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If I Were a Sculptor

If I Were a Sculptor

“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”

Michelangel

But then again, no…

Let me start again.

Yesterday we went to the beach.

It was, as usual, awesome.

I have never had a bad day at the beach. I imagine that it’s possible and I have met people who don’t like it but for me, it’s always good and usually great.

I went there with my son, Yogi and my 10-year-old niece, Lilyette, who is visiting from Maine.

Yogi and Lily spent most of the time in the ocean. I spent most of the time building a sandcastle.

I should say that Yogi and I are Sand Castle artists. I have loved building sandcastles since I was a kid growing up in Hampton, New Hampshire. I passed that love to Yogi and when he was about 7 we learned how to build really impressive castles, really sand carvings, from a company called “Can You Dig It.” Rather than building up, the way to make great looking castles is to make a huge pile of hard, wet sand and then carve a castle (or whatever) out of it.

While Yogi and Lily were swimming, I used a big shovel and built up a big pile of sand and mixed in water to make it hard. It takes a lot of physical labor for a long time before the final carving started and, as usual, I got a few looks and a couple of comments as I labored like a ditch digger. Just like a ditch digger, in fact.

After a couple hours, Yogi and Lily come out of the water to help me carve so the castle would look good before the tide came in and wrecked it.

That’s a big part of what we do. We actually like to start building right around low tide so we have a few hours to create an elaborate structure before the tide comes in and swamps it, creating our own epic disaster.

As we carve out blocks of stone and crenellations and windows and doors and stairs, the castle suddenly emerges out of the blob of damp sand. People start to comments on how awesome it looks just as we are finishing up. It’s very satisfying.

But it’s not why we do it. We do it because the whole process is fun and exciting.

But most of the process is not interesting to watch.

Which brings me to Rocketman.

We finally saw Rocketman, the Elton John biopic, this week before it left theaters completely and it was pretty darn good. I thought it was a little better than Bohemian Rhapsody and Shelley thought it was a little worse. I liked the stylistic risks the director took and I’ve been on a bit of an Elton John kick lately, partly because his catalog has been playing in public places because of the release of this movie and partly because his songs are fun to play on the piano.

When you start digging into his catalog, even just the hits, it’s pretty clear that Elton John is amazing. For the last month, the song Grey Seal (a weird cut from Goodbye Yellow Brick Road that apparently nobody, including Bernie Taupin, understands) has been permanently worming around my ears and it’s only starting to drive me crazy after about four weeks of non-stop heavy rotation.

But what Rocketman (and Bohemian Rhapsody) deals with is the happy and unhappy effects and side effects of success. What we don’t see much of is the creation. In Rocketman, we see Elton John playing Your Song as he looks at the lyrics for the first time as if the chord progression was suggested by the lyrics and the melody popped out a few moments later. In Bohemian Rhapsody there is a scene where Freddy Mercury keeps telling Roger Taylor to sing higher as a way of representing Mercury’s perfectionist drive. As a result, Taylor keeps singing the same (correct) note with a bit more intensity each time. Neither snippet makes much sense as a representation of any creative process, let along the process of people we have come to revere as genre-defining (and smashing) geniuses.

Of course, the reason for this is that the actual creative process is dull as dishwater to watch. Most of it is ditch digging. The flashes of insight come out of the details and happen internally when they happen at all. From the outside the interesting stuff comes at the end when the finishing touches make the sandcastle or the song or the novel come alive.

Creation is boring to watch and mostly boring to do. I worked with a bunch of people including Dick Clark (briefly) and Spike Lee (very briefly) to create a reality show based on Instant Film, the festival I created with Peter Lebow and Charles Papert to make movies in two days. It was hopeless because making a movie is mostly boring, grinding work if it goes well. If it doesn’t go well in some interesting and spectacular way, the movie won’t get finished.

The takeaway is that anything worth doing takes a lot of grinding work. Even writing a blog post.

But it’s worth it.

And it’s worth it, not because of the success that comes when people like it, it comes from the act of creation itself. Once you know that, the ditch digging part becomes fun.

