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Monthly Archives: January 2012

Eye of the Beholder

I’ve been turning over some things in my mind for the last few days and I just have to get them out.

I’ve spent a great deal of time freeing myself from the burden of other people’s opinions.  How are other people’s opinions a burden, you might ask?  Well, if you don’t know how much the average person is run by the concern that others will judge him or her for what they think, say or do, you haven’t been alive for very long.

Watch yourself sometime.  Try and do something you judge as “embarrassing” and see how much resistance you have to it.  Sing out loud in a crowded elevator.  Skip down the street.  Wear your pajamas to the mall.  Can’t do it, can you?  Of course not, you’d look stupid or even crazy.

Well, I no longer give a fuck what other people think of me.  One should have a healthy amount of self-consciousness, an awareness of your impact upon other people.  But when you constantly suppress and second-guess your actions, even ones you really want to take, it can be like living in a mental straight-jacket.  I had lived that way for far too long.  D-O-N-E.

And while this new-found freedom has been great for me, it sometimes leaves the people I interact with wanting.  Inevitably, I end up doing something that frustrates or pisses someone else off.  It’s like wading through an emotional minefield and it can be a real mess if you step on something you didn’t mean to.

To some people I’m the nicest, most generous person they’ve met.  I’m sweet and funny and kind.   But then there are others who think I can be rude, thoughtless and self-serving.  I’m just being me.  I can’t control how you interpret what I say and do.  And honestly, I wouldn’t want to.

I know that one area where I’m totally hit or miss is when someone needs something from me.  If someone comes to me with a specific need or request and I’m able to accommodate them, I give without thinking twice.  I did this just recently and totally made someone’s day but it was nothing to me.  I had no attachment to the item and thought they’d enjoy it more.

However, if someone wants or needs something from me that’s more nebulous or emotional, or they expect that I should figure out what they want without asking me (because that’s what they’d do), well sorry, I guess I am thoughtless.  I don’t sit around wondering what I should do for other people.  I’ve got other things going on in my head.  I’m not a mind reader and I don’t assume things.  I don’t feel that I’m in the right or wrong on this issue, it’s just how I am.   KNOW THY SELF.  This is one of the most important things you can ever strive for in life.  Take the time to get to know yourself, without labeling your behavior as good or bad.  How do you react, how do you decide, how do you feel about things?  Then, when you can see your automatic ways of behaving aren’t what the situation calls for, you can choose to take a new action.  You may fail.  You may upset someone.  Apologize if necessary.  Explain your motives.  Move on.

So much of life is used up in futile and meaningless ways.  So much unnecessary anger and suffering.  So many unintentional slights and insults.  Be secure in your own self and no one can control you.  Or stated a better way — When you are no longer impacted by what another says, does or thinks (either positively or negatively) then you are truly free.

If someone doesn’t like what you did but you feel it was the correct course of action, you just have to live with their displeasure.  That took me a long time to understand.  I used to think that if someone was unhappy with me then I must have done something wrong.

I’ve always been generous towards other people’s shortcomings, even to a fault.  Sometimes not speaking up when I could have pushed them a little more.  This too is something I’m working on.  I have something to contribute, and I shouldn’t fear it any longer.

You can’t make everyone happy and it’s not your job.  And other people are not going to constantly bow to your whims no matter how much they love you.  But you can try to see their point of view and if it makes sense, cut them some slack.  If they need a kick in the ass, be bold enough to go there too.

People are who you think they are.  Why not choose to see them in their best light?  I’ve seen criminals behave heroically and good men lie.  We’re only human and we’re all just doing the best we can.

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SOPA what’s the big deal anyway?

I was planning on putting my two-cents in about SOPA today when I saw the news that Congress has put the bill on hold for now.  The bill’s opponents have won this battle but the war is long from over.

I work in Hollywood and I see and deal with the issues of piracy all the time.  My paycheck and job security has the potential to be directly impacted by declining sales of videos and streaming content.  There is a problem but this bill was a poor solution.

Sometimes I wonder if the people who draft these onerous bills ever stop to see the big picture, to really think things through.  Although the intention of the bill was never sinister, there were many sinister implications that could be the outcome if it have been made law.  This bill gave the accuser far too much power for a country that prides itself on the notion that you’re “not guilty until proven otherwise.”

