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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Quiet Quixotic Reflections

I believe in Jedi Knights. I believe that Yoda looks after young padawans. Sometimes I feel like Obi-Wan. Sometimes like a lost Sky Walker tarnished by the discoveries. But whatever happens, I believe that it is within us to have faith in that the force of our will, our sheer determination... it is always with us. All you have to do is identify how you want your life to be, or the results you would like to see in your life (effect)— then work toward creating the situation (cause) that will produce the desired effects. If you’re interested in the results— focus on the cause— and the effect will take care of itself.

With the creative actions of our free will, we can change the outcome of any action. The first step however, is realizing that even though actions may have negative consequences... the power of our free will can change those unintended consequences, and make them into something far more powerful... with love. Tonight as I post this, I notice the Unicorn outside of my window heading towards my sisters’ home to see if my nieces and nephews have fallen asleep.

In a strange state of revery, I look about the room. I am no longer myself, but a stranger here. And, with a very observant eye, I look at what this person has just been doing. Notes written in the margins, a half-finished glass of red wine on the table. Books scattered about... most of it ancient Philosophy. I look at the paintings on the easel, the drawings tacked on the wall or cast carelessly about the place. A strange intelligence is at work, behind these images. My gaze rests a few moments on the pages just written, and reads certain isolated fragments of the text. Someone is seeking something here— an inquiring mind, eccentric and original, with a curious outlook on things. Strange sentence-formations though... but as always, I digress.

My life is made up of memories, like everyone else’s. However, what I realize is that our brain filters out the images that we do not want to remember always invariably making the past seem romantic. Agent Mulder wanted to believe in what he thought was true. I believe too, in sorcerers and goblins, in princes and knights. The voyage of discovery lies not in seeking new horizons, but in seeing with new eyes. Regardless of whether we have a diagnosis of hard to accept with gray forecast, this change in our ability and attitude of course will work miracles on how to live thereafter.

Many of us anchored to the situations of life as we wish, want and aspire to be and thrive in our vital pattern or road map, that which we have acquired through your education, the environment in which we live, for conduct and affections of our people close, the affinities which we approaching. Instead we're moving on and repelling situations and people that might be appropriate to rise to the train on which we travel though different from our pattern of life, even those that lead us headaches, upset because confronted with our values and principles, summarizing are opposed or is that perhaps we are seeing in some way accept the party not in us.

In the train on which we travel, there are people who are only a couple of stations in our car on the other hand some will fall with us almost all the way, many will be very similar to fortunately other hand we are and always will be different and this will bring us new points of view to follow the path with our backpacks full of experiences necessary to meet the obligatory stops at every station of life. Curiously without realizing it, at the end of the line, those who have managed to learn along the way to share all that is of value not only the tangible will be ready to face a moment of transition might be more like the death of the body.

Living stops in different seasons in which we continue the journey makes us live forever renewed. The certain parts of our self die to make way for the resurgence of other leads that we may live fully the other stages of life. There are moments in life that must die like a phoenix and then rise from the ashes, much more evolved. I hope that when that time comes for each of you... you find enough strength, courage and energy in you to continue the road with renewed hopes to be able to enjoy your journey of life. Me? I'm searching for Yoda, having a grape Freeze Pop and finding amusement in the antics of those who refuse to discard the illusions long enough to indulge in laughter and perhaps an engaging conversation with a weary traveler.

Your Time is Now

While perusing the magazine section at the bookstore this past week I happened upon a TON of self-help segment headlines scattered across women's' magazines like so many prairie dogs out in the dessert. Here's the deal. Forget about the magazines. You are all you have. Anything more than that you have access to (family, friends, money, living situation)— that is nothing less than spectacular. But in the end, you are all you've got. Act accordingly and treat yourself like the special, important person you are. Important corollary— you are all you need, too. Which is convenient and cuts down on the number of things you need to stuff in your bags. Not everybody’s going to like you. There’s no magic formula of niceness or agree-ability that will make you popular. In fact, the popular people are the ones with strong convictions, who go ahead and do what they want no matter what you think... or how untrue it is.

The trick is, you have to actually not care what other people think about every damn thing you do. Conveniently, this turns out to be much, much easier than we were led to believe as children. Don’t wait. Ever. For anything or anyone. You don’t get extra points for being the patient, uncomplaining one. In fact, you’re probably going to get stepped on for your troubles. The person you are waiting for is not going to wake up one day and go, “Oh gosh, that person who’s just been so accommodating— she’s the one!” Your boss is not going to say, “Hmmm, who’s the best worker, the one who never says anything or the one who tells me in detail about their weekly accomplishments and is vocal about taking on new responsibilities?” The whole Discovering-Cinderella schtick wasn’t true back then and it ain’t true now... so who cares?

Just say what you want. No demands, no threats. It’s a simple formula: “I want such-and-so, and I will not accept anything less.” If you get something less, honor your commitment to yourself and leave. That’s it. This bargaining skill works with everything: lovers, jobs, children. For example, many people have noted that we have good communication skills with our kids: we tell them what we expect of them, and we tell them what’s going to happen if they don’t live up to it. This doesn’t stop us from yelling… but generally the yelling happens when we weren't clear enough before hand, so: our bad. (And when we get a hold of ourselves, we apologize to the kids for our behavior.) The guy he is right now is the guy he’s going to be forever, unless he decides to change. Deal with the person right in front of you, not the person you want him to be.

