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Archive for February, 2010

Last week, Tiger Woods broke his long silence regarding the shocking revelations late last year of a secret life, personally giving a prepared statement in a press conference from the PGA Headquarters in Pontre Vedra Beach, Florida. Immediately afterward, the pundits were giving their takes on his appearance. Some felt it was very appropriate, and hit the right notes. Others thought he was insincere, merely seeking to recover in light of his damaged celebrity and corporate sponsor relationships.

I was struck, though, by Woods’ naming his sin of entitlement, citing it as a factor in his downfall. Prepared statement or not, it took guts to say this. More so, to make some semblance of owning it, as he had his mother sitting right there in front of him, neither of them cracking a smile through the 13 minute confession. That couldn’t have been fun.

I don’t know whether or not Tiger is making an earnest effort to overcome his problems. But I’m glad he said this. Entitlement is a huge problem today. While it probably always has been, I have a sense it’s probably never been more prevalent than now. Yet it often goes unacknowledged, is dismissed, or even openly embraced. Entitlement is one of those things that’s a lot easier to spot in others than ourselves. But it’s also one of those things that can be quite subtle, and fly under the radar for a long time, until like Woods, a lot of damage has been done.

If I’m really honest with myself, I feel very entitled myself. That I deserve certain treatment by others, as when I don’t receive from them what I’m expecting, or the general sense that life ought to be better for me than it is. In fact, I’d be rather embarrassed to give account for some of the things I’ve felt entitled to. Maybe that’s why a lot of us vent so much energy in outrage when we see it in another, because we know this about ourselves.

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Lent Season is upon us.

Those of you familiar with the Christian faith and tradition likely know this. But I don’t want to assume anything.

See, I should know this firsthand myself. And I do. Yet, it wasn’t always this way, but rather became so only recently.

Around this time a couple years ago, I was speaking with a local businessman about a particular matter, when I noticed during our conversation that he had this big smudge of grease or ink on his forehead. Not wanting to leave him to the snickers of other noticing folks like myself, I was about to tell him about it to help him save face. But for whatever reason, I didn’t.

Now I’m not generally the type of guy who will let something like this go on while  some pour soul becomes the laughing stock of his or her peers. But whatever held me back this time, by doing so, I was the one who saved face that day.

I come from a non-liturgical tradition that never really observed Lent, certainly not on a large scale. And while I may have heard the name dropped every so often over the years, I remained blissfully ignorant about the significance of Lent to my heritage.

Now it seems I’m not the only one to fall prey to such folly. The other day, Vice-President Joe Biden, and President Obama were making an appearance for a press conference, where the Catholic Biden visibly bore such a mark on his forehead. On CNN the following day, audio was played from a couple of journalists for Britain’s Sky News speculating about it as they watched news feed for the conference—apparently mistaking the mark for a bruise (I wondered this, too, at first, from seeing a small photo from the conference online. What is meant to be the mark of the cross in ash sometimes ends up being an amorphous blotch. Still, even the less descript marks are synonymous with Ash Wednesday for those who know.).

At any rate, I now know about Ash Wednesday as the faith community of which I’m a part practices Lent. The significance of the season is to anticipate the resurrection of Christ, which for many, makes Easter even more important than Christmas. Lent takes place 46 days out before Easter, or the biblically significant 40 days when not counting Sundays. Traditionally, people give up something—some food, drink, or practice—as a willing sort of self-denial.

For my first Lent last year, I gave up caffeine (no easy feat!). But it’s about more than just giving up something. It’s about getting something in return. Replacing it with something good which hopefully will draw one closer in their relationship with the Lord.

This year—the coffee stays. But I have been more mindful about the why (drawing closer to God) behind the what (what I’m giving up).

To bring my folly full circle, the other night I walked into work not long after attending our Ash Wednesday service. A few minutes later, my partner on the night shift made a comment regarding my forehead—“Ash Wednesday, huh?” (You kind of forget it’s there after awhile). Then mused, “Good ol’ Catholics.”

I started to take exception—not being Catholic—probably more than anything from some long-standing issue going back to childhood where I feel I have to correct someone who misunderstands me.

But then I had to catch myself. And smile a little, moreover glad at the general recognition that got it right. Of being identified with something I had chosen to willingly identify with. And risk a little ignorance if needed, no doubt which my business friend was well familiar with that day a few years ago.

