LE MEPRIS

Hollywood Happy Endings

 

At the end of Jean Luc Goddard’s Le Mepris (Contempt), Brigitte Bardot’s character Camille runs off with a producer in his fancy Alfa Romeo convertible. Following the gradual collapse of her relationship with Paul, she finds what she believes to be happiness through her new found freedom. Before she can realize her new life with Mr. Bigshot, the car is wrecked in a fiery accident and the movie comes to an abrupt close.

Poor Brigitte can never find happiness, not in Contempt.

Made in 1964 at the height of the French New Wave, Le Mepris was a subtly brilliant film, making use of a cramped production design to illustrate the cage-like feeling of entrapment. The film explored the idea of Amour as it were meant to be explored in a painfully realistic light. There would be no happy ending to this romance, because there wasn’t supposed to be.

Life does not always come equipped with happy endings, no matter how hard we try to force their dreamlike reality upon us. Yet Hollywood and its profitable escapism has lead people to desire things impossible, to embrace the happy ending as the only possibility.

Hollywood does this in reality too. Beyond the shiny new sets and green-screens, Hollywood feeds this line of the happy ending to all who pursue it as career. Put in the struggle and the hard-work, and you will make it.

Self help gurus litter the Twitter landscape and the Blacklist (while useful) is happy to take aspiring writers money for mediocre notes (at best) even when those writers are not ready to submit to such a service. 

Hollywood loves to talk about the folks who make it, but rarely do we discuss all those who crash up against its pearly gates. This concept of Hollywood as heaven,  this idea of the “break” as savior is idolized by aspirings everywhere. So desperate for advice and some clarity, those vulnerable to dreams want justification for their pursuit of this heaven. Many in the business have not only been happy to give that justification, but to profit it from it as well.

Here’s the reality, you will probably not make it in this business. There is no guarantee any more than there is a set of rules you must follow in order to get your foot into heavens gates. There is no bible you can read. There is no crusade you must fight. There is no Templar you must convince. There is no trade you must take. There is nothing but the faith you have in yourself and the hope that you might be lucky enough with the right idea, at the right time to present that work to the right person.

Myself, I was happy to create this imagery in my head where I could run off with the producer who once was kind enough to advise me. This idea of “once I go to work for him, everything will be solved” was both a figment of my immaturity as it was exemplary of my inability to think rationally in a dream state. If the chance to work for him actually presented itself; the chance to escape through that red little sports car, the reality is that I would still be one accident away from not being happy again.

Our refusal to be happy with the present, to constantly seek justification for some hypothetical happy ending future has given us everything from an abundance of Hollywood Twitter gurus to irrational thinking that clouds the present. There is no guarantee for a happy ending. Whether your heaven is Hollywood or a trip to France in an Alfa Romeo with your lover, know that there is no guarantee for that future unless you can find happiness today.

The only way you can find happiness today is to live in the present, to escape contempt and to stop looking for justification for how to live your own life.

WallStCA

Wall Street California

When Robin Williams took his own life ending what was perhaps one of the most celebrated careers in Hollywood history, the world stopped and took notice of Williams and his incredibly diverse body of work. It pained many to know that someone who had such a profound influence on so many lives through his acting in many different genres was no more. It was worldwide heartbreak.

Recalling Robin Williams body of work was nostalgic for many. It was a period in Hollywood where creative expression was at its best and where Williams was one of the best at it. What died with Robin Williams was not only a beautiful soul capable of touching so many but a creative spirit that showed audiences worldwide how powerful unique expression through cinema could be.

The cinema of the Robin Williams era has died too.

In its place: expensive sequels, remakes, comic book adaptations and franchises. Put differently, tent poles and just about ONLY expensive tent poles. And before you rush to blame Hollywood for its lack of creativity, you’re better off looking at those who remain ultimately responsible: Wall Street.

Movie making has always been a risky business requiring a lot of up front financing and financial expertise. Hollywood has always relied on the investor class, hedge funds and banking institutions for capital arrangements. However in the past the two arenas remained separate. The creatives made decisions about content, the investors made decisions about how to leverage their financing arrangements to support their vision.

Today the lines have become blurred, as the investor class like Sony’s Daniel Loeb take an increasingly active approach to what does and does not get made and how the studios are run.

Wall Street bankers have taken over the creative reigns through the threat of scissoring the purse strings.