If I read one more goddamn romance (or bulletin board thread) where the object is to transform the bad boy through the magic of the (patient, understanding, loitering) woman’s love, I’m going to vomit. Remember that line from As Good As It Gets where Jack Nicholson says, “You make me want to be a better man”? The only response to that is, “Then go ahead and work on that, and right now I’m going to go out and find someone who’s already there.” It really is better to be alone than in bad company. The nice thing is, there are so many incredible people out there to be with! Stop worrying so damn much about how you look.

You’re never going to look prettier than you do right now. And pretty/fashionable/anorexic has nothing to do with how attractive you are or how much you get paid. We have all known size Whatever women who could attract anyone they want, because they like themselves no matter what. Is it more fun to be with someone who likes herself, or one who’s criticizing herself all the time? Yes, if you stand up for yourself and what you want, you’re probably going to lose some friends. Conveniently, this will weed out which of your friends aren’t really your friends, which we can only regard as a BONUS! Your time is now. And don't let anyone out there convince you that it isn't.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Raphael Saadiq— Energizing

He is a standard bearer for what folks call ‘old school’ music, a contemporary artist continuing a time-honored tradition that goes back to the ‘60s and ‘70s. From his early days as a member of the groundbreaking ‘80s group Tony! Toni! Toné! through his work as an award-winning producer of such artists as Joss Stone, The Roots, Snoop Dogg, John Legend among many others and his own solo albums, the multi-talented Raphael Saadiq has kept the faith. “Every record I’ve ever made has had those influences…The Temptations, Al Green, The Four Tops and so on,” Raphael explains from the L.A. studio where he recorded his latest illustrious work. This album is the culmination of a lifetime of experiences informed by the music I grew up on.”

Listening to his newest release, 3-time Grammy-nominated The Way I See It, it’s immediately obvious that it could have been recorded thirty years ago. Musically cohesive in the same way that soul music albums were recorded back in the day, Raphael’s third solo album and first for Sony BMG is not merely a throwback: it is as close to the kind of record made in Detroit, Chicago, Memphis, Miami or New York by any number of super R&B hit makers to anything recorded since. While other contemporary artists may attempt to emulate the sound and flavor of ‘70s soul music, Raphael Saadiq brings real emotion, real feeling and production values that are simply, right on.

The inspiration for singer/songwriter/musician/producer and arranger Raphael’s follow up to 2004’s critically-acclaimed Ray Ray set came from an unlikely destination. “I was out of the country, cooling out, in Costa Rica and The Bahamas. I was surfing and ran into people from all kinds of places…and I noticed everybody was listening to this classic soul music and when I came back home and the music for this album flowed organically, naturally. Since I have my own studio, I was able to perfect it, take my time to make it right. I was able to live with it, day after day and I think that had a lot to do with how the album turned out. In all, it took about four months to put it all together.” Consequently, it should come as no surprise that Raphael Saadiq would make an album so satisfying for both old school heads and today’s hip music buyers: his background as a musician, singer and songwriter is steeped in a love for R&B married with a commitment to making his own brand of expressive soul music.

The Way I See It succeeds as a masterful collection of new material that speaks to Raphael Saadiq’s deep love for rhythm and blues. “While I was making the album, I watched videos by Gladys Knight & The Pips, Al Green, The Four Tops…and fused them all together,” Raphael says speaking of the further inspiration he found for creating the album, which truly showcases the rich diversity of funky grooves and smooth balladry that is Saadiq’s calling card.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

David Garrett: Rock Symphonies

“Only those artists can afford to do crossover who have already made a name for themselves in the classical music scene.” David Garrett sets high quality standards. And he knows what he is talking about. In Fall 2007 the recording artist made his appearance in Germany with the release of his crossover album Virtuoso and he has been redefining standards in the classic and crossover scene step by step ever since. The native of Aachen, son of a German jurist and an American prima ballerina, can allow himself to sound out the limits. After all, at age 30, he already looks back on a matchless career. He gets his first violin at age four and makes his first appearance with the Hamburg Philharmonics at the early age of ten. At age thirteen he is the youngest artist to be awarded an exclusive contract with the Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft.

In 1999, at the height of his career, the shooting star redirects his energy, deciding to leave his predetermined path as a classical violinist and move to New York– not to take a time-out but rather to place his musical proficiency on a theoretical foundation and perfect his technique. He enrolls at the prestigious Julliard School, studying musicology and composition. Instruction with Itzhak Perlmann lends his performance completely new facets. David Garrett’s particular enthusiasm for studying composition earns him a distinction in 2003 when he wins the renowned Composition Competition of Julliard School with a fugue composed in the style of Johann Sebastian Bach. In doing so, he lays the foundation for what have become legendary arrangements. His highly esteemed American composition teacher Eric Ewazen has said of him “As a violinist, his spectacular, heartfelt and expressive playing already dazzled– even when he was a student– those of us who had the great pleasure of teaching him, and we recognized his extraordinary gifts and his amazing talent.”

