Oprah and Me

I often catch myself making comparisons between myself and women who’ve achieved things that I think are pretty amazing.  Needless to say, I don’t come out on top.   I know comparisons are a pointless exercise because there are always going to be people who seem – or who are – ahead of me in some way or another.

I was thinking about Oprah the other day.  It’s a dangerous comparison to make, but I made it anyway.   We’re about the same age.  We both got molested as children, and we’re both passionate about life and about unpacking the things that block us.  We both believe that there’s no coincidence and that everything that happens has value.

A lot of our ideas are so similar we could have been sisters.  We both question everything.  But alas that’s where the similarities end.  She broke through her own barriers and immense social ones to create an empire for herself where she has spread a lot of love and vitality around.

I’ve spent my entire life trying to break out of my own prison.  I’ve tried ferociously to pursue dreams that burned at me when I was a child.  And I’ve failed spectacularly.  Twice I’ve ended up at ground zero.   The first time I tried to put a plaster over the wound.  This last time I faced myself.  Now my brilliant career is a seedling sinking tiny threadlike roots down and pushing pretty tentative stem and leaves up above the surface of the soil.

Oprah pushed through to a brilliant career at a young age.  There’s no doubt about it.  She wins this ridiculous contest in my head, hands down.  Has she achieved more than I have?  It’s a no-brainer career-wise.  Does she have more value than me?  To most of the world, yes, without a doubt.  I sure like her and admire her and love her vitality.

So do I have any value at all?  Strangely, yes.  I know intrinsic value isn’t linked to what you can achieve, and we all have the same.  But I still want to achieve.  I don’t want to be as big as Oprah, but I definitely want to be much much further ahead than I am now.

Well, a friend of mine said people still do great things with their lives when they start at 56.  I hold on to that.  Because I love my own vitality too and my dreams are as strong as they ever were.   It’s not over until it’s over.  And even then, I suspect we get another chance to carry on from the place we managed to get to this time round.

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New York’s Park in the Sky – From Dream to Reality

Image from http://www.thehighline.org

Pretty picture, huh.  No it isn’t some wild overgrown African city, it’s New York 30 feet above street level, part of a project which turned a disused elevated railway running through Manhattan into the city’s elevated park in the sky.  I love the American capacity to think and dream big and turn those dreams into magnificent realities.

In 1847 the City of New York authorized railroad tracks down Manhattan’s West Side.   It was a great idea, but it caused a lot of accidents between traffic and freight trains.  One of the streets it crossed, 10th Avenue, became known as Death Avenue, and men on horses, the West Side Cowboys, had to ride ahead of trains, waving red flags.

It got so bad that in 1929 the New York Central Railroad and the City and State of New York created the West Side Improvement Project, part of which was a 13 mile long High Railway Line 30 feet above street level.  It was designed to go through the center of blocks rather than over avenues.  It connected directly to factories and warehouses, so trains carrying milk, meat, produce and goods could roll right inside buildings without interrupting traffic.

It put the Westside Cowboys out of a job, I guess, but for everybody else it was great until interstate trucking made rail transport redundant.  The last train ran in 1980, pulling three carloads of frozen turkeys.

In the late 1990’s two ordinary guys, Joshua David and Robert Hammond, who lived in the area, founded Friends of the High Line to protect it from being demolished.  They had no experience in urban planning or dealing with the City, but they saw how gorgeous the line would be as a  public open space.  They ploughed through bureaucratic red tape and managed to get City support and funding to save a portion of the line and lay out a planning framework over the next three years.  And the project had wings.

In 2003 a design competition was held.  720 teams from 36 countries entered.  By now it had become an international project and Mayor Bloomberg had agreed to City funding for it, and the State of New York had come on board.  The team chosen included a landscape architecture firm, an architecture firm, experts in horticulture, engineering, security, maintenance, public art.

The first phase of construction started in April 2006, and by June last year it was complete.   2.3 km of self-seeded wild sections, others with lush lawns, benches and boardwalks, and others with more formal landscaping.  And a river runs through it.  30 feet above the chaotic traffic in downtown Manhattan.  And all because of two guys with a dream and the gutzpah to do something about it, to start even though they didn’t have any knowledge about how to finish.  And they had the patience stay with the dream until it had become a reality.

What a great way to step out of history.  If you let them, dreams will have their way.  The image below is what the line looked like before it was developed.  To learn more and see some really fabulous pictures on the High Line site, click the link: http://www.thehighline.org or either of the images.

English: New York Central Railroad elevated ra...

Image via Wikipedia

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.

