Curious Jane

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If you’re not a naturally curious person – or, like me, are someone predisposed to restlessness, depression, boredom or complacency – it’s easy to fall into a rut of mere…existence.  Even if you are none of the above, there are too many days we all spend lying around watching or living the equivalent of bad reality television.  Or even worse, munching on our favorite snack foods of choice (Note:  Mine are Whole Foods organic corn chips and Trader Joe’s hummus) as we endlessly scroll down a list of never-ending social media feeds of our choice.

I think of this when they say the world is more divided than ever.  And no – you are not the only one.

Perhaps this is a mere by-product of western civilization and one of the side “benefits” of living in a country that, despite its recent economic hardships, still has a population that on the whole live better than most anywhere else in the world.  But I don’t think so.  As you get older you realize the world is generally divided into two kinds of people – the doers and the thinking about doing; the engaged and the I’m sooo tired and please pass the drugs or the cookies kind of guy/gal.  Depending on where we’re at in our lives, the overwhelming majority of us alternate between both types – sometimes even in the same day, week or even – hour. (Note: Guilty as charged).

Queen Fonda

Queen Fonda

Jane Fonda received the American Film Institute’s life achievement award this past week – only the eighth female honoree in 42 years – and in the closing marks of her acceptance speech left us with this sage advice:

It’s much more important to be interested than be interesting.

That might seem like a paradoxical statement coming from one of the most interesting American women (whether you like her or not) in the last century but it got me to thinking – doesn’t one beget the other?  In order to be interesting – especially to yourself, don’t you have to stay interested?  I mean, what’s worse than hearing the endless drone of your same complaining, miserable inner voice verbalizing the same continuously familiar issues you’ve had with the world or your friends, family and self for the last decade, year, or even less?  Nothing.  Not even the prospect of Andy Cohen’s recently announced reality series on Bravo entitled – “I Slept With a Celebrity.”  Though admittedly that does come a close second.

Ugh... envy is not my color.

I can’t deal with this guy

But back to Jane.  Anybody’s who’s read this blog knows I have an unrequited love affair with La Fonda, in great part due to her extreme intelligence, talent and ability to transform herself for so many decades into so many areas of accomplishments that have impacted the world in both small, great and arguably, even not so great ways.  Not to mention, she still looks good at 76.  Yeah, she’s had advantages of birth, money and talent in getting there – but the world is littered with dead or screwed up millionaires and members of royalty, not to mention the horribly altered faces of celebrity plastic surgeries at much younger ages.  There’s got to be something else, doesn’t there?

To stay engaged and curious and, well, interested in something other than yourself or The Housewives of FillintheBlank is an essential antidote not only to aging but to one’s predisposition towards boring oneself and others literally to death.  Actually, it’s more than that – it’s a miracle cure.  Because nothing takes you more quickly out of yourself or your own ennui than trying something new or forcing yourself to speak to someone else about anything other than you.

Jon Hamm approves.

Jon Hamm approves.

But make no mistake – changing it up with something or someone else does not necessarily mean you will feel better. I mean, put on Fox News or MSNBC at any moment on any given day and you could easily feel angrier than you have in weeks.  Plus, more often than not you have to hold yourself back from throwing something very heavy and large at the television screen.  But even that impulse has at least gotten you out of the endless morass of complacency and given you a new reason to live – if for no other reason than to douse a very large vat of stale sour cream all over the poufy hair of Sarah Palin when she bellows that the father of a recently released, sick POW of five years is anti-American because he chose to grow a long beard and speak the language of his son’s captors in order to get them to listen as he pled for his boy’s life for well over half a decade.

Yeah, I’ll take the prospect of stale sour cream dripping (slowly and messily) down Sarah Palin’s noggin over crippling depression or an endless loop of Hashtags about the Twilight The Fault in our Stars movie any day of the week, month or year, thank you.

stop the violence

stop the violence

In the last few weeks since returning from my first and fabulously perfect trip to Italy – a journey I’ve wanted to make for 30 years but found countless excuses not to ever go on – I’ve been on a roll of forcing myself to do a bunch of new things.  And when I say force, believe me – it’s a constant struggle.  Because in my brain, chips, dip and mindless TV are ALWAYS calling.

