Monthly Archives: January 2006

Letting God off the hook

I had coffee recently with a single, age-appropriate woman who was recommended by the guy who cuts my hair. H, as I will call her, was very pleasant and personable, and attractive, too. But the hairdresser said she was 5-foot-8 to 5-10, although he was a little vague about that and it should have been a warning to me.

H owned up to being "5-foot-1 and a quarter," far below what I’m looking for in a partner. But she was good company, and I figured there was some reason we’d been brought together and I was curious to see what it might be. It surfaced when the conversation shifted from children, former spouses and writing to spiritual beliefs.

A corporate move brought H to Atlanta five years ago, and three years later she lost her job. After 19 months of searching, during which time she started writing a book, she found a job at last. Problem is, she hates the job and loved writing, which she has no time for now.

H attends a church in the northern suburbs that is extremely popular and has generated satellite churches, including one known as "rock ‘n’ roll church" that is particularly attractive to teenagers. H  believes that she is generally responsible for her life, but that God caused her to lose her that job and led her to this job she hates, and she can’t understand why.

"I pray that He will show me what He wants," she said, but as of ten days ago she still had no answer.

The idea that God is an active participant in our lives has become fashionable of late. Consider:

• Evangelist Pat Robertson announced that the stroke suffered by Israeli leader Ariel Sharon was God’s way of expressing his anger with Israel’s plan to pull out of Gaza.

• Mayor Ray Nagin claimed that God devastated New Orleans with hurricanes Katrina and Rita because "He doesn’t approve of us being in Iraq" and because black Americans were "not taking care of ourselves."

• After missing a field goal that would have tied the NFL playoff between the Indianapolis Colts and the Pittsburgh Steelers, kicker Mike Vanderjagt of the Colts said, "I guess the Lord forgot the football team."

• Finally, al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden said recently that terrorists have, "with God’s grace," infiltrated the U.S. and are preparing to launch attacks "with God’s permission."

Presuming to know what’s on God’s mind is tricky business. Still, comments like those deserve some kind of response because they give God a bad name.

I’ve run into hundreds of people who are turned off at the very mention of God. A lot of them, I suspect, have had rubbish like the things Robertson and bin Laden said shoved down their throats under the guise of religion. And, seeing the hypocrisy, the childishness, the violence and the utter failure of reason, they turn away from God.
Which is too bad, because I’m guessing the Creator is nothing like the absurd Old Testament God of wrath, and is eminently worthy of our trust.

I suggested to H that rather than blaming a capricious deity for her job loss, that she take responsibility for it. She frowned. She’d been a good employee, done good work, flossed regularly and never parked in the handicap spots. How could it be her fault?

Well, the same was true for me when I was laid off in 2001. I’d done nothing wrong, I just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. But it was my choice to be there. No one held a gun to my head any more than anyone forced H to remain with her company.

Times changed, and we lost our jobs. Unfortunate, perhaps, but holding God responsible for it is foolish and irresponsible. It makes us out to be victims. And if we’re victims, then we have no power. We respond to life rather than creating it.

I studied for a time with an aikido teacher who insisted that we take responsibility for everything in our lives, including the weather. If you were late for an appointment, you didn’t blame the traffic or red lights or getting lost, you were late. Period. No excuses.

It was wonderfully liberating, and a key, I think, to true spirituality. The more I let go of excuses and agendas and take responsibility, the more powerful I am and the better my life is. There’s even an old saying about taking responsibility that leaves open the possibility of divine intervention: "The Lord helps those who help themselves."

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Walking the talk

The Patriots were up 21-3 late in the third quarter, the sound was on MUTE, the cat was snoring under the fleece blanket next to me on the couch and I was reading an email from one of my agents.

Was I willing to go to Savannah to audition for a National Prilosec commercial? Nothing about a script, what role I’d be auditioning for or how much the job paid.

"And what," I wrote in my reply, "is National Prilosec?"

But this much I knew immediately: after blogging last week about getting out of my comfort zone and doing the improbable, I was getting a chance to do just that. And the question was, would I take the challenge, or would I find a way once again to say "no"?

My first thought was straight out of the behavioral attic was "There’s no way I’m driving eight or nine hours at my own expense to compete with scores of others guys for a role I probably won’t get."

I glanced up just then to catch the end of a commercial and scrambled to get the sound on before it ended. The sponsor was Prilosec, which as you may know, is a medication for acid reflux. One question answered.

As for the national part, the agent said on the phone Monday, "It’s booked for the networks and cable. It’s a long way to go, and I understand if you don’t want to make the trip, but it could be a nice little package."

A few years ago, she said, she booked an actor on a Zocor commercial that, with residuals, paid $30,000. No mistaking the implications: I could make more in one day of shooting than I made all last year.

Still, I hesitated. Agreeing to go meant one round trip for the first audition, a second round trip for the callback or second audition, and a third for the shoot. And, again, there was no guarantee whatsoever that I’d even get past the first round. But then, the chances of getting a part are never good.

Even now, I’m not clear what changed my mind. For two days, all I could think about was the long drive — especially if I were alone. There was also the matter of a lifelong, irrational anxiety that my car would break down on a long trip and the cost of repairs would be ruinous.

