Truth versus Judgment

Oprah Winfrey at the White House for the 2010 ...

Oprah Winfrey at the White House for the 2010 Kennedy Center Honors (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Oprah Winfrey once spoke about how much she had been harshly and unfairly judged at different times.  She had often been taken to court and had always put a lot of energy into defending herself.

But one day, in court, she made a decision.  I’m not doing this anymore.  She said she knew she wasn’t guilty of what she was being accused of, and she chose to let that be enough.  She said no matter what anybody thinks, or how many people damned her, she knew what the truth was.

I remember that moment of watching her as she was talking about it, and how at peace she was with herself.  At peace with herself and in a way

unassailable.  It takes a lot of nerve and courage not to defend yourself when you’re being judged for something that you know you’re not guilty of.

I think it can be important to state the truth and stand up for yourself, but sometimes it’s a waste of time.  Somebody who is judging you has already shown you that they don’t have any interest in knowing the truth about you.  They don’t care enough about you to want to be fair.

It’s tough and it hurts like hell.  But it is what it is.  You can’t let somebody else’s judgment of you be your death sentence.  A friend of mine, writer Ella Camp, said “The past can cast a long shadow over our present- therefore we must at times, actively seek the sun.”

Judgment can be that dark shadow.  It’s driven by stuff in the past – unresolved anger, fear, hurt.   But here’s the thing: nobody’s judgment can actually alter the truth about you.  I reckon to know that is to step away from the shadow and stand in the sun.

I heard the most beautiful thing in the movie The Interpreter the other night.  One of the characters said “a single whisper can be heard above an army when it is telling the truth.”

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Life and Writing: Henry Miller’s Eleven Commandments

Cover of "Tropic of Cancer"

Cover of Tropic of Cancer

In the early 1930’s Henry Miller was living in Paris and writing his first novel that would be published, Tropic of Cancer.  He was a law unto himself and wrote what he wanted to the way he wanted to, doggedly pursuing his writing even though it didn’t bring him any money for a long time.  He looked for financial support when he needed it and got it.  A determined rebel with a cause: he wanted to include explicit sex in his books.

Tropic of Cancer was printed in France but banned in the US for being obscene.  Two of his other books followed suit.  But they were smuggled into the US where they had a big influence on writers of the Beat generation.  In the end Miller got his way, although not without a fight.  Tropic of Cancer was published by Grove Press in the US in 1961 and sued for publishing obscenity but in 1964 the Supreme Court over-ruled the findings and declared the book a work of literature.

Times change.  Conservatives always lose out in the end.  People who don’t give up in the face of big challenges eventually succeed. That’s life, although it’s hard to keep going when evidence seems to point to the useless of whatever you’re pursuing, hard not to be controlled by emotions or to just let yourself be distracted, lose focus.

Speaking for myself, when that happens I feel so disempowered.  Because I am!  But it’s a slippery slope that can easily turn into what’s the point of writing anything or even trying.   Having a plan helps; a reminder not to be controlled by external things.  Henry Miller had a great plan when he was writing Tropic of Cancer.   It’s not draconian and there’s room for flexibility, but it’s a pretty good practical guide.

  1. Work on one thing at a time until finished.
  2. Start no more new books, add no more new material to “Black Spring.”
  3. Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.
  4. Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time!
  5. When you can’t create you can work.
  6. Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilizers.
  7. Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.
  8. Don’t be a draught-horse! Work with pleasure only.
  9. Discard the Program when you feel like it—but go back to it next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.
  10. Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.
  11. Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.

                                                                                        (Source: Henry Miller on Writing)

I guess it’s about focus and a balance between being disciplined and kind to yourself. Being the boss and the employee.

Michael Jackson and Conrad Murray Trial

Jury’s out.   I’ve watched this trial a lot and enjoyed how David Walgren has prosecuted.  He did a pretty good job and he had great witnesses.  His intelligence and the way he conducted himself was satisfying to watch.  Conrad Murray’s attorneys on the other hand were pathetic, as were their star witnesses.   They tried to bend the facts and failed miserably.

Strangely the defense’s closing was passionate and appealing.  Whereas Walgren’s was quite boring.  He’s not as good an actor as Ed Chernoff.  It would be ironic if the jury come to their verdict because of something so arbitrary as temporary charisma.  Temporary because none of the defense attorneys have had an ounce of it throughout the trial, but somehow Chernoff pulled it out of his hat in his closing.

It seems pretty obvious that Murray was horrifyingly negligent and is going to have to face the consequences of that.  But I don’t think he’s an evil man.  More likely he was a man in debt who was sucked into the orbit of a superstar who knew how to get what he wanted.  I find it hard to believe that Jackson wasn’t the one who insisted Murray give him all that Propofol.

Whatever Murray did or didn’t do, he’s been punished already – his life is in pieces, his professional credibility shot.  Whatever part Michael Jackson played in being irresponsible towards himself will probably never see the light of day.  Murray will pay for it all.  Somehow that doesn’t seem entirely fair to me.

Jackson’s family are allegedly going to take out a civil suit against Murray after this, which won’t achieve a thing because he hasn’t got any money.  He’s already a broken man. Do they want to grind him into the dust?  Plus is it likely they didn’t know their son and brother was getting massive doses of Propofol every night?  Why didn’t they intervene then?

There’s something twisted about all of this.  It seems more than a family’s grief.  I wonder if it’s what Michael Jackson would have wanted?

Starting Small: That’s How Oprah Began. Piers Morgan, Too.

The other night Piers Morgan interviewed Walter Isaacson, the author of Steve Jobs’ biography and for the first time that I’ve seen he had an audience.  Maybe it’s the start of a whole new style for him.  He seems to have drawn more from Oprah than Larry King, so a live audience would suit him.

The audience was small, and there wasn’t anything fancy about them, they sat on pretty simple chairs.  I enjoyed the simplicity of that.  It reminded me that everybody starts small.  Oprah started out with no audience and a pretty ramshackle studio set up in the beginning.

Then she said she wanted an audience, so they brought in studio employees.  Who sat on a bunch of miscellaneous chairs.  How did she become so successful?  Who knows, but I suspect the biggest ingredient was how much she loved what she was doing.  So she just poured herself into it.

The other night I was lying in bed thinking about my book.  I’m doing it the simple and cheapest way.  I’ve done my own editing, designed the cover, and I’m going to self e-publish through Lulu.com.  It means I have to get creative about the marketing, but I have some ideas and I’m sure one thing will lead to another.  I don’t have to know it all right at the beginning.

Even with the cover, I panicked at first, because I’m as ignorant as all hell about design using a computer, didn’t even know what Photoshop was.  I thought how can I even come up with an idea?  But I did.  I just put one foot in front of the other and before I knew it I had something to work with.  And it’s not that hard to understand the free software I downloaded.

As I was thinking about all of this a great sense of peace came over me.  I’m not controlled by fear and insecurity any more and I’ve cleared away the major blocks within myself, the ones that paralyzed me.  I’m finally doing something I’ve got a passion for, so I can pour myself into it.  That’s all that really matters.  Everything else will follow.

After a lifetime of wrestling with a rank inability to create anything out of things I’m passionate about, and doing the most godawful things to stay alive – from working intolerably exploitative jobs to begging people to support me, keep me alive, this is nothing short of a miracle!

I feel grateful that life has supported me, kept me going through all the challenges that I had to overcome within myself, given me the person who could guide me in the way I needed and provide me with what I lacked. I didn’t used to have a good inner foundation but I do now.  It’s allowing me to give passage to the creative energy that’s just jumping around like an excited kid inside of me.

Ha.  At last we get to play!  I’ve always been afraid of the idea of a small beginning, scared that it wouldn’t be enough.  I’ve been terrorized by the idea that anything I put into the world had to be totally flawless, hugely professional, absolutely perfect.  Not any more, though.  Everybody starts small.  There’s no need for me to do it any differently.  There’s a lot of power in small if you enjoy what you do.

Publishing a Book: Sticking Your Head Up Above the Parapet

D-day approaches, the moment when I press the “e-publish” button and launch my book out into the world.  It’s one thing writing something; that’s challenging enough, but you only have to deal with minor things like writer’s block, and an inordinately powerful inner critic that makes what you write seem like crap half the time.

Then there’s all the structure to get your head around, all the editing, clarifying ideas, making sure there’s some sort of sense in what you’ve written.  Some days you love it, some days you hate it.  But always there’s that glittering prize ahead, being published, selling wildly, shooting to the top of the New York Times Best Seller list, being hounded by the press and various Important Publishers vying with each other to get you as a client.