Since completing his studies, the visionary violinist has committed himself to a clearly defined goal– introducing young people to the classics and kindling enthusiasm for reputedly serious music. Combining classical elements with those of pop and rock as well as rhythm and blues is a means to this end. “Regarding the crossover pieces I arrange, I strive to attain a level of performance at least equal to that expected of classical works. When another violinist looks at one of my scores he must say “The violin part is damned good. It is so difficult I’d have to practice it for hours before being able to play it.” Concerning his ambitions, David Garrett puts it succinctly. “You have to be a world-class violinist in order to record a good crossover CD.

This poses an even greater challenge than classical music does because you want to present things to your listeners in a completely new light while putting on a superb violinist’s performance. The great virtuosos from Paganini to Heifetz did just that. Anything else would be merely mindless commercialism.”

Whereas many conservative contemporaries wonder whether uncompromising excellence and popularity, art and commerce can or may even be reconciled, David Garrett long ago proved that it is possible, enthralling listeners of all ages. The same new, incredibly electrifying spirit pervades lofty philharmonic halls holding sold-out classical concerts and open-air arenas staging crossover programs. The people sense that they are being taken seriously, that a person is performing who approaches the task with utmost discipline while creating an awareness for various musical genres and styles. Garrett’s desire to diminish the awe of classical music felt by young audiences in particular, to spark a whirlwind in the music scene while striving to sweep as many people off their feet as he possibly can is fulfilled to an overwhelming degree.

David Garrett is not only a technically brilliant recording artist who has received the praise and support of such eminent violin virtuosos as Isaac Stern, Yehudi Menuhin and in particular Ida Haendel. His greatness is also reflected in his mental countenance. As one of the few classically versed artists he has an undistorted perspective on tradition and modernity. Thinking in terms of fixed categories is foreign to him. “In my eye, the Paganinis, Liszts and Chopins of the 19th century were the world’s first rock stars,” he says.

Garrett knows the secrets of great music and understands that the more substance a work has, the more possibilities an artist has to make it his own and place it in new contexts. “Bach arranged Vivaldi and Mozart arranged Turkish marches. Beethoven wanted to enchant the masses too, employing musical means to this end. Great composers have always incorporated elements which were popular in their day and there is nothing reprehensible about that.” Thus his musical expertise inspired him to interlace Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal with Mozart’s Turkish March– and he did so long before Michael Jackson’s death, before the world had even begun to pay tribute to this exceptional talent.

David Garrett sets trends of his own because he is also ahead of his time. And yet he knows that talent and a command of one’s instrument do not suffice alone if one is to intellectually and spiritually penetrate a work and gain a grasp of it. A background knowledge of music theory enables the well-traveled artist to analyze and scrutinize scores.

“Many great works are unbelievably rich in diverse possibilities. A certain passage in Mozart’s Turkish March and one in Smooth Criminal have almost the same harmonic progression. This goes to show that apart from instrumentalization, music has hardly changed at all over the past 250 years. We continue to work with the same material.” Only this mixture of perfectionism and openness, thoroughgoingness and foresight explain the overwhelming success which David Garrett has had since the release of Virtuoso. With this recording the artist presented the public with his vision of how various musical styles can be creatively fused on a high artistic level without compromising musical standards.

The succession of his own compositions interspersed with arrangements of classical pieces ranging from the virtuoso “Paganini Rhapsody,” based on Caprice No. 24 by Niccolò Paganini, to the emotionally intense rock classic “Nothing Else Matters” by “Metallica” stunned the music world. Advocates and critics sparked off a dialogue about musical orientations which has rekindled and refocused interest in how music communicates itself.

The artist was rewarded with an ECHO Classic 2008 in the category “Classic without Borders.” The “Encore” followed fast on this first success in October 2008, even surpassing the former release as a follow-up album. In the USA, “David Garrett” stayed number one in the classical and classical crossover charts for months. With the album “Classic Romance”, released in November 2009, the violin virtuoso returned to classic turf. He created a special, very personal CD centering around Mendelssohn’s violin concerto, accompanied by seven small works from the Classic and Romantic periods. “Classic Romance” had an enormous resonance, winning Garrett the ECHO Classic 2010 in the category “Bestseller of the Year”.

“Classical music is where my heart lies and I am elated that I succeed in bringing my message across to the audience.” In June 2010 all previous musical activities of the star violinist culminated in a further exciting challenge: Rock Symphonies. At the legendary concert at Park Wuhlheide in Berlin, David Garrett delivered an unprecedentedly individual “musical address” to his multi-generational audience. Classics from all epochs– from the Baroque Age to modern times, from Bach to Nirvana– are presented in a newly arranged symphonic idiom... which is brilliant.

Once again his courage to embrace new things was rewarded. In 2011 he received no less than two ECHO awards for his “Rock Symphonies”. The DVD “David Garrett: Rock Symphonies– Open Air Live” was distinguished in the category “Best Domestic DVD Production” and as “Best Artist” in the category “Rock/Pop Domestic”. “To date,” Garrett says, “‘Rock Symphonies’ is my most extraordinary and ambitious project. For this reason I look forward to getting together with the guys in my band, the orchestra and the audience on the 2011 Tour. For me, these people are all part of one large musical family.”

Friday, May 27, 2011

More Daytime Turmoil

Okay soap opera fans... get ready for more bad news. Our story has not, nor do we believe it will be, confirmed by anyone at the network. Just a few weeks after ABC stunned viewers by announcing it would cancel daytime mainstays All My Children and One Life to Live, for reality TV programming, our insiders are telling us that the network plans to cut General Hospital from the daytime lineup by the fall of 2012, quite possibly even earlier than this for a talk show hosted by Katie Couric. This information came to us from the same source that gave us the heads up on AMC and OLTL. Essentially, Brian Frons, the head of ABC Daytime is sharpening up the chainsaws and has already called a number of clandestine meetings with his staff to discuss what he calls the network's "next bold innovation" for daytime programming.

Our source has told us that Couric's talks for a new talk show with CBS have come to a grinding halt and she is headed to ABC in a deal that will have the network bean counters shelling out $25 million plus for the soon-to-be former host of the CBS Evening News. It isn't actually much of a shock that The CBS Evening News is becoming more and more of a moot point given the fact that 99% of the audience is pulling news stories up in "real time" either from the Internet or at least 2 cable network news networks which update breaking stories throughout the day. So unless something happens at 6:59 p.m., the nightly news is nothing more than a "recap". The demographic for the CBS Evening News is between 50 and 70 years of age and has continued to erode over the last 5 years. Factor in the massive "Oprah Void" and you have a basic outline as to where ABC is headed with Katie Couric.

Despite ABC's assurances they are not signing a deal with Couric and that General Hospital will be around for "a long time", we're not convinced that this is the case... and with good reason— ABC previously issued the exact same assurances as recently as last year— that both All My Children and One Life to Live were safe from cancellation and we all saw how that turned out. If General Hospital is cancelled that will leave the remaining three daytime serials in a dire situation. We're speculating that CBS will be the next to break out the axe with The Young & The Restless and The Bold & The Beautiful simultaneously being cut from the line-up as both shows feed into one another and it's highly unlikely that CBS will only cancel one of them. This leaves us with NBC and Days of Our Lives. The fact that Days pulls in a younger demographic "may" keep it on life support for a bit longer but with Comcast's recent purchase of NBC/Universal, all bets are off the table.

Make no mistake about it, the daytime landscape continues to wane and we are not at all pleased with the outcome. Daytime Soap Operas have become phenomena; successes overseas and if you add the Internet, there are a TON of options. But we're not dealing with "visionaries". Brian Frons has never been behind the genre and had no intention of saving it. Networks are extremely short-sighted right now. They are not seeing "the big picture" or the endless possibilities still remaining to be explored and utilized by Daytime Soaps. Foreign syndication, especially in Europe and Asia, is a wide open market with more than enough revenues to keep the shows profitable. But the "suits" don't have time to research and understand this uncharted territory. To them, the Earth remains flat.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Wallowing in Denial

Denial may be conceptualized as an attempt to reject unacceptable feelings, needs, thoughts, wishes— or even a painful external reality that alters the perception of ourselves. No way!", then as strange as it may sound you may actually be showing the first signs of living in denial. Denial is something that anyone and everyone is susceptible to. While it won't kill you, it can certainly dampen your day, your job, and your life. Does that sound alarming? It most definitely should and, if you are starting to have doubts, here are some of the most important signs which can help you realize if you are living in denial or not:

I Am Above Failure— So you think that you are somehow far too talented, hard-working or knowledgeable and that everything you touch will turn into gold? Sorry to burst your bubble there, but we humans are flawed by nature so that, my friend, I'm afraid that you may just be living in denial if you have such a way of thinking.

It's Impossible to Take Me by Surprise— If you think that being taken by surprise is impossible if you have everything planned then I have one questions: how is life in that fantasy world of yours treating you? Yes, planning ahead is always recommended but thinking that you can actually be able to prepare for absolutely everything is just plain foolish on your part.

I'm Never at Fault— Others are always at fault, aren't they? You keep doing everything right and they just ruin things for you, do they? Sorry to have to say this, but not assuming responsibility is one of the most obvious signs that you are living in denial.

Everything Has an Excuse— "I'm not going to do this because..." "I would have done that, if not for..." Do you somehow manage to find excuses for everything? Good for you, maybe you will find someone who pays you for that, but for the time being, your attitude is yet another sign that you are simply living in a fantasy world.

Everyone Else is Wrong— Are all of the people who don't agree with you clueless? Are they that ignorant, can't they understand your brilliance? I'm sorry but, if that's the way you see things, I am afraid that the problem lies elsewhere. It's not with everyone else.

It's All One Big Conspiracy I Tell You— Does it seem that everyone and their dog is working against you? Are you just a poor innocent victim in what seems to be one huge conspiracy against you? In that case, have you considered getting some help? No, everyone is not conspiring against you, and it's about time you stopped living in denial and started seeing how things actually stand. Give it a little thought. Do any of these apply to you?

The Moment of Detachment

One of the current theories about time is that it is like an illusion in that our mind wants us to think time passes in order to explain change. But, in fact, it might well be that time doesn’t pass at all, that every moment is eternal by itself. Every moment that ever was, still is, but goes somewhere else. Each moment is unique and doesn’t evolve into the next. That’s a theory consistent with what we’re hearing about with mediation. That’s a now a physics theory, a part of quantum mechanics. Quantum physics has no time, it is blind to it unless intentionally spliced in. So it cannot help you travel in time or save time or revisit a time.

The more you’re in the moment, the less you are worried because what people anguish about is not the moment they’re in but the last moment and the next moment coming. In this particular moment they’re worrying but they’re not worrying about this moment they’re just in it worrying— they’re worrying about the next. The more you live in each moment, the less that baggage is putting stress on you. Even done simply it helps a lot. Meditation is not so much of getting anything, as it is of letting go of something. I think that humans are in a constant state of flux, that we are definitely better people at some times than others. I know that I personally have achieved a level of maturity that I can live simply by releasing my attachment to the outcome, staying firmly rooted in each and every moment.

There are more advantages to being in the moment besides being able to decrease mind made suffering. Some of those advantages are: Clarity. When you are in the moment you have a much better focus and things flow naturally out of you. This is very useful in conversations, at work, while writing or while on the tennis court.    Calmness. You feel centered, relaxed and whatever you do you do more easily. Since you are not projecting into a possible future or reflecting on previous experiences there is very little fear holding you back. Positivity. Since there is little fear, there are few negative emotions when you are in the present. Instead you move around on the positive part of the emotional scale.

It’s easy to get stuck in a loop of old memories. You may want to move away from them but there is a feeling there that brings them back over and over. So you need to decrease the power that feeling has over you. And you don’t do it by fighting it. You do it by surrendering to it. The feeling is a loop within your mind that you are feeding with more energy by resisting it. When you accept the feeling then you stop feeding it and it vanishes. How? Say yes to the feeling. Surrender and let it in. Observe the feeling in your mind and body without labeling or judging it. If you let it in— for me the feeling then often seems to physically locate itself to the middle of my chest— and just observe it…  the feeling just vanishes. It is all about observing and releasing.

If you look at the whole thing from an objective point of view, these are just heuristics. Meaning, they’re just analytical frameworks or models of thinking that confer the greatest survival and replication advantage. The man (or woman) who is genuinely indifferent is probably that way because they have no fear of loss. Evolutionarily speaking, this is usually because they have a large supply of resources (connections, power, food, money, mates, etc.) at their disposal.

The Rolling Stones must have been philosophers when they said: “You can’t always get what you want.” And it’s true. But you can always reframe it as a positive. The next time you strive to attain something and don’t get it simply tell yourself: “That means nothing. If ANYTHING, it’s an opportunity to take my life to the next level.” This helps reinforce the idea that a situation’s result is only what it is— and nothing more. You’re programming yourself to be resilient rather than sulky when things turn out contrary to your expectations. In fact, what if you dropped your expectations all together? I’ve experimented with this and I have to say that letting go of your desire for results is hard…very hard! But there are some immediately obvious benefits such as people responding more comfortably to you because they sense you have little or no agenda (or at least, far less than the average person would possess).

Observe that reality is always subjective and notice when things work and when things fail and develop what I call “the detach game.” This is the ability to determine the most prudent course of action at all times based on your ability to let go of it. Think on your feet and whatever happens, don’t worry about the outcome. That’s when detachment becomes a powerful tool.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Letting Go of Repression

Why it is so difficult to let go of anger and pride? And why is it important and necessary that we do so? Both of these feelings are by products of the ego. Someone harms us, taunts us, speaks ill of us and we automatically feel hurt. Our ego, the image that we carry of ourselves is wounded and we feel offended. Similarly pride is also an effect, a by product of the ego. Our achievements, our relationships, the feeling that we are someone special— all this is important to the ego and leads to pride. The ego is that which gives us our separate identity in the world.

This sense of separation is— according to all of the Buddhist teachings— an illusion. This is what causes suffering, pain and fear that we are all subject to. And what is the method to be free? It is awareness. Simply watch your state of mind when you are angry or full of pride. This is not expression of anger, nor it is repression. It transcends both. Simply be aware and you will not even need to consciously let go of these feelings— they will drop away of their own accord. Expression of anger may get us into trouble with the outside world and in our relationships. But repression— not allowing yourself or condemning yourself for feeling angry— is much worse. The poison is not released— it is stored in your body and mind. And sooner or later the volcano of your feelings will erupt— leading to much more harmful expression of your anger than letting it out in small, regular doses.

Being aware means welcoming, accepting and acknowledging the anger. But we do not necessarily express it unless we consciously choose to do so. Even when we express the anger we exercise our choice, we do not feel compelled to do so. We are not overcome by our passions. The behavioral scientist— B. F. Skinner— studied rats in order to understand men and women.

It may seem very demeaning to us that the study of rats should lead to and understanding of human nature. Yet that is a fair comment about the majority of the human race. They do not meditate, they have no self-awareness. They have as little freedom to choose their actions as do rats. Rats react to external stimuli. They are compelled to react in mechanical ways. They do not have a choice and sadly that is true of most of us as well. This however is not true of a Buddha. It is not true of anyone who is self aware, who has a meditative state of mind. To exercise a choice in choosing our mental states and our actions we need a certain amount of detachment. We need some distance between ourselves and the feelings of anger and pride. We need to be able to witness these feeling without reacting, without identifying ourselves with them.

And this choice is available through meditation practice. Just as anger and pride are caused by the ego, so also the ego is caused by unawareness. We will not make progress by dealing with the symptoms— we have to tackle the root cause. And the root cause of the ego, of anger and pride and all our sufferings is a lack of awareness.

Daytime's Supermassive Void

With Oprah Winfrey gone from the playing field, four soap operas left (although that number could quickly change to one, if CBS and ABC decide to abandon the genre altogether)... who and what will fill the supermassive void? It's an interesting dilemma as the 45+ generation have grown rather accustomed to having a stable daytime programming environment. No soap operas will pretty much become the beginning of the end for everyone. And it's really just a matter of time, not necessarily a matter of fans- which the big 3 networks have made abundantly clear as fans have continued to do everything but offer up human sacrifices to save their soaps. And who knows? We're not ruling it out as fans can be as over-the-top as they want to be. There are no rules when it comes to insanity. No Oprah will set in very soon. And once Regis Philbin calls it a "day", the entire landscape of daytime television will be a "free for all" of epic proportions. Where is it all headed? That depends on how you look at it.

It's painfully obvious that no one is willing to pony up production costs, hence the continued extinction and eventual death of the soap opera genre. It's doubtful that we'll see another Oprah rise up from the rubble as 25 years is nothing to sneeze at when it comes to building an Oprah-like, guru, cult, movement that creates a "supermassive black hole" in all of daytime once it's gone. Dr. Oz is wonderful but we don't see him as the "savior" of daytime. Sorry Deb (UPBEAT's Executive Editor). Ellen DeGeneres continues to be a bright spot but again, it's like comparing Titanic to the S.S. Minnow. Winfrey's exit comes during a catastrophic cataclysm in daytime television. You can't just "replace" her and you can't just ignore the audience forever. At some point, network executives have to be fired and replaced with "visionaries", not "suits that count beans".

I like to call Hollywood the home of "ideology brokering", which is inherently all about the power— protecting "us" and winning "them." I suggest that a far more adequate metaphor for our existence after the structuralism of modernity by Hollywood is the "networked age". We find this age interconnected by definition, characterized by disruption through wider connections, holding onto a nuanced continuity in existential and communal identity through a more explicit selection of and innovation within the tradition which the network finds itself constituted by. It is nearly a case of a new cogito— I emerge in the network therefore I am.

What needs to happen (and probably won't) is a change in the way networks "view" and "perceive" their audience. You HAVE TO factor in the Internet. Let's face it, The Neilsen Ratings are becoming more and more of an antiquated joke as they do not reflect the entire audience; they don't even reflect a fragment of the audience. More and more people are trading up television for the Internet. This translates into a "global" audience that wants to INTERACT as opposed to REACT. And we've said this a bagillion times, once the audience gets to decide... they will NEVER EVER go back to not deciding. The audience wants choices, even more choices than they've ever had. With Facebook and Twitter and all of the social networking, which is growing exponentially every minute of every day, the Internet audience is larger, vaster, smarter and far more DIVERSE than the big 3 networks are accustomed to seeing. Gone are the days when focus groups mattered. There is no focus. The directions are endless with more and more technology spilling out milliseconds between their predecessors it's not even plausible to believe you have an edge, let alone a complete thought process. Everything is spiraling around in so many different directions that there really isn't a "precise" method of measuring anything.

Sure, marketing and publicity teams will tell you that they "get it"... but they don't. They have no idea, not even a remote clue as to how they should sell a concept or a show or even the last few words they tweeted. You see, we are rapidly approaching a crossroad. The train is coming at us at full throttle, there are no brakes and we cannot see whether or not there's a cliff or a tunnel in our blind spot. And what exactly is the blind spot? It isn't numerical, it isn't about a "target" demographic anymore... it's about learning to change a thought process that has been in place for decades. People want to be entertained. They adore surprises, whether it's pleasant or gruesomely scary. They don't want to be able to know what is going to happen... they want to be amazed and tossed out of their comfort zones. And how do we do this? Well, it doesn't take A-List actors and actresses; it isn't about explosions and car chases; it isn't about how much gore and blood being used... It's psychological. And we know it when we feel it or see it. It's about instincts and great story-telling. It's about what we can't see, not what we can see. Desperate Housewives plays up our darker desires to feel better at the expense of other people's personal train wrecks. They're all constrained by the exact kind of social pressure that hazing frat boys would find oppressive. Now throw in the GREAT storylines—  and folks… we have lift off.

Alfred Hitchcock will be timelessly synonymous with greatness in the entertainment industry. Because he "got it". He understood that an audience doesn't tune in to see pretty faces or handsome good looks... They watch because they cannot look away. They tune in because they want to know what happens next... they have no idea what might happen next. They hate having their hands held and their thoughts handed to them. They want to guess and be shocked when they guessed wrong. Technology will continue to thrive, it always has, but this time it will be faster, much faster. The simplicity of a well-crafted story or a charismatic, well-versed host isn't rocket science... it's trusting your gut and "knowing"... not that your sponsors might not come back... but that they WILL come back, because the audience dictates this. The audience knows. If one executive walked away from the pack and headed for a Wal-mart or the local bar... and hung around the patrons instead of golfing or playing squash with the other mindless suits... that one executive would change the face of entertainment, much like Oprah once did... much like soap operas once did.

