Cul-de-sac

Sometimes life is just too damn puzzling.  There are pieces that you think should fit together but they don’t.  Some part of you wants to fit in but the place that’s allotted for you is too small.  Like Emilio and his piano.  He’s got two options: either break off bits of his piano so it can fit, or find a bigger door.

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Thank God The World Didn’t End, I’ve Still Got A Whole Lot Of Living To Do

That’s today’s view from my window.   Peaceful.

So the world didn’t end, huh.  Not that I expected it to.  I must admit I feel a degree of triumph verging on unsavory spitefulness at all the gloom and doom prophets who predicted that we were so bad, so irretrievably monstrous, ill-behaved and irresponsible that we’d brought it on our own heads anyway. Serve us right.

Funny how these predictions that people who lived a million years ago allegedly made bring out the worst in spiritual frauds.  A lot of people point fingers at fundamentalist Christians and Muslims for their wild and punishing interpretations of the Bible and the Koran but this Mayan thing brought a lot of fundamentalists from other religious disciplines too.

I don’t what it is about Bhuddism and eastern religions that makes us in the west instinctively believe that anybody who subscribes to them is automatically elevated into the saintly category of humans, the Enlightened Ones.  It seems that if you meditate you can do no wrong.  I’ve always found it irritating.  Because meditation is just a certain kind of discipline.

And like all disciplines it can be used to face the core of who you are, and it can just as easily be used to escape that truth, especially when it’s uncomfortable.  Denial wrapped in a mantle of holiness.   I’ve known of a guru or two who were as neurotic as any other kind of fundamentalist, Christian or Muslim.

I know one in particular from the west who embraced eastern disciplines and now seems to spend most of his time pointing fingers at practically the whole human race and focusing on what everybody else is doing wrong.   Meditation doesn’t seem to have filled him with love for the human race and forgiveness for our fallibility.  I suspect that at the core of everything he’s avoiding a lot of unresolved hurt and rage of his own, and just projecting it.

He seemed to relish the idea of how much punishment is waiting in the wings for all us sinners   who had strayed so far from the simple core of who we are that we’re destroying ourselves and the earth with our greed and refusal to be responsible.  He’s made many dire predictions over the last year that the end was in sight. Whether he was referring to the Mayan thing or not I don’t know.

I wonder how many disappointed people there were, as yesterday drew to a close.  What kind of person hopes that the whole world will implode, hopes that massive suffering befalls billions of humans, adults, children, really old, frail people, animals?  Phew.  The mind boggles.

I’m rather glad the world didn’t end yesterday.  I haven’t learned to ride a horse properly yet, my piano playing isn’t as good as I want it to be, I’ve got three film scripts I need to edit and get out into the market, an e-book that’s nearly done, a crime novel to write and a bio about how the biggest crisis in my life opened the door to life for me.

And I haven’t sung with Michael Buble yet, or taken the train across Siberia in winter; walked the Great Wall of China, seen the Norwegian Fjords, reacquainted myself with the violin and with Florence, Venice, London, the US.  Haven’t flown in a hot air balloon or a helicopter, worn Armani, Chanel and Dior.  Or been on Oprah.  And that’s just a few things on my list.  Living my life my way.

So all you gloomy and doomy people, if you want to die cataclysmically, hey, be my guest.  But I’ve got a whole lot of living still to do.

Btw I’m not knocking meditation or eastern religions.  For some original and inspiring insights into both visit http://drunkenmystic.wordpress.com or visit Drunken Mystic on Searchwarp.com (the link will take you to one of his articles there.  There are many.  He’s a really great guy.)

It’s a Dog’s Life, or is it a Banker’s Life? Neither, It’s My Life

I’ve often thought it’s a dog’s life, and used to think it was a banker’s life, too.  Since I don’t have a photo of either a dog or a banker, but I do have this one I took of a gull, it will have to do.  Today I passed a bank I used to bank with, whose culture I despise.   Take as much as you can, make the client feel like a jerk.  Bully Power.  They’re an old boys’ club institution and happily fork out for men who were at the right schools.

I didn’t quite fit in.  Anyway, I did it without them, but all the money I earned went through them, so they had records of my achievements.  But staff were always horrid to me, unfriendly, unhelpful.   Well, after three years of being pretty successful, I bought land for the first time in my life.  It was very exciting.  My overheads skyrocketed, but I believed I could afford it.  It wasn’t huge money in the grander scheme of things but it was for me.

