Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Oprah Syndrome

Hi, Boomers,
You have to have lived on another planet last week to have missed Oprah's closing show. Well, there were actually two last closing shows. Twenty-five years and thousands of guests and hundreds of hours of self-promotion with her charity work and book promotions, image issues, and cathartic moments. No matter her weight, Oprah has been every woman's muse.
Humans need gurus. We need models and counselors and guides to help us live our lives without drowning in quiet desperation. We are surrounded by people, places and things, and yet, we are still lonely and full of fears. After all, we're going to die some day for sure. No one can stop that, not even Oprah. We can't figure out why our lives remain stagnant and lacking in excitement. We expect more of ourselves; we are looking for another paradigm, a new way of looking at life and Oprah and her gurus have been the people who would help us find happiness and peace, and maybe take away all our thoughts of mortality. We will live on through Oprah.
Oprah makes us feel better about ourselves because, after all, who else but Oprah is going to bring us joy, give us have self-esteem, find love, be better parents and stay healthy and physically fit, and put off dying. We trust her and we love her and we worship her. She has assured us that she has made life much better for all of us.
We seem desperate and committed to have someone else help us cope with loneliness and provide us with everything that we cannot do for ourselves. Don't we have our own resources to make ourselves find joy and passion in life? Sure we do but we haven't realized that we are basically lazy. Desperate and lazy. Viewers sit on sofas and watch Oprah and her guests generate excitement and energy, make interesting decisions by taking actionable steps to achieve their own dreams. These guests are their own change agents. We like to watch them do cool things and go to spiritual places. We want to find out what inspires them. We want to be like them. But we are simply voyeurs and outsiders.
On Oprah's last show she gave us a directive to follow the actions of those thousands of guests who are examples of inspiration. These are for the most part people who lived life to the fullest and inspired others along the way. So, after 25 years, Oprah told us to get a move on and find our calling. Yes, that's right: our calling. She told us we can follow our dreams and be all that we can be and make our mark on the world just like everyone who came before on her show.
However, she forgot to tell us to get off the couch and stop watching television. That's because she owns a TV network called OWN and she has programs on OWN that she wants the couch potatoes to watch. They, too, will be as inspirational as her talk shows.
Unfortunately, Oprah gave her spirited address to those who simply watch on the sidelines and leave the action to others. Oprah never gave the couch potatoes a life line to do what we are called to do. Most will not do anything at all but watch the next version of her talk show. While Oprah was telling us what we should do, she was moving on to other projects and other journeys that were going to be bigger and better than what she had been doing for the last 25 years. She left it to others to help us get off the couch.
Anyone and everyone is entitled to retire or to be a change agent. It's not just the way of the powerful and rich. But Oprah thought it was time to pass on the crown on to the next guru. She did her part and played her guru role to the fullest. Along with giving away cars and trips, she sponsored schools and helped many people and recommended many good books. Maybe some of it was show biz and some of it was real but all of it was her calling. This might be her finest journey.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Writing As If No One Is Watching

Hi, Boomers,
Writing is a solitary ritual. We think of rituals as something stemming from religion But the truth is that anything can be a ritual: dancing, playing music, working out, meditation, yoga, praying, taking holy communion, paying bills, cooking, getting ready for bed at night. Even funerals are rituals.
I love rituals. They are mostly performed alone or with like-minded people. As a young Catholic girl, I adore all the rituals of the church. From the nuns getting out of the cab every morning at St. Raphael's Church and school, to standing in line for confession every Friday, to the line up in the school yard for Sunday mass. Everything remained the same inside and outside the church. When we practice rituals we are comforted by their sameness. Most of us want to know what is expected of us and we are jolted out of our naturalness when there is variation or change. Change is challenging. Change is mostly not to our liking. But if one doesn't like the ritual, one can leave it without fanfare and without regret.
I love many things about my life and I cherish and have gratitude for my gifts. Of the things I am passionate about are my yoga practice (a ritual), dancing Argentine tango (very much a ritual), teaching, and writing, all of them are ritualized. I love the sameness in the context of what I do. But within the confines of my rituals, there are nuances and differences. Therein lies the creative process.
Sometimes it is fun and rewarding to work with others. Collaboration in any art form can be productive. Theater people do it all the time; so do writers and musicians, songwriters, and dancers. Painters go it alone. Sometimes teachers collaborate. Whether alone or together, the artistic process is always special.