You have to connect with your audience... not disconnect. And that will never change.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Good Day Oprah

Oprah Winfrey's 25-year run as the queen of daytime talk has been more than just amazing. Her "only in America" story has endeared her to fans and made her a force in an international cultural arena, not to mention making her a power broker, a media mogul and a billionaire. She wraps up her highly rated show this week (reruns will extend into September), and the time is clearly right. It's been a great run, and the waves have been kind... but the Oprah touch is not as magical as it once was, with ratings wobbling and PR potholes becoming more and more frequent. We couldn't begin to imagine the spotlights shining so brightly into every single aspect of our lives. No one could hold up forever under the constant marketing storms.

Several PR hits have hurt the Oprah image of infallibility. There has been an abuse scandal at the girls' school she founded in South Africa. Oprah helped promote books by James Frey and Herman Rosenblatt, both of which later turned out to have serious credibility problems. Occasional Oprah guest, pediatrician Mel Levine, became the subject of abuse charges and recently committed suicide.

Oprah's cable network, OWN, premiered earlier this year, more than a year behind the target launch date. It has sputtered with disappointing ratings and un-Oprah-like programming. In a recent published interview, Oprah admitted the channel struggles. "It's not where I want it to be," she said.

So what have we learned from Oprah? That being a charismatic talk show host is not all it's cracked up to be? That you will eventually [in spite of all of your efforts] turn into a "brand" that can either be marketed or treated much like a cult, both of which occurred rather congruently in spite of the efforts to be as humble as humanly possible? Yes.

There. I've said it. Oprah has become the cult brand of pop culture and all that it holds sacred. We tend to adorn celebrities with more accolades and God-like-ness than we should. We begin to believe that our lives WILL change drastically and magically because Oprah said they would. But you see, the one thing that we SHOULD have learned from Oprah... the "positive" lesson in all of the fan fare and confetti and waves of people looking as though The Beatles have just arrived in the US back in February of 1964... We should have learned that fame doesn't matter, in fact, it rarely factors into the blueprint of life. It doesn't buy you a ticket to immortality, it cannot save you from yourself and the choices you make along the way and it doesn't remove your ego from the equation.

Comedian Kathleen Madigan summed it up best in one of her Showtime appearances, Gone Madigan. She said that she couldn't fathom how ANYONE could sit in a room filled with writers and editors for a brand new publication [that being "O"] and deciding that YOU would be on EVERY single cover of the publication without sounding like a narcissistic dictator. Oprah adorned the cover of her magazine with pride. But it wasn't REALLY Oprah on those covers when you think about it... it was a brand that she created who just happened to look exactly like her. 

Oprah entered the daytime television world at an opportune time, when the lineup included whimsically romantic soaps and tepid discussion shows such as "Donahue." Oprah grew up in the South and broadcast from the Midwest, which surely helped her to truly understand a wide range of viewers. She was, at one time, a "real" person [not a brand] who understood the ups and downs of real life, having battled her way out of poverty with an industrious, can-do approach. Oprah was sociable, empathetic, and just as important, NOT perfect. These traits helped her reach viewers across all demographic and socioeconomic boundaries. Viewers liked Oprah because they knew her emotions were real. They knew that she lived where they lived… that her problems were their problems revisited.

Oprah's program had a solid balance of serious and fun topics. She took on challenging social issues with a level of sophistication. Local television affiliates often used the Oprah show as a lead-in to late afternoon newscasts, so it was in their interest to promote Oprah heavily to provide a ratings boost for local news. Oprah's ratings power made her show the place to be for authors, new products, public affairs leaders and flawed celebrities. The Oprah "brand" was marketed beyond television into magazines, satellite radio, motion pictures and the philanthropic world. She spun off talkers, including Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz and Nate Berkus. But even the most popular television shows and personalities eventually rust, and Oprah is/was no exception to that rule. Her ratings have slipped by about a third in the past five years, with even "Judge Judy" providing competition. You see, Oprah, like any other "celebrity" IS human. I can assure you that she sweats, she breathes, she even goes to the bathroom… number one… and number two. The problem arrives when we [much like the sitcoms of the 60s and 70s], remove the bathroom and assume that said celebrity has no bodily functions.

Oprah herself has said, "Every single thing that has ever happened in your life is preparing you for the moment that is to come." So… to each and every one of you out there I pose this question, "What does that moment mean to you?" For Oprah, I would have to assume it means, "Going home. Watching television in her sweats, without make-up, without spotlights or cameras or an entire production crew… just Oprah, her dog, some munchies, a few trips to the bathroom… as well as the peaceful solitude that arrives when you haven't been expecting it." For some, that means removing the lofty wishes, the Machiavellian manipulations, the wacky schemes and just allowing the silence to wash over them. What can I say? That's life. Good day Oprah, we'll miss your enthusiasm, your optimism... and most of all, your smile.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

What is Sexy?

Sex appeal is most notably ambiguous, nebulous, and elusive, yet somehow very real and perceptible, despite its seeming haze. Sex appeal goes beyond the sensuous, but definitely includes the data the senses so dutifully collect for us. The quiet boil of passion in Latin and classical guitar, the ethereal perfumes of Japanese incense wafting in the air, the enveloping gush of warm bubble baths, or the sweet juices of ripe strawberries all alert the senses to that little person in our heads murmuring "some pleasure goin' on here."

But sex appeal transcends the senses. Perhaps because the composition of sex appeal— that which is left out of reach of the senses and preserved solely for the folly of the imagination, is what makes something sexy. Only the young and overhormonalized prefer pink shots to the suggestion of exposure. Blatant displays may be functional, but they're not the stuff of steamy seduction. The discreet hint of revelation has boatloads more sex appeal than the obvious.

Sex appeal works most effectively with a certain amount of shutting down of the senses, actually. When a mist settles over the night from sleepiness, when loosened up or just relaxed enough to relent the guard on duty in my brain, I'm at my most susceptible to sexy men and things. The boy who keeps me out late, talking until two in the morning, or at dawn, who nudges me awake but leaves me in the fuzz of morning, is the man I'll think has the most sex appeal. This isn't to suggest that Brad, Johnny, or Scott have ever nudged me awake; at least not in person, that is.

As indeterminate as sex appeal is, some people and things just have it. Tropical paradises have sex appeal; frigid, barren northern Canada doesn't. Candlelit dinners with real linen tablecloths have sex appeal; hospital cafeterias don't. Yoga has sex appeal; hair shirts don't. Hair shirts are just plain weird. Conceptually, the whole notion of penance that doesn't make any tangible attempt at rectifying the misdeed is weird, though. And completely unsexy.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Zombie Bar Etiquette 101

Hey guys… you’re hanging out in the local zombie bar with your undead pals, just having a few strong drinks and relaxing after a hard day of dragging your decomposing body through the post-apocalyptic streets and slaughtering the living. And suddenly, across the room, you spot that smoking hot redhead. Or maybe she’s a blonde. It’s hard to tell with that gaping head wound. Anyway, you notice that she’s giving you the eye— the good one— so you start that long walk to the other end of the bar. You’re nervous. You have butterflies in your stomach. Probably literally. If your veins weren’t full of embalming fluid, your heart would totally be pounding right now. Assuming you still have a lower jaw and the capacity for human speech, what are you going to say?

Well, worry no longer. Here are some un-deadly cool lines to help you score with that hot piece of graveyard bait.

  • Would you like to go back to my opened grave? Grab a shovel!

  • I am so NOT being politically incorrect… I totally admitted that you were “Living Challenged”!!! No really!!!!

  • You’ve stolen my heart. No, seriously. Can I have it back?

  • Okay, so you ate the dentist shortly after he extracted your wisdom teeth… who hasn't thought of doing that after  surgery... over and over again?

  • If I had a cell phone, or any fingers left, I would ask you for your number... but I also noticed that most of your fingers are missing... and cell phones are so overrated...

  • As a matter of fact, I really “am” Bruce Jenner”.

  • I have needs that cannibalism just can’t satisfy.

  • It’s a good thing I’m a zombie too, because I have to admit... you are drop-dead gorgeous!

  • Did it hurt when you fell from Heaven? Or when you landed on that sharp stick? You should probably take that out, you know.

  • If my lungs still worked, you would totally take my breath away!

  • Well, okay. You got me on that one. It really is rigor mortis. But I’m still very happy to see you!

  • I’d give my right arm for a date with you. Here you go!

  • Are your feet tired? Because you’ve been fumbling and lurching and dragging yourself through my mind all day.

  • I like my women exactly the way I like my tequila… cold and stiff. And… that whole worm thing is the topper... I swear…….I love you for your braaaaaaaaains!

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

The Peace Within

I stayed up last night [as always]... but this wasn't like any other night. I watched as President Obama announced that Osama Bin Laden was finally brought to justice. I watched as millions took to the streets to reaffirm their freedom from the fear of Bin Laden's looming shadow of venomous contempt. I remembered where I was when the twin towers became a twisted wreckage of rubble and despair. But this feeling was different. I began to reflect upon the sheer power that any religion holds on humanity when placed into the wrong hands.

There is some merit to the idea that religion can sometimes serve as a sort of false consciousness. However, humanity’s fierce need for the spiritual manifests in such a way that many can’t really understand... yet follow blindly. Values of religion, namely, shared empathy and the collective will to survive, transcended the falsity of Bin Laden and the banality of how his use of religion had been constructed to beguile his followers.

Thich Nhat Hanh has a wonderful saying, "Peace in ourselves, Peace in the world." This isn’t a Pollyanna notion that we should all just hold hands, pretend there's no war, pain, and trauma, this is a very real and practical path toward creating a better world. We need to learn how to take a good look at the wars we have raging inside each and every one of us in response to our own personal traumas in life. Whether that's the death of a loved one, harm inflicted on us, or some form of emotional trauma and learn ways to create peace within ourselves.

It’s a very simple path, but not at all easy.

Osama Bin Laden is dead as are his misguided perceptions and horrifying agendas, all of which he rationalized by using "his" distorted version of the Muslim religion as well as the Prophet Muhammad to further his hatred of altruism. I think that perhaps the Prophet Muhammad himself said it all when he said, “Feed the hungry and visit a sick person, and free the captive, if he be unjustly confined. Assist any person oppressed, whether Muslim or non-Muslim.” Bin Laden just didn't "get it" and it was unlikely that he ever would.

So... farewell Osama Bin Laden, may the families and friends who have suffered at your hands feel more peace and love without you around to stir their hatred and fear. And may you be at peace with the wars that raged within you to the point where you held the misguided delusion that killing thousands of people was somehow a path in the right direction. May we ALL be free from our injudicious reactions to the wars within and help guide all people into a direction of greater empathy, compassion, love and peace within ourselves and the world.

"Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding." —Albert Einstein