After the recession, financing became much tighter and as a result Hollywood struggled to fund its projects. Reeling from the losses related to mortgages and toxic debt securities many in finance were looking for a new gig. The promise of large returns with a low tax rate was very attractive to investors and so they began pouring their money into financing arrangements with filmmakers. One of the best examples of this being Thomas Tull’s Legendary Pictures and its former relationship with Warner Brothers (now Universal).

Thomas Tull, once a former finance professional and tax services executive is now a Hollywood power player. While Mr. Tull’s Blockbusters tend to be of quality, they’re all Blockbusters, there’s no middle ground. Tull’s success suddenly became the road-map everyone wanted to follow. After a decade or so of billion dollar grossing films, it’s all anybody wanted to make. The smaller properties were just not going to continue pushing the studios earnings, and consequentially their Wall Street overlords profits higher. Everything had to make ridiculous money or no one wanted to fund it.

The only motivation by these folks is increasing the bottom line. While that has always been the case, it is taken to its logical extreme. They have begun to make creative decisions in an extremely myopic fashion and that has in turn led to the current state of affairs. Studios have been re-arranged, entire departments shut, major players fired and the release slate squeezed. Most resources are spent on large comic book properties and established franchises leaving few dollars left for original properties. If an original does get made, it gets made for very little and the marketing budget is usually squeezed because of limited resources for riskier ventures.

Wall Street doesn’t even care so much whether Americans go and see the films they fund as long as China does. International Box Office has never been more important. Hollywood doesn’t make movies for Americans any more. They would rather have the most homogenous project possible to export so as to not suffer translation issues. Explosions need no translations, complex story does. Homogeneity reduces cultural bias and view points and has the tendency to please just about everyone because nobodies sensibilities are offended.

Take Robin Williams THE BIRDCAGE for instance. The film routinely took pot shots at the religious prejudice of the Right Wing of American politics. Today Wall Street decision makers could see offending the Right Wing as leaving money on the table. If they are offended then you will get bad word of mouth in that community, controversy, a  Bill O’Reilly moral crusade and most importantly as a result: less money. The concept of a uniquely American sense of humor also does not bode well for international sales. China isn’t going to get jokes about Jed Bush. They also despise homosexuality, so that’s a negative right off the bat for cultural exportation.

In the current risk adverse climate of Hollywood, a film like THE BIRDCAGE would never get made. That is problematic because what that also says is, “we don’t care about having the next Robin Williams.” It additionally says they do not care about diversity. They want as little risk as possible. And this business plan has worked brilliantly so far.

The investment banking culture is pervasive. And if you know anything about days of trading losses this past year for major banks like JP Morgan (hint: zero), you can imagine how they feel about looser movies. As a result they have made the current state of affairs only about winners. Where tent pole earnings used to off-set risk for smaller projects, they are now the only sort of film in existence.

The current culture of business figures that if folks want originality, they can watch TV or finance it themselves. In fact most original properties distributed by the major studios were independently financed and made outside the system. This strategy has led to a decline in ticket sales in North America, but as long as the money keeps pouring in from abroad, things are unlikely to change.

Algorithms are more likely to determine what you see on screen than a creative assessing the quality of a project. Just about every aspect of Wall street has been brought to Sunset Boulevard down to the computers that make decisions.

The only people that are happy with this are those counting the money. I don’t think you can find me one creative who thinks the current state of affairs is a good thing for Hollywood. People didn’t get into this business to have a computer tell them what a good movie is. Creative people know what’s best and what people want to see but Wall Street won’t let them make decisions.

My philosophy is as follows: stop letting these carpet baggers run the industry into the ground. Because just like they did with every industry before, they will crash it into the ground and eject with a golden parachute while the rest of the industry is left to sift through the wreckage. The current model of blockbuster or bust is absolutely unsustainable, just like the housing bubble was.

Creative industries will always come with risk no matter how many computers say otherwise. We need to again embrace creative expression at its best, the sort of films that made us smile, like Robin Williams films did. Williams remains popular to this day as a legend because of the characters and worlds he was a part of, they were all memorable. Today everything suffers from sameness where one white guy looks just like the other white guys and where women and people of color have little role at all in our films. 300 explosions later and you can barely recall any degree of substance of what you just saw.

Kick the carpet baggers out! If they don’t like what they’re investing in, they can invest elsewhere. Creatives need to run the show, not Wall Street. And with every Wall Street carpet bagger that leaves, there will be money to follow because everyone wants to be a part of show business.

