point where our immune system grows too feeble to protect us. At this point, the party is over. We become like AIDS patients before the curative cocktail, with nothing to look forward to but one disease after another.

Yet people hang on, thanks to the wonders of medical science, hoping life will one day be worth living again. Maybe that day will come when full-body transplants become available. If this doesn’t happen in the next ten or twenty years, I hope I will have the wisdom to know when it’s time to gracefully exit stage right (or left.) To put it another way, to have the courtesy to make room for someone else and stop contributing to escalating healthcare costs.

In the meantime, I’ll go on meditating, exercising and pursuing the interests that make me feel happy-from-the-heart. And for the sake of EVERYONE’S quality of life, can we PLEASE be a little more conscious by making fewer babies?

Planet Colonization
Planet Colonization
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Essays humor international issues musings reflections

Voir Dire and the Hydrogen Bomb


Nobody likes it. I am no exception. We’re talking about jury duty, of course. I kept trying to forget the impending date, but something kept reminding me, like, the Jury Summons itself sitting in a corner of the bedroom on my desk. Despite the negative anticipation and a six a.m. alarm, I wound up having a pretty good time on my day in court—believe it or not.

For starters, the clerk called out my number and name among the first panel of prospective jurors summoned that morning. I went directly upstairs to await the process of Jury selection instead of sitting in an over-crowded room of eight hundred people coughing, burping, farting, and talking on their cell phones.

Being selected randomly by the computer for the first panel of jurors equates to winning the lottery…well, maybe the scratch off lottery. I sat in a waiting room outside the courtroom on the fifth floor with seventeen other fortunate souls awaiting Voir Dire (to speak the truth) also known as jury selection. The bailiff ushered us into the courtroom where six attorneys (three for each side) and the judge awaited us.  Everyone except the judge stood during our entrance out of respect for the judicial system and our suffering…whoops, I mean our service.

I feel compelled to interject a few words about the judge here. She belied all of my preconceived notions about judges, the product mostly of television programs. She showed uncommon courtesy, sympathy and compassion for the jurors, and a kindness as well as fairness towards the attorneys.

The judge read a brief overview of the case to us. It involved a former police officer who was suing the girl who stabbed him while on duty and Wal-mart where the crime occurred.

Now the process of Voir Dire began in earnest with the lead attorney for the plaintiff asking us a series of questions. Here are some of the highlights. When asked if anyone on the panel had a problem with personal injury lawsuits, two gentlemen and one woman offered that they believed more than fifty percent of PI lawsuits were frivolous.  Another woman stated that she, as a Christian person, had a problem with all lawsuits, professing that people should not sue one another.

When asked about our opinions about lawyers in general, one gentleman said, “I hate lawyers. My ex-wife and her scheming attorney sentenced me to a lifetime of alimony payments.”

It seems to me the only explanation that people make statements and express views such as these is for the express purpose of being relieved of the burden of jury duty.

After a lunch break, the lead defense attorney approached us for questioning. He began by asking, “Does anyone on the panel bake.” Three women raised their hands. The Plaintiff’s attorney immediately objected. “We don’t have any cakes or baking in this case.”

The Judge allowed the defense some leeway when the defense attorney promised to, “tie in” the question. He made the point that baked goods must have a specific number of ingredients included for a successful result. Failure to include one or more ingredients will doom the baking project. In a similar fashion, the plaintiff’s attorneys were duty-bound to prove all the elements required by law for  the jury to award damages.

It dawned upon me that attorneys begin indoctrinating the jury even before the formal proceedings begin. You learn something new every day.

The defense attorney then asked us if anyone had a bad customer experience at Wal-mart. One gentleman raised his hand. Under repeated questioning, he admitted a manager resolved the matter to his satisfaction. ice-age-ahead-iaa.ca

Then the attorney dropped, what turned out for me, the hydrogen bomb. He asked if anyone on the panel “had a problem with Wal-mart in general.” In that moment, I realized I did—a big problem.

I flashed back six months to a PBS Frontline documentary titled, “Is Wal-mart Good for America.”  I found it enlightening and a bit shocking.

