Persona non grata

return_to_the_womb-1127140012m“Going to the cinema is like returning to the womb; you sit there still and meditative in the darkness, waiting for life to appear on the screen.” – Federico Fellini

When I first read this quote, I read it as “Going to the cinema is like returning to the womb; you sit there still and meditative in the darkness, waiting for YOUR life to appear on the screen.” Cynical. The last part of the quote is “One should go to the cinema with the innocence of a fetus”. He was obviously saying that a person should keep an open mind when viewing a new movie, without preconceived ideas. Or going even further, without your own mind even being involved.

Fellini, a five time Oscar winner, best known for his 1960 film La Dolce Vita, was deeply spiritual. Raised Catholic, in 1963 he was introduced to LSD which deepened his spirituality and alleviated his religulous-ness. Subsequent to this experience, his films reflected a new found wisdom as the psychological and mystic aspects of humanity became more pronounced. For Fellini:

“…objects and their functions no longer had any significance. All I perceived was perception itself, the hell of forms and figures devoid of human emotion and detached from the reality of my unreal environment. I was an instrument in a virtual world that constantly renewed its own meaningless image in a living world that was itself perceived outside of nature. And since the appearance of things was no longer definitive but limitless, this paradisiacal awareness freed me from the reality external to my self. The fire and the rose, as it were, became one…”

Many times I have looked to the silver screen for answers – and I still do. My heroes live up there. I’m taught what it means to be a man up there. What’s “cool”. What’s dangerous, thought provoking, scary, honorable. It’s art. They are the in-your-face and subliminal cues we all take for granted in the name of fulfillment through theater. And I will argue that you only take from movies and media those things which somehow align with who you already are. The reason I like the movie Point Break is because there is some-thing in inside of me desperate for that adventure.

Still, too often, my cynicism entreats itself. A love affair with the dark side. A figure I continue to chase which is why in incorrectly read Fellini’s quote.

“This great evil, where’s it come from? How’d it steal into the world? What seed, what root did it grow from? Who’s doing this? Who’s killing us, robbing us of life and light, mocking us with the sight of what we might’ve known? Does our ruin benefit the earth, does it help the grass to grow, the sun to shine? Is this darkness in you, too? Have you passed through this night?” – The Thin Red Line

Exit stage left.

Persona. The Latin meaning of this word is literally “sounding through”. It’s widely known as the mask a classical actor would wear to project the sound of their voices and to portray the character they were playing.


Similarly, it is a metaphor for the masks we wear called the ego, or “I”. It is the role we are playing, the one we show to the world, structured by our parents, society, politics and environment. Of course the mask isn’t real, and the thing we identify with as “I”… isn’t either. It’s an institution. A conglomerate. An idea. As Alan Watts puts it, “you cannot, for example, use the equator to tie up a package, because it’s an abstract, imaginary line”. In the exact same way, the “I” is imaginary. There is no “you”.

This presents us with a wonderful conundrum and an excellent opportunity! To separate that “thing”, that dark figure or feeling of inadequacy from the person patiently waiting underneath.

I am in the middle of reading The War of Art by Steven Pressfield and the other day I was struck dead between the eyes by one of the passages. Steven was discussing the differences between a professional and an amateur, by describing the character traits that each one performs: “an amateur plays for fun, a professional plays for keeps”). A sentiment not unlike George Leonard’s “dabbler”, “hacker”, and “obsessive” in his book Mastery (check that one out too).