When I began to write screenplays after attending American Film Institute, I wrote my first screenplay by myself. My mentor and significant other insisted I write the film by myself before I left film school, and I would learn more about writing screenplays than anything else I could have done. My mentor encouraged me to create the story - from one of my own ideas - and this would be a calling card for me after graduation. It came to pass that my writing partner turned out to be my life partner and we wrote together, sitting side by side in front of a typewriter for several years. And then I began to write the first drafts by myself and he came in after or during and made suggestions when I got stuck with story. He was fabulous with story and I was better at dialogue. It worked like a charm.
More and more I began to rely only on myself when it came to writing in any form or style. I loved the solitude of the process. I still do today. I get my inspiration from reading, research and from my really smart friends whom I listen to with great gusto. Writers pay attention to details, to the nuances of human behavior. And most important, writers listen.
I used to say that I was a better re-writer than a writer. First drafts have a lot of information in them, but they are not very well organized. I tend to over-write. But then I go back into the manuscript and dig out of the mess I made. I have to do this anywhere from 5 to 10 times for the piece to take shape. If I am lucky and have a writing coach, then I really pay attention to what the coach is telling me. The problem with most writers is that they don't really hear what someone is telling them. Re-writing is listening and that's difficult because writers fall in love with their words and ideas. That's dangerous territory to get wrapped up in your own words. A writer has to be open to suggestions and a good writer will know when the coach is giving a really good idea. A writer has to be able let go of what is not appropriate for the written work.
I've been challenged for the last 3 months by writing a keynote speech for the National Speakers Association. Speech writing is a different process and I am still learning about it's structure and the way in which the message is delivered. Two drafts later, my coach suggested I outline the speech, take a look at the message again and clean up the organization. I love to outline. One thing Catholic education taught me was the art of the outline. As early as the 4th grade we were learning how to outline and I couldn't get enough. It really paid off in college taking notes and organizing a paper. When I created my outline, I learned so much about what I was kind of baggage I was carrying in my speech and what was standing out. It was a great exercise and it will probably help me memorize the speech with less effort.
There is a saying in dance that is an internal reflection about movement: dance as if no one is watching. I look at writing in the same way: write as if no one is watching. There can be a self-consicous aspect to the arts, the kind of "look at me, see what I'm doing, I'm important." But this conceit is narcissist to say the least. This means that everything the writer writes is reflecting back on him/her instead of reaching out to an audience. The human perception that what we do has weight to it or is a reflection on self-esteem or provides us with some cache is just a bad idea. Writers have to maintain distance from their work just as any artist does. Whatever one does in the field of the arts, if it is done with truthfulness, is a private meditation whether it comes from one person or several people. In the end, artist endeavors come from the heart, out of love and true emotion.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Hard Day's Night

Hi, Boomers,
I've been absent from my blog. I apologize. It hasn't been because I don't love blogging. It's because I've been in the midst of thinking about and then changing my life's work.
Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and ask myself, "Why am I making my life so complicated in my 60s? I could just as easily not have tackled a career change and cruised along teaching yoga, dancing tango, and visiting my family in Vegas."
Keep your routine, Joan. Keep life simple. I hate it when I complicate life.
It all sounded so simple when last December I decided to attended a keynote speaker's conference sponsored by the National Speaker's Association in Las Vegas. I was curious about what a speaking career entails. In November I had made a number of inquiry calls to the local NSA chapter and met a really wonderful woman who was a member on the local NSA chapter and she was encouraging and just plain fun.
"Why not speak?" she said. "You'd be great."
That's all I needed to hear to get my mojo going. I had no idea what I was going to speak about, however. I usually jump into turgid waters without much thought as to whether I could swim my way out to safety. I've done that a couple of times in my life.
I love jumping off a cliff without a net. Does that make me an adrenalin junkie? I do love change and challenge. Perhaps this is what spurred me on to investigate becoming a speaker.
I thought it would be a good idea to use my book, Sixty, Sex, & Tango, Confessions of a Beatnik Boomer, as a point of departure for a speech. In the narrative of my book, a personal memoir, I discuss many topics about living a full and joyful life in my 60s. I refer to the complexity dealing with adult children, the emotional roller coaster of being a grandmother, the disappointments of dating and trying to find some semblance of a relationship with a man, the sadness of taking care of an elderly parent, returning to therapy, the joy of following your passions, the fact is that retirement is not an option, and much more. Even though I didn't have a clue about writing a speech, I certainly had some information I could use from my book.
The NSA keynote speaker's conference was a revelation. Although I wasn't certain I wanted to complicate my life with public speaking, I was wowed by the quality of speakers and the first rate information presented by top speakers. This was a brave new world, and as usual, I was coming in to this new world with a very late start.