Let’s make it again about the business of show, because right now it has became the business of Wall Street. And it is not Wall Street and their paint by numbers filmmaking that wll bring this world the next Robbin Williams. Time to take the industry back to people who know it, throw the carpet baggers out because it’s Hollywood, California not Wall Street, California.

Is Persistence Always Key? The Biggest Mistake Made by Young Creative Professionals

Being too persistent is the biggest mistake young folks trying to break into the creative industries make. Every young creative dreams of the day they will work for their professional influence. For some, that influence is a major player unlikely to ever exchange words with them. For others, that player may be more accessible and thus the opportunity to be persistent for a chance is born. This is that kind of a story, and it serves as an important lesson on how to be persistent while not being too persistent, potentially ruining your chances with that person.

HE STOOD BEFORE AN AUDITORIUM of thousands of young kids about to graduate college, all eager to hear what such a successful member of the alumni community had to say. Sure his name may not carry much significance outside industry circles, but his professional title carries significance to all.

He is a Hollywood Producer.

I listened to his speech shortly after its publication online not because I had any connection to the school, but because I had long considered him to be a major professional influence in spite of being a lesser known player at large. He worked many years for a favorite production company of mine, whose films I grew up watching. After producing one of my favorite films, I discovered his inspiring rise to CEO at a young age which was profiled in an industry article. It was at that time during high school I began to closely follow his career.

Back to that auditorium, a paraphrased out-take from that day.

“I called him ten times, at least. I knew I wanted to work for his company. He must’ve thought, ‘who is this crazy kid that keeps calling me from the mountain west?’ He told me if I wanted the job that I had to come to NY. So I did, I bet he never expected me to actually show up — and so I got the job.”

The kids were amazed at his persistence. Not giving up after first being brushed off certainly paid off for him. Hundreds of those young impressionable graduates likely formed the same conclusion, “If I am persistent, if I continuously reach and out to try to prove my worth, I will get the job too!”

That’s the flawed assumption made by many young folks — even by the producer himself, admittedly: That if you repeatedly advertise your worth, you will get the reward. What is the reward? The chance to work for someone you admire or a company you really like.

So how do you avoid making mistakes of being too persistent? By understanding the other’s POV and being persistent within reason.

We’ll start with my POV, that of the young professional eager to work for their professional influence.

I have a somewhat interesting relationship with the producer in question which began a few years prior to his aforementioned speech. At first, I pissed him off by foolishly trying to message him right out of college. I kept messaging him from time to time in spite of no longer hearing a reply. I greatly embarrassed myself, and soon realized there was no way I’d have a shot with him.

A year later I began a Twitter account with a humorous slant, parodying his latest film. It gained a small but engaged following and that lead me to have contact with him through the pseudonym I created. He got to see my humor, shared appreciation for the same music and guitar, in addition to what on the surface appeared to be my very laid back, enjoyable personality. He got to see the real me. An online friendship began in spite of him figuring out my actual identity.

We put the past behind us, or so it seemed.

That second chance at a first impression only went so far when he refused to meet me for coffee while in NY for his premiere. “You’re funny for sure, but you might be insane,” he said. I was hurt. I felt that it was an unfair criticism in lieu of our online conversations and attempts to actually get to know a bit about one another. Yet, I respected his decision. In spite of knowing where the premiere would be held, and where the above-line folks were staying, I did not try to run in to him. For the fact that I am not insane, and respect boundaries in spite of my enthusiasm, I did not even message him during the premiere or the after party, nor did I attempt to meet him against his will.

His film unfortunately did not do well. In spite of that, we would continue to sporadically keep in touch over the next year and a half. During that time he continued to encourage me as a writer. He began to assume an informal mentorship role. I would eventually write him a screenplay, my first ever, and in spite of giving him an inferior product, he encouraged me to write him another. I even asked if I could work for him on his next project, to which he said yes, and to reach out to him online. Most importantly, he stressed that I keep writing.

After a while I tried to encourage messages with him, but he would usually not reply. This left me feeling unwanted, ignored and undervalued. It hurt to know that I just wanted to talk like regular folks, to show I merely wished to keep in touch and perhaps talk more frequently. However as I began to work more in and around the business, I understood that we were not just regular folks. I was an aspiring writer, he a Hollywood producer. And so I would usually wait for him to say things to me. Those were the boundaries, ones which I would occasionally ignore.

Eventually he began to say less and less.

The squeaky wheel gets the grease we are told. Keep showing them you exist, or so goes the mind of the persistent go-getter.