Some people make their living online, writing and creating content.  Others create fun new things from existing properties.  A good friend recently made some really cool mash-up trailers which have become very popular.  This one was viewed by over a million people:

My friend made no financial gain but did get some exposure for his talents.  Both properties got promoted for free.  I see no harm in this, but if either copyright holder decided this was theft, it would have been yanked from the net immediately.

There is a fine line between theft and creative expression and that is where the conversation needs to be directed when attempting to create any new legislation that would affect the internet and its content.  Who is impacted and how exactly?  What are we really trying to protect?

We’ve effectively stopped something we don’t want, but if you were creating original content that could be stolen, what do you think would be a fair amount of control to protect your property?  This is what people need to call or write to their representatives about now.  Since we are the ones being subjected to the laws, we should make more of an effort to try and interject what we think is a fair and tolerable solution for all parties involved.

It can’t be a free-for-all but it shouldn’t be on lockdown either.  What is that middle ground that creates the greatest good for the greatest number?

The copyright holder of this film (Downfall) tried in vain to have these parody videos taken down but they have taken on a life of their own.  I wonder how many people actually sought out the original film after seeing one of these.  Many who would have never seen or heard of it otherwise, I imagine.  Here’s the latest one regarding SOPA and I think it sums up the problem perfectly.

What a rip-off!

What constitutes a rip-off?  This is something I’ve been wondering lately.

When something gains a certain amount of popularity or notoriety, my interest is always piqued.  Back when I was in college, Power Rangers were all the rage with the kids, and I had to see what this was.  I ended up becoming a fan of the original iteration (The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers) for a couple of years.  I even had a crush on the red Power Ranger (Austin St. John) and wanted to be the pink Power Ranger for Halloween.  Sadly, at the time they didn’t make adult-sized costumes.

Then this Harry Potter thing exploded and rather than keep hearing about something I knew nothing about, I picked up the first book in paperback around early 2000.  It was quickly devoured.  I got the second in paperback and tried to wait until they came out on paperback to read the rest.  Ha!  That didn’t last long.  I got the third book in hardback during a weak moment and had the rest of them delivered the day they were published by Amazon.

Just for the record, delving into popular things does not always result in rabid fandom.  I admit with shame that I was curious about Jersey Shore too and watched about six episodes.  That was more than enough and I doubt I will ever be able to wash the stench of that transgression off of me.

So now along comes The Hunger Games.  I have friends who’ve read the series and loved it.  A major motion picture is about to be released and I so couldn’t hold out any longer.  I borrowed the book from someone and plowed through it in three days.  I could have read it in one but I did have work and the rest of my life to handle.  It’s young adult fiction and not a complicated read but it sure is engrossing.

I had heard it was very similar to a Japanese film I love called Battle Royale.  Children are forced to fight to the death at the command of the government until only one remains.  Some people complained that the book was a rip-off so I had to see for myself.

I have to say they are similar in initial themes and set ups but are not close enough to have anyone consider The Hunger Games a rip-off.  The author, Suzanne Collins, has done what J.K. Rowling did so brilliantly with the Harry Potter series in that she has taken elements from many known stories and blended them into a wholly new and original creation, a whole new world.  It’s not unlike what Quentin Tarantino does with film.

Tarantino is the king of homage

Ms. Collins noted early on that one of her inspirations for the novels is the ancient Greek myth involving Theseus.  He and several other youths are sent as tribute by the defeated Greece to Crete to be fed to the Minotaur in the labyrinth beneath King Minos’ palace.  Ms. Collins also said the gladiatorial games of ancient Rome were another influence.  I can see both of these in the story.  I also thought of a short story entitled “The Lottery” as an influence in the way the children are chosen for the games.

She claims she has never seen Battle Royale and I believe her.  She may have heard of the film but I know very few average folks who have seen it.  It is something only sought out by a true film buff.  I was lucky to find it on video years ago and even had the privilege of seeing it on a movie screen over the holidays.  One of the distinct perks of living in Los Angeles.