“The pro stands at one remove from her instrument— meaning her person, her body, her voice, her talent; the physical, mental, emotional, and psychological being she uses in her work. She does not identify with this instrument. It is simply what God gave her, what she has to work with. She assesses it coolly, impersonally, objectively.
The professional identifies with her consciousness and her will, not with the matter that her consciousness and will manipulate to serve her art. Does Madonna walk around the house in cone bras and come-fuck-me bustiers? She’s too busy planning D-Day. Madonna does not identify with “Madonna.” Madonna employs “Madonna.””
Madonna employs Madonna.
David Bowie employs Ziggy Stardust.
Mozart employs music.
A singer employs her voice.
A person employs an “I”.
Pause for effect
At last night’s Oscars, Viola Davis won for best supporting actress. I love it when the actors are genuine, with tears in their eyes and gratitude in their hearts. In the acceptance speech, which is routinely showered with thank yous by sycophantic slags, she seemed to have a message for all of us: that time is short and we have art within each of us to unfold. Quite literally, our own “acres of diamonds“.
“There’s one place that all the people with the greatest potential are gathered, and that’s the graveyard. People ask me all the time, ‘What kind of stories do you wan to tell, Viola?’ and I say, “Exhume those bodies. Exhume those stories. The stories of the people who dreamed big and never saw those dreams to fruition. People who fell in love and lost.’ I became an artist, and thank God I did, because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life.”
I could say more but I feel like I am rattling on. I get something in my head and it leads to twenty other things.
Federico Fellini came to rest at the age of 73, the day after his 50th wedding anniversary. At his funeral ceremony, “Improvviso dell’Angelo” by Nina Rota was played by trumpeter Mauro Maur (think “The Godfather” and see video). The title of the song means “suddenly an angel”. His tombstone in Rimini, Italy is a huge ship’s prow made of bronze (below). The purpose of a prow of a ship, which is the furthermost forward portion, is to reduce the resistance of the ship as it moves through the water.
Reduce resistance. A good mantra.

The Catastrophe of Success


Aubrey Marcus (CEO Onnit) just introduced me to Tennessee Williams’ “The Catastrophe of Success” in his interview with guest Bryan Callen. Bryan, who I have seen in movies/comedy shows but could never have told you his name, is an amazingly intelligent, irreverent and controversial dude. He’s not mainstream, which I like, and offered up a lot of different books in the interview, which have now graced my Amazon wishlist. Together they weaved a discussion that I highly recommend.

The story, “The Catastrophe of Success” is written by Tennessee Williams as it related to his struggle with fame, notoriety, and all of the usual hauntings associated with overnight achievement. With the meteoric rise of The Glass Menagerie, Tennessee went from living in rented rooms to catered, first class hotel suites. The story at it’s heart is a tale that we should all be weary of the “wolf at the door”. In a goal-focused society such as ours, this is an often elusive idea, with a simplicity that escapes us, although I think you will agree, the theme resonates with a deeper knowing. A knowing that we should all practice for the act of practicing.  One of my favorite quotes from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is that “it’s the sides of the mountain that sustain life, not the top”.

As he begins, Tennessee describes that his life prior to success was his true life and he has now been born into a world where survival and security is no longer and abstraction, but a quantifiable certainty. Terrifying to behold, he spirals downward into an apparent depression like a man stricken with a disease whose mental capacity has not been diminished, but his body no longer functions. He solemnly writes to the death of his former self:

The sort of life that I had had previous to this popular success was one that required endurance, a life of clawing and scratching along a sheer surface and holding on tight with raw fingers to every inch of rock higher than the one caught hold of before, but it was a good life because it was the sort of life for which the human organism is created.

I was not aware of how much vital energy had gone into this struggle until the struggle was removed. I was out on a level plateau with my arms still thrashing and my lungs still grabbing at air that no longer resisted. This was security at last.
My public self, that artifice of mirrors, did not exist here and so my natural being was resumed.

I had to pause here after reading this. “That artifice of mirrors”. WHOOSH! A very Don Draper moment. It would seem it was plucked straight out of a scene from Season 2, Episode 12, where Don is sitting on the back porch of his California home, speaking to his first wife as the Pacific ocean crashes coldly in the distance. “I have been watching my life. It’s right there. I keep scratching at it, trying to get into it. I can’t.”

Tennessee laments about the cleaning staff at the hotel taking care of  “some drunken overprivileged guest’s” vomit and how no one person should have to clean up after another, stating an uncomfortable truth that it is really the person who is being cleaned up after that is truly more pitiful.

Nobody should have to clean up anybody else’s mess in this world. It is terribly bad for both parties, but probably worse for the one receiving the service.

Battle, it seems, is the crucible in which Man is formed. Even if it is the simple and mundane. It is the struggle, not the glory, that makes a Man who he is. As portrayed time and time again, “The Hero’s Journey”, although a  subtle thing which remains unnamed, is always there. Silent like a spider in the corner. Patient. Knowing.

