Barefoot Zen?

Barefoot Zen?
Namaste, Y'all...

Friday, June 17, 2011

Wake up, Dad!

This is a great essay on modern fatherhood - or at least what it can and should be.  And, it's also a sad reminder that for many children, the experience of an engaged, truly present 'dad' is a sad pipe dream.

With Father's Day approaching, I concur with Jeff Pearlman.  Wake up, gentlemen!  Life (and the lives of your children) is passing you by!

Read on.  This is sad, sobering, and brilliant:

Here's the link:
A father's day wish: Dads, wake the hell up! -

Be a Man!

As Father's Day approaches, I'm reminded the definition of manhood has changed over the decades, wandering further away from the distant, silent machismo to a more self-actualized, self-aware humanity.  Beer, hot wings, and re-channeled self-loathing never said 'man' to me, nor did disengagement from family and the world around you, but the more I see and read, the more I think that's still how many men feel they must behave.

So, I really appreciated this article from Elephant Journal for hitting on the traits of manhood that I value and aspire to.  Check it out and see if you agree as to whether these qualities help define a "real man".

Here's the link:

12 things every guy should master to become a real man. | elephant journal

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

You Like Me...You Really Like Me!

This article (link below) struck me as one worthy of sharing, particularly with my actor friends, who spend their lives in the daily churn of seeing approval and re-approval.

Walk into any audition waiting room and you'll find the quest for validation taking on many shapes and sizes:  the 'always on' actor, the 'I am my resume' actor, the 'let's compare callbacks this week' actor, and so on.  If hawking a product in a :30 commercial doesn't suck your soul dry, then the waiting room will.

Spend enough honest time with an actor and eventually most will confess that their choice of profession was fueled, to some extent, by a need for attention.  We didn't get enough from their parents, we needed validation from their peers, or we were trying to impress a girl.  It may have blossomed into a sincere love for artistic expression, but in many, if not most, cases, it started with a "Hey, everyone, look at me!" mantra.

This, in and of itself is not really different than folks in other walks of life, but it's a much more public exhibition of the approval conundrum.  Most of my friends who are still professional actors have succeeded because, somewhere along the road, they let go of seeking approval and began to seek self-mastery:  mastery of their craft, of the text, of human expression, or just plain ol' capitalistic 'book the job' workmanship.   Whatever the case, the most grounded artists eventually evolve beyond the mere need for approval.

At some point, they stop standing on the table at the birthday party and juggling the beer mugs because they're too busy juggling their own lives.  Their attention gravitates from "look at me" to "look at you".  And that's where the real thriving begins.

Still, when you tune into the Golden Globes or the Emmys, you'll see that need for approval pour forth, even from the most well known celebrities.  But the ones who are most comfortable in their skin, the ones who are more grateful than needy, well, watch them.  They're going somewhere.  Or maybe they're already there.

here's the article, via Tiny Buddha:

How to Let Go of the Need for Approval to Start Thriving

What, Me Worry Oh, Yes |

I got my Worry Gene honestly.  My parents were children of the Great Depression and I think they just had a built-in "very little is going to go well today" mechanism that helped them cope with some stark realities of being poor.  Expect the worst, and if the worst doesn't happen, be grateful.  I think that's more widespread in that generation than I originally led myself to believe.  My job, as I see it, is to leave that thinking in the dust so the trait dies out before it worms its way into my kids' psyche.

According to this article and the accompanying "Are You a World Class Worrier" quiz, I am merely a "Worrier with a Plan", so at least there's some pragmatism behind my neurosis.

However, given the scenarios and the range of possible answers, I realize I may not be nearly as Woody Allen-ish as I thought.  Or maybe these just aren't the right questions for me.  Anyway, click on the article below and it'll take you to a short quiz that will help suss out how much of a worrier you are.

Or don't.

But if you don't, you might be worried the rest of the day about what you missed out on.

What, Me Worry Oh, Yes |

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

If You See Her, Say Hello...

This Dylan title is an apt one for me these days, but rather than in regard to an ex-wife, whom he famously sang about on his masterwork "Blood on the Tracks", I'd be talking about my muse.  Hopefully, not my 'ex-muse'.

I look back at the five or so years that have passed since I published "Welcome to Storyville" and think of all the false starts at creative writing I've had since.  A dozen or so short stories that just stop around the middle of page four or five, and an abandoned novel that hits the skids on page 109.

Mind you, I haven't been coasting on the success of my $9.43 royalty checks from "Storyville".  I just somehow thought life was going to be more accommodating as the kids got older.  I'd be this writing machine, who cranked out corporate creative documents for four or five hours a day and then spent the rest of the day with a laptop, a Venti coffee, and my adorable little muse dancing from shoulder to shoulder cheering, "Yeah...that's it...another day, another short story!"

But she's been mercilessly silent.  Stephen King warned me - all of us with an artistic bent, actually - that the muse doesn't just 'show up'.  You have to show up, the same time and place every day, until she finds you.  Then, if you're good to her, she'll stay.

Some of my excuses are good ones:  raising two great kids, a business that is busier than ever, taking more time with work projects to assure clients are raving fans, Little League, PTA, exercising, etc.  Some of my excuses are not up to snuff:  Facebook, glazing over during bad TV shows, Facebook, and oh, yeah...Facebook.  That social networking monkey has its feet well dug into the shoulder I am sure my muse once resided upon.