Still, without even giving up the chips and dip totally (Note: Because who can or would even want to) I have also managed to break through all resistance and:

  1. Attend the LA Opera version of “A Streetcar Named Desire” starring Renee Fleming downtown at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.  Listen, I’m not terribly interested in anything operatic – okay, not in the least – but I have to tell you I am still amazed at the unbridled originality on that stage.   Plus, fun fact – did you know Ms. Fleming, the most famous still working opera singer in the entire world today, is actually from – Syracuse, NY?

    a different side of the stage

    a different side of the stage

  2. Read the best account of why it’s not okay to let people hire you to write for free.  It was on the blog page of the digital NY Times– something I never read.  Yet in my new strategy of making more of “an effort” I actually click and read something I was referred to by Twitter in its entirety and found that I’m far from alone in being offended by the fact that Arianna Huffington pays NO WRITERS (other than the few she has on staff) at The Huffington Post any money at all. And I pass this on not only as a service to other writers or to those who aspire to write for anyone other than themselves at any time in their lives but also to all their future free-loading employers  (Note:  No, it is not lost on me that I am not being paid to write any of this for you nor do any of you have to pay to read it. (#LifeIronies #StillFigurinThatOut).
  3. Have even met a new producer I am about to be in business with.  I can’t go into the details yet (Note:  I don’t mean to sound Hollywood but, well, I guess I do live here) though suffice it to say that as a creative artist you find stories to tell in the strangest of ways.  And often it’s in the form of random introductions from others you know who happen to speak with someone they know or work with on the fly.  If you don’t believe me, let me add that someone very close to me had that exact same experience just several days ago but with different people (Bottom Line: If no one took the time to speak and really hear from a random somebody – nothing – and certainly none of this stuff you can’t but one day will be able to talk about – would ever happen.

    The Divine Mr. Puddles

    The Divine Mr. Puddles

  4. Change my mind about performance art and hear one of my new favorite singers in the world perform live.  So what if he’s an almost 7 foot tenor in a clown suit named Puddles?  I have tickets this week to see him in Hollywood in a show called “Puddles Pity Party.”  Yeah, I’ve posted his songs before but can you imagine the guy in the flesh????  It almost beats singing show tunes at the top of my lungs in the shower while pretending I’m onstage at Carnegie Hall.  And all because I chose to indulge a Facebook friend who kept insisting I actually watch and listen to a video from a dude who headlined some weird show at some local bars in Atlanta.

(Side Note:  Puddles works with a great YouTube site called PostModernJukebox.  Do you know that in a bookstore in Rome, Italy three weeks ago I heard this terrific young singer in the background on their sound system and when I asked the gals behind the counter who it was they told me they didn’t know her name but they found her on that very same You Tube site?  And you thought it was just me and sometimes you if you make an effort who find this “nameless” new stuff no one else wants to hear about until they do?)

Of course, this all begs the question of the true value in social media.  Certainly there is something awfully mind-numbing about refreshing your Facebook feed for hours on end a la the fictional Mark Zuckerberg in Social Network or falling into the dark pit of a three-hour You Tube surfing loop that begins at midnight as I recently did several days ago.  However, social media used for good – that is, for curiosity and discovery and, well, 21st century learning – can actually be a positive force for us all.

Using those fingers for good

Using those fingers for good

The fabulously talented Helen Mirren – a dame I usually love, disagrees.  In a recent cover story for AARP magazine, where she was interviewed from her villa in Tuscany (is there an Italian theme here?), the 68-year-old actress had the following to say about the time-suckingness (it’s a word now!) of the media the rest of us like to refer to as, among other things, social.

 It reminds me of a stinky old pub.  In the corner would be this slightly disgusting old man who sits there all day, every day.  If you went up and talked to him, you’d get the kind of grumpy, horrible, moldy, old meaningless crap that you read on Twitter.

Well, at least she’s got an opinion.  And I’m willing to give HM a pass since I met her at a private screening for six people at a filmmaker’s home some years ago and can report she was smart, funny and overall pretty fabulous.  See, the truth is, like all the rest of us she might feel this way about Twitter and the like on any given day but I doubt in the blankedly dismissive way it comes across in that story.  Though there would have been no way for me to know that had I not gotten up and out of my house that night to attend that very small rough cut screening of a low budget film I almost wound up not going to at all out of sheer…unmotivation.

(Side Note:  Is it just me (that is to say, more than it usually is) or is it to the overall discredit of AARP, an organization touting the virtues of those 50 and over, that they put someone who looks as good as Ms. Mirren on their cover and then felt obliged to airbrush out her true looks to resemble that of a wispy 25 or even 35 year old?

She's thinking: I wonder if they'll photoshop me within an inch of my life?

She’s thinking: I wonder if they’ll photoshop me within an inch of my life?

I’m not sure if they’d do that to Jane Fonda, but mentioning her once again does provide me a segue into one final piece of advice on what to do when you’re too caught up in yourself and not enough at the world around you.  And I leave you with this not because I’m obsessed this week with the opinions of larger-than-life female movie stars (Note: this week?) but that…okay, well, maybe I am.

What can I say... the Chair loves me!

What can I say… the Chair loves me!

Reflecting on the rare opportunities she has had to meet, work with and get to know such legendary actors in the past as Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck, Katharine Hepburn and Lee Marvin – and to have had still another legend, Henry Fonda, as her own father – Jane had this to say to the crowd at the AFI, and to all of us.

I’ve been blessed to know many geniuses; real geniuses in our business…and so many are gone now.  And I (now) ask myself, “Why didn’t I ask them more questions?  When you’re with people who have been at it a long time, ask questions.

Not to mention – even if they’re new to it they still might able to teach you something you didn’t already know.  Or wake you from your lethargy and cause you to move forward.

Keep Calm and…

So says the Queen!

So says the Queen!

I get really annoyed with people who tell me to calm down.  What I hear is:  you’re hysterical for no reason – try to behave like a normal person – there’s no reason to get so excited – you’re blowing blankety-blank out of proportion and – the absolute worst –- grow up! On the other hand, I don’t mind when I tell myself to chill out or when a very select and very, very small (miniscule, really) group of loved ones give me a sideways glance now and again suggesting I just might not want to say what I am about to say or act like I am about to act.  On rare occasions I don’t even mind words like “relax,” “stop,” or “you don’t really want to do that, do you?”  In fact, I have even learned lately to do that for myself. Holiday time, which, let’s face it, starts right after Thanksgiving and ends a couple of days into the new year, will undoubtedly bring out a lot of calm downs from both directions — either from you or, if your life is anything like mine, to you.  But either one of those are akin to a well-meaning someone registering you for a yoga class against your will or a well-meaning you deciding to drag someone to your yoga class because you know, without a shadow of a doubt, that it will be good for them.

Of course, I would never drag you to yoga since I like bouncing around to loud music when I exercise (if you substitute yoga for watching Homeland on Sunday nights it might apply).

That's more like it...

That’s more like it…

As for those trying enlist the rest of us into balance and deep breathing against our wills – uh, good luck with that.  Plus, if you’re even thinking of telling someone like me to calm down about it or plan to suggest that this attitude is the very reason to do yoga my answer to you is a simple this: shove it up your Menorah, Christmas tree or appropriate something or other. This does not mean that I am not an advocate of peacefulness or a large helping of calm at this “most wonderful time of the year.” Far from it.  But the calm has to be the choice of the individual, not an imposition by perhaps the very person or thing that is making the individual feel anything but….  For my vegan friends – we get the whole idea of promoting good nutrition but you are not going to insult or intimidate people into your way of thinking.  That only works when I personally do it to members of the religious right who call gay people sinners or claim women shouldn’t have control over their own reproductive rights.  Nor will posting pictures of animals going to the slaughter on Facebook or extolling the merits of a plant-based diet on Thanksgiving or Christmas or Chanukah as your family is about to cut into the white meat, ham or brisket they’ve been looking forward to all year.  That will only serve to make everyone nauseous after dinner and cause you to go into a murderous tofu-fueled rage, yoga or not.

Because that looks comfortable...

Because that looks comfortable…

As any one at a 12-step meeting will testify, you can’t save people who don’t want to be saved.  The best you can do is offer up an alternative path in the discourse of life or provide a helping hand when someone reaches out to the world or specifically comes knocking at your door.  The real radical act is being there for someone (or everyone) not browbeating them into your way of thinking (as if that were possible).  Or, worse yet, browbeating yourself around holiday time for not being the person you thought you’d become and using the this period in particular to sink even further into self abuse, annihilation or your chosen weapon of destructive choice.

