Wednesday, February 22, 2012

We Change the World With Our Words

Art changes us.  Whether that art is in the form of a painting, a sculpture, on film, or the written word, it changes who we are, how we think of ourselves,  and how we think about the world around us.   Art comes in many forms in addition to the ones we most accept as art.  It's a novel. It's a film. A play. A performance. Sometimes even a television show.

I have always had an affinity for a well written television show.  When the words are genuine, the acting is real, and the finished piece of film captures the attention of millions and has the power to influence our world.   Sometimes the actors and writers win awards, advancing their careers, or expanding their audience, but we can never really know how a particular scene, episode, or even word changed someone's life.

In 1987 there was a hit television show called Cagney and Lacey, starring two tough female detectives.  It was a typical cop show of the time, but delved a bit more into the character's lives from time to time. One such time, the show decided to explore the drinking problem of Christine Cagney, played by Sharon Gless. The episodes and the performance won Gless an Emmy.  I wonder how many people also saw themselves and got sober after that.  I did.  I went to my first AA meeting not long after and I believe that saved my life.

Recently, the tv show, Glee, tackled a topic all too familiar these days.  Gay teenagers committing suicide because of bullying.  Unfortunately this is also familiar territory for me.  I was seventeen and also coming to terms with being gay when I tried to kill myself.  Fortunately, I did not succeed.  I kept quiet about this for most of my adult life until the past year with the rash of suicide attempts in the news.  I am proof that it does get better.  You've got to hang in there and keep going, but it does get better.

I watched the Glee episode and while it was very well written and acted, it made me angry.  It made me angry at the bullies people have to face everyday.  Not just as teenagers, but even as adults.  Bullies are as prevalent in the workplace and political arena as they are on the playground and it's never okay.

While the episode of Glee was difficult to watch, I applaud them for doing it.  If that popular television show can save one life, it's done it's job.

Recently I was asked why I write.  I write because I enjoy it, but I also hope that in some small way I can change the world, or at least make someone's day or life better because I had an idea and put the words on paper.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Friends Are the People Who Really Know Us

"Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born."
- Anais Nin

I think I was seventeen years old when someone told me that you're lucky in this life if you can count the number of true friends on one hand.   I must be very lucky, because at this point in my life, I'm also counting on the other hand. 

When I was a kid I didn't seem to have any trouble making friends, but the superficial friendships were never good enough for me.  I wanted depth, even at an early age.  For the longest time I thought it was something wrong in me.  I was too needy, or something like that.  I was probably difficult to take.  No one knows what to do with this thirteen year old who wants to reveal his soul.   There are still who don't know what to do with a forty seven year old doing the same thing.  That's just me.  If I can't be who am I with a friend, what's the point?   If we have to pretend, then I might as well be pretending with characters on a stage or those revealing themselves to me as my fingers clack out the words on the keyboard.  

I'm not saying that I'm not capable of a superficial conversation at the bar or at an evening of theatre, but those are not sustainable to me.  Basically I'm an introvert.   Those conversations and interactions require a huge amount of energy from me.  The conversations and interactions that fill me up and renew that energy are the one on ones or the small group conversations about the meaning of life, the existence of God, the stuff we're all searching for.  Those interactions empower me.  

As I recently moved, I came across some things from the past that have been hidden away in a box somewhere.  One of those things was an award I won in college for a writing contest.  I won first place in an English writing contest my professor entered for me.  I had no idea I was even a candidate.  Afterwards the professor told me he was so moved by my research paper on male friendships, he had to enter it.  The title of the paper was Bonding: The Barriers to Male Intimacy.   It was all about how men are programmed at an early age that friendships with each other are about doing, not being.  Women can sit around and just "be" with each other, but that was not acceptable for men.  Men had to be "doing."   Playing sports. Drinking beer.  Something we consider masculine.  My research went on to show that as men age and are less able to  "do", those friendships often disappeared.  One study showed this to be the cause of a shorter life span for men than women. 

I'm happy to report that while I have only a few close male friends, those friendships are very important to me and don't seem to be based solely on the "doing" idea.  I can be myself with those men and know I'm not judged and I'm loved because of who I am.  As are they. 

Friendships with women have always come easier to me and I'm extremely grateful to those women who I call friends. A few I've only met in the past few years and are in my writing group, but the bond was quickly formed. 

