Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Previously on LOST

Yesterday Facebook was buzzing with Inauguration Day chatter and commentary. These days, even the most exciting news gets old quickly, so I thought I'd make light of the big day with this post on a thread at a new friend's page.

"now we can focus on the real issue- where did the island go on LOST?"

"huh? Ohhhhhhhh....I don't watch T.V. it'll rott your brain"

Don't you just love getting lectured by someone you've never met? I wanted to say something about how LOST, unlike most shows, actually stimulates lively conversation, encourages reading of the classics and exploration of history, etc. but I also didn't want to get into it with a stranger from San Francisco on someone else's page.

Later on down the thread, I did get a kick out of a follow-up post by the same person.

I do enjoy the forensic shows though:}

So which is it? "Kill Your television" people who still watch multiple cop shows are kinda like vegans who smoke cigarettes. Which one is it gonna be, because you can't be both and still ride the high horse!


I forgot about that brief exchange until this morning when I was thinking about LOST in the shower. Sorry if that's TMI, but the Season 5 Premiere is tonight.

Maybe my brain is showing signs of "rott" after all...

I was thinking about why the show still holds so much interest to me, and I think it goes beyond the usual razzle-dazzle of the much-discussed mysteries of the Island, the Numbers, the Dharma Initiative, the Hanso family, the Smoke Monster, the Donkey Wheel, etc.

It's about people.

Yes, I know how cheesy that sounds, but bear me out here. I have become a big believer in the importance of reaching a point in one's life where you can no longer point your finger at anyone else for your failings, and you only have to look in the mirror to see the source of your successes. That may be an idealistic state of mind, but it seems to me that even striving for it is extremely beneficial because of the burgeoning awareness gained that you can no sooner change your parents or your genes than you can change your past.

The Dharmacakra, symbolizing the path to enlightenment, is featured prominently on LOST.

But what you can change is the future. That is, unless, you continue to let the unchangeable past dictate who you are today.

Someone close to me has let the phrase "I've had a hard life" enter the conversation a few times lately. Now, it's not up to me to determine the veracity of that statement, and even if I could, those kinds of statements are all relative. But what I feel I can determine is how much the belief that one's life has been "hard" up to now hinders one's ability to create a less "hard" life from this point forward.

What I want to say is "That may be true, but a lot of people's lives have been hard. Would you rather have an excuse ("You've had a hard life") for your present state of unhappiness, or would you rather achieve happiness and use that same statement to signal how it used to be BEFORE YOU TOOK CONTROL OF YOUR LIFE and did what you had to do to make your hard life easier and more enjoyable?"

People win despite being dealt bad hands all the time, and the same is true for people dealt fabulous hands finding a way to lose anyway.


Our characters on LOST all have "daddy issues" that they are being forced, one way or another, to overcome. And isn't that a good thing? I don't recommend literally killing the father figure, as Ben Linus and Kate and Locke and Sawyer have, but isn't some sort of ceremonial dumping of those issues necessary for one to really flower as an adult?

Virtually all of the characters have endured struggles directly related to their socioeconomic status as well. The poorer have either compromised themselves by turning to crime (Sawyer, Kate, Eko) or to status-seeking (Jin, Desmond). The richer have felt it constricting (Sun, Jack), divisive (Boone, Shannon) or downright dangerous (Hurley, Charlie).

On the island, all material things are stripped away so that everyone is playing the same game with the same tools. To borrow the marketing tagline for this season, destiny has called every single one of them, and we will see who answers the call.

This sensation is the primary correlation with my own life and, I think it's fair to say, all of our lives. Destiny is calling every one of us, and we all have the tools inside of us to hear the call and to embark on a life that we make our own.

To me, life is the best possible combination of fate AND free will.

A quick look at the name "Dharma Initiative", the organization that I believe tried to harness the island's power to force people to evolve into a higher state of consciousness, is revealing:

1 Hinduism: the principle of cosmic order.
• virtue, righteousness, and duty, esp. social and caste duty in accord with the cosmic order.

1 the ability to assess and initiate things independently :
2 [in sing. ] the power or opportunity to act or take charge before others do :

LOST is so compelling because I believe one of its major underlying themes is that no matter where one is from, every individual must take charge of their own lives in a virtuous way if collectively we are ever going to overcome the suffering of this world.

Well, that and the time travel and cool monsters and stuff.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Zen of the Bridesmaid

I don't know about you, but I read in bed almost every night before I go to sleep. So does Mrs. Word Player.

Several years ago, when the wife in a couple we were friends with discovered this about us, she could barely contain her jealousy. I had no idea... I thought every couple read in bed together. It was a strange exchange, in that from that point forward I looked at what I have as lucky rather than just the status quo. In life it's all about perspective, wouldn't you say?

So a few nights ago, MWP leans over and says "read this." I took the book she'd just started, Thoughts Without a Thinker by Mark Epstein, M.D., and read the first sentence in the Forward, which was written by the Dalai Lama.

"The purpose of life is to be happy."

Whoa. The simplicity of that powerful statement packs an incredible wallop. It certainly goes against the Catholic upbringing I received, where suffering and deprivation are lionized and true happiness is deferred to the afterlife.

I bet the Lama is a big LOST fan. Maybe HE is this "Jacob" we keep hearing about...

Lately, my happiness has been yo-yoing quite a bit, but the biggest X factor has been my work life. When work is plentiful, I am practically exuberant. That sensation pervades the rest of my life quickly- I hadn't been happy with my "Development Guy" work in several years, so the 3+ years I've been relying on my copywriting work (which I genuinely enjoy) has been a boon to my overall mood.

I've also been on indefinite hiatus from my screenwriting projects since spring of '07, work that was often as torturous emotionally as it was fulfilling creatively. And I've been OK with that arrangement for a long while now... until recently.

First, work slowed down in December, and it's continued to be slow into January. My mood destabilized. Then, an odd confluence of events suddenly made me revisit my career path and the happiness factor attached to it. It started with LOST. We received Season 4 on DVD for Christmas, and since we already had Seasons 1 and 2, we went out and bought Season 3 to complete the collection. In watching it, for some reason, my eye kept catching on Jeffrey Lieber's name in the credits. He is a co-creator of the show, and someone I used to know. