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).
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.
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.
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.
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:
- 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?
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
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?
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.
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.