If I was a sculptor, for example, it would take a long time to get to the point where anyone, including maybe me, could tell what I was making.

Fantasy Versus Reality

Fantasy Versus Reality

Fantasy: Tonight I’m going to go to bed early and get 8 hours of blissful, restful sleep.

Reality: I have a growing problem with insomnia that is getting worse rather than better. I now associate my bed with being awake. I need to make some serious changes to get better rest.

Fantasy: Starting tomorrow I’m going to be incredibly focused and get a lot done.

Reality: Every day I spend a lot of time driving around and when I’m not doing that I don’t have a good habit of getting focused.

I could go on and on but it’s a boring story already and the point has been made. Fantasy is fantasy. Reality is reality. I actually live in reality so I’d better deal with that.

By the way:

Fantasy: You read this and change your life completely because once you realize that you live as if your fantasy is reality, you jettison the fantasy and become incredibly focused, productive and happy.

Reality: ??

Fan Service and Guilty Pleasures

Fan Service and Guilty Pleasures

Recently I was scratching my dog’s butt. He likes it quite a bit.

To be clear, I’m talking about the area above his tail, really analogous to the lower back on a human.

“Scratch my butt? Please?”

Most dogs like being scratched there. Porthos really loves it and often demands, sweetly (with big brown begging eyes) a scratch.

My friend Norman noticed and said “my cat likes being scratched there as well.”

I said, “how does it make you feel?” Scratching my dog’s butt is nice because it’s nice for him but it doesn’t really feel like I’m getting much out of it. His head is faced away from me and I kind of feel like I’m doing him a favor without getting much in return. It kind of feels like I’m giving him pleasure in an obligatory way.

Norman replied, hilariously, “it’s a little like fan service.”

I understood what he meant, exactly.

Kind of like how superhero movie makers have to put in certain references for the die-hard fans of the original comic books. These tidbits don’t serve the story or flesh out the characters. They just bring jolts of recognition to those of us who read about these characters 22 pages at a time back in the late 70s.

Scratching my dog’s butt is pandering and it feels good for him just like Flash Thompson in Spider-Man feels good for me. If you know what I mean you know what I mean. If you don’t, it really doesn’t matter.

Here are some other things that I love guiltily because I feel like I’m being pandered to.

Jack FM

This format/station plays exactly what I want to hear every time I turn it on. I don’t do it that often because it makes me hate myself for being so predictable. I thought I was an individual with wide and divergent taste but it turns out I’m just part of a demographic that loves REM, Prince, The Rolling Stones and Daft Punk and then is delighted to hear my favorite Soft Cell and Def Leopard songs that I didn’t know I wanted to hear (but Jack did).

It makes me feel dirty.

Ready Player One

I’m talking about the book which was not really very cinematic but was really aimed precisely at geeks who were born in the sixties.

I’ve never resented loving something so much.

Me First and the Gimme Gimme’s

I just discovered this band. They do punk covers of decidedly non-punk songs and it’s fantastic. Take the catchy melody of and touching lyrics of “Seasons In the Sun” and shred away the shmaltz with heavy drums, crunching guitars and howling vocals.

It’s heaven.

And it makes me feel dirty.

And I love it.

Please keep scratching my butt.

Spiritual Principals* And Other Practical (Meaning “Useful”) Jokes (Meaning Truths)

Spiritual Principals* And Other Practical (Meaning “Useful”) Jokes (Meaning Truths)

or

What I Believe

I was recently talking to somebody about comedy and he pointed out that most of it doesn’t hold up, but we agreed that Monty Python and George Carlin are both still funny decades later. My “Useless Theory of Funny” posits that comedy comes from pointing out the limits of language and meta-language. A lot of comedy points out the hypocrisy of the time and as times change what is funny changes. Carlin and Python pointed out the basic contradictions of humanity and so their comedy is still mostly hilarious.

One of my favorite bits of Carlin’s was the reduction of the 10 Commandments down to two.

He ends up with 2 and then adds a third one.

  1. Don’t be dishonest
  2. Don’t kill people most of the time
  3. Don’t push your religion on other people

When Jesus was asked what was the most important commandment he said:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it, Love thy neighbor as you love yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:37-40

(If you don’t believe in God and can’t read about God, substitute “a Higher Power of my own understanding” or “The Universe” instead.)