Somewhere during waiting for his reply about my second script, I began to grow impatient. I engaged in tweets that would seemingly target him, and he would occasionally do the same in response to me. Where we would once message, we were now communicating through passive remarks online.  So began a sort of game-playing.

It culminated with my persistence again wearing thin.

“What’s wrong with you calling people names,” he asked, clearly exasperated and taking offense. I struggled to back-peddle. I wasn’t calling him an names, rather I was at the time of his message typing a follow up to my previous tweet to better place it in context. The damage had already been done. In a way, he was the microcosm of all that I was complaining about regarding the industry at large: the no by way of silence that makes any persistent and determined kid pull their hair out with frustration. And so I don’t blame him for being offended, I was indeed out of line.

Over the next hour things would deescalate as I explained my thought-process, and he sought to explain to me that I needed to do more to actually struggle and earn a path to success. He said if I go out there and give it my all, I would be successful. He told me I couldn’t wait on him, that I needed to go my own way.

That part I didn’t hear.

Over the next year I maintained this blog with him as a loyal reader. I would never hear from him again in the form of a message. We continued passive communication sporadically until he stopped tweeting altogether. And in spite of that he would still find creative ways to show me he was keeping tabs, even after he un-followed me on Twitter over a year later.

The likely truth about him un-following me? I needed to learn to take his advice and go my own way, to stop waiting on him. He hasn’t worked since his last film and most of his projects have stalled in development as far as I can tell. He doesn’t have opportunities now to the best of my knowledge and what I’ve heard from others who know him that seems a reasonable assumption. His producing partner has gone onto other projects, and the miniseries he was presumably developing seems to have never come to fruition.

Like many in Hollywood who are not working on the next super hero film, he finds himself on the industry sidelines. That can all very well change, but it’s time consuming to turn things around or begin work on a new project from scratch. Even he said to me when asking to work for him over the phone, “I may work tomorrow, I may work in a year or many years. It’s not predictable.”

Yet it’s natural, what I did. Everyone wants to work for their professional influence, but rarely do we think about how our enthusiasm may come across. I’ve written countless articles as to why I think I’d make a great assistant or employee in some capacity for him. I know I still would, and with the experience and connections I have made to this point, I believe that even more so today. But I don’t need to keep saying that.

And I certainly didn’t need to embarrass myself by exclaiming I find him attractive either. I don’t have romantic feelings for him, and would certainly not attempt to act inappropriately along those lines if we did meet. He’s attractive, however that has little bearing on anything. Ultimately my proclamation of any and all admiration was meant to be purely professional, and only intended as such. But it certainly may not have come across that way.

I just wanted to remain on the radar. When it comes down to competing for a chance to be hired in Hollywood, to quote my production mentor, “you need to always be at the forefront of their mind so they think of you.” At most I saw him as someone I could have a friendship with in addition to a professional relationship. I kept persistent not because I was crazy, or obsessed. I just wanted to continue to be at the forefront of their mind.

However I never considered his POV in the process of doing so.

His POV?

I likely made myself look desperate. It likely may have even made him feel put-off by me, even though he also probably knew I was harmless. To keep talking about someone might be flattering, but its also in a way showing that you’re inflexible and stubborn — hell bent on one outcome. While I have had more than good luck meeting other people in the business, I want to work for him most. However constantly talking about him looks desperate, even if I may have other options brewing.

I wasn’t doing this often, these proclamations of persistence, but collectively, I likely may have contributed to this possible POV of his.

Perhaps after realizing we both shared the same thyroid ailment, I recently waived for his attention more than I should have in hoping to maybe speak to him again; feeling lost about my situation, knowing he would understand. I was hopeful he’d give me some advice since he was kind enough to give other advice in the past.

Of course there was no reason to speak. It again likely looked desperate, even though career-wise I was actually doing well.It was not my intention to look desperate, but it was likely his reaction.

Alternately, maybe he does understand that I am not nuts, rather just a bit too brazen, opinionated and quick to speak. I think back to last April when he was clearly trying to passively get my attention when I was writing about philosophy of Space and Time: the nature of interpersonal relationships online.

The nature of our relationship is quite an odd one at that. On the one hand, I have crossed the line at times. At other points, he seems to show me he is willing to follow up every now and then.

To some degree I am not sure what he thinks.

The problem with being too persistent is that it is ultimately hard to gauge. And so ultimately one has to be mindful of the way their actions may come across, whether they have come across one way or not.

