In a ten-year career tragically cut short by Leukemia, Kate Wolf wrote and performed over 200 songs. Her music is poignant, simple, honest, and transparently beautiful. She performed at venues throughout her native state of California. Since her passing in 1986 at the age of 44, Kate’s audience has grown steadily as people like me discover her music. “September Song” (recorded on Kate’s 1979 album “Safe at Anchor”) is one of my favorites.
Motivated people always know where they are going, the voice in my head tells me.
Nope. Wrong. Turns out we all must live with uncertainty. Talking to others more than I have in the past has served to underline this truth of daily existence.
Uncertainty is a driver. The question is: How do I keep it from driving me nuts?
Best way to beat it, I’ve found, is to stay connected to my family (thank God it’s functional) and to surround myself with people striving for the same goals. A community of like-minded people. I’m being deliberately vague here. Everyone has his or her unique tribe.
Most days I have a certain set of goals to accomplish. Some small. Some not so small. I always leave at least a little time to make it up as I go along. Some days are broad canvases waiting to be painted with…whatever. Other days are jam packed with things to do. Most of my days are consumed with a combination of survival needs and creative projects crying for attention.
Twenty years ago, I made the transition from the binding ties of a corporate job to the freedom of planning my days according to what I wanted to do.
Most people dream of this freedom, but I’ve learned that it comes with a price. Freedom is worthless without a purpose.
Without purpose, my mind wanders into bad neighborhoods. Worry. Anxiety. Depression. You know what I’m talking about.
I’ve discovered that my purpose changes as I change. I am like a sea captain adjusting my course as my inner landscape changes. My course also changes depending upon the feedback I get in response to my actions.
If I can’t get over an obstacle, I get around it. If I can’t do either, I find something else to do. When it becomes painfully obvious that I’ve hit a dead end, it’s time to move on.
There is a fine line between quitting and wisdom.
Recently, I had to admit to myself that, after spending twenty years writing screenplays and novels, it was no longer in my wheel house to do it. It hurt deeply to come to this conclusion. Once I got over myself, I realized that I’m much happier writing blogs to people who can appreciate them. I hope that’s you. I’m doing this for both of us.
Life is full of challenges. At this point, I believe the central point of human existence is to set up positive challenges as much as humanly possible. I don’t look for trouble. I try not to create unnecessary problems. Life is already hard enough, thank you very much.
Creating positive challenges helps to relieve my anxiety. They also take my mind off of the uncertainty.
I listen to my heart. I accept my needs and limitations. I move forward from where I am.
Still, the future remains stubbornly uncertain. All I am given is today. Let me make the most of it. I wish the same for you.
I am constantly amazed that people wander around all day staring into their smart phones, as if these devices somehow magically fulfill all of their needs except possibly eating and procreating.
Before we continue, let me assure you of a few things, gentle reader. Despite a lack of addiction to my iPhone, I am fairly certain that I am not an alien. I do not live in an ashram. I have not recently arrived here from the year 1910 by time machine. I live a conventional life blessed with wonderful people around me including an extraordinary wife and daughter. I even liked my mother-in-law, may she rest in peace, which is the only thing that makes me unusual. Come to think of it, I also read paper back books regularly, which also makes me odd.
Like most people, I want to connect. Personally, I am content with fewer connections than most people I observe. At the same time, I admire people who can connect extensively with others while managing to live constructive lives focused on a positive purpose. (I’m not entirely sure people like this exist in large numbers these days, especially with respect to common sense coronavirus safety precautions).
I am sure, however, that a great deal of “over-connecting” is going on these days in a frantic effort to fill a space in the makeup of a human being that was designed to be filled from within.
Studies have shown that the generations born after the Internet boom have difficulty concentrating on a single task for extended periods of time. For example, today’s student typically has trouble writing papers and reading course materials with a high degree of comprehension. The studies attribute the difficulty young people have concentrating to the habit of constant multi-tasking encouraged by the endless flow of entertainment and information available on the Internet and social media interaction.
Where does all of this “outer-connecting” and constant external focus leave us? Unfortunately, IMO, a little empty inside. Perhaps lonely too.
I believe we have to spend more time connecting with ourselves. More specifically, we have to connect with a place inside that is an oasis of peace, harmony, and love.