Then my business hit the skids.  Bad timing.  The bank begrudgingly allowed me a bit of credit.  My bad, I used it.  I didn’t have a clue my business was dying a quick death.   By the time I did, my monthly mortgage and overdraft payments were terrifying.  I had no money coming in.  I thought of a new business, to open an art gallery.

My plan was solid, I didn’t need operating capital, I found a gorgeous venue where the management promised me 6 months rent free.   All I wanted the bank to do was to give me a moratorium so that I could get my business going, and pay them back in full.  I’d already proved to them I could build something from nothing.

They disdainfully showed me the middle finger.  I begged them to give me a chance.  They  handed me over to their legal buggers.  From then on it was breakfast lunch and dinner with the sharks.  I got harassed mercilessly and didn’t have the skills or inner strength to deal with it.  I was treated like a criminal.

It wasn’t much fun.  I held it together for almost a year, despite that the venue management reneged on their rent deal and all sorts of other grim and ghastly things happened.   But in the end I folded, and eventually lost everything, and they lost their money.

Serve them bloody right.  Of course I don’t bank with them any more.  I didn’t used to be able to even think about this without being consumed with rage and hurt and a sense of utter, debilitating powerlessness.  But as I walked past them today I realized – I’m bloody over it!   It’s taken me eight years to recover and rebuild myself on the inside but holy guacamole* I’ve done it and deep within me I feel a security I’ve never known throughout my whole life.

Best of all, I haven’t just recovered from that crisis, I’ve recovered what I lost as a child, and that feels priceless to me.  I don’t regret any of it, because of what I’ve gained.  It’s true, your worst enemies sometimes end up being your biggest gift.   It doesn’t mean you ever have to like them, though.   Well, I don’t and I’ll never deal with them again.

But I don’t desire or need to punish anybody any more.  I don’t want revenge or justice.  Because I’ve got my life back, bigger and better than before.  It’s a nice feeling.

* holy guacamole – I have to acknowledge this isn’t mine.  I first heard it from Gregory Lewis.  Find him on FaceBook or Search.com

Lady Gaga and Doing it My Way – Well, doing it Her Way

I saw Lady Gaga interviewed on telly the other night, and was quite amazed at how down to earth she was.  She was just gorgeous.  Unpretentious, no power games.  One of the things she said which resonated with me was that you can’t do what other people want you to do when you want to follow a dream.  You have to follow your heart.

She wasn’t aggressive about it, or even egotistical, just matter of fact, it was refreshing.  I’d say she knows what she’s talking about.  She drew a strong boundary between who she is privately and her creative persona.  Just showbiz, that’s all.

Her real name is Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta and she was born on March 28 1986 to a  Catholic Italian American couple who came from lower class families and worked for everything, something Lady Gaga is proud of.  She started playing piano at the age of 4 and wrote her first piano ballad at 13.  By age 14 she was performing at open mic nights.  This was a girl with a destiny and with fantastic entitlement.

Her memory of school is that she felt insecure because she was mocked for being too provocative and eccentric, so she toned herself down.  But she love acting, and was a disciplined, studious, dedicated student.  When asked about her spiritedness, she attributed it laughingly to the fact that she’s left handed.

When she was 17, she enrolled at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, where she studied music and wrote papers on art, religion, social issues and politics.  Plus an 80-page thesis on pop artists Spencer Tunick and Damien Hirst.   By the second semester she wanted to leave, to focus on her own career.  Her father agreed to pay her rent for a year on condition that if she failed she re-enrol.

She has said she found the cheapest apartment she could “and ate shit until somebody would listen” [Vanessa Grigoriadis, “Growing Up Gaga” New York, New York Media Holdings] (Source: Wiki)

Well, that was a smart choice.  Finding this out about her has changed my idea of her completely.  A lot of what she does doesn’t appeal to me, but I really love how she claims her space – and her freedom from fear.  Also, she seems to be a generous-spirited woman who’s smart and on top of her world.  She’s aware of social issues, is a philanthropist, has won plenty of awards, and is sincerely grateful for the support of her fans.

At one point the Catholic League attacked her for blasphemy – but all they succeeded in doing was to make her the first artist to get 1 billion viral YouTube views.  Mae West was also slammed by the group.   Hmmm, so that’s how you get fame.