Conclusion

I am not alone. This happens virtually all the time in the business, so much so Mystery Creative went on a humorous rant about it. It really opened my eyes to the way I might have unfortunately come across. Kids cannot contain their enthusiasm for their professional influences in this business. It’s almost hard not to burst out with excitement to think that your professional influence finds that you’re smart and have a gift with language.

I know that I would never harm him, or if given the opportunity to work for him, invade his privacy or act out of emotion. It’s very easy to be taken out of context online and I believe that is partly what I am a victim of. However, I am also guilty of being too persistent at times.

Thankfully I have impressed other people on his level, and have not only gotten reads but met with a rep here in NY about possible management. Yet I continued of late to show him the various ways I continue to care about him, not realizing that I continued to cross lines and perhaps even look desperate. He knows I care. He’s long known I care, and that I would be very loyal to him and do whatever to have his back.

And if he wants to hire me in the future, he knows where to find me.

I finally realized that I crossed the line many times while not even realizing it. I wrote this story to hope that other young professionals don’t make the same mistakes. Of course most people are harmless, as I am. But unless you want to risk looking like those who are actually insane, don’t be an idiot like I was — always consider how you might come across to others, even beyond your professional influence(s).

Perhaps he may take solace in the fact that I acknowledge and truly apologize for my behavior. Perhaps he may even forgive me and give me the chance that the record exec gave him many years before. I know if he did give me the chance to work for him, he wouldn’t regret it.

If he doesn’t forgive me, and he doesn’t give me a shot in any position with him, I will have at least come to understand why. Hopefully that won’t be the case. But I am prepared for it if it is. Don’t be too persistent. Because the only place it will get you is the label of professional desperation, or to use the Mystery Creative phrase “box full of badgers nuts.”

Don’t act like a box full of nutty badgers. Be sincere and kind. But also be mindful. Always.

Sincerely,

MK

 

 

 

 

 

World Cup

Sorry American Soccer Haters, Soccer is Finally Here to Stay!

World Cup

Many Americans more adept to watching uniquely American sports such as basketball, football and baseball will now have to contend with a new arrival: professional soccer. Much to the chagrin of the monolingual and culturally isolated, unlike in 1994, actual “football” is not going anywhere!

Nielsen Ratings showed that the World Cup Final in the United States had higher ratings than the NBA Finals, World Series and BCS College Football championship.

After the 1994 World Cup was held in the US, many pundits were predicting the soar in popularity of the sport. The newly launched MLS (Major League Soccer) debuted with ten professional teams playing out of American football stadiums in 1996. Unfortunately, the MLS lost $250 Million in its first five years of existence, and nearly went bankrupt. People were quickly predicting the downfall of the sport only years after predicting its future dominance.

Since the 2002 World Cup where the US Men’s National Team had a better than expected performance, the league has since expanded its reach and has become profitable. Several new teams were also added to the MLS. Additionally, in 1999, the Columbus Crew organization built the first stadium solely devoted to professional soccer in the United States. By 2011, the MLS had a better attendance record than both the NBA and the NHL with an average of 17,872 spectators.

Of course the league is not without its criticism, and coverage of the MLS still palls in comparison to its better domestically covered sports rivals, such as the MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL. The MLS is also considered to be a much weaker league than its European club counterparts, with shorter seasons and less well-developed players overall. The shorter league means players have less endurance and stamina when compared to their European rivals, a criticism made by US Men’s coach, Jurgin Klinnsmann. Rarely if ever do American players compete with major teams in Europe apart from the MLS All Star members. The NCAA system also fails to provide the rigorous levels of development that many European club systems like Bayern Munich and other heavyweight clubs do. MLS has long been dubbed a retirement league for peak players on the decline, with notable MLS players from abroad including Beckham, Henry, David Villa and Kaka. If the MLS is to get bigger, many suggest we need to attract younger talent or develop better players on our own like many poorer South American clubs do. The lack of corporate sponsorship when compared to the European leagues or even the NFL does not do much to help give teams the financial freedom to develop in a more efficient manner.

Yet in spite of the several valid criticisms of the MLS, it does not do much to reduce demand for the popularity of soccer in the United States. As our world has become more connected online, many Americans have had the pleasure of discovering international club teams through online streaming services. Channels like Fox Soccer, debuting in 2006, attempted to cater to this widening audience of soccer enthusiasts looking to support international heavy weights domestically. Still only certain games were made available on the network, and the Champions League failed to generate the kind of enthusiasm here as it has done abroad, especially lacking American participation. Fox Soccer ceased all operations as a network in 2013. However, soccer fans still wouldn’t stop pushing for a change in availability of their favorite sport.