Once you know this is true, that the heart of man, his body and his brain, are forged in a white-hot furnace for the purpose of conflict (the struggle of creation) and that with the conflict removed, the man is a sword cutting daisies, that not privation but luxury is the wolf at the door and that the fangs of this wolf are all the little vanities and conceits and laxities that Success is heir to—-why, then with this knowledge you are at least in a position of knowing where danger lies.

Making this realization, Tennessee moves out of his captivating surroundings and escapes to a shack in Mexico so he can be free to write without the fetters of society. His emancipation was fruitful, in this land without “false dignities and conceits” (as he puts it), and “A Streetcar Named Desire” is born. Prior to this departure, he even went as far as having an additional surgery on his eye to illicit a more genuine response from his acquaintances. Willing to pluck out his eye, literally. A dedicated move by a soul searching for more.

In the end, Tennessee’s message was only intended to be a warning that “security is a kind of death”. Mercifully, he doesn’t leave us without a life raft to cling to. Plainly stated, “that purity of heart is the one success worth having”. In other words, quoting William Saroyan, “In the time of your life-live!”.

And a final reminder:

That time is short and it doesn’t return again. It is slipping away while I write this and while you read it, and the monosyllable of the clock is Loss, loss, loss, unless you devote your heart to its opposition.

I don’t need my receipt, but your printer is jammed

1-0msqmorluavkhyd63tz_7qYesterday was a peculiar day. It was President’s Day and I had the day off. Wait. What? Why President’s Day? I don’t know.

Anyway, it provided to me some solitude due to the fact that the kids were at school and Jenn was working out of the house. I had an entire house to myself in complete quiet. YES!

It came to be, however, that the solitude I desired wasn’t what I was looking for. Allow me to explain.

On Friday I was excited about the idea of a 3 day weekend, knowing that Monday I would have an all day “me” day. I jewel given to me to do with whatever I desired. I mentally planned out my day Sunday night, daydreaming of all the cool stuff I would do: read, write, rest, meditate, practice guitar. No interest in TV or sports. And since I already exercise regularly, I wanted a break from that too. I woke up early enough to see the sun rise* in a cool, clear blue sky.

Throughout the day I did the things I set out to do. Happily. At one point, after I had come inside from being in the yard basking in the sun, the entire neighborhood’s electricity went out. Now, not only did I not have the noise of pattering feet from the kids, I did not have the noise of the fridge, the dishwasher, the air conditioner. Just complete quiet. I heard frogs in the distance, kids playing, the highway. It lasted 20 minutes or so and I soaked it all in, grateful for this opportunity.

By the time my middle daughter got home about 3:45 PM, I had only spoken a few words since they had all left in the morning: “I don’t need my receipt, but your printer is jammed.” That’s it. The rest was my own internal dialogue.

The complete details of the day aren’t that important, only the feeling I had afterwards: loneliness and depression. I meditated and found no anchor. I read and only found a few nuggets of wisdom. I played chords but no song. I could not get to the source. Was I trying too hard? Not hard enough? I’ve felt more enlightened after sitting at my desk all day.

Waking up this morning, I was cold.  Not cold temperature wise, but my soul felt cold. I was depressed. I did not want to get up. The night before, my plan was to do a 4+ mile run, but I had no interest. I tossed and turned, finally awakening, dragging me and my soul to the bathroom. Maybe a run would help.

I felt like somewhere on this run I would find something. It was better than lying in being confused about what I was feeling this way.

I had already pre-loaded a Rich Roll podcast and used this as the catalyst for getting my ass out the door. Maybe Rich would have the answer.

Rich was interviewing Douglas Abrams who established his own publishing company, Idea Architects. The podcast, so far (run time of 90+ mins so I didn’t finish it) surrounds the architecture of Doug’s once in a lifetime convergence of Archbishop Tutu and the Dalai Lama, which culminated into the writing of a book called The Book of Joy.