Making Dreams Come True and Maslow’s Hierarchy

Everybody’s got something to say on the subject of making dreams come true.  Meditate!  Don’t think, just do it!  Use your mind!  Be here now!  Follow these twenty easy steps!   Think of something that nobody’s thought of before!  Dream big!  And that’s enough exclamation marks, I think.

The list is endless.  Dream big sounds pretty good, but dreaming on its own doesn’t lead to the coming true bit.  In fact, if you dream big but you don’t know what to do, what actions to take from one moment to the next, don’t know how to get back-up and support, how to deal with obstacles, chances are nothing’s going to really happen.

What stops you from knowing?   So many people say all you need for you dreams to come true is to be passionate and doors will open.  I can tell you from experience it’s not always true.  You need a whole lot more than passion.  You need back-up and support.  And to be able to access that, you need to know you deserve it.  Just like L’Oreal says “you’re worth it”.

If you don’t know you’re worth it, right at the core of you, and you don’t realize it, I think your chances of anything changing in your life are slim.  I was thinking about Maslow and his famous hierarchy of needs yesterday, walking along the beach at the edge of Africa.  Maslow said that when a person is struggling for survival, they can’t even begin to address their aspirational needs.

He was partly right.  Maybe I’m being too simplistic here, but it seems that when you’re struggling at a survival level you don’t have much of an idea that you deserve to be loved and supported and helped so that you can flourish and develop your aspirations and dreams.  And it’s not the struggling that makes you feel bad about yourself.  You feel undeserving and that’s why you struggle.  Well, it’s a catch 22 actually.

Fear jams everything up.   If you don’t address it, your imagination runs riot with every kind of worst case scenario, and the more imaginative and aspirational you are, the worse it gets.  You feel smaller and smaller and increasingly overwhelmed by a hostile world.  It can be emotionally paralyzing.  In fact you end up reliving in a very real and material way, the emotional experience you had as a child, how about that.  No support, needs not being met, being forced to be hideously adaptive, fighting for emotional and possibly even physical survival.

So how as an adult do you get from there to the “coming true” bit about having dreams?  One tiny step at a time is how.  When fear starts to run rampant, you reach out for somebody else’s perspective on you, you don’t let your imagination run riot with worst case scenarios.  You take a stand, you refuse to entertain ideas that blight your outlook.  You stay vigilant.  You do it differently to the way it was done to you when you were a kid.   You start feeling better about yourself.  Of course you do – you’re not letting yourself be bullied – albeit by yourself!  Creativity kicks in, you think of solutions to your struggle.  You start realizing it’s okay to ask for what you need in a practical way, not just an emotional one.  You figure out how to do that.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that being in survival mode stops you from being able to develop your dreams.  I fall in all the time.  But now and then I get a glimpse into a different way of looking at it.  Survival mode reflects your experience as a child, and it highlights ravaged self-esteem then and now.  Back then you couldn’t defend yourself.  This is your chance to do it over.  Defend yourself, stand up for yourself, claim your rights.

Call me a dreamer, but I reckon that’s where the coming true bit of dreams starts taking root.

My Way – The Slow Road to Change and Tilting at Windmills

Listening to Frank Sinatra sing “My Way” today got me thinking about how some people have to learn how to do it, they have to fight for that knowledge of how to claim their lives, then they have to fight to succeed in what they’ve got their heart set on.  They have to do a whole lot of changing along the way.  Change is hard.  Real change is slow.  Damn.

You have relearn so many things, all the things that were put in place for you a long time ago.   The input that led to establishing low self esteem wasn’t one little lecture, one incident.   The incident is more likely to have been a symptom of a culture where you weren’t protected and you didn’t get what you needed to grow strong and straight.  And that culture was about hundreds of  thousands of messages delivered consistently, overtly and covertly every second of your childhood from birth, from conception even.  All with the same sub-text.  You don’t deserve.

It starts simply, the parents establish the reality of your worth, your value, your rights, your safety.  Or not.  Consciously, unconsciously, covertly, overtly.  You internalized everything that came at you, and by the time you were what, 6?, you’d imbibed a data bank of information – your belief system – that you recognized as the truth about yourself, your role, your rights, how life works, the nature of your reality.   Then you grow up and get the same messages from the world around you.

