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.

Blame it on the Chocolate. Chocolat and the Life Well Lived

I saw the film Chocolat again the other night, what a treat in every way.  It’s a classic tale of lust for life in all its beauty and sensuality fighting draconian, arid morality that poses as deep spirituality and seeks really to stifle and destroy everything that’s good and truly sacred about life and people.

The story’s set in the 50’s I think, in a small rigidly Catholic village whose priest tries awfully hard to be holy but secretly loves rock music and is really fighting a losing battle within himself.  Still, he – and the townspeople – are controlled by the resident Count who fiercely represses his own  powerful sensuality which terrifies him.  He imposes a frigid, acetic, heart and soul-dessicating discipline on everybody.  Women dress drably and are either slaves to their chauvinistic, insensitive men or to a punitive, unforgiving God.

The film opens in lent, where the Count’s control is all the more severe.  A few of the townspeople are in the mood for rebellion but they don’t dare.  They’re ripe to be led into sin, though.

Into this tight-lipped, severely judgmental community drifts a beautiful, sensual free spirit and her equally beautiful daughter.   To the horror and outrage of the Count she wears feminine dresses and red shoes – opens up a chocolate shop where sells the most devastatingly seductive chocolate drink and home-made chocolates.

And the war is on.  They’re persecuted by the Count who tries to force people to shun them so the shop will close down.  But the heroine and her daughter embody love, compassion, warmth of heart, body and soul, tolerance, humor, fun, spiritedness – and refusal to be taken down.  Gradually, the townspeople find themselves being seduced against their better judgment.

In the end, good triumphs over evil, love wins the day, and even the Count gives in to his own sensuality and desire to live a rich, rewarding life.  Blame it on the chocolate.   I love movies like this, where petty persecution parading as spirituality and the ugliness of warped spirits and minds which turn people into rabid bullies get shown up for what they are – all sound and noise, signifying absolutely nothing.  And where all it takes is one strong soul to stand up against the bullying masses and they’re vanquished.

It’s a David and Goliath story told sensitively, powerfully, with passion, humor and beauty to feast your eyes on.  It reminded me how fantastic life can be, gave me courage to pursue my dreams regardless of obstacles.  It lit up my world, and the vanquishing of the bullies made me laugh out loud.  Now where can I go and find myself some chocolate…

Listen, here’s what I think.

I think we can’t go around…

measuring our goodness by what we don’t do.

By what we deny ourselves…

what we resist and who we exclude.

I think we’ve got to measure goodness…

by what we embrace…

what we create…

and who we include.

                                                                                                   (from the priest’s sermon)

Listening to Your Heart, Believing in Yourself, Finding Fulfillment

“But the eyes are blind.  One must look with the heart.”

Antoine de Saint Exupéry, The Little Prince, Chapter XXV

There was such a great episode on Being Erica last night about choices that seem logical but feel wrong.  We live in a logic-driven world, and there’s something appealing about it, it feels so safe.  But living your life doing the things that seem logically sensible isn‘t always safe.

People who work all their lives at “good” jobs that stifle them, earning safe money, aim for that day they retire and can start doing what they want.  But how many have heart attacks, strokes,   cancer and all manner of body ills by the time they retire?  Because they’ve never lived with joy, never pursued a dream.  They’ve always been practical and logical even when it went against their heart.

Suddenly one day it’s over and it’s too late.  So how safe was it all really?  Denying your heart impacts on your body in a real physical way.   We’re not built to be stifled, we’re built for the expression of joy and creativity.  When we’re out of that mode, our chemical and electrical systems are thrown out of balance.  We get dis-eased.

I was never able to do the safe thing.  It wasn’t something I actively thought about, I just was so sure in some part of myself that things would work out if I listened to my heart.  I kind of jumped off a cliff into life as a young adult.  Things didn’t work out, though, not in a natural way.  I’ve made some awful decisions, taken a lot of hard knocks.

Turns out it’s as difficult and complicated to follow your heart as it is to follow the logical safe route and be happy.  People often say all you have to do is find your passion and then doors fly open for you.  No they don’t, not always.  There’s this minor obstacle called self-esteem.  If yours is depleted, it doesn’t matter how passionate you are about something, you’re unlikely to find success in it until you’ve healed on the inside.  Low self esteem means you don’t trust yourself.