“Suffering, is actually, a perfect crucible or a mechanism for cultivating greater joy.” This said by RR and neither of the heavyweights who wrote the book. 😉

In the podcast, Doug mentions Edith Eger, a psychologist, but more important a survivor of Auschwitz who was made to dance in the presence of Dr. Joseph Mengele (check out her 2015 blogpost on Huffington Post). On her way to the camp, her mother told her “We don’t know where we’re going. We don’t know what’s going to happen. Just remember, no one can take away from you what you put here in your own mind.” Reading this immediately brought tears to my eyes. Sometimes when you see a truth so simply, it moves you. Blow off the dust. It’s right there.

Victim vs. Survivor. About 30 minutes ago I texted my wife. I told her that I felt like I have been trained all my life to work for someone else. The entrepreneurial spirit snuffed out by an algorithm that has an affinity for homeostasis. And like a prisoner who is finally free, but can’t make a decision on their own due to the institutionalization that they have endured, I sat seemingly powerless. Impotent.

There’s a scene at the end of the Shawshank Redemption where Red (Morgan Freeman) is bagging groceries at a grocery store shortly after he was released from the penitentiary:

Red: Rest room break, boss?
[the manager indicates for Red to come over]
Food-Way Manager: You don’t need to ask me every time you need to go take a piss. Just go. Understand?
Red: Yes, sir.
Red: [narrating] Forty years I’ve been asking permission to piss. I can’t squeeze a drop without say-so.

Victim vs. Survivor. About 15 minutes after texting my wife, I read Edith’s article (above). In it she says “The biggest concentration camp is in our mind”.

Red: [narrating] There’s a harsh truth to face. No way I’m gonna make it on the outside.
[Red stops outside a pawn shop window to look at some guns then past to a compass]
All I do any more is think of ways to break my parole, so maybe they’d send me back.
[Red is sat in his room alone]
A terrible thing to live in fear.  All I want is to be back where things make sense, where I won’t have to be afraid all the time.

Big sigh. Breathe in… breathe out. Breathe IN… Breathe OUT. Repeat.

There are two ways to look at the picture below.

1) A prisoner, who was once a writer, is being locked in.

2) A person, who became a writer, being released.


Red: [narrating] I find I’m so excited I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it’s the excitement only a free man can feel. A free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain.

*I have seen more sun rises in 2017 than I did for the entire year last year. #5AMclub

I’ll take Goethe for $400

cool-butterfly-loving-butterflies-nature-on-blue-stones-wallpaperYesterday I met with my coach and of the many things we talked about, which usually bring on a wealth of emotion, the poem below was one of them. I am grateful that it was read aloud to me. I’ve heard it said that “not everyone has a coach, but everyone deserves one.”

Written in 1814 by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, famous for Faust  and Prometheus,  the poem is a magical and mystical cautionary tale. There are four lines in particular that resonate very deeply with me.

1.Tell a wise person, or else keep silent, because the mass man will mock it right away

The term “mass man” can be translated as “the crowd”. He’s essentially saying to be careful who to show your freak flag to, for “the wise store up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool invites ruin” (Proverbs 10:14).

2. …obsession with darkness

I did’t expect this to hit me the way it did. I have spent way too much time here, in this place of darkness. Thinking it was a safe place to hide. Screaming at it in the dark. Sweating through my childhood dreams. Where did it come from? This construct. “Fear is the path to the dark side” – Master Yoda.

3. …a strange feeling comes over you, when you see the silent candle burning

Mediation. The breath. “You will know (the good from the bad) when you are calm, at peace.” – Master Yoda.

4. “As so long as you haven’t experienced this: to die and so to grow, you are only a troubled guest on the dark earth.”

Broken open. I get it.

As an interesting side note, Goethe was not only a writer and statesmen, he was a scientist and wrote extensively about color theory and at one time had the largest private collection of minerals in Europe (17,800 samples). His theory on the spectrum of light (the colors we see) is that through a prism, it can be deduced that the color arises where the light meets the dark. He goes on to say that “light is the simplest most undivided most homogenous being that we know. Confronting it is the darkness…shade is a part of light. It sounds absurd when I express it; but so it is…colors, which are shadow and the result of shade, are the light itself.”


