On Life, Success and Other Things

Every time I see a photo of John Boehner I think of the scene in The Wedding Planner where a bride presents a blotchy, orange face from too long under the tanner. JLo says ‘quarter cup of lemon juice and half a cup of salt and scrub scrub scrub’.

graphic woman for ebook cover smallYou live most of your life with your eyes screwed shut and you don’t even know it. Then one day you open them and realize that your real is godawful. You close them again; don’t want to look at that picture. Sometimes when you open them again you realize your real is freaking brilliant. Does that make you schizo, or manic depressive or just very alive and aware? Or all three? Life is mercurial for some and that’s a fact.

susan sarandonThe Law of Increasing Complexity: the less aware you are the fewer choices you make consciously and the simpler life is at some level. At a consequence level though, it’s chaotic because your repressed stuff controls your behavior as if you were a puppet.

As you become more conscious of your belief systems, emotions, self esteem and entitlement, what drives you and what you need, and bring repressed stuff up into the light, you heal wounds and move into the driver’s seat. You’re not so much of a puppet any more so your life becomes less chaotic. There’s more of you to give to others from a genuine place.

But you also become conscious of emotions and belief systems etc. in everybody else. And you can see when they’re conscious of what they’re feeling and when they aren’t, when their belief system limits them but they don’t see it. So life is more complex for you. Being in a roomful of people can be pretty damn lonely because you can’t talk to anybody about what’s flying around; either nobody else sees it, or if they do they don’t want to talk about it. You’re on your own, kid. Strength of mind is a useful tool here, as is permission to take a hike.

If you choose to stay it can be challenging and you have to guard against the fear that you’re going mad. But it’s the price you pay for becoming more conscious. And it helps to remember that the rewards are pretty amazing. You feel alive in so many different parts of you. If you’re a writer hey, you’ve got more to write about.

And much as everybody says being lonely is the worst thing in the world, it isn’t. Being mostly numb, half dead, passive aggressive, blind and deaf, that’s the worst. Because some part of you knows it and screams at you all the time. You have to work real hard to keep it out of your awareness.

blind justice cropped smallWe’re all over-adaptive in some way or another. If you’re aware of it you’ll feel like a ghost in your own town until you find your voice. And when you do you might also find that you don’t like that town at all. You might grab the only horse there is and head on out. Some of the people left behind will be sad to see you go but thrilled for you. Others will blacken your name. If it happens, just keep on riding, don’t look back.

Or you might find that you are the horse. You’re just a kid and you have to head on out alone. Don’t worry, you’ll find others soon enough. They’re gonna love you, kid.

horses galloping tinyI don’t like missionaries who target the poor or the needy, give them nice stuff like food and shelter and then indoctrinate them. At some level, even if they’re adults, there’s a vulnerable child within. The missionaries exploit the same principle that makes a child loyal to a man or woman who takes them hostage and then rapes them for years. Stockholm Syndrome, it’s called. It has many variations and there’s more than one way to take a child hostage and rape it.

Missionaries don’t respect your right to think for yourself. They respect their right to overpower your mind, though. And they sure believe that God talks to them more than he/she does to you.

make the connection cropped and smallTo date James Patterson has written 130 books in 38 years and sold 305 million copies in all. He’s been the world’s best-selling author since 2001; way ahead, btw, of JK Rowling. He writes unashamedly to a formula and has an army of ghost writers working for him now, as well as a PR department in his publisher Little, Brown which he rules with an iron fist. He’s having a ball with it all.

His first book, The Thomas Berryman Number, was rejected 31 times before somebody at Little, Brown said ‘yeah, this is a winner’.

The Artist’s Lamentable Way

Body and Soul video image

If you want to listen to music (me singing Billie Holiday’s Body and Soul) while you read, click the image or here; the Youtube will open in a new page. Then come back here to carry on reading.

Ever come across the idea that it’s noble to be a poor and miserable artist living in a garret, unappreciated by the world, and that artists who don’t have that experience aren’t being true to themselves? It’s seductive, like the idea that poverty is romantic and worthy of being elevated in grand masters’ paintings and that the artist or the poor wretch also finds their misery romantic.

Right. It’s romantic until you try it or find yourself there. You don’t like it and nobody likes you. There’s a great blues song Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out”. It’s been sung by Bessie Smith, Adele, Eric Clapton, Janis Joplin – each one a fantastic rendition – and a host of others, for good reason; it’s gorgeous and the words are pretty damn true.