“There’s nothing new under the sun.” This is only true if you think that you have to create something that has never been seen in any form before, but there are new ways of looking at old things and new ways to approach any story or character.  I will never begrudge someone from taking inspiration from old stories.  What constitutes a rip-off is when you have nothing new to add or you don’t understand the source material that you are stealing from and get it all wrong.  This is usually the reason why I get so angry with all the remakes in Hollywood.

Stories are one of our greatest tools for exploring and understanding the human condition.  They are not just another property to be exploited for mere material gain.  If you take the former as your purpose, the latter may come automatically.  You don’t capture lightning in a bottle; you just stand in the right place and let the lightning come to you.

Bon chance, Hunger Games.

Time’s a wasting

If you’ve been following me from the beginning, you may remember I spoke of being an aspiring screenwriter who needed to do something else for a while, hence the blog.  If not, that just summed things up.

I hit a wall, not with my writing but with Hollywood and filmmaking in general.  I’d hit that saturation point where I’d seen one too many sequels, one too many films based on books or comics, one too many remakes and just had no desire to throw my heart and soul into writing something original.

The straw that broke the camel's back.

Writing this blog has kept the creative juices flowing and an idea has finally struck me as worthy of my time and attention.  I know a few people who will rejoice upon hearing this.  It is something to celebrate.  I still don’t have a lot of hope that my original screenplay will ever be committed to film, but I don’t care.  The story excites me and I want to write it.  That’s all that matters.

I love genre films and I’ve been trying to come up with something that will be a mash-up of some of my favorite types of films.  I’ve hit on something but I will say no more.  This is my baby, and it must be allowed to develop before anyone gets a whiff of what it’s about.  When it’s complete, I’ll be happy to share all the fun, gory details.

I just wanted to use this as a starting point for today’s blog – doing something because you love it, regardless of whether or not it will ever produce any wealth or success for you.

Remember being a kid?  You tried all kinds of things just to try them.  You put forth so much effort building things and experimenting, none of it for reward or recognition.  I learned to sew because I wanted more doll clothes.  I ended up making my own prom dress in high school.  I don’t sew for money but I still enjoy it tremendously.  And it’s definitely not cheaper than just getting ready-made clothes in the store.

And it's a lot more work too!

I had gotten so caught up in screenwriting as a means to an end that I’d forgotten what I enjoyed about it in the first place.  That happens to a lot of us.

It’s okay to step back from something when you can’t figure out why you’re still doing it.  It’s also valid to admit when you no longer want to do it.  And it’s cool if you decide after some time away, you’re excited again.  Life isn’t judging you, only you are.

You don’t need other people’s validation to do something.  You may not be particularly good at it but if you feel like singing or dancing or writing or whatnot, do it to your heart’s content.  Life has become far too commodified for our own good.

They say “Time is Money” and if our time is not being well spent then we judge it as not being a worthwhile thing to do.  I say fuck that.

I say do one completely pointless and wasteful thing at least once a day.  You’re not a robot.  You don’t exist to “produce”.  Remind yourself that being alive is its own reward and the time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.

Still one of my favorite time wasters.

I plan on wasting lots of time writing a new script.   What are you going to do?

 

Reeling in the years

Since it’s on the horizon and coming up fast, it’s on my mind — 40.  Yep, I’m turning 40 this year.  How the hell did that happen?

I’m not sad or scared just bemused.  I always joke that I’ll live to be in my nineties, but I can’t even imagine that.  Aging happens and you can hate every minute of it or you can enjoy the ride (It’ll probably end of being a little bit of both).  I have no idea who said it but it’s a good one — Never get upset about growing old, some people never get the chance.

The day I graduated from college (1995)

I feel the intervening years have been generally kind.

But after 40 is when it really gets interesting.  The follies of youth catch up to you.  You can’t drink as much and sleep off that hangover.  You can’t eat whatever you want and not think twice.  There’s no more, I’ll exercise today if I feel like it.  Your body now demands that you consider it and it will not be ignored.

They say the only constant in the universe is change.  On average, every cell in your body is replaced in seven years.  That means I am literally not the same person who graduated from college all those years ago.  It’s only through the persistence of memory (which is nothing but an illusion) that has me believe that I am still the same.