I proceeded to tell the attorney that I did have a problem with Wal-mart. He said he would question me in private about it. Obviously, he didn’t want my opinion to contaminate the other panelists.

After the defense attorney finished his questions, I expressed my views with the other jury members outside the room. I said I had learned from a PBS documentary that Wal-mart is a major contributing factor to the erosion of the manufacturing base in this country and our widening negative balance of trade, with more products imported than exported.

Wal-mart buys most of its products from China. Sam Walton, the founder of the company, had a firm policy of buying American. Unfortunately, Sam Walton, along with the rest of the world, has passed on.

I also learned that Wal-mart underpays its employees, despite making thirteen billion in profits in 2012. In addition, the company indirectly supports the policy of many foreign manufacturers paying their employees what amounts to slave wages to produce at prices low enough to satisfy Wal-mart.

Wal-mart also practices deceptive advertising. They promote low prices on loss leader items while many other items in the store match the prices of other major competitors. Wal-mart makes more profit on these items than their competitors due to their massive buying power, but the savings are not passed on to the consumer.

I concluded my remarks by saying in my opinion Wal-mart does not serve the public interest. The company does not contribute one iota to the standard of living of anyone in this country. Instead, Wal-mart detracts from our quality of life by making it harder to find a good-paying job or to own and operate an independent business, small or large. I embellished these remarks with one final stroke of the sword: “Wal-mart is a cancer growing steadily in developed and developing countries worldwide.”

The defense attorney just stood there behind his lectern in disbelief.

In trying to discern my motives for this outburst, I have yet to come up with a solid answer. Should I commend myself for telling the truth, or did I simply find a creative way to weasel out of jury duty? I honestly don’t know.

Categories
Essays movies musings Nostalgia reflections

The Case of the Missing Box Office


Escaping from his empty life, traveling salesman Todd Woods (Paul Giamatti –L) discovers the joys of karaoke singing and a new friend in ex-con and soulful singer Reggie Kane (Andre Braugher –R) ©2000 “Duets” Hollywood Pictures

I like movies with heart. “Duets” is a movie with a big heart that nobody went to see.  Well, almost nobody.  Despite an intelligent, one-of-a-kind script and a star-studded cast, “Duets” tallied a mere 4.73 million dollars in domestic box office sales.* In terms of Hollywood studio economics this paltry sum is tantamount to a financial implosion.

“Duets” is (mostly) a feel-good road movie about people following their hearts and discovering who they are. I don’t see any harm in a story like that, particularly if you can add a few new twists and keep  folks smiling.  I thought “Duets” did both, but a lot of people disagreed.

I can find only two explanations why “Duets,” a movie I liked, was so universally overlooked by the movie-going public. Explanation 1: I have very bad taste. Explanation 2: An overwhelming number of negative reviews by movie critics cut off the hand that feeds the box office.

According to Metacritic® (www.metacritic.com) a sample of 29 professional movie critics gave “Duets” an average rating of 40 % out of 100. In contrast, a sample of twelve “Users” (people) gave the movie a rating of 8.8 points out of 10. (I realize this is a small sampling of “Users,” but let’s not forget that not many people saw this movie.)

According to this compact study then, “Duets” is a predominantly people friendly movie with an allergy to movie critics.

Here are a few typical movie critic reviews:

“Miserable as it crawls for two eternal hours towards being “life affirming.” Wesley Morris, San Francisco Examiner

“Simply creaks with contrivance—particularly in its overwrought finale.” Curtis Morgan, Miami Herald

“A leaden piece of whimsy that looks for profound life lessons among a group of karaoke bar aficionados.” Steve Daly, Entertainment Weekly

To be fair, some critics praised “Duets, as evidenced by these reviews:

“A highly likable movie.” M.V. Moorhead, Dallas Observer.

“Appealing, and ultimately moving.” Bob Graham, San Francisco Chronicle.

Gwyneth Paltrow (L) stars as Liv, an innocent Las Vegas showgirl in search of a connection to a lone wolf karaoke hustler (Huey Lewis–R) ©2000 “Duets” Hollywood Pictures

Now let’s hear from a few movie-goers:

“Her name was Lola. She was a show girl…dah de dah de dah. This movie was fun interesting and catchy. What is better?” James R.

