Monthly Archives: March 2006

The easy way

Charlie Schaubel called me last Saturday morning. "Hey, John," he said, "I’ve got a place to teach."

If you read my last blog – "Focusing on the target" – then you know that I took golf lessons from Charlie last year. But the driving range where he taught had been sold, and after 35 years in the business, he had no place to work. He had tried other facilities in the area, and been turned down. He was running out of money, he was tired and he was depressed.

Oddly enough, I was going through a rough patch myself, and it is one of the curious aspects of life that what you can’t or won’t see about yourself invariably shows up in people around you.

In writing about Charlie, I realized that both of us were resisting something. Charlie had limited his search to stay as close as possible to the driving range. I had locked onto ideas that I thought encompassed my new career, and turned my back on journalism.

But something had shifted for Charlie, and I was curious to know what it was.

He said that over the years, people had encouraged him to visit a place called Little Mountain. But it was south and east of town, too far from the range and his clients. But last week, desperate, he finally visited the place.

When he told the owner he wanted to teach there, the guy said no problem. "Then he tossed me the key to a golf cart and said ‘Take a look around,’" Charlie said. "I drove around the course and there are some beautiful views. There’s a mountain there, and a state park nearby with all this pristine land. It’s really beautiful.

"Then I went to the cart shack, and the guy working there said he’d been there for seven years and loved it."

He paused for a moment, and I pictured him shaking his head.

"It’s so weird," he said. "Here I was trying to go north all this time and kept running into bullshit and insecure people. When I went south, it was easy. And just in time, too. Whew!"

This is not the first time I’ve come across the notion that things should be easy. A couple of years ago, after a frustrating conversation with a woman I was dating, I ran into my friend Joe.

Joe listened patiently while I fumed and ranted, and when I was done, he said, "Y’know, from the time I met Steph (his wife, Stephanie), it’s always been easy."

There was very little about my relationship that was "easy." On the other hand, getting into acting two years ago was a veritable template for "easy." A director made the suggestion. Another director seconded it and introduced me to an agent. The agent told me to get  pictures taken. I did, and we put together a "comp card," and suddenly I had an agent, a new career and, two months later, my first job.

I had to take acting classes —  and get over the shock of seeing how terrible I looked on-camera — but there was indeed something easy about the process, a flow to it that I was no longer feeling.

So about the same time Charlie visited Little Mountain, I called an editor and asked for an assignment. In researching and writing that story, I was reminded that one of my gifts is story-telling. To think that I could pursue a life of authenticity without using all my gifts had been remarkably foolish.

Later that day, I picked up Deepak Chopra’s "The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success" from a shelf where it had been gathering dust for years. Leafing through it, I discovered that what my friend Joe calls "easy" is what Chopra refers to as the Law of Least Resistance.

"When you remain open to all points of view – not rigidly attached to only one – your dreams and desire will flow with nature’s desires," writes Chopra. "Then you can release your intentions without attachment and just wait for the appropriate season for your desires to blossom into reality."

Charlie had been working at a noisy, run-down little dump for so long he’d become habituated to it. He figured that’s about what he deserved. But when he found Little Mountain, what I heard in his voice was amazement and something very close to joy.

For Charlie Schaubel, who found his new home just as the redbuds and dogwoods began to bloom, "blossom" is, indeed, the word.

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Focusing on the target

I called Charlie Schaubel last weekend thinking that maybe he could straighten me out. I hadn’t hit a clean 5 iron shot since late summer, and I wasn’t doing so well at life, either.

I met Charlie last year when I took up golf. He was teaching at a driving range, and had we not spoken first by phone I would have driven right past the place. The building needed painting, the balls were crummy, the range was shabby, the putting green looked like the surface of the moon.

Charlie had a snap-brim cap, longish hair, a droll sense of humor and a spare, zen-like approach to the game. He was a cross between Mr. Miyagi in "The Karate Kid" and Norm from "Cheers."

Charlie’s approach was to keep things simple. He didn’t seem to care much about technique; he just wanted me to pick a target in that bedraggled range and think of nothing else.  "There’s no mystery to this game," he said. "You’re either long or short, right or left of the target."

Much of what he said applied to life as well: don’t think too much; keep your focus: forget the past, stay in the moment.