In 2013, NBC Sports Network announced it would carry every English Premier League game live on air. The English Premier League is the most popular European soccer league, attracting some of the worlds best talent, reaching 98% of the world beyond England. Despite Fox Soccer going defunct, the NBC move was a stunning success. The NBC Sports Network, in spite of the time difference, got people out of bed watching English soccer at 7:30 AM on the Eastern seaboard, and as early as 4:30 AM in the Pacific Coast market. It doesn’t often interfere with American sports broadcast locally in the afternoon and evening, providing the perfect filler from a network perspective. Viewership for the final day of the Premier League season was rated by Nielsen to be an average of 4.9 million viewers, a stunning 172% increase. Overall, NBCSN saw viewership of the Premier League across the season go from 13.1 Million on ESPN and Fox Soccer in 2011-12 to an average of 31.5 million viewers in 2013-14.

While the MLS has a long way to go to attract the sort of talent necessary to hold American interest in teams here, international clubs and teams have continued to fuel soccer’s growth in the US. Many cities and regions in the US have local supporter clubs for teams based abroad. Video game FIFA 13 saw a 42% sales increase in the US alone from the year 2012. With the plethora of international talent, and ultimate team play using FIFA players, American’s were further introduced to more star players outside the MLS. FIFA 14 continued the sports dominance virtually, rated one of the best games for the new console systems with an average rating of 9.2/10 by Xbox Magazine. Merchandise continues to fly off the shelves, with major US sports retailer Modells routinely failing to restock enough shirts and jersey’s to satisfy demands during the World Cup. Enrollment in local youth leagues has continued to rise across suburbs throughout the nation and amateur leagues in major cities like New York have seen a large increase in player interest among adults.

It may have taken 20 years since 1994, but soccer will only continue to grow here. The seed was planted and watered through several years of international play in addition to the exposure to new teams and markets with the advent of international streaming services and new cable TV options. The influx of Latin American immigration in certain key communities has also largely contributed to the sports rise in popularity domestically in spite of continued lack of interest in more rural areas of the nation. Even the Euro tournament in between the World Cup has garnered significantly more interest in the US despite the absence of domestic players. And so whether or not the MLS improves, the US has gotten its taste of the world’s game. And while the NFL may continue to dominate domestically because of the bible belt and beyond, real football will only continue to grow in popularity domestically. The world’s game is finally here to stay.

 

The Aftermath

He sat across from me at lunch, chewing over my words, hearing everything I was saying but he disagreed. “Everyone is capable of picking themselves up after failure,” added Alex (the name I’ll go with to protect his true identity). Alex has been studying behavioral psychology in the Netherlands. He was so sure of peoples abilities, he couldn’t understand the prevailing cultural attitude toward why some can recover from defeat while others cannot.

“Social Darwinism is an excuse,” he opined, “anyone is capable of self improvement, of making things better. It’s just hard work.”

Many years before we met my friend Alex here was in a band about to make it big. Drug use was common at just about every level, and he admitted to being entirely too dependent on marijuana to cope with the incredible amount of stress that came with working in the business. Worse than heavy dependence on pot was the cornucopia of pills and other various drugs which studio owners would leave out like some kind of cheese platter for the musicians to sample.

Just as his band was about to make it really, really big — they didn’t. One of his buddies became so hooked on drugs, he nearly killed himself because he didn’t sleep for 48 hours while high on a cacophony of racing substances including cocaine and marijuana to try and bring himself back to the ground. The business had begun to take its toll on him, and those he grew up around. It started with wanting to make something that mattered, only to realize that in the scheme of things you don’t matter at all.

You are replaceable at every level of the entertainment business. It is this constant battle for survival which at times creates desperation and desperate behavior. Needless to say, both hinder ones ability to make art or to make money selling it.

My friend eventually entered rehab for marijuana dependence. He didn’t like that he felt that he was unable to function without toking several times a day. He, like many dependent on marijuana, told himself its really not that big of a deal — its much safer than binge drinking. The problem was that in his gut, he knew this wasn’t true. He was depending on artificial relief for a problem he was unable to face: depression. The long term side effects of chronic use aside, he decided to kick the habit by facing his demons. He no longer associates himself with people that abuse substances, including his former band mates and friends of that time period.