“This movie is engaging, the story unfolds around the music, and Paul Giamatti is great. Apart some predictable things typical nowadays in American movies (family values, etc.), this movie is fun.” Pablo E.

“I loved it. Movie critics suck.” Stephanie R.

“The karaoke scenes were great…the film got me.” John O.

“Bette Davis Eyes…I like this song! Especially when Gwyneth Paltrow sang it.” Jiae K.  (I agree with you, Jiae. Paltrow sings the song like a sultry angel in her own voice–no dubbing.)

It’s interesting to note the difference between the critical reviews and the “User” reviews.  Critics, for the most part, write about the movie from a purely intellectual and artistic point of view. Believe it or not, I feel strongly this point of view does the movie-going public a disservice. For a more detailed explanation of what I mean by this, please read my earlier post, “Do Movie Critics Have a Heart?”

The people who commented on “Duets” experienced the movie in a completely different way than the critics. They connected with the movie emotionally.  They had a good time. People primarily go to the movies to be entertained. I believe this is a fact most movie critics tend to forget.

Here is my own somewhat extended review of the movie.

The script weaves the stories of three sets of people into a road movie unified by the common thread of karaoke. I give the screenwriter, John Byrum, credit for coming up with this unique concept. Before watching the movie, I never knew karaoke bars existed, and people competed in karaoke competitions for cash prizes. I discovered an entire karaoke subculture and its attendant technology. One of the things a good movie will do is open a door to a world you’ve never experienced before. For me, Duets succeeded admirably in this regard.

Down on his luck cabbie Billy Hannon(Scott Speedman–L) comes to the rescue of wannabe singing star Suzi Loomis (Maria Bello–R) ©2000 “Duets” Hollywood Pictures

Good music of any kind never fails to stir the human soul. This comes through in the “User review” excerpts. I found the music and the surprising singing talent of the “A” list actors showcased in “Duets” both refreshing and moving. I am astonished that movie critics, in large part, failed to respond to the musical dimension of “Duets.”

“Hard to take stone-cold sober,” writes critic Jack Matthews of the New York Daily Times.

Instead of asking, “Do movie critics have are heart,” I wonder if it might be more appropriate to ask, “Do movie critics have a heart beat?”

What about the acting? Well, Huey Lewis is definitely a better singer than actor. But I thought he basically got the job done in his role as a karaoke hustler and recalcitrant father. I have some questions about the choices Gwyneth Paltrow made in playing her role as Lewis’ long-lost daughter. I think she was going for innocent, but I didn’t feel it worked.  I’d say this was the one major flaw in the film. I thought the other stars, Giamatti, Braugher, andMaria Bello all brought “A list” luster and ingenuity to their roles.

I found the three stories in the movie appealing, and yes, even insightful, some more than others. I enjoy movies that have the unmitigated gall (according to critics) to explore questions like “What the hell am I doing here?” or “What does it take to be a good person?”

I believe the emotional center of the movie revolves around the disillusioned-with-the American-Dream character of Paul Giamatti playing opposite Andre Braugher, an ex-con. Braugher (Life on the Street) brings his customary moral compass and dignity to the role, plus a singing voice you would not believe he commands if you had not heard it yourself. This can also be said for Gwyneth Paltrow, and to a slightly lesser degree, Paul Giamatti and Maria Bello.

I connected with “Duets” emotionally. Like John O said, “…this movie got me.”

I’ll close by saying it’s very hard to make a compelling, engaging movie that switches back and forth between three different stories.Yet here I am, twelve years later, still thinking about “Duets.” Am I smart or senile to like this movie? Why did it fail at the box office?” Did “Duets” make a comeback in movie rental receipts?

If you have the answers to any of these questions, I’d love to hear from you.

*September 17th to October 29, 2000. Source: Wolfram Alpha Computational Knowledge engine (www.wolframalpha.com)

Categories
Essays humor movies musings

Do Movie Critics Have a Heart?


black hole or heart?