I love this. Of course this gets twisted into the golden rule, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” which is fine as far as it goes but what the actual quote from the actual Bible (I won’t go so far as to say the actual Jesus since it was actually written down many decades after he died) says is that there is an equivalency between loving yourself, loving your neighbor and loving God.

Love God = Love Yourself = Love Others

Divide by Love and you get.

God = You = Others

Hmmm…

I think it’s important to note that “love thyself” is a necessary part of the Commandment. It’s also interesting to note that this wording doesn’t appear in the 10 Commandments but Jesus rightly points out** that all the spiritual principles that he teaches and the Old Testament teaches can be derived from these three sentences.

So that’s:

  1. Love God
  2. Love Yourself
  3. Love Your Neighbor

As a side note, it also means that being a judgmental hypocrite is contraindicated by the teachings of Jesus.

Assholes, take note.

Speaking of assholes, a friend of mine has a picture of Charlton Heston as Moses on his fridge. In his hands, Heston has the stone tablets on which the 10 Commandments are inscribed. Instead of 10, there are only two.

  1. Be Cool
  2. Don’t Be An Asshole

I think this is a terrific summation of the Commandments and a fantastic guide to life. When I set out to write this post I thought that’s what Carlin ended up with. Thanks to Google and YouTube it took 10 minutes for me to find out I was wrong and then I promptly admitted it.

Speaking of promptly admitting being wrong, that brings up another list that can be reduced to a more manageable size. The 12 Steps of AA can be summed up by combining the steps into 4 groups of 3. The first three basically say “There is a power greater than myself and I ain’t it.” The second three say “I’m not perfect and I’m willing to admit it.” Step 7, 8 and 9 say “I’ve hurt people and I want to make amends for that.” The final three steps are basically “keep applying the first steps and help other people.”

One of my favorite parts of 12 Step culture is The Serenity Prayer.

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can
And the wisdom to know the difference.”

 Reinhold Niebuhr

Like everything else in today’s post, this is an edited version of the original prayer that Reinhold Niebuhr originally wrote sometime in the 1930s. I love this shortened version because it reads like a joke and yet encapsulates a profoundly simple yet powerful guide to approaching life. It comes from a Christian theologian but it seems downright Buddhist to me.

The Four Noble Truths of the Buddha are:

  1. There is suffering
  2. Suffering is caused by craving
  3. Eliminating craving will eliminate suffering
  4. Craving can be eliminated by following the Eightfold Path

One way to sum up the Eightfold Path is:

  1. Be Cool
  2. Don’t be an Asshole
  3. Meditate

Another way to sum up the Eightfold Path is:

  1. Develop your understanding of the world so that you can distinguish what you can change and what you can’t.
  2. Have the courage to change what you can.
  3. Accept what you can’t change.
  4. Be serene about it.

Sound familiar? It’s the Serenity Prayer. Did I need to point that out? Probably not. But I did.

Here’s my interpretation of the teaching of the Buddha. Please forgive my self-indulgence. It goes like this.

Reality exists as it is. Humans invented language and other ways of interpreting reality to help us survive. As a result of these constructions of our minds, we are out of touch with reality almost from the moment we open our eyes. There’s a wall of words and concepts around reality and there are illusionary mental constructions starting with our sense of self that stand between reality and our experience of reality.

I said reality six times in the last sentence.

But talking about reality is part of the problem.

Don’t look at the finger pointing at the moon. Look at the moon.

My old Zen teacher used to say “No Shinking!”

Happiness is a function of acceptance. Spiritual growth is a function of understanding that I’m not god, I’m not in charge, I’m not perfect and I have done things that have hurt people.

Interestingly, one of the goals of AA participants is to accept life on life’s terms.

So here’s the deal.