They’re all what ifs, of course, but they’re such fun.  Then one day it’s finished.  And suddenly that lovely fantasy is set to be tested by reality, which is a great trigger for another set of what ifs which aren’t much fun at all.  Frankly they’re daunting.

What if everybody hates it, what if people read it and say “what the hell is this book about? it doesn’t make any sense”.  What if they boo and hiss and laugh at it and me.  What if everybody’s just indifferent?  What if friends and family read it and are just terribly polite or condescending.  Yes, it’s lovely.  Well I can see you tried.  More tea?  Great weather we’re having…

I guess that’s why some people prefer to dream and not do anything about the dream.  There’s no risk involved.  I don’t entirely blame them.  The problem is, though, just dreaming gets really frustrating.  All your creative energy just boiling away, the live wire in you dying to engage with the world.  Better to stand behind yourself and your work solidly, develop good armor and nurture your sense of humor.  So you can handle whatever comes at you.

So you can get out there into the world and play.  A friend said to me “it’s just the price for sticking your head above the parapet; people can see you; the ones that are looking to take pot shots at anybody will take them at you.”  She’s right, that’s all it is.

Jackson Trial: Conrad Murray’s Attorney Is Burying His Client

Whoever says that life isn’t as interesting as the movies or TV is lying or delusional.  Or has different taste to me.  I’ve been watching the Conrad Murray trial at night and it’s absolutely fascinating.  The poor man doesn’t stand a chance in hell of winning.

For a start, prosecutor David Walgren has done all his homework and is a smart guy.  He’s making his case expertly and clearly.  It’s not that hard for him to do, since all the evidence points to Murray having acted irresponsibly.  Still he’s covering all the bases.

On the other hand, Murray’s attorneys – especially Ed Chernoff, an older guy with white hair and a pock-marked face and an expression reminiscent of a distinctly nauseous reptile – just aren’t as smart.  In fact I’d go so far as to say the reptile fella is a bit of a fool.  But an arrogant one.

The questions he asks when he’s cross-examining, if you can call it that, are burying his client.  He’s proving the prosecution’s case.  It’s too weird for words.  The witnesses so far have been intelligent and articulate and they obviously have no respect for him at all.

It’s annoying listening to and watching him.  He irritates the judge and the witnesses no end.  A British attorney who comments on the case now and then for SkyNews said he’s worked with some really brilliant American lawyers, but this guy isn’t one of them!

I wonder what Conrad Murray is thinking.  It’s hard to tell, he shows no expression on his face.  Sometimes he looks quite sedated.  I wonder if he’s taking Propofol!  But most of all I wonder what impact the defense attorney is having on the jury.  It can’t be good.

I lie.  I wonder about one more thing more than anything else.  If the dishy-looking prosecutor is married.  I think I’ve developed a crush on him.  He’s rather gorgeous in an understated, quite down-to-earth way.  Looks like quite a regular guy.

Steve Jobs Dies and Leaves A Legacy Packed With Wisdom

It was a shock when I turned on the TV today and saw that Steve Jobs had died.  The last time he made a public appearance I thought for sure he was dying and that he didn’t have long to live.  He had the look of a man who’s close to the end.  He looked so tired.  And now he’s gone to rest.  R.I.P.

I know he did great things in the tech world, but more important to me is that he left behind a wisdom about how to have the best life you can, because he was such an original thinker, and he lived his life organically, following his gut and his heart.  After school he enrolled at college in Portland, Oregon, but dropped out after a semester.  This is what he had to say about that years later, in 2005, when addressing Stanford University:  (all quotes are from The Stanford Report June 14 2005)

“I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents’ savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn’t see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made.

The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn’t interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.”  The one that interested him the most was calligraphy.  “If I had never dropped in on that single calligraphy in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts.”

He slept on the floor in friends’ rooms, returned coke bottles for food money, and walked 7 miles across town to the Hare Krishna temple every Sunday for a good meal.  It wasn’t easy in some ways but he loved it.  He took risks that many would think were irresponsible, but look where it led him.  “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

This is what I’ll remember him for.  It can be hard to trust your gut, because often it goes against what is generally accepted as responsible and sensible behavior.  But what’s sensible to the logical brain often makes no sense at all to the heart, and the latter is where the power is, I’m sure of it.  That’s where your creativity has wings.  Jobs instinctively knew that.

If you want to read more of that address go to The Standford Report