It’s also true that many artists have experienced poverty and rejection of one sort or another and their creative response has been mighty powerful. But the notion that you have to be miserable to be a true artist is formulaic, so it can’t apply to all the artists all the time. As an African American musician Ella Fitzgerald didn’t have it easy, but she also didn’t go through the pain that Billie Holiday or Etta James did, but all three of them are brilliant. Michaelangelo never experienced Van Gogh’s depths of misery and rejection but they’re both superb artists. Ella had a different temperament to Billie and Bessie. Michaelangelo knew how to market himself whereas Van Gogh, poor soul, had no social skills at all.

Some people get less creative when they’re down and out, others get more. There just isn’t a formula for it. Like there isn’t a formula for the perfect painting, the perfect song, the perfect screenplay.

There’s a monumental industry built by self-proclaimed authorities on the subject of artistic perfection. And they all need you to believe that you can’t judge the quality or otherwise of your own work and that if you don’t do what they say (because they know how to do it) you’ll be a failure. The screenwriting industry is a great one for that.

But here’s my difficulty with it. With painting you can see if the artist hasn’t accurately represented what they’re painting. It’s called anything from Expressionism to Cubism to Abstract. I’ve seen paintings that are picture perfect and I can see that the craft is good but the art doesn’t move me, whereas a painting that’s kind of childlike and loose will touch my heart.

With music you can hear if there’s a wrong note but I’ve been at classical concerts where the solo violinist played quite a few wrong notes but oh my God their passion was supreme and I and the whole audience gave them a thunderous standing ovation. What about quality of sound or depth of interpretation? Don’t even go there. No wait a minute, let’s go there. I think Adele sings like a dream and a lot of people in the world think so too. But what about Rod Stewart? You can’t compare his gravelly voice to Adele’s but he’s divine. IMO. My Dad didn’t agree with me. But then he loved Bing Crosby. As it happens I like him too.

As for books, plays, screenplays, there’s no penultimately perfect one: there’s no single Writer God whispering into anybody’s ear. There are a gazillion Gods all jostling with each other “I’m right!” “No you’re not, I am!” I just partly read a John Grisham novel and I found the dialogue is unbearably stiff, unnatural and often just irrelevant; it doesn’t move the story along at all, so the pace positively crawls. But many will say he’s brilliant. I saw a one-man play by Tennessee Williams starring Al Pacino. The man was a few yards away from me for heaven’s sake. I yawned all the way through. I tell you, I missed my opportunity there; the audience was invited to give feedback on the acting. I had some that I thought could be really helpful; Pacino acted at the same level of intensity; if he’d broken it up he’d have been brilliant. I didn’t send my letter in. What the hell was I thinking? Forehead slap!

So here’s the thing. Quality of art and success are two totally different animals and IMO it’s best not to confuse them. Success in the world is sometimes on account of artistic integrity and the artist refusing to change to suit the world. At first they might get rejected but often the power of their work eventually speaks to the masses; not always in their lifetime, alas. Sometimes success comes to those who study a sector of ‘the market’- you know, those mindless beings who can’t think for themselves and just want to be force fed – and then give it what it thinks it wants.

If you can figure that one out, kudos to you and bingo! Dollars in the bank. Inner satisfaction? I don’t know, who am I to judge? I like dollars a lot and they give a gal a creative boost for about ten seconds then the motivation factor pales. Same thing with external ‘discipline’. The only thing that turns me on consistently and sustainably is love of what I’m doing.

To get back to success, sometimes it’s about being persistent. Sometimes it seems to just come upon you. Sometimes it’s because you know a lot of people. Sometimes somebody sees you in a bank and likes the look of your face. The next thing you know you’re starring alongside all the A-listers. Talking about Charlize Theron here. Sometimes, a la Diablo Cody, it comes to you when you’re a dancer in a nightclub and a director reads your blog and says I want you to write a script. You say nah, I’m not into that stuff. And, contrary to what everybody says (you only have one chance so don’t blow it) you don’t lose your chance, because when you change your mind and think you might as well try, you produce an Oscar winner. And you’ve never done it before, never studied screenwriting.

Formulas? Nightmare city for me. The best I can do is listen to my own standards and do my best to get better all the time, because that’s when I have more satisfaction and when I’m enjoying myself it’s infectious. And there seems to be something in putting forward a confident air. So that’s about as formulaic as I can get. I listen to Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Adele, Eric Clapton, Janis Joplin, Janis Ian, Peggy Lee and others and I learn from them something about how they use their voices and I fiddle around with acoustic and electric guitars and piano; think about fiddling around with a real fiddle again. For screenwriting I watch movies and read screenplays and decide what works for me and what doesn’t. For novels I like American crime writers like John Sandford so that’s kind of my style too. My art has been on hold for a while but my sketching and painting is kind of sort of Impressionist I guess.