At the risk of stating the obvious, I’m fed up with movie critics. Critics are supposed to help me find good movies, and they tend to fail miserably at this.

My purpose here is not to be unkind to movie critics. Instead, I’m trying to understand by thinking out loud on paper why movie critics are so unreliable.

Most movie scripts share a common shape.  By this I mean the stories are grouped into three acts designed to build dramatic tension, climax, and ultimately resolve the conflict. A number of precise rules for screenwriting success are drilled into the heads of screenwriting students. I have experienced this first-hand as a screenwriting student at UCLA. There are pros and cons to the three-act formula. The good news is that the structure works fairly well. The bad news is that it can impede creativity. Most writers and film makers need a structure or a shared convention to shape their work, no matter how badly they resent it. Genius writers and filmmakers break the rules at will and succeed handsomely. You just have to know where you fit in.

The point I’m trying to make is that there is a basic flow to most movie stories. I don’t think most movie-goers mind the similarity. Critics do. They complain bitterly about it. Unfortunately, not too many people can come up with a movie like Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction” every time they pull the trigger.

Critics know this. They aren’t dumb, after all. They are just bored with watching so many stories that unfold in a similar manner. They also get tired of the same themes, over and over again. And the movie they are reviewing often reminds them of one of the many others they’ve seen. They conveniently forget there is nothing new under the sun and filmmakers tend to influence one another. So the pro critic is prone to bouts of grumpiness, a jaded outlook, and unreasonableness.

My intention is not to make excuses for bad movies.  We all know there are too many sub-par films hitting the streets every day. I do need to point out, however, that it’s hard to make a decent movie. Many elements have to come together gracefully and, in a way, miraculously.

A good film begins with a good script. After the filmmaker pens or acquires a good script, no easy feat in itself, he or she must assemble a cast of competent actors. In Hollywood, they have to be “A” list actors to get financing. Trying to get a few people from a small pool of famous actors interested in your script isn’t the easiest thing to do in the world.

Add cinematography, sound, makeup, costumes, editing, scenery and other artistic functions requiring a high degree of talent and expertise, and you have an accident waiting to happen unless everyone involved knows what they are doing. Add another intangible element like the chemistry that develops or fails to develop between cast members and crew, and you can see why filmmaking is a risky business.

Obviously, a great deal of blood sweat and tears, not to mention money, goes into making a “major motion picture.” There is no doubt that a lot of movies fall far short of the artistic vision that breathed life into them. But there are a lot of movies that deserve more credit than critics are willing to give them.

I understand that a critic’s job is to criticize. Go ahead and nitpick about whatever aspects of a movie that may not work.  But please, I beg, pay a little more attention to the overall effect the movie evokes. That’s what People care about.

In my next post, I’m going to talk about Duets, another movie I felt received short shrift from professional movie critics.

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Essays inspiration movies musings

Nominated to the Under-Appreciated Hall of Fame


"The Family Man" Copyright 2000 Universal Studios
Nicolas Cage and Don Cheadle in a scene from “The Family Man” Copyright 2000 Universal Studios

If there is a hall of fame for under-appreciated or misunderstood movies, then “The Family Man” belongs in it.

For the record, I have studied screenwriting at UCLA, have written three screenplays, and watch at least two to three movies a week.  I mention this only to point out that my opinion is not entirely uninformed (off the wall—maybe—uninformed—no.)

Despite this informed opinion, “The Family Man,” starring Nicolas Cage and Tea Leoni, met with lukewarm reviews by critics and movie fans when it came out in 2000.

The story opens with a day in the life of Jack Campbell, a thirty-something, wealthy investment banker who captains a boutique investment firm on Wall Street.  Jack is intelligent, ambition consumed, bold, self-centered, and charming. Even though his life revolves around the pursuit of money and the pleasures of the flesh, he is hard not to like.  His appreciation of classical music and opera displayed in the opening scenes hints at the presence of a soul.

When this movie was made, Nick Cage was still at the height of his acting career.  I believe Jack Campbell is one of his more memorable roles.  All of the characters in the movie, for that matter, are finely drawn and acted.

