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Archive for December, 2012

another_sad_christmas_by_sindesire

Photo Credit: isthisrevolutionary.com

Sitting on my couch on this Christmas Eve in the home where I was raised, I can’t help but reflect upon the holiday season. Personally, it’s my favorite time of year. I revel in the Christmas cliches: presents, decorations, kids running around, family photo shoots, feasts at the dinner table, the whole nine yards. But as I’ve matured I find that just as I’m about to enter holiday ecstasy my brain puts on the emotional brakes.

Part of this impulse come from the memory of those holiday highs of my youth quickly turning to bouts of depression when the presents were opened, relatives left, and the Christmas lights turned off. But I also find a healthy dose of perspective is both essential in recognizing the true value of our blessings and a tool to building a stronger, more compassionate community. Several years ago at my sister’s wedding, the residing priest encouraged us to pray for those seeking love, hoping to repair broken relationships, an eloquent yet stern reminder that the most joyful of celebrations can be excruciating for those witnesses on the outside. The insight to recognize and address such silent suffering amid such joy must be tremendously profound.

This time around, my perspective-building logical side asked: “Will the holidays joyful for everyone?” Considering the news of the past week, that’s an emphatic no. Of course, the holidays never are. Even if the horrors at Sandy Hook never occurred, there are thousands still recovering from Hurricane Sandy, others grieving for lost loved ones, more without a home to return to, or worse, without a family.

I find simply recognizing those struggles alone bring a greater gratitude and meaning to the gifts of Christmas. This year I want to take it a step further. I’ve made it my mission to find a place to volunteer a few hours on Christmas Day. In previous years I would merely contemplate the idea of volunteering before retreating, but this year I’m following through, calling up a few of the homeless shelters and breakfast programs in Oakland and Berkeley. A few hours won’t solve all the challenging circumstances of those in need, but I hope that, at the very least, I can turn a few witnesses into participants in my celebration, if only for a few moments. In return, I’m hoping to gain some perspective. Now that would be a great gift.

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“Pursue fame and fortune and victory at all costs… but make it a contest, a ritual, a spectacle, and honour your antagonist afterwards for his strength and bravery. Abandon reserve and live urgently, vitally: surrender the abstractions of the mind to the primacy of the body… They have engaged in the most baldly punishing and yet most human of all pursuits—chasing the high pitch of gesture and glamour to which all artists aspire, creating beauty through the body in the face of inconceivable pains and dangers.” – Oli Goldstein, “Violence and the Sacred

Last Saturday I watched in horror, along with the entire Filipino nation, as our Manny Pacquiao, our Fighting Pride of the Philippines, succumbed to a destructive Juan Manuel Marquez right hand. In a fight where Pac boxed his best rounds against his storied rival, where he was knocked down for the first time in 13 years only to respond with a knockdown of his own, where he rained rights and lefts upon his opponent’s head with conviction, staggering and bloodying his foe, making a strong case for a convincing victory of his own, a conscious-shattering counter that annihilated our hero, leaving us with an image we thought we’d never see: Manny Pacquiao, lifeless on the canvas.

“…it hurts kind of beautiful.” Shivaree

As an artist, I live to create compelling masterpieces. Performances that will be honored and remembered throughout the ages. Pieces of art that speak to our humanity. But what makes a masterpiece a masterpiece? What makes anything universally human? Deep down inside, as painful as it was to watch, I’m certain that the battle I witnessed last week was a masterpiece, and in my opinion Manny’s greatest fight in the last 10 years. Somehow, this hurt is an integral part of the masterpiece equation.

I don’t pretend to know much about boxing. I’ll let the experts argue the technical qualities of Manny’s fights. All I know is that since knocking out Miguel Cotto in 2009, I felt Manny had technically solid performances, but were mostly forgettable overall. The typical post-2009 Pacquiao fight would consist of Manny feeling out the first couple of rounds, then definitively scoring combinations to win rounds 3-8, only to coast to a victorious decision, still winning late rounds but clearly fighting not to lose. Watching Pac fight during this time frame would be akin to watching Pavarotti in concert and expecting Nessun Dorma, but instead getting his backup vocals to the Spice Girl’s Viva Forever. A good performance from one of the greatest of all time, but he’s clearly capable of so much more.

After losing a split decision to Tim Bradley (a bad decision by the judges, but Pac’s coasting had cost him), and a potentially lucrative superfight with Floyd Mayweather Jr. yet again postponed, something changed. Instead of waiting for the superfight (and guaranteed fortune) that seemed to never come, Manny took the courageous route and risked all the momentum of a Mayweather superfight and accepted yet another fight with Marquez, a man he had yet to defeat definitively.

Manny could have approached the fight like his recent bouts, tentatively picking his spots, doing just enough to win each round. That would’ve been smart. But this fight went beyond a simple win, beyond the opinions of three judges at ringside. This was about legacy. This was about ending the dispute over who had TRULY won the past three meetings. This was about defeating a rival in the manner that had catapulted Pacquiao to superstardom. He had to knock Marquez out. This wasn’t smart, but it’s very human.