I’m fortunate to have found that place inside. It is better described as an option to go within to experience a feeling of peace and completeness. It’s something I discovered more than thirty years ago. This feeling has stayed with me through changes, ups and downs, good and bad, and a shift into a new and different spiritual community. It’s not usually a strong feeling. It’s often subtle. But it’s there.
I balance my active outer life with a serene, fulfilling inner life. This balance has helped me to be happier, more productive, and more positive. You might say what I do on the outside has more meaning and is more effective because of the peace and harmony I have found within. It’s not an idea. It’s not a thought. It has nothing to do with my mind. It’s a real experience of peace and fulfillment emanating from my heart. (I’m speaking in ideal terms here to make a point. As my dear departed mother used to say; “Some days are diamonds and some days are gold.” Mom had a great attitude. I have to add: And other days are, well…fill in the blank). Moving on…
Peace begins in the heart, as does love, joy, compassion, and hope. We have the choice to make these feelings a bedrock of our lives. Or, we can continue to pollute the garden of our hearts by planting the weeds of hatred, cynicism, and despair. It takes a conscious effort to cultivate either one. Which choice will you make?
There are things in this world that promise satisfaction, and we launch into the quest to have these things thinking: “Wow, if I had that, I’d be happy. I’d be fulfilled.”
What we actually find is the dream turns into eventual disappointment. Because the gratification that accrues with the attainment or acquisition of something outside of ourselves vanishes, as if it were never there to begin with.
But if you were to find what you truly needed, then your satisfaction would remain and increase over time.
Because this particular satisfaction evolves. Your understanding of it deepens. Your experience of it intensifies.
When you know all of yourself, then you will be at peace with yourself and the rest of the world. And, when you find your inner treasure, then you will have something of real value to give to others.
David Gittlin has written three feature length screenplays, produced two short films, and published three novels. Before quitting his day job, he spent more than thirty years as a marketing director building expertise in advertising, copy writing, corporate communications, collateral sales materials, website content/design and online marketing.
I’ve been working towards a spiritual awakening for most of my adult life, and it seems I’m on the brink of a promising development in my growth process. There are many paths to “higher consciousness” and many kinds of spiritual awakenings. In fact, each of us is destined for his or her own unique awakening. For the past five years, I’ve been involved in something called “Waking Down in Mutuality.” WDM is a path that nurtures an embodied individual awakening through energetic transmission and various forms of study and group participation. There are no gurus. It is not a cult. The people who help other people to awaken are teachers and facilitators. There is no hierarchy. There is no dogma. There are no “shoulds” or “oughts.”
The chances are that you’ve never heard of anything like WDM. You’re not alone. Less than one percent of the world’s population is interested in transformative spiritual awakening. You may be wondering why I’m interested. The answer is simple: I want to experience more peace, love and joy in my life than most other pursuits can provide.
Thanks to the evolution of consciousness and the opportunities and modalities provided by WDM and its close relative, Trillium Awakening, I don’t have to be a monk or a saint to awaken. I don’t have to destroy or surrender my ego. I can just be me, whatever that is. I don’t have to separate spirit and matter. I can live a relatively normal life while opening myself to the treasures of the Heart, every chance I get.
Recently, I’ve made a discovery. It’s a big one. It’s really more of an experience than a mental concept. I’ve realized that self-worth ultimately has nothing to do with accomplishment. Equating self-worth with achievement is a trap that most of us fall into.
I’m not saying there is anything wrong with striving to accomplish things, or to be a better you, or in getting better at whatever it is you do. It definitely feels good to get things done and to improve. As an example, I enjoy the feeling of writing this. It feels good to create something new. But writing a best-selling novel will never give me the deep down satisfaction, wholeness, and completeness that my heart craves. This type of satisfaction can only be found buried deep within my heart. The same is true for you.
I’m not sure where I’m going from here, but I’m confident it will lead to more and more happiness and self-satisfaction. It won’t happen overnight. What’s important is that it’s happening. As WDM founder and spiritual teacherSaniel Bonder likes to say, “The Sun in Your Heart is Rising.” That sounds pretty good to me.
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:
“Appealing, and ultimately moving.” Bob Graham, San Francisco Chronicle.
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.
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)