In late winter, 2001, I sat on a polished wooden bench in the lobby of the Fourteenth Street Playhouse in Atlanta waiting for Deepak Chopra.
Chopra had just finished another brilliant, seemingly off-the-cuff talk to a sold-out audience, many of whom paid $25 to sit on the floor in the aisles. Chopra was signing books at a small table, and the line stretched from one side of the vaulted room to the other. I had just spoken with one of his assistants, and she whispered to Chopra. He glanced over and nodded.
Toward the end of 2000, I was assigned to write an end-of-the year piece for CNN.com asking experts for their expectations for the coming year. Chopra was one of those people, and we did the interview by telephone.Toward the end of the conversation, I mentioned that I had an idea for a TV series. He said he and his daughter were starting a TV production company, and suggested we talk after the holidays.
The idea had come to me during a conversation with a friend several years before when I was living in northwestern Connecticut. I was recently divorced, unable to find work and not sure what to do.
“You need a niche,” my friend said, and a vision came instantly to mind.
I was walking under a flowering tree with a small man. We wore lavaliere microphones, and our conversation was being recorded by a camera. I knew immediately — and for no good reason I can think of — that this was not a not a one-off experience, but rather part of a series.
I also knew, one, that it was a very good idea and, two, it wasn’t mine. I wasn’t interested in TV, and I didn’t have the ego it takes to be a TV personality. And yet there was an inherent logic that crossed into the silvery realm of purpose: I’m good with people, I’m very good at interviewing them and I was passionate about the theme of the series.
I called Chopra a month later with a newfound sense of urgency. AOL and Time Warner — CNN’s parent company — had merged and I was among the many who were laid off in what came to be known as the worst deal of the century. To make matters worse, journalism was withering, the dot-com implosion was just beginning and jobs in the media were negligible.
So when I called Chopra, I was shopping not just an idea, but my services as well.
I can’t imagine how I kept him on the phone, because the longer we talked, the more certain I was that he wasn’t interested in me. And, why should he be? I was an obscure journalist. I had no on-camera or TV production experience.
Our connection all but died with that second conversation, and decided that Chopra wasn’t trustworthy. But a few months later, when he came to Atlanta on a speaking tour. I called his secretary and said I’d be there, and would like to say hello.
When he finished with the autographs that night, we had a conversation that was almost comically noncommittal.
In person — at least in public — Chopra has an energy field around him like the Klingon cloaking device that makes him remote, untouchable, all but invisible. For someone who is instantly recognizable, it’s probably a necessity. But it seems to forbid any kind of connection.
As for me, I wore the mask of my amiable public self, still hoping for a reprieve, still hoping something might yet come of our connection.
But after a brief, rather stiff exchange, I said goodbye and started across the lobby. He followed, and when I stopped to speak with a guy who earlier had commented on my jacket, Chopra joined us.
“Tell him your name,” he said to me.
“Tell him?” I said.
I looked at the guy and said, “John Christensen.”
Startled, he said, “That’s MY name!”
He was from Minnesota and had come to Atlanta to take a workshop with Chopra. Bemused, Chopra looked from one to the other and said, “What are the chances of that happening?”
“You tell us,” I said. “You’re Mr. Science.”
Looking back on my connection with Chopra, I realized it wasn’t him I distrusted, it was myself. I lacked the belief in myself I needed to play at his level, and had I gotten my wish, I don’t think they would have turned out well — and I would have lost my idea.
So, John Christensen was admitted to Chopra’s inner circle that weekend, it just wasn’t the John Christensen I was rooting for. And yet everything has worked out for the best. I’ve written two books, contributed to three others, gained on-camera experience and done some serious personal work, as well.
I’m still not sure what to make of that vision. But I do know this: it’s still a great idea, and there’s nothing like it on television.
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