After becoming acquainted with Jack Campbell and the world he inhabits, the screenwriters (David Diamond and David Weissman) waste no time in spinning the tale. Jack drops into a fast-food mart after work on Christmas Eve to buy eggnog and stumbles into an armed altercation between a disgruntled customer and the store owner.  Jack intervenes to prevent a violent incident by offering to buy a lottery ticket the owner claims is a fake.

In the aftermath, outside of the store, Jack speaks with the disgruntled customer, played by Don Cheadle. Cheadle happens to be an angel on a routine mission designed to teach the Chinese convenience store owner a lesson in racial tolerance.  The owner doesn’t learn his lesson, which puts the angel in a foul mood.  Unwittingly, Jack contributes to the angel’s frustration with the human condition by making a condescending remark indicative of his superior attitude.  The angel decides to teach Jack a lesson by sending him into an alternate reality that “might have been” if he had not deserted his college sweetheart to launch his career as an intern at an investment firm in England. The angel gives Jack a chance to get a “glimpse” into a life based on a completely different set of values than the values he now holds dear.

Tea Leoni and Nicolas Cage Copyright 2000 Universal Studios

A big dog slurping Jack’s face wakes him up in bed next to the woman he left cold “in real life.”  He is shocked and horrified when two young children pile on top him.  The kids are under the ridiculous impression that Jack, a lone wolf of Wall Street, is their father.

In “The Family Man” Jack’s disdain for middle class values slowly turns into respect, caring, and finally a deep concern for the people who surround him.  This synopsis really doesn’t do the movie justice.  I found almost every scene in the movie poignant.  Many of the scenes are multi-layered with subtle observations about human nature and social issues.  The dialogue and situations are clever and insightful without a hint of cliché.

The movie moved me to the point of tears in three or four scenes. One example involves Jack’s relationship with the little girl who would have been his daughter in his alternate life.  The little girl, Annie, senses Jack is not her “real father.” She concludes Jack is an alien and asks him where the mother ship is so she can get her father back.

In a scene towards the end of the movie, Jack and Annie frolic in the snow on Christmas morning.  By now, Jack has formed a bond with the child.  Jack falls down and Annie crawls onto his chest.  With a precious smile, she says, “I knew you’d come back.”

I lost it right there.

Many critics commented that the movie over-sentimentalized middle class life.  I disagree.  I feel the movie artfully portrayed the bumps and warts of middle-class existence, as well as the pitfalls and emptiness of Jack’s investment-banker life.  Neither of the two Jacks had it all.  Regardless, I found the lifestyle issue secondary.  The element of the movie that spoke to me the loudest was Jack’s transformation.

Makenzie Vega and Nicolas Cage Copyright 2000 Universal Studios

“The Family Man” isn’t the only movie I liked that critics and movie fans, in disturbing numbers, deemed “overly sentimental.” Either my sensibilities are inverted, or I’m incredibly sane. Whatever the case, I’m sticking to my guns.  I just want to point out that as the world grows more cynical and hardened, it appears good movies are becoming an endangered species.  I believe there is a direct connection here.  Think about it.

Fictional movies reflect our world while creating their own realities.  They are, by definition, abstractions.  However, good movies have the power to inspire us to rise above fears and other roadblocks in the way of a better life and a better world.  They teach us, often, to listen to our hearts.  This isn’t always easy.  One has to develop a relationship with one’s heart to hear it.

Feeling, I find, is a first step in cultivating a relationship with the heart.  I believe that cultivating a relationship with the heart is essential to leading a full life.  There is no one way to do it, but I feel strongly that the human heart needs to be cultivated, just like abs, biceps, WordPress blogs, and Facebook pages.

I liked the “The Family Man” because it made me feel.  I practice meditation every day to cultivate a relationship with my heart.  You might say the practice helps to “tenderize” my heart center. This movie reminded me that I have one.

Categories
Essays humor issues life musings reflections

Natural Foods Facts


I started eating natural foods at the age of 21.  Considering that was 42 years ago, I am somewhat of a pioneer or at the very least an early adopter.

