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Posts Tagged ‘Hollywood’

I took the above picture Monday morning, at the peak of Runyon Canyon in the Hollywood Hills. I knew by Sunday evening I needed to be here. You see, I’m a 49er fan.

Sports fandom is a fascinating phenomenon. While there are a minority of sports aficionados who watch for the artistry of sport, a majority of the public watch sports to support athletes on our team, whether the Niners, the Ravens, the Yankees, the Lakers, or whoever, all because, for no other reason, they wear a specific jersey. Our jersey. A minuscule minority of us will ever know any of the athletes personally, and yet we embrace these gladiators, living vicariously through their triumphs and downfalls. We revel in their victories and weep in their defeats. No societal phenomenon can summon the fierce passion from otherwise sensible people like sports can.

Yet if we look at the greater picture, being a fan of the home team is often a losing proposition. The NFL has 32 teams, which means 31 teams end their seasons either with a loss or missing the playoffs entirely. The most dominant professional sports team in America, the New York Yankees, won 27 World Series titles, which means their fans have tasted bitter defeat for 85 seasons, or three-quarters of the Yankees existence. If being a fan means tying our pride to championships, then we’ve assured ourselves of disappointment 75% of the time AT BEST.

Last night’s Super Bowl loss reminded me of the fragility of our ego. When we invest our personal selves, attaching our character to something beyond our control, we put our egos at risk, knowing that failure could leave us shattered. When we define failure to an event that objectively occurs often, like losing, we guarantee ourselves a life that is constantly broken.

Which is why I needed to hike to the top of Runyon. A therapy to help me reattach my ego to sturdier stuff. Stuff that doesn’t fail 75% of the time. Like breathing. Or the warmth of the sun. Or the taste of ice water after a workout. Or receiving the immensity of the world.

I find when I define my life through these life-affirming constants, somehow life no longer seems like a series of failures, but like a place of wonder. A place where I get to see children grow, receiving the lessons they will carry throughout their lives. A place where I get to make real a story that was once a mere thought in another human being’s imagination. A place where I get to witness from thousands of miles away a rookie quarterback making his 10th career start in the Super Bowl, nearly leading his team to what would have been the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history.

Hiking to the peak of Runyon doesn’t change past events. But it does help change my perspective on them. A perspective that better reflects who I truly am. A perspective that more accurately defines what I can control and what I can’t. A perspective of quiet appreciation.

Congrats on a great season, Niners.

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This past Friday I received a 30-day notice to move out. It surprised my manager too; the owner decided to renovate the house, so everyone, my manager, her mother, her aunt, myself, we all have to go.

Being forced to move doesn’t make me sad or angry. It’s just a transition. I’ve done this 9 times before. I know the routine. Go on craigslist. Set up appointments. Avoid the stressed out people. Also those with too many rules. Keep an internal checklist: personable owner, room size, location, kitchen privileges, parking, laundry access, etc. Have cash ready in the bank. Be prompt with the deposit. Put stuff in boxes. Move out. Move in. Life goes on.

I’m putting things in boxes now. This step is the most personal. I open cupboards, rediscovering these souvenirs of a life gone by as I prepare to take them to a new one: old photographs from an age when photos were still in vogue, programs of old performances, books read 7 years ago, action figures, random emo ramblings, old lecture notes from college. But as the boxes get filled, I realize the capacity of my memories exceeds the physical dimensions of the boxes, and I find I’m arguing with myself as I confront my greatest fear: throwing away mementos of my past.

Throwing an object of value away contradicts much of what I learned about saving. Saving’s importance was instilled in me at a very early age, when my mother gave me a box where I could save my completed worksheets from kindergarten. My mother was Queen of that kingdom. Her life revolved around respecting the value of everything that was given to her. Neighbor throwing away old clothes? Pack them in a balikbayan box; relatives in the Philippines will enjoy them. Not playing with those toys anymore? Save them; there’s a younger cousin out there who will want them. Promotional pom poms at the baseball game? Grab the extras left behind; they’re nice decorations.