And it takes me back to the what and the why again—both in what I seek to give up, as well as what I hope to gain. If it were merely discipline or religiosity I was looking for, I could join a class at the gym, or attend a seminar. But I’m already happy enough with the fitness routine I have. And as for gaining more knowledge, I’m trying to make better use of that which I’m already acquainted with.

No. This is more about presence and connectedness in the here-and-now. Awareness and encounter of realities outside of myself—Holy Otherness—without any sort of self-editing for whoever may be watching. Real journeys are like this, off-the-beaten path sort of affairs that while possessing public and community dimensions, nevertheless take their journeyers into very personalized experiences.

Granted, this sometimes feels elusive, and not always my actual experience. So far, my 40 day season is not off to the best start. But there are moments that this awareness and encounter happens. And the aim has a way of focusing the general movement in the aim’s direction, where even the common has a way of becoming holy.

Last year, I did notice a positive difference in myself at the end of the season. It wasn’t one of those dramatic changes that takes place overnight. But I was happier, and more spiritually connected…

I’m hoping history repeats itself this year as I look forward with great anticipation to something new.

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Last night I was watching Lost. There’s a scene in this episode where a paraplegic  John Locke is being interviewed by an HR representative with a temp agency.

She asks him the question, What kind of animal do you see yourself as?

Always a straight shooter who’s never given to mincing his words, John perplexedly looks at the young woman and goes, “Excuse me?”

What follows is a humorous yet painfully real example of how a thing meant to be a helpful tool has become an obstacle instead. In this case, John can quickly see that he is going to be in trouble if he tries to jump through the hoops of squeezing his personality into a mythic animal type in order to get toward his desired objective: a job. With the woman unwilling to drop the question, Locke cuts to the chase and asks to speak with her supervisor. The young woman acquiesces to his request, but it’s clear from her expression that she is not happy being overstepped in the process, her own power and credibility hung out to dry.

In the next scene, we see Locke talking with the HR supervisor, Rose Nadler, who laughs with him as he begs her not to make him tell her what kind of animal he is. In essence, she agrees that he shouldn’t have to suffer the indignity of becoming something he’s not in order to try to honor who he really is. What follows is an example of someone using their position of power with a true awareness of how their decisions will impact others. Rose understands that she holds power and influence. But she doesn’t try to hide behind it, dismissing or ignoring this seeming nobody in order to fill her quotas or stroke her ego. She really does try to help Locke. We also get the sense that her judgment comes from possessing something that the younger employee under her does not: wisdom. As is usually the case, Rose’s wisdom is born out of life experience—experience that includes suffering—and in her case, having terminal cancer. And because of it, John’s frustrations with having limited options or being overlooked by others is not lost on her. But she doesn’t indulge his fantasies either (John tells her he wants to work on a construction site), carrying an even-minded realism in tandem with her compassion.

I bring this story up because it provides some good insights into the daunting challenge of finding work, particularly in this economy, as well as finding work that you’re passionate about or would be good at.

In my own job search process, it wasn’t too long ago that I applied for a really cool sounding position at a large non-profit organization. I already had some acquaintance with them for years and a great respect for what they do. In addition to having what I felt to be good qualifications, I was able to drop the name of a higher-ranking employee I knew there as well as those of a couple of people who’ve had considerable influence upon the organization. I felt at least I may get a good look over.

It took me the better part of the day to fill out the application, as there were many questions asked, some requiring detailed responses. Never fun, particularly when you don’t know beforehand if this kind of sweat will have any payoff—a point soon proven—as not even 30 minutes later, I get this generic email response that says:

“After careful consideration of your application we have decided to continue to pursue other candidates for [this] job opening. However we do thank you for your interest… I have attached our current job list for your convenience. Please let me know if any of these other openings are of interest to you.”

I was like, Man! What the?! I immediately started assuming all sorts of things:

Some newly sprung college kid who doesn’t have eyes to see the good stuff I put on there!…

They must not have read it…

It was a setup. They already knew who they were going to hire and the posting is just a formality…

Did I not use the right keywords?…

It might have been any of these things. Or it might have been none of them. Maybe they really did take a look and—nope—I just didn’t have what they were looking for. I guess my pride took a hit because I really saw better chances for myself in getting an interview here.

But then how do you ever know? And that’s my point—or at least what lies underneath the question, which is that HR departments have their own language and the seekers who read job postings are often left to guess what it is they need to talk about to get due consideration. How they read and respond to these postings is often way different than the way HR folks read their answers while blowing through their faceless names. And to a degree, this is intentional, as those who don’t know the required lingo unwittingly help HR in the elimination process.