Whether or not anybody else will agree with a person’s standards or like their artistic output is in the hands of the Gods, I reckon. I’m not above praying to them, mind you. Now and then. And when they don’t respond, I’m a great fan of the Tantrum.

One thing I do know; I don’t want to get to the end of my life and look back and see that I never even tried to do it my way. What a damn waste that would be.

Resolutions for Success in 2012

Kelsey Grammer voices Sideshow Bob.

I hope 2012 doesn’t go as quickly as 2011 did.  It went by in the flash of an eye.  It was a good year in comparison to the ones preceding it.  I had hit the bottom of the pit the year before, and 2011 was the first part of coming out of it. I swear with all my heart and soul and by all the gods that I will never let myself go back there.

I feel optimistic and hopeful for this year and determined to hold onto and build on that hope, that faith, with as much audacity as I can muster.  I think that’s going to be one of my buzz-words for the year – audacity.  The other one is resilience.  They both create another word that I’m going to plaster all over the walls of my room and my mind – traction.

Everybody’s always debating what the secret of success is.  I don’t know what it is for anyone else but I do know what it’s going to be for me this year – getting stronger and stronger in my belief that my book is just fine, Jack, the way it is.  That’s where traction comes from, not letting the doubt in when I get rejected, no matter by whom.  For one thing doubt is a spoiler, it will ruin a perfectly good day, cast a blight on a perfectly good life, and annihilate prospect.

It’s not even the truth, so how ridiculous is that, to listen to it?  But also, it will stop me from acting, putting myself and my book in front of as many people in as many ways as I can think of, all over the world.  Frankly I don’t want to be stopped any more by a bully living in my head, or by somebody else’s opinion.  Especially since so many people who have achieved great things were told by self-styled authorities that they’d never get anywhere.

Our local TV is showing reruns of Piers Morgan at the moment, and the other night I watched an interview of Kelsey Grammar.  He talked about how getting onto the world stage needs massive resilience, inner strength and the willingness to take the risk of putting yourself, at your most vulnerable, right in the firing line.

It’s not hard to think that celebrities are flaky, because it looks as if their lives are so easy, and their private affairs are often such a mess.  But we don’t see their resilience, how much they have to draw from within themselves every time they get rejected. How often it happens.  We don’t see what a huge price they pay, or how they just don’t give up.  I’m very clear this year that wanting success means I to be willing to pay that price.

And I am.  Success comes to some because of the environment they were born into, or their incredible talent, or they got the “lucky break”.  But for many they just ploughed on through a lot of rejection, adversity and hardship, building traction within themselves.  I suppose we all long to have had the nurturing environment and the break, but if it hasn’t happened success is still possible.

Audacity.  Resilience.  Traction.

People Who Succeeded Who Were Predicted To Fail

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”   Samuel Beckett

As a young man, Abraham Lincoln went to war a captain and returned a private. Afterwards, he was a failure as a businessman. As a lawyer in Springfield, he was too impractical and temperamental to be a success.

He turned to politics and was defeated in his first try for the legislature, again defeated in his first attempt to be nominated for congress, defeated in his application to be commissioner of the General Land Office, defeated in the senatorial election of 1854, defeated in his efforts for the vice-presidency in 1856, and defeated in the senatorial election of 1858.

At about that time, he wrote in a letter to a friend, “I am now the most miserable man living. If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on the earth.”

Winston Churchill failed sixth grade. He was subsequently defeated in every election for public office until he became Prime Minister at the age of 62. He later wrote, “Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never, Never, Never, Never give up.” (his capitals)

Sigmund Freud was booed from the podium when he first presented his ideas to the scientific community of Europe. He returned to his office and kept on writing.

Robert Sternberg received a C in his first college introductory-psychology class. His teacher commented that “there was a famous Sternberg in psychology and it was obvious there would not be another.” Three years later Sternberg graduated with honors from Stanford University with exceptional distinction in psychology, summa cum laude, and Phi Beta Kappa. In 2002, he became President of the American Psychological Association.

Charles Darwin gave up a medical career and was told by his father, “You care for nothing but shooting, dogs and rat catching.” In his autobiography, Darwin wrote, “I was considered by all my masters and my father, a very ordinary boy, rather below the common standard of intellect.”