Her penchant for saving extended to our memories as well. Walk into my parents’ living room and you’ll find displays of remembrances of the past 40 years, tiny trinkets from weddings, anniversaries, vacations and baptisms. Hugging the walls is a library of albums, more than 50, a remarkable photographic documentation of my family’s life in America. At least ten are dedicated just to my oldest sister, another ten to the other, eight to me. Her message was very clear: anything of value deserves to be saved and cherished. Now with three self-sufficient, college-educated children, my mother lived that philosophy to great success.

Upon my 10th move, however, personally applying my mother’s philosophy has had its challenges. Saving incurs a cost. A space to keep an object. Energy spent to recall it. Physical effort to move it. But the most valuable real estate taken up is mental. An object saved demands attention, a conscious effort to store, move, and utilize. So an act of saving implies a belief that the benefits of an object outweighs the cost of holding, moving, and remembering it. When one moves constantly, the cost of moving becomes higher, which makes the cost of saving increase, and therefore a higher level of utility is required to justify retention.

That decision is simple if the object in question is strictly utilitarian: a bed, a desk, a book case. But what if the object holds a memory? An old journal? A birthday letter from a good friend 10 years ago? Old phone numbers of classmates from a study group, some of whom were old crushes? What is the value of reliving a fond memory? If the object conjures up happy times, isn’t the object worth keeping? If it’s thrown away, does the fond memory die with it? And if it does die, am I a worse person for having done so?

I find myself revisiting this idea of physical manifestations defining one’s self-image, whether it’s a photo album, a trophy, a drug, or a number on a bathroom scale. Through this move I’ve come to greater communion with the subjects of this blog and the struggles they faced, fearing I’l lose myself while engaging in a radical self-transformation, for I find myself engaging in mental battles with every sentimental artifact I uncover, trying to audit how “much of me” is within this otherwise inanimate object, and how much of myself I would “lose” if I threw it away.

But this journey we’ve traveled, studying various subjects of success, suggests that true satisfaction derives from anchoring one’s self-image not to the physical but to the intangible, the spiritual, the infinite. To define oneself based on the desire to push the limits of human endurance, or to have a meaningfully positive impact on young men’s lives. Seeking the intangible provides a foundation that is not so easily lost nor broken. So if I focus on my mission, to tell impactful human stories, maybe I’ll realize that letting go of that letter won’t destroy the friendship that inspired its creation. In embracing my mission, maybe I’ll realize that reminiscing about relationships of the past, while entertaining, is far less valuable than living the relationships of the present.

So while I’ll try to preserve a few meaningful keepsakes of my past, I must remember that I’m moving into a home for living my life, not into a museum dedicated to it. The memories of which these objects remind are already living within me whether I physically have these objects or not, and if my mission is meant not only to inform myself but also to inform those I love, then I can freely release those objects that have served their purpose, knowing their release will provide a space for new objects and new memories that will further my mission.

So Randy, it’s okay to let go. It’s time to move on.

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On a Sunday morning a few weeks ago I was driving in North Hollywood, listening to 98.7 FM. My car radio is usually dedicated to NPR, but on Sunday mornings I turn to the rock/alternative sounds 98.7 FM for its 9-10 AM commercial-free hour of live and acoustic performances where you’re guaranteed to hear Dave Grohl’s acoustic recording of Everlong at least once.

The selection of recordings is pretty standard: recordings of recent alternative chart-toppers (ex: Mumford and Sons‘s I Will WaitImagine Dragons’ It’s Time) mixed in with a few classics like Nirvana’s Come As You Are from the MTV Unplugged concert. But occasionally there will be a song that sounds eerily familiar but I can’t put my finger on it, when I realize they’re playing a cover.

When done well, covers are artistic revelations, uncovering new meaning from an already established piece of work. Case studies great covers include The Fugees’ cover of Roberta Flack’s Killing Me SoftlyWhitney Houston covering Dolly Parton’s I Will Always Love You, and Lena Horne’s quintessential cover of Ethel Water’s Stormy Weather.  However, for the artist, doing a memorable cover requires walking a thin line. Hold too closely to the original, and one becomes a cheap imitator. Stray too far and one loses the spirit of the material.

So towards the end of the hour, Everlong had just finished and transitioned to this slow, morose arpeggio. Immediately I thought Johnny Cash, but it’s too slow for Ain’t No Grave. Hmmm…

“She was more like a beauty queen…”

Huh. OK, that’s Chris Cornell, but this doesn’t sound like anything from Soundgarden or Audioslave.