So, with three solid ideas for short story collections - not even short stories, just thematic structure to create some stories, I am looking for the inspiration to wade back into the pool again.  Whether it's dusting off what's is already half-written and seeing what can be salvaged, or starting with the intimidating vision of a sparse, blank white page, I am hopeful to get back into the habit of writing because I love it.

The first job is to remind myself of why I'm writing.  It has to be for the sheer joy of dancing with the muse, no matter how graceless my steps may be.  Writing to impress others rarely serves its purpose.  Also, there's no one standing in line at B&N waiting for my next self-published collection of sloppy little tales.  Just take my time...when I'm done, I'm done, be it before Grady starts middle school or finishes middle school.

Finally, and here's the hard part, I have to get the aforementioned monkey off my shoulder before the muse has land to light upon.  Facebook and such have actually replaced writing for me, because Facebook has become the Kingdom of Instant Gratification.  Say something clever or touching and you immediately get a response from the very people you'd be hoping to touch or inspire with a short story that took four weeks to write.   You see my conundrum here.  As Carrie Fisher once said, "Instant gratification takes too long."

My hope is to stave off the need for instant gratification, figure out what stories I wish to tell, and get to work telling them.

And if my muse happens to stumble in the room while I'm attempting to do so, I'll invite her in for some coffee.   Or tie her to the nearest chair until I find my groove.

Artistic Temperament

This is a repost of an entry from my other blog, circa the spring of 2008.  The topic seems to be one that continually intrigues me, so I thought I'd share it here, in hopes it connects with some of my new audience.  And by new audience, I mean the three of you.  ;-)  Read on...

What does the artist owe his audience?   It's an age-old question, but one I'm constantly intrigued by, so I'm gonna ponder out loud here in the Blogosphere in hopes some of you have an opinion to share on the matter. 

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I've recently fallen under the spell of Van Morrison's music. It's spiritual, joyous, and hypnotic, and I can't stop listening to songs like "The Healing Game", "So Quiet in Here", "Into the Mystic", "Tupelo Honey", and "Tore Down a'la Rimbaud". His words and music have set my soul to soaring. The rub? Van Morrison, by all accounts, is a real asshole. A grouchy fireplug who berates his audiences and fellow musicians alike.

There's a part of me that's captivated by the fact that music that seems to reside on seraphim's wings can come from the heart of such a surly, bitter man, but the question that nags me even more is, does it matter one damn bit?

Van Gogh once asked why it wasn't enough for an artists' work to stand on its own. "Must we be men of character as well?" he asked his brother Theo in a letter. Well, I guess not. I mean, let's look at the record:

Ray Charles has apparently fired musicians mid-set for not keeping up.

Chuck Berry is so distrustful of people he requests to be paid in cash before he goes onstage.

Bob Dylan is, at turns, obtuse and aloof during interviews and concerts. I've seen him twice now and he's never uttered a word to the audience between songs.

Picasso was no treat.

Prince ain't gonna buy Girl Scout cookies from your kid...but you might wanna hide your Girl Scout from him.

Marlon Brando? Where does one begin?

Kurt Cobain? Asked and answered.

John was the 'moody' Beatle. But he was also The Walrus...and - no matter how cuddly cool Paul is - admit it, without John, the Beatles would've never evolved past "Eight Days a Week". 

The litany of 'difficult' jazz artists is too exhaustive a list to delve into, but just for starters: Miles Davis sometimes did entire shows with his back to the audience, Charles Mingus threw more than one fellow musician across a recording studio, and Charlie Parker was, according to Miles, "the greediest muthaf***er I ever met."

And the list of writers who've been brilliant bastards puts the jazz list to shame.

But...does it matter? Sure, I'd love for all my favorite artists to be as approachable at Tom Hanks at a backyard BBQ, but the fact is, there's something deep inside a lot of these folks that was wired differently. For every Jimmy Stewart, there's a Russell Crowe - someone who can only tap into their gifts at the sacrifice of certain social graces. Ryan Adams might storm off the stage mid-set in a fitful rage, while Bryan Adams will stay and sing to ya all night. In your living room. For a one-time fee of $11. Honestly, I can't get the guy to leave. Doesn't AirCanada have return flights out of Hartsfield? 

My point is, sometimes the 'nice guys' are just that. Nice. Inoffensive. More than adequate. But hardly capable of taking you to a higher plane. Thelonious Monk was 'difficult'. John Tesh is a gem of a guy. But who would you rather have playing the Steinway at your party?

There are notable exceptions, of course, but the artistic world evidently thrives on the misfits, the socially inept, the depressed, neurotic, ego maniacal, and compulsive. I mean, I'll gladly accept whatever stormy tempest raged inside Miles Davis to give us "Kind of Blue" in exchange for the thought that he might be 'a lovely chap to have for tea'. Brando's performance is "Streetcar" is well worth his fits of random rage.

Bono, one of the nicer artistic types, once sang, "Every artist is a cannibal, every poet is a thief, all kill their inspiration, then sing about the grief." I guess some of our greatest artists must breathe in turmoil in order to exhale beauty. It takes grit for an oyster to make a pearl.

As for me, I'm returning the library book that tells me what a bitter sot Van Morrison is. I don't need to know. The music is enough. It's more than enough.