Perhaps it was the encouragement of my friend, J, an amateur astrologer who swore that Mercury was sweetly aligned and urged me  to make the trip. Whatever it was, a feeling came over me the next morning as I talked to the agent about finding someone to share the ride with.

"I’ll mark you down as going if you find someone to ride with," she said.

"No," I said, "I’m going whether I get someone to ride with or not."

The force and the conviction in those words surprised me. I’m a world-class equivocator. It’s one thing to get up one morning and decide you’re going to start saying yes to life. It’s another to gert up the next morning, and the next and the next, and do it.

And yet as we milled around in the waiting room of an office in a scrufty complex on the outskirts of Savannah, I was surprised to hear the other actors — eight or ten of them — had wrestled with the same question: "Am I crazy for doing this?"

Acting, of course, is notoriously insecure as businesses go, and you’d better have a rock-solid sense of self or be remarkably good. Or both. And even at that, it would be wise to have additional sources of income.

I’d love to say I got a callback and a part in the commercial, but I got neither. The agent says the client changed the commercial to focus on women, and that the men who were chosen were reduced to being day-rate extras.

But I’m glad I went. The actress who rode down and back with me – 520 miles, round trip – gave me several ideas to enhance my career, and that alone was worth the trip.

Even more important, though, was simply deciding to go. Making that decision put me in touch with something hopeful and positive, a sense of movement and what I’d like to think is a shift in attitude. My hope is that it is genuine and lasting, that at last I’ve connected with the energy that is uniquely mine and that I can operate from that place from now on.

But that’s where I am today.  We’ll see about tomorrow. 

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Doing the improbable

After conducting a highly unscientific survey, I have come to the conclusion that new year’s resolutions are dying out.  Noboby seems to be making them any more, with the exception of actress Marva Hicks who said recently that she resolved last year "Not to stab anyone," and it worked so well she was renewing it.

The people I polled seemed to feel that if something is important enough to resolve, it ought to be attended to immediately rather than waiting around for Dick Clark — now sounding like Boris Karloff since his stroke — to confer legitimacy upon it.

However, I did come across an interesting piece in the January Outside magazine which raises the issue not of resolutions, but of remorse.

"Go Big," says the headline. "Because every second you’re not living life to the fullest is an opportunity missed – and the clock is ticking."

Outside’s list of 50 "no-regets, full-throttle, see-the-world…things to do before you die" range from climbing an 8,000-meter peak (note: that’s meters, not feet) to learning the constellations to swimming in a bioluminescent sea to climbing Kilimanjaro without losing your lunch.

Others include climbing El Capitan; planting a tree each year on your birthday; keeping bees; driving the great coastal highways in the U.S., Australia and South Africa; sailing across the Atlantic; racing in the Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii; making a perfect martini; and buying a one-way ticket to a country where you don’t speak the language, and staying until you learn it.

Obviously, this is a take-no-prisoners approach, and requires a spirit of adventure – along with the time and the drachmas – to check even 10 or 15 off that list.

But what I like is that it defies conventional notions of what is reasonable and rational. It puts a face on the idea of living large, of doing the improbable and embracing the memorable. And it challenges the comfortable, barstool wisdom that few of us on our deathbeds will wish we’d spent more time in the office.

Really? Then DO something.

When I graduated from college, I had a wife and two kids. Rather than going to graduate school, I took a job at a newspaper, secretly regretting that I couldn’t pack a bag and go to Europe. (I was reading a lot of Hemingway in those days.)

I made it to Europe later – three times, in fact – and Japan, Canada, Hong Kong, Mexico, Bermuda and the Virgin Islands, too. I’ve been to 47 states and lived in paradise – Hawaii – for 10 years, so I can’t complain.

Still, Outside’s list reminds me of roads not taken. My spirit of adventure has been buried for years, but it is not dead, and after reading Outside I made my own list.

It begins with a trip to Italy, something I’d planned to do in 2001. But I got laid off in January of that year and rather than go while I was still on severance – which would have been the smart thing to do – I vowed there would be no such frivolity until I assured myself of new sources of income.

Five years later, my income is even more unpredictable now than it was then. The only vacations I’ve taken have been visits with my family which, while rewarding, are not the free-spirited experiences my soul aches for. 

My list also includes: going on a meditation retreat; writing a book; medicating my cat single-handed (which is like trying to floss an alligator); overcoming a fear; practicing a chi kung pose called the Tree; taking up painting; and finish cleaning out the emotional rubbish from my past. Also, I am reserving the right to change my European destination to Paris, a city I’ve sworn not to visit until I have a partner.

Reviewing the list, I can also see that it is incomplete. Other things will arise, and some will disappear. In fact, I’ve already accomplished one of my goals. Just this week, I finished giving my cat 14 doses of clavamox, and our relationship does not seem to have suffered.

Ultimately, I think, the issue is about saying "yes" to life rather than "no." It’s about creating a sturdy reality out of thin air. In my current circumstances, for example, it is unrealistic in the extreme to think about a trip to Europe. But what if I focus on what I want rather than what I do not have or think I cannot do? What happens if I invest my energy in optimism and faith rather than doubt and negativity?

I don’t know, but I intend to find out.

Happy New Year.

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