Be Cool

This means

  • Love and Accept God or a Higher Power of your own understanding
    • This requires a daily investigation into what God actually is beyond the constructions of language and culture that probably do not accurately represent the way it actually is.
  • Love and Accept Yourself
    • This requires a daily investigation into what You actually are beyond the constructions of language and culture that probably do not accurately represent the way you actually are.
  • Love and Accept Other People and Help Them As Much as You Can
    • This requires a daily investigation into what people actually are beyond the constructions of language and culture that probably do not accurately represent the way people actually are.
  • Love and Accept the World/Universe as it is
    • This requires a daily investigation into what the World/Universe actually is beyond the constructions of language and culture that probably do not accurately represent the way it actually is.

Don’t Be An Asshole

This means

  • Avoid suffering by being cool (see above)
    • Suffering tends to lead to asshole behavior so this is key
  • Don’t be dishonest
  • Don’t hurt yourself or other people or other living creatures
  • Don’t mess up the world
  • When you are dishonest or when you hurt people or when you’re wrong, promptly admit it and make amends

Thanks for reading! Hope there’s something in here that’s helpful.

*I spelled Principles wrong on purpose.

**I just gave Jesus props for being right. Did you notice that? Talk about arrogant.

Mortality and Meaning

Mortality and Meaning

My Dad, me, my Mom and my brother

I haven’t posted in a few weeks. I think the reason I haven’t is not that I didn’t have anything to say. It’s more that I had too much to say but I didn’t know how to say it.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been confronted with mortality. Death has affected the lives of people that I know and love in a profound way. I am not going to go into details because they are not mine to share. I have just written and erased several tries at obliquely describing the situations to give a sense of the horrible tragedy but I’ve realized it’s morbid and unnecessary. You, dear reader, don’t need information about other people’s lives. If you’re over the age of 10 (and if you’re not, stop reading this now and go play outside) you’re aware that everyone dies.

That’s the bottom, top and every line. Living things eventually die. People I know have and will die. I will die. You will die.

This calls up another disturbing truth. Everything changes and we have almost no control over anything.

As individual human beings, our childhood development can be seen as a process of rebelling against a lack of control. Infants can do nothing but cry when something in the environment (or their stomach or diaper) is not working for them so that’s what they do. Next, we learn to grab and manipulate things with our hands and then we learn to control our bodies so we can move around the world. The twos are terrible because we learn the word “no” and use it as much as possible as we learn new ways to control the people (especially those all-powerful grown-ups) around us. Next we learn “mine” and “sharing” and “not fair.” Then we learn how to throw things and read things and write things and sue people and invest in stocks and drive cars and fly planes and manipulate social networks to effect national elections and stuff like that.

My Dad and me. He was the age I am now in this picture.

We crave control.

Part of the motivation for wanting control is that we’re hardwired to enjoy it. One of the most wonderful things in life is the dance of a toddler who is just reveling in her ability to move. For me, the joy of shooting a successful jump shot never diminishes. That moment of satisfaction is sublime and I hope I can continue doing it for a long time.

But we’re also afraid of a lack of control. Terrified of it in fact. We fear the unknown and the dark and anything new or unfamiliar. We fear change. You could say that the ultimate evidence of our lack of control is death and so we are especially afraid of death but that wouldn’t really be accurate. Death is actually the reason we fear a lack of control. Death is why we fear change.

Evolution is spurred by death. We are here because our ancestors didn’t die before they had offspring. They survived by learning to control their bodies so they could evade some deadly threats and to control their environment enough to eliminate other deadly threats. They climbed trees to avoid sabre-toothed cats and then used sharpened sticks to kill all the sabre-toothed cats.*

So we fear death. In fact, all our fears are, ultimately, our caveman brain/body system’s way of strongly signalling us to avoid possible death. We avoid perceived risk because we fear death. We fear being ostracized because we fear getting kicked out of the tribe which would lead to death because the sabre-toothed cats will eat us while we sleep.**

The irony is that we do everything we can to avoid death including not think about it and yet it is the only thing that is certain. Believe it or not we are all going to die.

This is awful news.

Worse is that everyone we know is going to die. Keanu Reeves was recently asked by Stephen Cobert what he thought happened after people died. Keanu simply said “I know the ones who love us are going to miss us.”