The Holy Longing

poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


Tell a wise person, or else keep silent,

because the mass man will mock it right away.

I praise what is truly alive,

what longs to be burned to death.


In the calm water of the love-nights,

where you were begotten, where you have begotten,

a strange feeling comes over you,

when you see the silent candle burning.


Now you are no longer caught in the obsession with darkness,

and a desire for higher love-making sweeps you upward.


Distance does not make you falter.

Now, arriving in magic, flying,

and finally, insane for the light,

you are the butterfly and you are gone.

And so long as you haven’t experienced this: to die and so to grow,

you are only a troubled guest on the dark earth.


As these things tend to do, coincidences show up. Last evening I was introduced to this song:


The Movie


I have no doubt that you all agree with me and that every one of you have a soundtrack playing in your mind everywhere you go. I jump in the car and find the perfect playlist. Is it a Cure day? U2? Metallica? Beastie Boys? Ooh! or Miles Davis. Nah, Blink 182.

Like a scene from the Breakfast Club or American Pie, I imagine an anthem automatically begins as I walk triumphantly out of the office, onto the soccer pitch (or anywhere, really)… don’t, don’t, don’t you, forget about me! Someday I will walk out of my office building, pump my fist to the sky, and begin again.

Until then…

A lyric coming to mind lately is from Jim Morrison’s “The Movie”. It’s a pretty dark poem, but two specific lines have been running through my mind that are more illuminating to me than depressing:

Did you have a good world when you died?
Enough to base a movie on?

Legacy. How will I be remembered? Do I care? Is love more important than security? I’ve heard a lot of rants about legacy and my ear has been bent towards the evangelicals preaching the message. I think men of a certain age (women too) begin to consider about how they will be remembered, outside of the day to day. As we age and mortality sinks in, it’s a natural progression to bounce down the path of “who gives a shit?”. And I think this is the tipping point in our lives where the accumulation of “things” transforms into the accumulation of “moments”. It’s the moments in movies that grab us the most, right? Give us something to ponder, something to be pissed at, make us strong, motivated, …make us human. Catharsis! Come on, it’s what all people on a path want.

I honestly can not think of a single great movie that I’ve watched where afterwards, I wanted to go and buy something. Although I felt like I could kick some ass after the Karate Kid! I need to make a list of these movies. I have a shortlist, but nothing comprehensive.

I do, however, keep a list of characters I identify with (scroll all the way down: It’s a cool intellectual exercise to go through the faces and try to understand why I assign certain parts of my own psyche to these characters. Most make sense: Han Solo, Connor MacLeod, Ben Finnegan, anything Jason Statham does. But why do I relish in the depths of Don Draper? The Godfather? Tyler Durden? Rust Cohle? Those are more subtle and disturbing. What part of ME is in THEM? What part of THEM, is in ME?

Any-who. Lots of questions. And who am I kidding, I know EXACTLY why Tyler Durden is appealing. I am Jack’s complete lack of surprise.

For effect, here are the lyrics for The Movie. I highly recommend listening to the entire album…with headphones on (Jim whispers in your ear).

The movie will begin in five moments
The mindless voice announced
All those unseated will await the next show.

We filed slowly, languidly into the hall
The auditorium was vast and silent
As we seated and were darkened, the voice continued.

The program for this evening is not new
You’ve seen this entertainment through and through
You’ve seen your birth your life and death
you might recall all of the rest
Did you have a good world when you died?
Enough to base a movie on?

I’m getting out of here
Where are you going?
To the other side of morning
Please don’t chase the clouds, pagodas

It’s alright; all your friends are here
When can I meet them?
After you’ve eaten
I’m not hungry
Uh, we meant beaten

Silver stream, silvery scream

Oooooh, impossible concentration.

George Gray

One of the surprising little books I came across many years ago in my tenure as an under-grad was the book “Spoon River Anthology” by Edgar Lee Masters. The story, which is actually a collection of poems, is read in first person by people (all 212 of them) who inhabited a Midwest town in the early 1900s.
This morning, after consuming a short snippet of Neil deGrasse Tyson asking Larry King “if you could live forever, would you?”, I was reminded of George Gray, a character in the book.