“…from a movie screen…”

Now I’ve DEFINITELY heard this song before…

“…said don’t mind but what do you mean…”

Wait… am I hearing this right?!?

“…I am the one…”

Wow! This is friggin’ ballsy.

When I got home, I found I was really late to this party, like five years late. In 2007, Chris Cornell recorded one of the greatest covers in history, tackling one of the most iconic songs in pop: Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean. Its brilliance was embedded in Chris’s unapologetic determination to make Billie Jean his own masterpiece, not recreate Michael Jackson’s. Earlier this year, Chris would create yet another brilliant cover, his own take on I Will Always Love You, in honor of the late Whitney Houston.

Chris was following a common adage of most self-help books: be yourself. Don’t try to be anyone else because you can’t compete with the real deal. But there’s only one you, and you have a special, unique perspective that no one in the world has, so just be the best “you” you can be. Simple.

It’s around this time when I set the book down, admire myself for the $14.95 + tax + shipping well spent, and proceed to ruin the experience by doing something really dumb; I start thinking. That’s when the big gorilla of a question enters the room:

What the hell does that mean?

Don’t I embody the entire spectrum of human experience? If so, isn’t being angry, detached, apathetic, and generally angsty just as valid an embodiment of myself as being joyful, energetic, and happy? What if “I” am not a good person? Am I not being “myself” when I practice self-restraint and allow the teenagers who egged my car to get off scot-free? Why does being “myself” require me to be relaxed? What if “I” am just a stressed person? Who’s to judge that my fears aren’t part of who “I” am?

I can’t say I’ve found any definitive answers to those questions that have perplexed me since my teenage years, but I have my own personal theories to addressing them. Yes, all emotions, including those society would consider destructive, encompass who we are. In fact, those destructive emotions like anger and detachment can serve to protect us when surrounded by threats. However, survival is not advancement, and the advancement of the human race, and thus our own personal success, is predicated upon our ability to cooperate and share information, so behaviors that facilitate such interactions better serve our personal advancement. These behaviors are the actual foundations of being our “true self.”

So here’s a non-scientific, non-definitive list of clues that you may be acting like your “true self”:

1) You are more concerned about others than their perception of you.

Cooperation compels us to focus our attention to our environment so we can properly process, communicate, and affect our environment. Focusing on ourselves means ignoring what is around us, making communication difficult, and cooperation impossible. Even our biology is geared toward perceiving outwardly; after all, aren’t our bodies engineered to see what’s around us more easily than to see ourselves?

2) You become more aware of the possibilities to build, and less concerned about protecting what you already own.

Building is an external action, requiring that one interacts with the environment. Such interaction encourages the attention from others, some of whom may find it in their own interest to assist your creation. While preservation is important, if you spend more energy protecting than building, then you’re effectively limiting your opportunities to interact with others, thus cutting the opportunities to cooperate.

3) You find you’re surrounded by more allies than adversaries.

If you are experiencing clues #1 & #2, then chances are you’ve found a solid group of allies. Allies allow you to spend more of your energies building and cooperating and less on protections since you don’t need to be as concerned about personal attacks. So if you believe you are surrounded by few allies and more adversaries trying to pull you down, while it may be necessary to leave such an unhealthy environment, consider too it may just be your own perception, and your perceived adversaries have actually been potential allies all along.

(PS: If anyone has any more clues to how to “be yourself,” please share them in the comments. We can use your wisdom.)

So how do these clues apply to Chris Cornell’s Billie Jean?

1) Chris’s performance is completely dedicated to communicating the story of Billie Jean to his audience, with absolutely no concern about his own self-image, how he shapes up to Michael Jackson, or any other distractions that don’t concern Billie Jean.

2) In Billie Jean, Chris saw an opportunity to build upon a story, knowing full well he didn’t need to worry about protecting his image, his previous work, or Michael Jackson’s. Without those burdens, Chris could bring his full creative strength to his endeavor.

3) Chris saw his audience as allies, not critics, allowing him to perform with a compelling vulnerability lesser artists couldn’t reach. Less protections lets Chris communicate more, which makes the performance that much more powerful.