Dreams can only Come True by Walking through the Wall of Fear

Life’s a bitch.  I thought that having overcome my fears about my writing meant it would be like that in all areas of my life.  It turns out I was wrong.  As a child my biggest dream was to be a pianist, and also a vocalist of some sort.  But I learned to believe I wasn’t musical enough and developed a huge block and a lot of fear around it.  I also didn’t know how to learn.  I kept trying, but every time the fear came up I gave up.  Over the last 5 or so years I’ve broken down the learning problem with piano and I don’t run any more, but there’s still a lot of fear connected to singing.  Of the nameless, shapeless sort.

But I haven’t been able to give up on that dream of being able to break through, and also of studying jazz voice at university.  The other day I was playing piano and I suddenly got sick of the debate, should I shouldn’t I.  I’ll never know whether I can succeed, or whether it’s really what I want, I’ll never be able to conquer my fear unless I do it, commit, take the risk and walk through the wall of fire.  It’s enough now!  I said.  So I went to the college of music the other day and asked about studying.

Whew, it was scary.  Young kids hanging out, being cool.  I wanted to run, felt the darkness of my school days closing in on me.  Nobody’s going to like me, I’m going to be laughed at, left out, alone.  For a moment there I lost sight of who I am now.  I became that hurt, broken child just trying to survive and not let anybody know what was going on inside.  In moments like that, when I’m overwhelmed by the past, the fear of being insane is added to the mix.  It’s terrifying.  I’ve learned to just hold on, but I cling to the edge of an abyss.

I thought those days were over.  Damn.  Anyway, I didn’t run, so that’s something.  I dragged myself to the office and met the nicest woman, who, in reply to my tentative and embarrassed question Can I study jazz voice even at my age? smiled and said why the hell not?  My world shifted back to the present.  I remembered I’m not that broken child any more, people don’t reject me now, they don’t leave me out of things, they don’t laugh at me.  I’m able to open my heart and let them in and they do the same for me.  The part of me that’s sane is stronger now than the part that still struggles sometimes for balance.

My lovely kind woman with the sense of humor was very matter of fact, gave me all the info, and played it all down, it’s not such a big deal.  It’s amazing, the power of one person’s kindness and sane perspective.  So then it got exciting.  I walked away with brochures and the student handbook, and instructions for the audition.  I’ve got until September 30 to apply, and until November 30 to prepare for the audition.

Even now as I type this, some of that fear filters back in. I don’t let it take control but I wonder, how did this terror get so entangled with my love of and passion for music?  It’s beyond my capacity to penetrate with logic, or even my understanding of my childhood.  What I do know is that for whatever reason, there’s a wall of fear that feels like a wall of fire between me and my singing.  I’ve spent a lot of time believing that if I can understand it, the fear will diminish and it will be easier.

It has helped, my understanding, because up to now I couldn’t even contemplate studying, let alone getting information about it and saying yes I’ll do it.  But from this point on, the only thing that will rob my fear of its power over me will be the experience of singing and seeing that I’m not destroyed.  Dealing with any rejection that comes along.  The only way to get beyond the wall of fire is to walk through it.  So that’s what I’m going to do.  With my heart in my throat.

Like Billy Joel I’m In A New York State of Mind

Went to the gym today light-hearted and feeling almost weightless.  Listened to Billy Joel sing I’m in a New York state of mind over and over.  Me too, Billy.  That city symbolizes something to me – I’ve watched so many films that were shot there, so I guess it represents a world of possibilities, the kind that come to fruition in movies and sometimes in life.

I stayed there once for two weeks and fell in love.  With the gritty rawness of downtown Manhattan, with Central Park whose trees were turning in autumn colors.  With the hugeness of and classy sophistication of some of the architecture in the upper East Side.  Americans sure know how to build grand monuments to their fertile imaginations.

I went to the Guggenheim and saw the most incredible exhibition of Armani designs; and to the Metropolitan Opera where what was left of my heart was stolen.  I strolled Broadway at night, watched a play starring the actor who plays Mr. Big in Sex and the City.  I got to the top of the Empire State Building and imagined I was waiting for Mr. Right and his kid, a la Sleepless in Seattle.  I went to a jazz club where 14 musicians jammed before going on to their jobs on Broadway, and I heard an old woman sing the blues in a down and out joint.  My god she was beautiful.

I stayed in a hotel in downtown Manhattan, close to Tribeca, where I was treated very rudely and with much suspicion.  I didn’t care.  I walked all over the place until I dropped.  Strangely I felt safer there than I do at home.  Late at night I went to sleep to the cacophanic music of New York police and ambulance sirens and woke up to it again at 5 in the morning.