Passion doesn’t make you successful.  Strong self-esteem, good entitlement, believing in yourself – those are the ingredients, I think.   Passion just keeps you on the road, because it gets difficult.  When you follow your heart you’re carving out your own path in life, and that’s a good thing.  But there are no insurance policies doing it this way, and nobody can say to you if you follow these rules you’ll be okay because there aren’t any rules.  It’s just you and your heart.

You have to have a whole lot of faith in the idea that your heart is actually the voice of life guiding you through the quagmire that is your low self-esteem and incomplete consciousness and all the misbegotten things you’ve learned from bad role models.  You have to blindly believe that your heart will lead you to what you need to learn, to overcome obstacles, and that it can guide you in material matters as well as spiritual ones.

We have the capacity to shut off our emotions and hearts and build material empires with our logical ability.  We can have huge wealth, and even stand out above the crowd.  But we’re not really individuals; our wealth is garnered off the backs of others, and fulfillment surely eludes us.

But if we pay attention to our hearts and emotions, and use our logical capacity without being ruled by it, we can have material wealth and find fulfillment.  Wealth comes from people and people respond to personal power, which comes from listening to your heart, healing your self esteem, learning from better role models and risking being an individual.  I’d say it’s at least worth the risk of trying.

Passion versus Pleasing People, Wanting to be Authentic and get Recognition

This is the longest I’ve gone without blogging for over a year.  It’s felt strange, as if I’ve been adrift.  But it began to feel as if my blog owned me, and I began to not feel free to express myself authentically.  How did that happen?

It’s easy with the internet.  It offers so much glittering promise – so many people reading, so many people searching.  Millions.  So many “success” stories of writers starting out with a blog, being found somehow by readers who identified with them, and then publishers or film producers.  It sounded easy.

But it was like diving into a very fast-moving, raging, torrent of a river in full flood.  Not knowing how to swim.   However anybody else managed to be found, I didn’t – at least not to that extent and not instantly.  I don’t know why, but people often don’t tell about the challenges they went through before they rose up and became noticeable.  Or we don’t want to know.

What does happen when you begin a journey of any sorts?   You start with big dreams, massive enthusiasm and optimism, and no idea of the challenges that lie ahead.  It has to be that way otherwise you wouldn’t start.   Then you meet yourself and see how much you have to learn.  It’s devastating.  You doubt, you fear, your enthusiasm wanes, you despair.

The more I immersed myself in the culture of blogging and saw how many are doing it now, the more my sense of identity and authenticity – my belief that I have something to say that people could truly relate to – started getting eroded.  Just by the sheer numbers.  I got caught up in the competition of it.  But I didn’t realize what I was sacrificing.  Me.

When you’re writing on the internet, the pressure to conform and “give readers what they want” is immense.  I wanted to be seen and heard, to not drown in that torrent of millions of words  being spewed out into cyberspace every second.   I began to let myself be overtaken by the idea that you rise above when you do “what people want you to do”.

But which people?  How do you determine that?  The masses who are trawling the internet for something to divert them are fickle.  Trends change from minute to minute.  You can never catch up if you’re trying to please because you’re constantly trying to form theories on who’s being pleased by what, but your theories are being disproved the second you form them.

Everybody wants recognition and I suppose most people at heart want to be able to be authentic.  We all wrestle with the tension between the two, we all want to reach people without losing our creative identity.   Of course I want to be read and acclaimed – if I didn’t I’d be writing in my diary.  But can I believe enough in myself and what I have to offer to let myself be authentic?

Will I end up alone and being eaten by Alsations?  I don’t know.  I look at J.K. Rowling, Elvis, The Beatles and the hundreds of thousands of others like them.  Did they reach people by trying to please?  No.  They actually did the opposite.  They followed their passion and it turned out that that passion was what reached people, even when at first the content was rejected.  Passion can’t be formularized.  It’s an organic thing, it’s something you have to take a risk on.

I can’t live the rest of my life trying to find a way to please.  Even if I succeeded I’d get to the end of my life and say “well that was a waste”.  Really don’t want to do that.  So do I have to sacrifice fame and fortune for authenticity and passion?   Being an eternal optimist, I prefer to believe that I won’t have to.  But I do have to take the risk.  It’s a no brainer for me, really.