Like an Air Force pilot buddy of mine says, What’s the gouge?—meaning “What’s the inside scoop needed to pass this test?”

In John Locke’s case, the gouge was that he’d just been vetted by the owner of the company, Hugo Reyes, who told him to have the meeting with HR in order to find the position he wanted.

Would that we were all so lucky… Well here’s to hoping you find the gouge the next time you’re unsure of your odds of success—whether that’s to have the fortune of knowing the right people, or to be able to play the game enough to tell some surly bloke what he wants to hear.

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The other day I got called in for an audition for a national commercial being shot here in Orlando.

Now me being an actor might feel kind of like Forrest Gump did being a national celebrity—it’s not something I exactly went looking for. I sort of stumbled onto it. To paraphrase Forrest: “I just felt like acting.”

Okay, so I should make it clear that this is not something I do for a living. Like many in this business, I do it on occasion. And in my case, during these tough economic times, it makes a lot of sense to find decent paying gigs on the side to supplement the cash flow. Feel free to dream yourself, but don’t get any grandiose ideas: while a couple have been nice paying ones, I’m waiting to move from the three-figure to the four-figure income range on this thing. Cumulatively, and not per gig, that is.

In other words, don’t quit your day job, because these sorts of things don’t come along all the time. And like most anything else, you have to work it if you want to be successful.

In this case, I had gotten the call for this opportunity from a new agent I’d just contacted. And I was pretty pumped, as it’s the best opportunity I’ve gotten so far (and easily could put me into the four-figure range).

Now you’d think I’d have the sense to be on my A game for this. But I quickly saw myself for the greenhorn I was, as I walked into this casting call underprepared. The notification had come so fast. And I’d rushed out to Ross to purchase the right kind of shirt a few hours beforehand, only to get increasingly uptight as the minutes ticked away toward appointment time and the shirt was still damp after running it through the dryer for an hour and a half. With little time to spare, I finally grabbed it, ironed it, and ran.

No worries, I thought, while slurping my coffee down the freeway—as there was only one line to speak:

“So that’s how the secret got out!”

How hard could it be?

But it’s amazing how challenging such a seemingly small thing can feel when you’re under pressure. And as with so much else, it’s the little things that count.

I got to the hotel where the auditions were being held, only to find that I was one of about half a dozen guys auditioning for the same part. Surely I could expect there to be others, right? This is why they call it a casting call—not a done deal. Still, though, it took seeing it firsthand to understand this better. And many of these guys looked pretty experienced.

To confirm this hunch, I saw that everyone else waiting in the lobby had headshots in hand to pass along to the agency. Calling cards to bookmark their faces from these busy auditions as well as to hopefully gain future work. I looked down at my empty hands.

Aw crap! I thought. Didn’t I read something about that? In my haste, I’d forgotten that this is how these things roll. Sure, I’d just mailed half a dozen photos and resumes to my agent (who lives in a different city than the agency running this thing). And I’ve done several gigs where I already had secured the part beforehand, and thus, didn’t need a headshot. In those cases, I’d worked as an extra, which is a little different than principle acting roles. Or if acting, I’d known the people doing the shooting beforehand and was given the opportunity without a need to audition.

Oops.

To make matters worse, the guy in the lobby lining us up for our time slots was a bit of a hard-ass—a fragile ego long grown cynical from this business—who didn’t like it when some of those from the hopeful lot gathered around him didn’t bow down in full subservience, as he barked out orders he expected us idiots to comply with. Two parties approaching the same situation from totally different perspectives.

To be honest, as I waited in line for my turn to go into the casting room, I felt kind of like I was back in grade school waiting to be called out by the teacher then exposed in front of the whole class as it’s revealed that I don’t have my homework. And I happened to spy some paperwork revealing that this Miami agency had sister offices in LA and New York. In other words, a big deal… No pressure.

The casting didn’t go so bad, though. The director and his assistant were actually pretty nice. And I was auditioning alongside a pleasant young woman who helped to loosen me up. Still, though, it probably wasn’t enough. At one point, the director asked me, “Are you just going to stand there?” Though this five-second sequence was confined within the same floor space, there’s a language to our bodies that we’re expected to bring when acting. It’s much more than just speaking lines with emphasis, or changing voice tones. And it had been far enough out since any acting classes I’ve taken for me to forget most of this.