For six rounds, Manny was Manny again. He unleashed his arsenal with unrelenting speed and power. He pushed the action even after dominating the round. He responded to getting knocked down with even more aggression. He saw blood dripping down Marquez’s nose, and he saw the end in sight. He took his chance, with only 2 seconds left in the round, in front of the entire world, allowing himself to be vulnerable for one more attack, and lost it all.

There is an honor in being true to ones self, unleashing both one’s great power and vulnerability for the world to see. For 17 minutes, 58 seconds, Manny was his true self, a ferocious attacker, willing to take a punch to give two. Marquez also stayed true to his core as an elite counter-puncher, bravely withstanding blow after blow as he patiently waited for an opening to unleash his devastation. What resulted was a boxing masterpiece, an epic struggle of two men providing their absolute best in the face of destruction.

As an actor, I have the luxury of risking everything for an ideal of a person in an imagined world, living in a temporary danger while keeping my personal self safe. Boxers like Pacquiao and Marquez don’t have that luxury. If such people are willing to dedicate their entire lives to cement a legacy, or to climb massive walls, or to find God, then the stakes in the imagined world must be just as high for artistic masterpieces. Works of art that allow people experience moments of extreme struggle and immeasurable risk to help inform the real struggles and risks in real life. Sounds like fun.

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The Monday I published my last post about Jake “The Snake” Roberts, I realized that many of my personal heroes are former or recovering addicts. Eddie Guerrero (alcoholism and drug addiction). Dennis Eckersley (alcoholism). Michael Jordan (gambling). Google  “recovered celebrity addicts” and you get an A-list cast: Robert Downey Jr. (drug addiction), Jamie Lee Curtis (painkillers), Martin Sheen (alcoholism), Robin Williams (drug addiction), Drew Barrymore (drug addiction).

Maybe the fact that I admire so many recovering addicts speaks more to my own appreciation of drive even in the face of dire circumstances, but I can’t help but see a connection between the tremendous trials these people have faced and the equally tremendous successes they’ve accomplished. I would never mean to suggest developing addiction is some kind of backdoor enabler to greatness, but the unrelenting drive seen in addicts is a trait we also associate with very successful, driven individuals. So is “harnessed addiction,” an obsessive focus toward constructive goals, an ingredient to greatness? Or is it the tools to overcome such addiction, like commitment, structure, and determination, the drivers of success? Or do I just happen to enthralled with stories of people fighting personal demons?

What’s your personal take? Discuss.

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When I decided to write this blog about how to achieve success and great achievement, I felt it was important to acknowledge that travelling the road towards success is really hard. I didn’t want to be just another guy who put up inspirational quotes or feel-good stories of amazing feats; to feature only great victories would dismiss all the other stories of people who are in the middle of their journey, who are still in the thick of extraordinary adversity upon which great success is founded. I wanted to feature stories where the outcome was still in doubt, where the protagonists are still trying to find their way, where the demons are still alive and well.

For such a story, I go back to the world of pro wrestling. If the story of Eddie Guerrero is one of a man who found redemption, then the story of Jake “The Snake” Roberts is of one still trying to find his way out of the wilderness.

The wrestling exploits of Jake Roberts, considered one of the greatest in-ring performers of the late 80’s and early 90’s, have been overshadowed by his battles with alcohol and drug addiction. His troubles were documented in the 1999 film Beyond the Mat (a real-life precursor to Mickey Rourke’s critically-acclaimed 2008 film The Wrestler) where Jake was being interviewed while on crack. Internet videos of Jake’s intoxicated stupors at independent wrestling events have sprouted over the years, the most infamous appearing on TMZ in 2008.  Reports on wrestling news websites of Jake’s attempts to rehab, only to relapse again, appear with tragic regularity, a sick reminder for all to how far such a beloved icon had fallen.

Jake’s most recent attempt at recovery, however, is showing some promise. “Diamond” Dallas Page (DDP), a former wrestling protege who gained viral fame after helping a man lose 140 pounds in 10 months, brought Jake into his Atlanta home where, through a steady program of diet & yoga designed by DDP, they hope to get Jake in shape for one final run in pro wrestling.  To occupy his time constructively, Jake is learning to use a computer, and has even created new Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube accounts. One touching YouTube video features Jake discussing what he is grateful for on Thanksgiving. So far, Jake has been sober for almost a month and lost 40 pounds.

In November, about two weeks into DDP’s program, Jake gave a candid radio interview about his rehabilitation and how he once contemplated suicide:

You start looking at yourself at that point and you hate yourself…I had a lot of shame, a lot of anger, a lot of freakin’ anger, basically I had given up. I didn’t want to live. I had no hope. I had no dreams. I hope nobody out there gets to that point, but when you quit dreaming, when you quit having hope, it’s a pretty goddamn horrible place to be. You don’t care if you breathe. You don’t care about anything.” – Jake Roberts, Big WrestleShark Show, 98.4 Pulse FM, UK

I’ll save the commentary for today and allow you to draw your own lessons, but for now I urge you to read the full story on Jake’s rehab with DDP. Here’s to hoping that Jake’s long journey ends with the redemption he’s always desired.

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