I've always been a late comer and a late bloomer. I'm not sure why that is but it's happened a few times in my life and this last Johnny come lately even surprised me. I don't even know when the interest in speaking hit me. I wish I could remember because it might make a good story. It just kind of materialized.
After the conference, I was supposed to start writing a speech. It took me two months to figure out what to write. By then I has secured a speech coach. I saw him in Vegas; in fact, he lived in Vegas so it was convenient for me to see him when I visited my family. It took him awhile to accept me as a client because these top notch guys don't just take anyone one. Being a speech coach or a coach to anyone is a real pain in the neck. It's probably not worth the money they charge a client for all the pushing and cheerleading they have to do to motivate a potential speaker. Somehow I convinced my coach that I was worthy. I gave him my book and then we strategized a topic. Then we changed the topic and then I wrote a draft for my one hour speech, and then I threw it out after I met with my coach.
I started to watch videos of speakers. I was trying to get the sense of how to deliver a message to an audience, to make a promise to them that what I will propose are actionable steps to change their lives. I just finished the second draft and sent it in to my speech coach.
This speech writing has been all consuming. I feel like a junkie. I feel like I'm on speed. It's like when I used to write screenplays. I'd stay up all night and write when I got an idea and I wouldn't stop. I'm manic.
Why did I complicate my life? I complicated my life because something inside of me is compelled to speak to audiences about living happy, wild and free when the job is over, or a career burns out, or when depression sets in, when the body is too fat and lacks exercise, when relationships are over, when there is no more joy in life.
Maybe I feel that I can motivate people by sharing my experiences with the benefits of yoga and living my passions and telling stories about people who have changed their lives because they have let go of resistance and judgement.
Maybe it's just a dream, but it's my dream and I'm jazzed and motivated by the thought of doing it some day. This might just be my Act 3.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Anticipate the Positive

Hi, Boomers,
I just came back from 2 days at the Los Angeles Festival of Books. This year it was held on USC campus instead of UCLA. It had been held at UCLA for more than 10 years. When I first heard the news that the festival of books was moving off my beloved UCLA campus, I was deeply disappointed. I teach yoga at UCLA and I was thrilled because I have a parking permit. I could walk easily enter the festival if it had been held on UCLA grounds.
So I met my booth-mate at the Vagabond Hotel just south of USC campus on Saturday morning. Stan the Man - award winning pie maker and blue ribbon dessert maker, along with his adorable mom - and we proceeded to divide and set up our corner booth. Throughout Saturday about 75,000 people attended. Lots of families; lots of kids, not a whole lot of interest in Sixty, Sex, & Tango, Confessions of a Beatnik Boomer. I was looking around for my demographic - the boomers - those without kids, those who were curious about what was under the title. Don't get me wrong, there were plenty of chuckles at my title. I heard the title echoing around the booth all day. That was awesome.
So without the thrill of the sale, I went forth and roamed the festival. It was really spread out and I seemed to walk forever. I dropped off my book to my author friends, and checked out booths that targeted speaking and writing and enjoyed the music and the energy. Surrender to the moment, dude. It was all good. Stan the man and I even had time to create a concept for a reality show. That I can't share with you all. But if it ever gets to reality TV, you'll be the first to know.
This first day, I got kind of philosophical about the book festival journey. "It's hit and miss," my author friend, Etan, told me. He writes and sells children's books and does a bang up job of it. So when I wasn't selling, I was networking. People who came up to talk to me at my booth were incredibly generous with their time and information. I accumulated lots of good ideas for my next incarnation into a speaker. I had to remind myself that my life, my work was a process in motion. Fluid and always positive.
Sunday brought some good sales but more heart-felt conversation about living a full life after 50. People shared stories, gave me thumbs up, smiles, laughter. Some even returned from the day before to thank me for the honesty of the book. A man who is a tango dancer wanted to talk tango. I gave him some tips about the tango walk. I riffed on the bliss of meditation as a meabs to open the mind. One young man came up to my booth, looked at the book cover, and handed me a card. "Did you ever think about putting your book on audio?" he asked. I looked at him as if he had two heads. "Wow! Did you read my mind? I've been putting that off for months," I enthusiastically told him. "I sure am interested." "Well, you've got a great voice," he said. "Would you like to do some readings for other books. Most people don't want to read their own books." Bingo! What a great day!
Keep an open mind, have an open heart, don't label what is in front of you, don't resist the present and surprises will come. I have no idea what will come out of the book festival this weekend at USC - certainly anything that comes my way would be somewhat different from a book festival at UCLA. The energy convergence is unique. So it's impossible to have any kind off expectation of an outcome. Yet, that's the beauty in life. Stay calm and serene and enjoy the grace of life. Oh, yeah.