In no time at all, I was hitting the ball as if I’d been playing for years. But then I was given a gift card to a golf store and took a few lessons with certified PGA pros. They knew what they were doing, but I couldn’t connect with them. Either they’d been selected for their lack of personality, or they’d been trained not to connect with their clients.

Worse, I started obsessing about technique, and the more I thought about the grip, keeping my elbows together, not cupping the left wrist, planting the right foot, etc., the worse I got.

Then my personal life took a similar turn. An accident, computer and printer failures, medical bills for the cat, a cascade of bills and a shortage of work all brought me to the point where I wondered whether this pursuit of passion and purpose was really for me.

It blew up Monday morning when I got a call from the rental car agency about a scratch on the car I used while mine was being repaired. Two hours later, I botched an audition for a part I really wanted, and my saintly demeanor finally failed me. I started shouting and cursing like a madman as I drove home, and spent the afternoon in a deep funk.

The next day, Charlie called back, and hew as stressed, too. The driving range had been sold and he had no place to teach.

"It’s weird," he said, "I’ve got the business I just don’t have a place to teach. You’d think after 35 years in the business, that would be the least of my problems."

The more we talked, the more evident it became that we were resisting something rather than accepting change gracefully.

Charlie thought he needed to teach near the driving range where he had built up a following. I suggested that maybe a place further from the range was exactly what he needed, a place that would attract his old clients and an abundance of new ones as well.

As for myself, I assumed that in my high-minded pursuit of passion and purpose I could forsake my past and plunge into a world of shiny new experiences. Deepak Chopra, for example, seems to have awakened one morning, realized he was living a nightmare and turned his life around by lunchtime.

But it hasn’t worked that way for me, and in my undisciplined moments — of which there are far too many — my mind was running through a cornucopia of doomsday scenarios. 

The only thing I could think that would give me the freedom to go to auditions on short notice was something I’d done all my life: journalism. I’d given it up because I was tired of it, and turned off by the media’s preoccupation with fear and negativity.

But telling stories is one of my gifts; perhaps there was a way to bridge the gap between old life and new, between traditional journalism and writing about people shifting from the old paradigm to the new (see Home page).

The conversation with Charlie did us both good. We’d both been thinking too much and had lost our focus. We weren’t staying in the moment; we’d lost sight of the target.

I still can’t hit a 5 iron worth a damn, but at least now I know what I was doing wrong.

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The brotherhood

Thursday, March 2

I had an acting job yesterday which was shot at an old-fashioned diner near a high school in midtown. One of the other actors was B, a man with whom I studied acting two years ago when I was just getting into the business.

Since we were both extras, we spent much of the morning sitting in plastic chairs in the parking lot waiting to be called to the set while steam from the dry cleaners next door blew past like fast-moving clouds.

B is a wonderful actor and teacher, and a director of real promise. But as the classes ended and I began seeing him at auditions, it troubled me to realize that he regarded me primarily as a competitor.

Yes, we were competing in a market and an age-group where opportunity seemed somewhat limited. And yet as I saw the same faces again and again, what I felt was not rivalry but kinship. Only one of us was going to get any particular part. Everyone else would be rejected, and therein lies our commonality, a willingness to face rejection again and again and keep coming back.  

It may be stretching it a bit, but we are not unlike the gladiators who hailed Caesar with, "We who are about to die salute you!"

And as we chatted, B and I discovered what it was beyond acting that had pulled us together. We had both gone through a period of intense spiritual experimentation, including doing a firewalk weekend with Tony Robbins. But we no longer have those remarkable mystical experiences, and we agreed that it must have been a kind of spiritual puberty.

We are older now and more grounded, and yet life is not without magic. 

B and his wife, also an actor and teacher, had hunted in vain for months for a new home for their school. The rent was going up, and they needed more space. Finally, he said, amazement creeping into his voice, they found a building just a mile away from their current site that is bigger and far better suited to their needs, and they got the landlord to drop the rent by $1100 a month. They’ll be paying just $50 a month more for a place more than double the size of their old building.

B also said something wonderfully affirming about a spiritual syndome I call "in-time abundance."  "Funny," he said, "I go out and spend money on something I’ve got to have, and somehow checks show up in time to pay for it."

As we left the job that afternoon, I could feel the distance between us again. The curtain had closed. But for a while there, we were brothers.

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