So in essence, being yourself means not thinking about yourself. That’s MY strong advice.

And practice safe “dance on the floor in the round.”

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For almost a year now, I’ve been studying improv at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in Hollywood. I can honestly say there are few things more satisfying than stepping onto a stage with nothing scripted, nothing preconceived, nothing rehearsed, only you and the support of your teammates, and creating something immensely entertaining. I admit it doesn’t ALWAYS happen when I perform, but lightning strikes every now and then.

The main form of improv we study at UCB is called the Harold. The basic Harold consists of 6-8 people on stage and based on a random one word suggestion, the group creates three base scenes featuring two people each, continuations inspired by those base scenes, and two group games that all members play. Now when a Harold is done really well (or any great improv), all members’ actions are accepted and supported by the entire group. This acceptance is necessary to create patterns that the group then develops and expands. Great Harolds reach their climax when multiple patterns are juggled simultaneously. Hilarity ensues. Simple…

…but not easy. Over the past year, I’ve ran into countless moments where nothing seems to mesh. We can’t seem to find a pattern, so my partner and I will just throw details in, hoping something will stick, only complicating the mess, until our craptacular scene comes to a merciful end. This is one of those moments.

About six weeks ago in improv class, I was one of eight practicing our Harold as we entered our 2nd group game. We made a back line, and one of the guys stepped out to initiate the group game by skipping around the stage, shooting invisible arrows into the audience. One of the girls stepped off the back line and joined him. Now as an improv member, you want to identify the pattern or “game” so you can build upon it. We just faced one problem: the other six of us had no idea what they were doing.

It’s really tough to play a game when you don’t know what you’re playing. So while the two were shooting invisible arrows into the audience, the six of us in the back were trying to figure out how the heck we were going to support them. Eventually two more came out from the back line and established that they were a disorganized attack party representing the 99%, and I ended up as an aide to Mitt Romney shielding him from some very primitive attacks. I assure you, it was not as funny as you’d imagine it to be.

So after we finished our Harold, our teacher gave us our notes. Now I’m paraphrasing so his name will remain anonymous, but all you need to know is that he is a VERY supportive teacher, and I would recommend anyone to take his class, but he’s also brutally honest. So when notes for 2nd group game came up, he grimaced, pausing as he thought about how to put this nicely:

 

OK, guys, I get it. You’re on stage and you don’t know what’s going on. You’re trying to think about making the right move. We’ve all been there. But understand that the fact that you’re thinking about it means you’re not really in the scene. You’re trying to think of a better idea to bring out there then the one you’re seeing, but guess what? They’re not. Because that guy took action on his idea and you didn’t. The best idea is the one acted upon right now.  So embrace that idea, run with it, and just see where it takes you. – Fictional UCB Teacher

On the surface, I felt bad for leaving my teammates out there on their own. I wasn’t trying to leave them out there; I thought reflecting upon the situation was the best choice. But they were struggling, so I should’ve just gone out there and joined them. If the scene went bad, at least we were there together.

But this critique penetrated more deeply than that. Too many times I’ve had inspirations languish as I waited for the perfect moment to spring them, only to let them die when those perfect moments never came. That chance to study abroad. That girl with the dimples across the room. Saying “I love you” the night before my grandfather died. All chances I let die. I lived a life of hesitation because of my desire to grow was outweighed by my misplaced obsession for self-preservation.

I know letting go the desire for self-preservation seems unnatural. To some extent, it is. Evolution purposely makes the fear of injury especially strong. If I went to a party and a lion was mauling party-goers, I’d hope my desire to avoid mutilation would be stronger than my enjoyment of good hors d’oeuvres.

But under different circumstances, this instinct that saves us from harm also impedes us from necessary growth. Acquiring the power for greater achievement requires self-transformation, a process that at first feels like losing one’s self, but in reality, we’re simply releasing our self-imposed limitations in order for our true selves to expand and grow. It’s exactly what children do. No wonder we find them so remarkable when they “grow up so fast.” It’s also no wonder why they cry.

So the best ideas really are inspired right in front of me. Maybe I will ask out that cute girl across the room. I hope she’s into improv.

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