So by the time you’re say 35 – wait I’m going to do the math on this – you’ve experienced the messages, in different ways, for 14 700 months, 58 800 weeks, about 705 600 waking hours, 42 336 000 waking minutes, 2 540 160 000 waking seconds – and as many asleep while all the information got collated in your subconscious.  That’s a lot of information gathering and collating, first from the outside world then from yourself because we do to ourselves what was done to us in early childhood.   Until we change, of course.

People think they can change all that by just reading a self-help book or watching a film like The Secret. I wish it was true, I‘d write the quick fix book and make a bundle.  But I’ve never seen the quick fix work, and I’ve seen many people try it in many different ways.  I’ve tried it myself.  It holds out such incredible promise, and touches a part of us that’s desperately yearning for light in the darkness.  It always ends in despair.  And we’re worse off than when we started, because we wonder “what’s wrong with me that I couldn’t make it work?”.

The quick fix is a set-up.  The unscrupulous use it to make money by exploiting the vulnerability of those of us crying out to be unconditionally loved, respected, taught a better way to live our lives.  Preying on fear, low self-esteem, ignorance, thirst for a truth that will free us, craving for a teacher to lead us out of our wilderness.  Vultures, all.

I think the way that really works is to get the widest variety of nurturing experiences as constantly and often as possible. We need one main category – I have great worth and life is about good – and a thousand sub-categories, all with the same basic theme.

I believe we need to be taught, guided, held, touched, loved, protected, promoted, spoken to, heard.  We need the experience of being valued if we want to learn to believe we’ve got value.  If I learn that first, then doing my life my way is possible.  Otherwise I’m tilting at windmills, and romantic as that sounds it’s really a pain in the neck.

My Way – The Road Less Travelled

The question of the balance between writing what you want and reaching people has been rocketing around in my brain for ages.  I’ve heard people say that writers have to listen to the authorities who tell them “write what people want, or you won’t be successful”.  Others say “do what moves you but don’t expect success”.  Others say “find the middle road”.

None of those options are particularly palatable.   I believe people who are playing “dictator dictator” by insisting that you have to follow their rules tell you more about them and their narrow beliefs and concepts than about any ultimate truth about how to achieve success.

Success isn’t a mathematical equation, and no person’s achievements can be squeezed into a formula.  It’s no use looking at somebody who’s been successful and saying “this is how they did it, so I’m going to do the same”.  Because you can’t get inside their head, or the the heads of everybody who has responded to them.  And when a person says “you can’t be successful unless you follow my rules” they’re playing God.  It’s what bullies and control freaks do – to compensate for low self-esteem, usually!

Even films and plays have traditions that audiences recognize without realizing it – like beginning, middle and end   and a hero or heroine who has to go on some kind of journey, and has to have some kind of flaw that needs to be overcome before they can succeed in their mission.  But people break those traditions all the time.

I think we don’t realize often enough that we listen to anybody who speaks with authority, and we believe them, often without question.  Why don’t we want to think for ourselves?   Why let ourselves be psycho-bullied?

Let’s face it, it takes two to tango.  Bullies are only half the equation.  The other half is our reluctance to go with our heart and gut, to risk stepping out of line, let ourselves be the authority.  Going on a journey without a road map can be scary.

You risk a lot when you decide I’m going to do it my way, you stand – and more often than not you fall – by your own choices.  And no matter how pretty the idea is that dreams and desires (for success) are the foreshadowing of the reality, or that you only have to have passion and life paves the way for you, a lot of people don’t make it.   Some of them are or were really brilliant, many we never hear of and never will.

Yes, it’s a risky road, doing it my way.  Sometimes life doesn’t pave it for you, no matter how passionate you are; sometimes you have a lot of things within yourself or your environment to overcome.  So is it all a waste of time?  Hopefully not.  Maybe the reward isn’t in the result, it’s in the journey.

So what’s the answer for a writer who wants to connect, but also do it my way?   The question “how can I write what people want” looks to me like one that can only lead down a torturous road to heartache, misery and the realization that you sold yourself down the river,  especially if you don’t get it right!  What a waste.

Maybe the answer lies in respecting traditions that work for you, doing what you want to do and asking a different question –   “how can I let people know I’m here?”  You’re asserting your right to be who you are,  conveying passion and energy, and not giving your power away.   The last word on this is that being over-adaptive and over-pleasing doesn’t make you feel good about yourself and it sure isn’t any fun.