“You have to get rid of everyone that was a part of that life, everyone you used with. There’s no excuses.” This he admitted was the hardest part because he enjoyed more than just drug culture with them. He appreciated music, art and just being “bros.” He knew what he had to do, and made the right decision by going his separate way from them.

His story is one of many. He firmly believes through his own experiences in addition to his PhD studies in Europe, that people can do incredible things with the right mindset and will power. It wasn’t easy to leave a whole group of people and life behind, but he knows he is better for doing so.

It is so easy to feel trapped by ones circumstances. It is so easy to wallow in your own sea of sorrow, not accepting that you are perfectly in control of your own situation. Marijuana or any other drug of choice, even binge eating, will not change your life around. It will provide a temporary pleasure until you repeat the addictive and dependent activity.

Whether dependent on a substance or suffering through a down turn in career or life, the only way to survive the aftermath is to forge a new chapter. Defeat need not come to define us. Find new ways to forge ahead. Be creative, find ways to excel that you haven’t before. Sometimes you may even need to take a step back before you can take a step forward. You might need to humble yourself. We cannot always be at the top all the time. You may need to take a job that signifies defeat, or embarrassment. But you take that job in order to always be moving ahead. Never stand still.

You cannot just perpetually wait on people or for things to go your way. You cannot just sit back and hope that contacts in the past will be contacts in the future. You cannot turn to substances to make yourself feel functional. You cannot start spreading blame without realizing how you yourself contributed to your own downfall. Sometimes it is the fault of external people or things, but there is always the self to blame too. Maybe your temper or attitude keeps people away? Maybe people find your substance abuse off-putting and unstable, thus not wanting to form a professional relationship. Maybe you are surrounding yourself with people who are lesser than yourself and people see that as unprofessional and weak. If you are the smartest person in the room, you ought to find a new room.

If we just sit and allow ourselves to see how we also contribute to our problems, overcoming them is so much easier. Since taking this advice to accept self-blame, I have seen amazing improvement in my own life leading to incredible happiness. The moment we are happy is the moment we are at our creative and professional best. It is never too late to merely accept to defeat and know that is it not permanent. Start today, don’t wait another day to start making a better life. Don’t dwell in the aftermath longer than necessary.

 

 

 

Love is a Force of Nature

Falling in love is a bit like the rules of gravity, that once you begin to fall, you are hopeless to stop the laws of nature. As mere mortal beings we are hopeless to control the forces of nature, only to understand our interaction with it.

If we could control who we fall in love with, we wouldn’t fall at all. If we had any way to stop strong feelings toward one another, romantic or otherwise, we would push back with reason against something which is wholly irrational. We cannot explain how it happens, only that when it happens, we know that is has.

To this day the laws of physics have failed to adequately define gravity. We have hypothesized spacial curvature to begin to provide some known shape to our universe made up from matter we still fail to largely understand. “The big bang shouldn’t have created our universe,” scientists today claimed.

In those few seconds after what has come to be called “the big bang,” the hole should have caved in on itself. Instead, millennia later highly developed complex organisms live to write about it, without ever truly understanding it.

Man is arrogant. He believes he can postulate the answer to everything. The true insanity is not the person who comes to fall for natures laws, but one who constantly tries to explain it.

Humans have always sought to understand things from a highly logical perspective. That when things do not fit our notion of what is logical, it must be irrational, or insane. We live life and try to explain why things happen, striving to find some answer to an eternities old existential question, but the answer is not universal. There is no universal truth.

Not everything can necessarily correspond to logic in the way it is classically defined. Certainly not love. The moment we try to dehumanize the experience of nature is the moment we loose what it means to truly love or be loved in return.

We should merely exist in awe of natures beauty and be happy we are complex and alive enough to even understand what it feels like to love, to feel strongly or to care deeply about another species or human being. The universe is full of many questions, not all of which necessarily must be understood by man.

 

 

To the Girl on Her Cellphone Throughout ‘The Fault in Our Stars’

I took my mother to see the emotional cancer drama and romance film, The Fault in Our Stars the other day. It was the biggest film over the weekend, grossing nearly $60 million on a budget of $12 million. It was a story that resonated with people because of the way it sought to stress the importance of our impermanence here on earth, to value every moment we have, and to love unconditionally and selflessly. Unfortunately not everyone got that message. In particular, one young teenage girl who sat on her phone throughout the film. So I dedicate this post to her, in the hopes that maybe putting the message differently, it will make more sense.