The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali

Sometimes I wish I could shed my skin periodically like a snake.  Slough off the dead and the unneeded portions of my life and emerge fresh and new.  I’ve been trying to do that with my possessions but I’ve been confronted by my own clinging nature.  Is that something learned or is it a natural response?  I wonder.

I find myself doing a lot of that lately – wondering.  It’s easy to look back and fit all of the pieces together into a cohesive picture.  From this side, it’s all a jumbled mess.

But that’s all part of it too, I guess.  So all there is to do is enjoy the ride.  And don’t forget to breathe.

 

 

 

You can be happy, if you choose to be.

Happy New Year!

At the start of 2012, I feel the need to add my two cents into the whole “happiness” debate.  A lot of time has been spent in the last decade or so looking at what happiness is and how do we get it.  They say money can’t buy happiness, which is true, but it can make some of the unhappiness go away.  It’s really not the money, though.

Rich or poor, sick or well, lonely or in love… happiness can be yours.  You can plan for happiness and you can make it happen for you, that is, as long as you choose it.  That’s crazy talk, you might be thinking, how do you choose to be happy?  Try looking at it this way.

Have you ever had a great day, one that left you feeling so happy but when you tried to recreate it, you didn’t feel the same way?  Why not?  What was different?  You were.  That first time, with no reason whatsoever, you chose to be happy by the day you were having but you mistook that feeling as the result of the day and not because you (probably without any forethought) chose to be happy with what was occurring.

It’s easy to be happy when something pleasurable is happening.  Eating ice cream is an instant mood lifter for me.  A baby’s laugh or a cute puppy gives me a warm fuzzy.  And finding a five dollar bill in the pocket of those pants I wore last week, bonus!  But can you see that I’m choosing to be happy by those things?  Those aren’t “automatic” responses.

Well, how could those things possibly make anyone unhappy?  How about this – perhaps you’re lactose-intolerant, or you recently had a child or pet die or perhaps you need $20 for something and $5 isn’t going to cut it.  What makes me happy could make you unhappy.

You must first get that circumstances are circumstances.  They are not good or bad, right or wrong.  It’s what we bring to those circumstances that determines how we view them and react.  I’m going to beat this point like a dead horse until at least one person tells me they get it.  Shit happens!  But until you take some freakin’ responsibility for your life and how you’re going to view it, you will be a victim of your circumstances and happiness will be nothing more than a fleeting dream.

You want an example, I imagine.  Here’s one that set me down the path of being the author of my own life.  Several years ago, I began to have a problem with my direct supervisor.  She started to become more critical of me and more erratic in her behavior and mood.  My workplace became a hostile environment and I was suffering.  Two other co-workers ended up on psyche meds and one even took psyche leave for several months because of the stress.  I managed to make a lateral move out of that department and now I have the most amazing boss ever.

Am I just lucky?  Sometimes.  But in this instance, I made a choice.  I chose to not take her behavior personally and I also chose to be the person who says how I feel.  I would listen to my “happy song” on the way to work and when I left work for the day, I did just that—left it where it belonged and tried not to allow it to poison my non-work life.  I also chose to get out of that situation and did it professionally and without bitterness.

We’re all going to have circumstances that suck, sometimes so bad they’re almost intolerable.  People we love leave us, or worse die unexpectedly.  We may be diagnosed with a debilitating illness or have an accident that leaves us crippled and in pain.  A war might break out around us, food shortages will occur and the life we once had will be gone forever.  If you cling to what was and refuse to accept what is, you will never know happiness.  “Happiness is a function of accepting what is.” (Werner Erhard)

Happiness only exists in the here and now, in your choice to allow it to be.  It’s not always easy but it is simple.  I’m alive and I choose to be happy.  Start small and let it build.  Smiling for no reason.  Being grateful for something.  Or perhaps you can use one of the things that takes me to my happy place–song.  Some songs just lift me up when I hear them.

Here’s that happy song that I used to listen to before work:

This one reminds me to view the bigger picture.  It’s hard to be happy when all you can see is that thing that’s making you unhappy.  But life is just so much bigger than you think.

And here’s the newest one from Gotye (if you don’t know who that is, see my Oct. 21st blog)

The more people get happy, the more love can flow and then anything’s possible.   I was born with the gift of perspective.  What’s your gift?  It’s probably your access to happiness too.

Come on get happy!!!