Be passionate, be real, take risks!

Logic can be so seductive, and seem so sensible – and be so completely wrong, in the long run.  It’s easy to forget that any conclusion is only as good as the information that backs it.

For example, take the “logic” that says if you want success you have to work out what people want, and provide it.  Seems pretty sensible.  Seems statistically supportable.

I’m always reading articles which say that if you’re writing and you want readers or success it’s no use writing what you want to write, you have to figure out what your audience wants.  I can understand how that seems logical and based on common sense.  After all, I read what I want to, and I tend to look for what I’ve been interested in so far. But for writers – and publishers, I guess – to conclude that I only want to read something similar to what I’ve liked so far, and won’t be attracted to a new voice and way of writing, a new perspective, a fresh way of thinking, is just dead wrong.

Publishers, agents, producers, some teachers, even writers, are always making two mistakes.  The first is thinking that the potential audience  won’t respond to the energy, the thrill, the excitement an author conveys when they write on something they’re passionate about.   The second mistake is thinking that the audience doesn’t like what’s new.  It’s ridiculous: marketers and manufacturers are always looking for new perspectives and new products, because they recognise that LIFE CHANGES, that people need newness.  Newness is the lifeblood of the commercial world.   And it is the artists who create the newness which we all crave, yes?

Yet publishers, producers and agents are always telling writers and artists that they must conform to some nebulous idea of what the public wants – which is in fact a formula they the publishers et al have created out of what’s been done.  What is it with these guys?  They’ve got to be the most ignorant bunch of humans ever.  And they don’t seem to change from generation to generation.  Somebody should write a book, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus and Publishers, Producers et al are from Some Other Alien Universe.

Look at anyone who has risen above the masses – haven’t they all been complete individuals?  Haven’t they all been rejected by agents, publishers, producers, you name it?  Haven’t they all been told “nobody will want to listen to you / watch you / read you / buy your art because you’re too different”?  Yet they’ve shot to great heights of fame and fortune – not because they adapted themselves to “what people want” but because they gave free reign to their passion and individuality.  And it always turns out that the audience was utterly starved for something new.  Oh yes.  It’s been proved time and time and time again.  Fred Astaire (can’t act, slightly bald, can kind of dance), Charlie Chaplin (too silly), Sidney Poitier (should get a dishwashing job), Walt Disney (unimaginative), Oprah Winfrey (reputedly fired as a reporter for being “unfit for tv” – boy was that a mistake!), The Beatles (guitar music is outdated), Elvis (probably too sexy) , J.K. Rowling (very big publisher oops), Stephen King (ditto).

Publishers and “authorities” are bullies, that’s all; egotists trying to hold onto their power, trying to control their world.  They can never have enough uniformity, it keeps them safe.  Or that’s what they believe.  But here’s the curious thing.  They could be so much safer if they recognized talent and newness and understood how much it is craved by the multitude.

How misguided can you be?  And really, aren’t there already enough people spewing out formulaic crap that has no life in it, is predictable and utterly dull dull dull?

The funny thing – right, it’s side-splittingly funny – is that the authority bullies never ask anybody real what they like.  They don’t actually speak to anybody and say “excuse me, what do you think of this or that?”   Their bullying isn’t based on anything real at all.  It’s not clever, it’s not perceptive, it’s not street smart.  Ever.  It’s based on their own fear-driven, control-freak-driven narrow-mindedness.  Greed might play a little role in there.  They don’t think they’ll make so much money if they take a risk on an individual.  Well the joke always ends up being on them.  Always.  Think of all the publishers who rejected J.K. Rowling!  They must kicking themselves.  And they deserve all the bruises they self-inflict, that’s what I say!

All of us, artist and audience alike, we’re all human, we’re not sheep or lemmings.  We all have hearts and souls and minds and we all long to be touched by somebody’s passion – and when we are touched by it, we all register it.  I know it’s true, because if it wasn’t the bright individuals would never rise above the mundane, to shine like stars for the rest of us to be inspired by.  There’s real logic for you.

Personally I love to hear somebody say “whatever you do, don’t try to please people.  Be real, be passionate, take risks”.

Robert de Niro said that.  Good on you, Mr. de Niro.