I loved every bit of it and cried when left.  I’m going back some day, oh yes I am.  I’m in a New State of mind.

I’m 55 and I’m Not Dead Yet

I’m starting a movement called I’m 55 and I’m Not Dead Yet.   When I was a child I thought that when I got to be 50 it would feel ancient.  It doesn’t, though.  In fact, I feel more like 35, only a whole lot wiser than I was at that age.  I think.  I hope.

When I was growing up children weren’t revered the way they are today, especially in America.  Which I suppose is just the pendulum swinging the other way.  It’s beautiful to see, but there’s been a kind of side effect which is a bit weird, and revolting to experience if you’re not a child any more.  It’s that as you get older your value diminishes.  Well it’s been true for a long time in principle.  Who’s ever cared about old people?

But now the years you have of value are getting less and less.  Before, in childhood the adults were the ones who had careers and worked towards success.  They had huge value in that period say from 20’s to 40’s.  But now children shed their innocence very young, and even become celebrities in their teens.  They’re the new adults.

Now by the time you’re 20 or 30 you’re over the hill already.  Spent, useless to society.  Well that can’t be right.  It means that as a being, age is what determines your worth.  So when you’re young you deserve tons of back-up and support, but when you get older you don’t.  It’s absurd.  A person’s value lies in their existence, their spirit, not in how old or young they are.

What about the adults like me?  It’s taken me all this time to work through all the crap within myself that disabled me and stopped me from making my dreams come true.  It wasn’t that I didn’t know what my dreams were, and it certainly wasn’t that I didn’t try.  I just failed a lot.  So should I just sigh and give up and shrug my shoulders?  Should I be philosophical and say at least I dreamed and at least I tried?

I think not.  At the age of 55 I could say I’ve had my chance and I blew it.  I could let myself be a victim of a social trend to discount people – especially women, I think – over the age of 40 who haven’t made it yet.  But if I accept the idea that nothing can happen for me my life is over and what will have been the point?  I will have spent my life with my dreams burning at me, wrestling with the enemy within.  Only to die and not taste anything of what I’ve craved all my life.

What a waste.  Children today are being enabled and given fabulous opportunities today and that’s as it should be.  They’re supposed to be given to.  But adults are supposed to be given to also.   It’s just that as an adult you have to make it happen for you.  You kind of have to be the parent to your creative self; to find and give yourself those opportunities.

Somebody said the other day that 40 is the new 30.  Well that was a few years ago.  Now 50 is the new 40.  It really is.  People my age are starting their lives over, standing up above the crowd, letting themselves be heard, doing what they want to do.  Maybe what they’ve always wanted to.  Not giving in to that ridiculous idea that your value has anything at all to do with age. The more of us who do it, the more we change how society views us.

So it’s quite exciting really, to be this age in this era.  At the forefront of change.  That’s a much more palatable idea than sinking slowly to my grave in ignominy.

 

My Bright Future and Moment of Glory

Some time ago, from position of great spiritual awareness and inner poise and conviction of bright future I got an email from Oprah and OWN.

Okay, so a million other people also got one, still it’s something, isn’t it?  She sends out mail asking questions, and the question du jour was “what brought about change in your life?”  Hah!  I’ve got an answer for that one, I thought, it’s tailor made for me.  At last, it’s my turn to be noticed by Oprah.  Imagine my excitement when I saw she’s also looking to discover somebody.  I thought the two were connected.

You see!  I shouted to the world and nobody in particular.  My landlady’s cat, asleep on top of a cupboard, opened one eye and contemplated me through it.

I felt like a kid in class who had the answer.  I know what made me change.   The fact that no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t make my dreams come true, couldn’t escape the insanity inside my head.  Then I went bankrupt and that forced me to stop and face myself.  Now at age 55 I’m finally getting to do the things I always wanted to.

That’s pretty exciting isn’t it?  It is to me.  So in 1500 words I told the story of my Adventurous Life so far.  Yes, yes yes!!!   I’m going to be discovered by Oprah.  God, the universe and I are all aligned in conspiring to create a brilliant future for me.

Then I noticed that the discovery thing is something different, she’s looking for people to host their own shows.  Oh.  And you have to have a big personality.

Oh.

Crash.  I’m not woman of substance after all, am just mousy, unfunny, unoriginal wishful thinking loser.  I’ll never be good enough to make it into Oprah’s club of Important People who’ve really made it.   Oprah would look at me and say “you?  I don’t think so.”

I hate the universe and god and my older sister.  I haven’t stepped out of history, hate history, hate stepping.  Wish the cat would stop staring at me.