This brings tears to my eyes even as I type this. It is profoundly true and profoundly sad. I miss my dad and I miss friends who have died. No matter what you believe happens after you die, we know that we are no longer here on earth in the same way.

My Dad and my son (he was born with a mohawk, we didn’t cut it that way!)

So what is there to do with this information?

Here’s what I propose. Love people harder. Love yourself and love what you do. Treat this life like it’s the only one you have. Live better. Don’t escape life with chemicals and don’t risk death foolishly but also don’t avoid what you fear. The worst is actually going to happen eventually no matter what anyway so don’t let the fear of the worst keep you from doing what you love or what you want to do.

If you have resentment or unexpressed feelings, deal with them now. If you have things you want to do someday, do them now. If there is someone you’d like to talk to someday, call them today.

Be the best version of you that you can be. Live the best version of your life. Love and care for those around you. This life is short and we have very little control over any of it.

My father died on Tuesday, June 18, 2013, after a freak accident that happened the Monday morning before. I was able to be with him when he passed away but he was not conscious. The day before the accident I intended to call him but the day slipped away and I never got around to it. June 16, 2013 was a Sunday. It was Father’s Day.

I will always, always, always regret not making that call.

*At the same time, we have our demise programmed into our DNA. As far as I understand the science, cellular breakdown that eventually leads to death is not necessary for the survival of the individual but it is vital to the survival and evolution of the species in the long run.

**I could (and will) go on and on about how hilariously inappropriate much of our fear is. It makes sense to avoid deadly situations but our judgement about what is deadly is based on old information, like 30,000 years old. As far as our bodies are concerned, the fear of failing that keeps us from trying something new is as valid as our fear of being eaten by a hungry crocodile. We have a profound risk assessment problem.

Once Upon a Time or Happily Ever After? You Choose.

Once Upon a Time or Happily Ever After? You Choose.

Is this the beginning of the story or the end?

Bad things happen to good people. Good things happen to bad people.

Things happen to people.

Actually, things happen and people exist. Those people (meaning you and me) make up stories to understand and conceptualize the things that happen.

I have a somewhat radical view of these stories. It’s not original and it’s not all that weird once you think about it but most people don’t think about it much so it’s outside of the mainstream. My view is that:

  1. Humans create stories about reality.
  2. Those stories about reality have almost no relationship to reality. (It’s not like they haven’t ever met but they really don’t know each other.)
  3. Humans live based on those stories rather than reality.

One of the many powerful corollaries to this idea is that changing the stories you tell yourself will change the way you interact with reality. Note that I didn’t say you can change reality. You can’t do that. But people don’t live in reality, they live in a story about reality.

(By the way, if you think you live in reality with out any filters, think again. If you use language you filter reality. Boom. Mic drop. Count it. )

I think its a good idea to note that these stories we create are almost all told to an uncritical audience of one inside the echo-y theater of our own heads. They are rarely written down, re-written, edited, checked for errors and almost never read by anyone else.

In other words, they are not very good stories and they are not really heard. This is why journalling can be so valuable, by the way. Journalling gets the unexamined stories that we’ve been performing in the cramped black box theater of our heads out into the world where we can see the flaws.

These stories we tell ourselves are the ancestors of campfire stories and novels and Netflix series and they have the same elements. Aristotle identified the 7 essential elements of storytelling as:

  • Character
  • Plot
  • Theme
  • Dialogue
  • Setting/Decór
  • Melody*
  • Spectacle

Today let’s just look at character and plot. Clearly, the main character in whatever story you tell yourself is you. You are almost always the hero in your own story. Why not? (If you’re consistently the villain you should probably seek professional help or at least try to be nicer.)

Plot is key and there’s one aspect of plot that I want to focus on right now. Stories have a beginning, middle and an end. In the stories we tell ourselves we usually see ourselves at the end. Whatever happened led to this (whatever this is).