The next take went better, though, and he seemed to approve…

So the last couple days have rolled by, and no callbacks. Rejection is part of the territory in this business, so I’m already putting this one behind me and gearing up for the next one. At least I got called in the first place, which was a hopeful sign. And if it happened once, it can happen again.

Next time, I’ll be ready.

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So I was over in Winter Park getting recertified for CPR the other day.

I’ve done this routine several times now. But what I expected to be a fairly tame if not boring experience proved to be anything but. The fact that the instructor who welcomed us sported a cap reading “MARINES” in big block letters—and even more the fact that with his hulking no-nonsense presence he looked every bit the part of a former drill instructor—should have been an early tip-off.

Jumping right into our test, Tony immediately started grilling us for answers. And if you blinked, you might miss an important bit he’d be sure to call you out on any second.

At one point, wanting some clarification, I asked Tony about a particular item. In response, he had me go to the ground and give him thirty. Thirty chest compressions on the training dummy, that is.

Another question was asked. In response, Tony started lecturing on the evils of poor hygiene and spread of hepatitis (Lesson: never do CPR without a breathing shield.). Things seemed to calm down a bit, then began a lecture on medical liability (Lesson: make damn sure you have verbal or implied consent before performing any treatment.).

The other class member, Lanika, and I thought we might get a small break when a new person walked through the door. But without missing a beat, Tony’s assistant, Patty—who until this point had been dropping wry comments throughout our grilling—gladly jumped in to take over.

I shouldn’t have been fooled by her friendlier demeanor. For it wasn’t very long before Patty was going, So what are you gonna do now, Brian?! This person only has a few seconds to live! Then came her crazy laugh upon seeing the deer in the headlights look in my eyes.

What seemed perhaps a slightly unorthodox teaching style actually proved to be one of the most effective classes I’ve ever attended. Tony and Patty waste no time helping you to experience the material, not just passively hear it. And barking at us like they did helped cement this serious content.

I was reminded a bit of the late Sam Kinison. His trademark comedy routine always had his characters starting out in a low, calm voice as they asked questions of another. But it was never long before he erupted into a series of screams going, “Ahhhhh!!!! Say it!!!”—reducing his victims to tears and ashes.

Okay, so they didn’t exactly reduce us to tears or ashes. But they didn’t mind giving us a little heat. All I can say is “Thanks.” It might just save a life one day.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7JOqRQO21zY&feature=related

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Finally. This week my life can begin again.

I’m only joking. (Almost.)

This week begins the final season to ABC’s amazing six-year run of Lost, one of the most popular shows in recent memory. As with several million faithful fans around the world (shy a few million former regulars who gave up following from impatience with the show’s seemingly never-ending plot twists and drawn-out character studies), I’ve anxiously been awaiting this moment since last season’s cliffhanger finale in May, where we were finally introduced to the mysterious Jacob–only to see him apparently killed off by Ben Linus, at the behest of John Locke–who, as it turns out–isn’t really John Locke anymore.

Okay, sorry to barrage you with details. Lost is one of the shows you either love to follow or not at all. There’s really no in-between as it is a true serial, renowned for so many story lines and connecting links in a dense story structure that if you miss an episode or two, you’re pretty lost yourself. Even as a follower, there’s so much stuff going on that I forget half of it. I was trying to remember the other night, for instance, why did the cast get split up into two story lines taking place thirty years apart? In truth, a revisit of this series from start to finish may be in order when this season finally wraps, where as with any good whodunit mystery, so many of the things I thought I knew were taking place were not what I thought them to be at the time.

Anyway, my point isn’t to talk about this show. It’s more about the anticipation of waiting for something that you are eager to experience. While I admit the plot got a little tedious at points–particularly in season 4–Lost has nevertheless been a source of great enjoyment for me. Escapism at its best.

Also, it’s about finding refuge in something to help take your mind off the rest of your life.

Like with a lot of people, the last two years have been very challenging ones for me. There have been times that things were such that–well, let’s just say there were times that watching Lost became the highlight of my week, giving me something to look forward to in an otherwise dismal routine.

Maybe that sounds pathetic, but what about you? Can’t you relate? The point isn’t whether it’s right or wrong, but the fact that we do this. Maybe this isn’t something to truly celebrate, but there could be far worse things. I’m glad to know at least that I’m part of a tribe some 15 million strong or so. This is after all the one show that brought me back to watching prime-time drama.

So come Tuesday night, I gladly escape again back to the Island (or wherever our Oceanic Flight 815 friends happen to be now).

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