The sentences below have haunted me ever since I was introduced to them.

“I have studied many times
The marble which was chiseled for me–
A boat with a furled sail at rest in a harbor.
In truth it pictures not my destination
But my life.
For love was offered me and I shrank from its disillusionment;
Sorrow knocked at my door, but I was afraid;
Ambition called to me, but I dreaded the chances.
Yet all the while I hungered for meaning in my life.
And now I know that we must lift the sail
And catch the winds of destiny
Wherever they drive the boat.
To put meaning in one’s life may end in madness,
But life without meaning is the torture
Of restlessness and vague desire–
It is a boat longing for the sea and yet afraid.”

If you know the book, you’ll know that all of the characters have died. Some rant, complain, gossip, pontificate, or in George’s case, which is the worse, in my opinion: regret. He lies pondering his life as he looks up at his tombstone: “the marble chiseled for me”. Chilling.

You look terrible, Mr. Waturi

joeflourescent“You look terrible, Mr. Waturi. You look like a bag of shit stuffed in a cheap suit. Not that anyone could look good under these zombie lights. I, I, I, I can feel them sucking the juice out of my eyeball. Suck, suck, suck, SUCK…”

This is one of my favorite scenes from one of my favorite movies said by the eminently talented Tom Hanks in “Joe Versus the Volcano“. The movie was released in 1990 and since the day I saw it, this scene has stuck with me (start at 4:00 if you want to jump right to it).

It’s a weird story that on its surface, is nothing more than an adventure. But oh no, there is so much more! Essentially, the movie is a version of Joseph Campbell’s “A Hero’s Journey“: a regular person going on an adventure, facing crisis is victorious, and returns fundamentally changed.

The story is about Joe. Joe is boring. A drone. Part of an ecosystem built on fear and the mechanization of human beings. As the movie begins, everything is dark, blue, and grey. Depressing. Employees, all dressed similarly, file languidly into a humongous blanched building that is belching filth into the sky. Joe notices a small flower growing between the cracks of the damp pavement and quickly, someone steps on it. No one gets out alive. They all walk towards the building, on a zig-zag sidewalk where no one takes a short cut. Potentially a metaphor for the oftentimes senseless “processes” companies require employees to endure. (note, more about that zig-zag later)

Actually, this blog post isn’t about the movie at all. It’s about fluorescent lights. Ignored by Thomas Edison, in 1895 one of his former employees, Daniel Moore, successfully created a gas-filled lamp that was quickly utilized in commercial capacities due to its energy efficiency. But since 1895, I haven’t seen any vast improvement of the actual light these things give off. In today’s office, these things bathe an entire floor plan in a blueish/white, pale rendering of real life. And they flicker! Almost unnoticeable to the naked eye, they flicker and give me a headache and make me nauseous. Funny enough, Wikipedia says I don’t know what I’m talking about:

“Fluorescent lamps with magnetic ballasts flicker at a normally unnoticeable frequency of 100 or 120 Hz and this flickering can cause problems for some individuals with light sensitivity; they are listed as problematic for some individuals with autism, epilepsy, lupus, chronic fatigue syndrome, Lyme disease, and vertigo.”

This sounds like propaganda written by GE. “Problematic” my ass. :/

It goes on to say that these lights can “degrade the pigments in paintings and bleach the dyes used in textiles”. So what does it do to something as sensitive as the human eye?

In my office, and offices I have inhabited for many years, I shut off the fluorescent lights and carted in my own, something similar to what Joe does in the movie with his tiki lamp. I like a more “cafe” style lighting that gives a warm glow instead of the Silkwood shower vibe. Strangely, its almost too comfortable for some folks who come into my office and sit as they listen to my Thievery Corporation or instrumental Beastie Boys playing gently in the background (hit me up for the Spotify playlist).

And that zig-zag sidewalk. The same shape can also be found on the wall of Joe’s apartment, the lightning bolt that strikes the ship, the meandering of the lava down the volcano. Some think it represents the Devil. I think that, indirectly, it’s fate. It’s a warning sign that you are not on the correct path. I have a feeling that these lights are a sign for me, one that I have drowned out by decorating these spaces with something more familiar.