It’s really valuable to notice that when we define the end of a story we define the kind of story it is. Comedies end with the good guys winning in some unexpected way. Adventures end with the good guys winning and the bad guys defeated. Romantic comedies end with a kiss. Romances end with a wedding. Tragedies end with death or defeat. If you can be conscious about how you see the story of your life you can change the context into which the main character (yeah, that’s you, congratulations!) is living. Is the crisis that just happened the tragic end of the story or a challenge in the middle of it? Did your romance end when you got married and now you’re halfway through a screwball comedy or a modern version of Ethan Frome?**

Or maybe this is just the beginning of a new tale. This is, in fact, what I would recommend. Start writing a new story today. Today is the first day of the rest of your life (cue opening credits). Beginnings have power. The hero (yep, still you, casting hasn’t found anyone who can do the job better) has lessons to learn and is imbued with unlimited potential. Your next step is the first on the magical yellow brick road. Everything that has come before is just prologue. That horrible thing that just happened? That was the inciting incident. The event that started this new story. The past is nothing but old stories filled with lessons learned that will help you climb the next mountain, win the final kiss and get the last laugh.

And how about those other elements that Aristotle identified? If you start to look at the story that you tell yourself about life and reality as it’s happening to you and as you think about your past and your future, I’m sure you can see how changing the theme or accentuating certain bits of dialogue or changing the setting would change the meaning of the story.

*Honestly, I don’t know what Aristotle means by melody. I have some research to do. In the meantime, let’s pretend that he meant the soundtrack of your life. Is it composed by John Williams or Danny Elfman? Maybe Pharrell Williams is what you’re bopping your head to as you watch your life unfold in front of your eyes. (That sounds happy!)

**If you haven’t read it, don’t. I read it in high school and I still haven’t recovered. Makes Anna Karenina look like a rom-com.

10 Secrets To Getting Things Done

10 Secrets To Getting Things Done

As with everything in this blog, this is for me as much as you. Hope you find this useful.

1. Write it down

Your mind is an unruly place where some things will get lost and other things will spin around and around until they pick up a dangerous amount of torque (I don’t know what that means exactly but the metaphor is apt).

Get stuff out of there as much as you can. If you have an idea or a project or a problem you want to solve, the first thing you should do is write it down. That way it has an existence outside of your head. This has two benefits. You don’t have to think about it anymore (or as much) and you won’t forget it.

2. Say what you’re going to do

If you want to do something, tell somebody that you’re going to do. If you really want to do something, promise somebody that you’re going to do it. If you REALLY want it to happen, give them a deadline and ask them to hold you accountable.

3. Do what you say you’re going to do

Get in the habit of doing what you say you’ll do. Take your word seriously. There’s a lot of power in that. It’s not a moral thing. It doesn’t make you a bad person or a good person if you don’t or can’t keep your promises. But if you keep your promises as often as you can and revise your promises when something comes up (rather than ignoring that you made promise) you’re word will become more and more powerful until a chair will fall out of your mouth when you say the word chair.

4. Behavior and thoughts and emotions are interdependent and they all affect each other

What you do affects the way you feel and the way you think. What you think affects the way you feel and what you do. How you feel affects the way you think and what you do. Here’s a post about this.

5. Behavior is easier to change than thoughts and emotions

It seems counterintuitive but it’s actually difficult to change our minds. We have grooves in our brains (or rather we have established, habitual neuropathways) that keep us making the same decisions and feeling the same feelings. Moving our bodies to the gym is easier than feeling like we want to exercise. Smiling (which actually makes us feel better) is easier than changing our emotions so we feel like smiling.

See how these things work together? Instead of thinking endlessly about doing something and waiting till you feel like doing it, you promise someone that you’ll do something and then you do it even if you don’t feel like it.

6. Ask for help

I don’t know why, but most people are happy to help others but they don’t want to ask anyone for help. Would you like to help people? Most people feel the same way. If you want to get something done, ask people to help you.

7. Offer to help others

There are people who could use your talents and connections and knowledge but they’re afraid to ask you. Offer help. You’ll feel tremendous and often it’ll be weirdly easy. Have you ever helped a toddler get their shoes on? It’s like that.

8. Do one thing at a time

If you do one thing at time you will do it better and you’ll do it faster. Multitasking has been shown, over and over again, to be inefficient.