At the age of nine, I almost died. In fact I came within a few heartbeats of being declared dead.

My youth up until that point consisted of travel soccer, softball, playing Nintendo and trips to the movies. I was a healthy, young vibrant kid who loved to make people laugh. I loved movies, even as a kid, and I would watch anything my parents would let me. I was doing exactly that when it happened, just watching another movie my parents had rented me from Blockbuster.

Home sick on a Saturday morning, I was watching the classic comedy film That Darn Cat on the basement sofa when this malaise began to overwhelm me. I tried to move, but I couldn’t. I was trapped on that couch, a prisoner to my own circumstances. I tried to yell for my mother, but my voice quivered, I could only let out a whisper. I tried with every last remaining strength I had left to yell for my mother, tears began rolling down my cheek  because I was so frustrated that I could not move, I struggled to breathe and it felt like everything was shutting down. I was helpless, pinned to that couch without a voice in fear when my mother came down the stairs with a basket of laundry. She dropped it, running over to me. I was almost without color, my pulse was barely detectable.

There was not enough time to wait for an ambulance, and so my father carried me outside to the car. I remember looking at the trees from on my back as my mother raced to the hospital near by. As they passed in a blur I wondered to myself if it was the last thing I would ever see. It wasn’t, before I lost all memory of what happened to me, I remember being rushed down the hall of the ICU on a stretcher with several doctors around me. There were other older patients in that hallway that looked at me with pity, this young girl in distress, who knew if I would have a chance.

It was the last thing I remember seeing. I don’t know what happened afterwards other than the fact that I woke up from wherever I was. I wasn’t dead, but I have no memory of anything. I lost consciousness before being stabilized. I wish I could say that “heaven is for real,” but as close to death as I was, I don’t remember a thing. I don’t remember a light, nothing. It was empty. And it is in trying to form a memory out of that emptiness that brings me to that fear of mortality, to that moment of our impermanence.

Yet I was alive. I had a reaction to a medication treatment I was put on for an unrelated ailment that resulted in ventricular tachycardia, a very serious arrhythmia in the heart that can result in sudden death. I stayed in the pediatric ICU for about a week for monitoring and follow-up therapy. While I knew I was going to make a full recovery, unlikely to have such symptoms again, my roommate in the ICU would not be so lucky. She had stage-four cancer. I don’t know what kind of cancer, but she knew she was never going to survive.

I don’t remember this girls name, but I do remember her to this day. She used to scream in pain, waking me up at night. I remember complaining to my mother about this, and my mother had to struggle to explain to her nine year old daughter about my fortunate situation. This girl, also about nine, was dying in that bed. While I could stroll down the hall to the playroom hooked up to “my robot” (that’s what I called my monitor), she couldn’t leave the bed.

While I went on to lead a normal healthy life in spite of my irregular heart beat, she was on hospice care and eventually died in that hospital. I thought of her when watching TFIOS because I am sure she would have liked to have had more time. I am sure this young teen who sat on her phone would wish she had spent her time more wisely if faced with the same circumstances.

We have become a very self-centered society, too often wrapped up in our own trivial thoughts. We think more selfishly than ever, looking at our phones instead of those around us. This young teen couldn’t spend even two hours apart from her sacred electronic world. And you know what? I am guilty of it too, too often forgetting the ordeal I went through as a child. The movie brought that moment right back to me. We don’t know when our time is up. For me, it could’ve been at nine years old while watching a mediocre comedy on my parents basement sofa. It could be tomorrow, driving back from the set of a commercial, tired of a long day standing on my feet.

All we know is that time is finite and we don’t know how many years we will get, and that is the fault with our stars. I won’t start getting cliche and say we should spend every day as if it were our last, but I will say we ought to be a lot more grateful and live with as few regrets as possible. We should seek out that which makes us happy and share that happiness with others. We should live the life that will make us happy and remind ourselves of what we do have, not what we do not. We should be fortunate to be alive, spending as much time pursuing happiness and putting aside cynicism as possible. We should listen more, not to reply, but to understand. We should pursue relationships because we want to, not because of what others think. And most importantly we should love unconditionally and without shame.

Maybe that young girl didn’t get that message in the theater that day. But I hope that one day she will. I hope that one day people like her realize the fault in our stars is that our time here beneath them on earth is not nearly long enough.

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