The increasing popularity of natural foods is proof positive that human consciousness is continuing to expand.  However, I am at a loss to explain how the average natural food enthusiast can afford the cost of gas and natural foods.

Wait a minute.  Maybe if you eat one-and-a-half meals a day instead of three you can afford both.

Source: http://www.worldfoods.net

Hold on.  I think I’ve finallyfigured it out.  Yes, this has to be the answer:

People who buy their groceries at natural food stores and continue to drive their cars no longer go to the movies.

This means that the decline in movie box office sales is NOT due to the quality of the movies coming out of Hollywood nowadays.  It is due to a redistribution of disposable income into the natural food sector.

Let’s move on to a few important facts of interest that will affect your life, whether you eat natural foods or not, and whether you like it or not (the facts, I mean.)

Tofu is the natural food equivalent of Hamburger Helper.

People who eat natural foods are 37% less likely to be involved in road rage incidents when compared to a statistically relevant sample of processed food consumers.

Children brought up on natural food are 26% more likely to realize GOD at some point beyond the age of 40.

In ten years, there will be 2,719 WHOLE FOODS stores in China.

If natural food consumption continues to grow at its present rate, financial analysts predict BURGER KING and McDONALDS corporations will merge within the next seven years and the new company will attempt to buy the WHOLE FOODS chain.

Editor’s Note: We hope this does not happen.

Antioxidant Foods
Source: http://www.dailyfitnessmagz.com
Categories
Essays memories musings Nostalgia profiles

Sunday Nights With Shep


In his prime, Jean Shepherd hypnotized audiences for hours with stories about bumper stickers, TV commercials, Green Stamps, and the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.  Like most great discoveries, I found Jean Shepherd purely by accident.  Sunday nights presented a precarious dilemma until Jean came along.  I didn’t want to close my eyes because the next thing you knew, the sun would be pinching my cheek.  It would be Monday morning, the beginning of another week of Junior High School.

My primary goal, therefore, centered upon pushing Monday morning as far into Sunday night as my sleep-deprived brain permitted.  My pre-Jean Shepherd solution to the Sunday night dilemma involved listening to Rock and Roll music on a radio underneath the covers.  One night, while switching from one Rock and Roll station to another, I found “Shep.”

The experts at the time might have called it “experimental radio.”  Whatever it was, I had never heard anything like the smooth jazz overlaid by that voice, the one that put an arm around my shoulder and whispered, “c’mon pal, I got some cool places to take you to.”

When I first tripped over the threshold of this new world, the silky voice in the night was talking about cigarette coupons.  It told a story about two friends who “made the same dough,” yet one of them had a new TV, and a boat, and a Ford Mustang, and a vacation home in the country—all purchased with cigarette coupons.  It soon became clear to the other sad sack that he was an idiot not to smoke “Wonkies,” the brand with the coupons, the kind his buddy smoked.  Of course the poor slob who smoked the Wonkies was dying of cancer, but it didn’t matter, because he had been smart enough to get the boat, and the car and the vacation home for free.  He had enjoyed a lifetime of smoking Wonkies, and now his family could use the boat and the other goodies after he died.

The music swelled a bit louder.  Now the voice talked about life on other planets.  Did the inhabitants have better bathrooms than ours?  Did the people have jobs, or could they just go to the bank and ask the teller for as much money as they needed to feed and clothe their families, with enough left over to go to an amusement park or take a quick vacation on another planet.  Everyone had to be on the honor system, or there wouldn’t be enough money to go around.  But these were aliens, after all, not human beings, so there would probably be no problem.

The voice kept talking.  It swept me away.  I lay there listening to my radio.  I felt like a five-year-old kid attending the circus for the first time with his Dad.  The world outside was crazy as hell, but I had it made in the shade, hypnotized by another one of Jean Shepherd’s stories.  Monday morning had disappeared over the horizon—miles, and miles, and miles down the road.

1950’s Radio. Image Source: http://www.radiomuseum.org
Categories
Essays inspiration life Making Changes motivation musings

Living With No Downside


Image Source: http://www.grist.org

Open your mental windows.  Let your attitude bathe in the sunshine of optimism.  Don’t worry about the possibility of sunburn.