Step away from the cookies...

Step away from the cookies…

Taking a breath and then a step back helps with all of this.  As does prioritizing, making lists and realizing you will never get to every single item on your personal spreadsheet because there will always, always, always be more to do.  In truth, the most you can hope for is to reduce the list by a little (or even a lot) and stay a bit ahead of the curve as you drive through the next 28 day obstacle course of twinkling lights, stolen parking spots and petty innuendos from fellow put upon co-workers, friends and family all played out against a cheerily relentless holiday music drone. I learned this the hard way when we threw a party at our house for two hundred plus students last week and in the pouring rain some crazy neighbor lady two houses up (who I had never met) leaned on her horn for five minutes in front of our house and demanded I find the owner of the car parked in front of her house and get them to move so she could conveniently pull her gas-guzzling SUV into what is and will always be a spot on a very public street.  I learned it this month when several friends and family members grew seriously ill and landed in the hospital or, one case, out of it for the very last time.  And I learned it yet again a few days ago when the kitchen ceiling started to leak, I twisted my neck by sitting the wrong way, and I had to stay up till 5 a.m. to finish work that I had seriously procrastinated on that I suddenly realized was absolutely and terrifyingly due the next day.

Tied up at the moment...

Tied up at the moment…

What I tell myself – then and now – is not to calm down but that these are high-class problems of the privileged not living in a third world nation (or that they are merely unavoidable human ones).  And then, amid numerous breaths, I also try to look at the many pleasures of life this week.  The friend who came to visit for a couple of weeks because we live in an age where micro-budgets movies can happen and 12 year old screenplays can indeed see the light of day to great affect.  Or the other party we were also lucky enough to give at our same house the following week for 45 more than deserving kind and lovely call center volunteers for The Trevor Project, the nation’s leading hotline for at risk youth.  Or the fact that for the next four weeks I will actually have time to do some of my own reading and writing and relaxing while clearing my head, recharging and pumping some disposable income into the nation’s economy (and I’m not even a JOB CREATOR!) for stuff I (and others) momentarily want but certainly don’t need.

Not to get too George Bailey/It’s A Wonderful Life on you, but after countless stress-filled holiday seasons, these days there is a light at the end of the tunnel where I’m finally breathing pretty well.  Maybe I’m just tired and find it takes too much effort to be continually worried and pissed off.  Or maybe it’s the new asthma medication and bi-weekly allergy shots that have cleared things up.  But I don’t think so.

The original Master

The original Master

Like most changes in my life, I chalk it up to the movies.  I recently popped into the DVD/DVR/IUD a screener of Hitchcock, a sort of cinema parlor trick on the part of Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren as they evoke the great director and his wife and the turbulence in both their personal and professional worlds during the making of the Master’s iconic film “Psycho.” (Note: this is not the Phillip Seymour Hoffman Master but the nickname of one of the most important filmmakers of ours or any time).   While I can’t say the movie is great, it is certainly great fun at many turns, which certainly makes it worth the effort.  In any event, as I was treated to the iconic Hitchcock greeting of “Goood eeeeevening” while his creepily bouncy theme song played in the background, and as I laughed as his disdain-filled wife described his body as “corpulent” and as I was appalled not by Scarlett Johanssen as Janet Leigh but by the fact that she could only feign terror in her famed Psycho shower scene real enough to satisfy her director only when Hitch himself got his corpulent self up out of his chair and came dangerously close to stabbing her up close and personal — I was reminded of one of his great pronouncements and unintended life lessons – one I’ve quoted before but bears repeating: Ingrid Bergman fretted to the director over something or other during the filming of 1946’s Notorious, probably no more or less nervous that any of the rest of us will be during the next 20 days, which means greatly stressed nonetheless.  And to her great horror, the director – who usually got the chosen result he wanted in any given situation – shot back what is now, and will probably always be, the perfect advice for life.  No, it wasn’t Boo!  It was, quite simply, this:

“Ingrid, it’s only a movie.”

I find this, and this alone, to be the primary reason to continually enjoy and breathe.  As long as it’s still possible.