9. Play hard

Do your best. Why not? It makes everything better if you try hard. I’ve enjoyed washing dishes for 12 hour shifts because I took pride in doing it really well.

10. Play by the rules

This should go without saying but it doesn’t.

Cheating takes all the fun out of any accomplishment and it’s immoral and unethical. If (when) you get caught you will lose everything.

4 Steps to the Finish Line or How To Get It Done

4 Steps to the Finish Line or How To Get It Done

I’m deep into the first version of the 4 Step Workbook. This will help people (including myself) use the 4 Steps to get things done.

The 4 Steps are:

  • Step Back: Take a look at the big picture and set your direction, destination and goals.
  • Step Up: Take responsibility and set up accountability.
  • Step Forward: Take action.
  • Step Out: Get in communication with people and expand your community.

This will be a workbook which will help anyone become more productive My question is how can I get the word out for this?

If you would like to be a beta tester for this workbook, send me an email at john at johnsylvain.com.

Thanks!

How To Be The Protagonist

How To Be The Protagonist

TriMan!

A friend of mine observed that the person in her family who was craziest was the only one who wasn’t in therapy.

This is ironic but also not surprising. For therapy to have any effect, the patient (or client) has to recognize that there’s something wrong. As the old joke says, it only takes one therapist but the lightbulb has to want to change.

I can testify that my ability to change is proportional to my willingness to change which is related to my recognition that there is something that needs to change.

Changing is hard and takes time so you have to be motivated to start and stay on the journey. Along the way you will face challenges and difficulties and you will learn lessons. it will be exciting and, maybe, interesting to watch.

Like a movie.

In the survey class I teach on film and American culture (called Introduction to Film and American Culture) I give my students some simplified definitions of narrative devices because the course focuses on Hollywood movies which (I argue) are basic narratives that decades of economic evolution and corporate rock tumbling have worn smooth.. The protagonist, say I, is the main character in a movie who either changes, changes their world or (most often) both.

The antagonist is the character who causes the protagonist to change, often (but not always) by opposing the protagonist. The antagonist is often resistant to change.

So when you are ready to change, you are ready to be the protagonist. If you resist change, you are the antagonist.

Narratives are about change. A story in which nothing changes is usually very boring (unless the prose is fantastic, for example Rememberance of Things Past or Waiting For Godot) and not really a story. This is one of the reasons that Hollywood is typically progressive rather than conservative. Generally speaking, conservatives don’t want things to change. Stories are all about revolution and evolution and taking on the powers that be and making the world a better, fairer place.

So if you want to be the protagonist of your own life you have to willing to recognize where you need to change and than to be willing to do what it takes to make that change. Hopefully you’ll be in a story with a happy ending and you’ll have good stunt doubles to take most of the worst punches.

A Recommendation

A Recommendation

One of my favorite things to do is to watch episodes of The West Wing on Netflix and then listen to Joshua Malina (an old friend of mine and a cast member of The West Wing) and Hrishikesh Hirway (a musician and West Wing superfan).

West Wing Weekly started a few years ago and covers one episode per week. I started discovered the podcast and have been listening as they come out but, of course, it’s a podcast so you can listen to them in at any time you want.

Josh and Hrishi are intelligent and very funny (they like puns a bit more than is really decent but nobody’s perfect) and they often have guests from the show like Aaron Sorkin, Allison Janney, Laurence O’Donnell and Bradley Whitford. They also often talk to experts on politics, policy and the various topics that the West Wing covers. Howard Dean was a guest, for example, and he talked about primary politics which is a big part of the sixth season. The most recent episode featured interviews with Alan Alda and Reverend Katey Zeh who is the the executive director of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.

The West Wing shows the White House as it ought to be. The administration is Democrat and the show leans to the left but more importantly, rivals are treated with respect, governing comes before politics and people strive to do the right thing at all times and follow the rules. The contrast of the show, which will be 20 years old this fall, and our current political climate is often startling and illuminating.

So if you’re looking for something to do that will be both entertaining and educational, watch The West Wing and listen to The West Wing Weekly.

Richard Schiff talks to West Wing Weekly hosts Hrishikesh Hirway and Joshua Malina