That’s a pretty corny metaphor.  Just imagine, however, what would happen if every chronic pessimist on the planet took this advice.

The cost of healthcare would plummet. There would be fewer traffic accidents. The unemployment rate would nose dive. The average human life span would increase by five or ten years.  These are just a few of the likely outcomes of a few billion upgraded attitudes.

My optimistic attitude is based on the belief that at the very center of the universe in which we live there dwells a loving kindness that cares about our happiness and well-being.

When I choose to believe and to feel this way, life becomes easier.

Through the eyes of optimism, I see the world as a place full of endless possibilities to express myself positively.

There is a voice in my head that tries to convince me otherwise.  I suspect I am not the only person who hears this derisive, discouraging voice.  The only difference between most of us in this regard, it seems to me, is how we deal with this voice.

I used to believe the discouraging voice in my head was a friendly voice.  I believed it was there to warn me not to try things I couldn’t or shouldn’t do.  It has taken a lot of growing through painful experience to learn the critical voice was not my friend most of the time.

On the surface, it would seem an easy task to learn the difference between healthy self-restraint and the paralyzing fear engendered by an over-abundance of self-criticism.  Perhaps the messages a person hears as a child from parents and teachers makes a difference in the way he or she responds to their inner critic.  A strong self-image provides a safe haven from the twin sirens of doubt and fear.

I have found it helps to express your fears to a friend or to a mental health professional to get an objective view of your thoughts as they relate to accomplishing goals.  Most fears, when expressed out in the open, prove to be phantoms made of irrational thinking.

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The dream in your heart needs to be nurtured with positive, reinforcing thoughts in order for it to manifest into a concrete reality.  It takes a persistent, consistent effort to escape the prison of the jailing voice of discouragement.

Being optimistic is an act of loving yourself and your possibilities.  It is an act of flying above the clouds of doubt.

Personal fulfillment and the joy of helping others flow from the fountainhead of optimism.

An attitude of optimism leads to an active life of freedom.

Opportunities for growth and prosperity surround us constantly.  Smile. Open your heart and embrace these gifts as they come your way.  The loving force at the center of life beckons you to become your highest, happiest, and best self.

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Take My Right Knee


Nature persistently taps me on the back with subtle hints on how to live a happier, more fulfilled life.

As my sixty-fourth birthday approaches, the hints are becoming less subtle.

Take my right knee, for example. It’s falling apart. The cartilage in the joint has moved out. Arthritis has moved in. The good news is that I’ve found a skilled surgeon who can repair my knee with an artificial joint. Still, I must not allow this newfound hope to obscure the lesson available to me from this latest brush with nature.

As I watch my body deteriorate, I must constantly remind myself that no matter how much I exercise, eat right, think positively, love my wife and daughter, and take care of my 90 year-old mother, I am not getting any younger.

The time to be happy is right now.

The thing is, I don’t want to settle for just a little happiness. I want to be really happy. I want to, believe it or not, live in joy. It’s something I’ve put off for long enough.

About twenty-five years ago, a friend introduced me to a teacher who helped me to find joy within myself.

To be perfectly honest, I haven’t taken full advantage of the opportunity. You might say I’ve been playing a game of hide and seek with my capacity to feel joy for most of my life.

In a sense, I’ve made of habit of putting my happiness on hold by making other things in my life more important—like my desire to write ten best-selling novels, or to sell my latest screenplay to Miramax Studios, or to make a quarter-of-a-million dollars in real estate commissions in a single year. It’s not that these pursuits are unworthy goals. The problem is, I made them the number one priority in my life, rather than making peace and joy the number one priority.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve experienced more than my share of joy, peace, and love in my life, thanks especially to the unique inner experience my teacher revealed to me. It just could have been more consistent. My teacher has taught me that happiness is an art. I want to become an accomplished artist in the field of happiness.

I only hope this moment of clarity lasts. From now on, I’m determined to harvest every last droplet of joy that comes my way…before my left knee gives out.