Thomas Edison’s teachers said he was “too stupid to learn anything.” He was fired from his first two jobs for being “non-productive.” As an inventor, Edison made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb. When a reporter asked, “How did it feel to fail 1,000 times?” Edison replied, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”

“Our greatest glory is not in never falling but in rising every time we fall.”  Confucius

(from: http://www.des.emory.edu/mfp/efficacynotgiveup.html)

The Secret of Success

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a formula for success.  Different categories of it – how to be a billionaire, how to have the perfect marriage, how to be perfectly happy, how to become President of Wherever and rule the world, how to write a best-seller, how to make it in whatever way you want to make it.

Plenty of people have written books on the subject, but as my nephew pointed out the other night, they’re not doing it because they believe they’ve found the ultimate secret and they want to help people, they’re doing it because they want to be successful how-to-be-successful authors.  It’s a good idea, mind you, I think I’ll give it try.

I resist the idea of formulae, because they’re always formed by outsiders.  Somebody once said that Sylvester Stalone got Rocky accepted because of the brilliant way he pitched it. So they figured if you wrote your pitch in the exactly the same way as Stalone wrote his for Rocky, you’d be successful.  Scores of people have analyzed his pitch letter, hoping to extract the secret.  Nobody’s succeeded yet.

It seems to me that successful people have one thing in common.  They don’t give up.  Sometimes success comes quite easily for a million reasons, sometimes it comes later.  It never comes to people who stop trying.  I saw a guy from Hollywood speak about this and he said the thing about persistence is that it works because a lot of your competition falls away, they give up.

It’s not just about that, though.  I think it’s about getting stronger and stronger within yourself that whatever you’re doing is okay.  Every time somebody rejects you or your work, you’ve got the option of believing them when they say you and it are no good, or standing up for yourself.  The more you do it, the more authority you develop.

The more authority you develop the more people start believing that you and your work are worth something.  In the end something gives.  If it’s not you, it’s got to be them!

For another genius interpretation on the secret of success, click here

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

You Don’t Have To Be A Genius

If you don’t want to read, and just want to watch the video, click this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=twwaVsYbtkI

You know how sometimes you have a moment when something you think you’ve known actually sinks in to a more meaningful place?  Things like ”it doesn’t matter what other people think of you” and “you have the same value as everybody else”.  It’s easy to “know” those things intellectually, you just have to read the words or hear somebody say them and your thinking brain takes it in.

Long ago I had my head around the concept that everybody’s equal and other people’s opinion doesn’t matter.  Funny thing was, the knowing didn’t make any difference to the reality of my life.  I was still afraid of people in real time, still afraid of the world, still massively disempowered, making choices that ended up with me being exploited or hurt.

Well I believe that my thinking brain isn’t nearly as powerful as I used to think it was.  It’s become the God of this century, the New Age God.  I think the power that actually let me change has come from the experience of being loved and respected.  It’s resulted in a different kind of “knowing” that permeates through my mind, body and spirit.

I’ve started to see that my knowledge isn’t just theoretical any more because I don’t have to hide from the world and people any more, I’m happy to just be normal, I don’t imagine nearly as much that people are thinking badly of me.  I don’t have try and read their minds, I can just ask.  I don’t engage with bullies because I recognize them and I know I don’t like them.

More and more I realize I don’t have to fight for my place in the world.  It’s still not perfect, and I doubt it ever will be – what’s perfect anyway? – but my everyday life, from moment to moment is really different from what it was.  No lies, no pretense, no denial.

Those Aha! moments always seems as if they come from out of the blue, but I think they’ve been building for a long time, and they just reach a certain threshold which pushes into the conscious mind in one particular moment.   In a way it’s like the unseen particles of our world.  We don’t notice them until they’ve coagulated into something solid which our senses can pick up.

Well it’s taken me more than ten years of receiving very sane teaching and incredibly consistent,  all-embracing unconditional love and support for the knowledge I’ve understood theoretically since I was 16 to become something I could actually apply.  In a way I’ve gone through the parenting process again, and given myself a chance to grow up in a balanced way.

I had an Aha! moment yesterday when a whole lot of things came together.  It was the understanding in a real way that I don’t have to be a genius, or superwoman, or incredibly talented to be able to enjoy success.  I can just be me.  It’s enough.   I made a video of my Aha! moment.  Always wanted to be in the movies.  Might as well start somewhere.  This is the link:   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=twwaVsYbtkI

If you like it please pass it on to your facebook friends – or any friends, actually.