As I reflect on my friendships today, it's interesting to note that my first novel, Postcards from the Desert, that I'm finishing revisions on, is basically about finding oneself based on who we find to be our friends.   It's that theme that powers my writing.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Price of Fame

Fame always brings loneliness. Success is as ice cold and lonely as the North Pole.
~Vicki Baum, Grand Hotel

I'm sure this blog will be one of thousands written today citing the death of singer, Whitney Houston yesterday. While it is not my intention to make this entry about Ms. Houston or to speculate on the cause of her death,  it does serve as a jumping off point to ask the question, "What is the price of fame?"

This week in a writing class I'm taking, the question was raised, "Why do we write?"  Are we looking to get rich? Famous? Or is it something we feel compelled to do?  For me, I began writing as a way to entertain myself. Some kids told stories; I told mine on paper. Now I write because something is missing in me when I don't.  I know I've read or seen interviews with famous actors and actresses who say they act because they don't know how to do anything else.  That's probably true as they see it, but I'm willing to bet there's another talent lying in there somewhere.  They just haven't shared that with the world.  It's their own, and it's not part of their "brand."

Today, when we treat everything and everyone as a commodity, people feel the pressure to "brand" themselves. This brand is the image they present to the world.  Every choice they make has to support that brand.  This is why you'll never see a photo of Meryl Streep cleaning a toilet.  Great actresses don't clean toilets, or so we're told.  If a photo leaked out of Ms. Streep cleaning the commode, you can bet a publicist would quickly put out a press release stating that she was researching a role.

The main problem with branding is when the celebrities start believing in their own brands or allowing themselves to be trapped by it.  Was Whitney Houston just a singer?  No, she was also a woman, a mother, a daughter.   When the voice starts to fade as some do with age, does she become irrelevant?  The press, and the recording industry will tell you yes.   I hate that word, relevant or irrelevant.  Who are any of us to say whether someone is relevant, but I digress.

As a celebrity who has enjoyed all the advantages of fame, like Ms. Houston, hears these things, the pressure builds to stay on top in an industry where no one can stay on top forever. You're living under a microscope and there is always someone younger or more talented ready to take your place.  She becomes a victim of her own brand, "superstar" when maybe all she ever wanted was to sing.

Many people follow their dreams and it never leads them to fame, but yet their dreams get fulfilled.  There are thousands of character actors out there who are making a living at what they love, yet you can't think of their names when you see them and the paparazzi aren't camped out in front of their house dissecting their every move.  Are they happy? Probably.   There are writers who make a good living writing and you might not know them if you tripped over them on the street.  Are they any less happy because of it?

There are so many ways of becoming famous today.  With the flood of reality shows, ordinary (and sometimes idiotic) people can become famous.  Cameras following you everywhere and publicists deciding if you're still relevant. Does that mean you're living your dream? Only if your dream is just to be famous.

Fame has it's perks, no one will deny that, but in the end, fame is like a drug.  You can never get enough and a little bit can be enough to kill you.

As the world mourns Whitney Houston and the talent she shared with us, I hope she has found peace at last.    I hope she realizes the truth behind the lyrics to one of her songs.

"Learning to love yourself, is the greatest love of all."

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Roles We Play

We all have them. Roles we have to play as we go through life.  Some roles we enjoy, others not so much.  We are sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, bosses, coworkers, the new guy, the veteran, the bitch, and the asshole.  The list goes on and on.  At various stages of our lives we have to perform in roles we don't like so much.  We have to be the strict parent when a child is in trouble.  We have to be the boss that cracks the whip when chaos reigns. We have to be the adult child taking care of an ailing parent.  If we define ourselves by our roles, we're always in a state of flux.

I often joke at work, where the title, "vice president" gets tossed around like a Cub Scout badge, that in a perfect world my title would be Vice President of All that is Good and Happy.  Honestly, I don't want to deal with the other stuff.  The negativity surrounds us most times and I want to be an island of calm and tranquility.  Like I said, in a perfect world.

As I slip in and out of the roles I play, who I am doesn't change.  At heart I'm still the same person.  I cry watching sad commercials and Golden Girls.  I love cleaning house to ABBA blaring through iPod speakers.  I hate injustice. I have little respect for authority, and I can spend hours alone in a room with a book or a keyboard under my fingers. That's me before the labels and roles get added on and hopefully that's still me as I'm playing the roles.

As we travel though life and come up against the other humans on the path, don't define them by their roles.  Try to look past them and see the human underneath. The cop who just gave you a ticket for driving too fast might also be the "cookie dad" for his daughter's Kindergarten class.  The bitch who cut you off on the highway might have been rushing home to care for her father with Alzheimer's.  The guy cleaning the toilets may hold a Masters in Business Administration.

Break out of the boxes people, including ourselves, want to put us in.   We are much more than that.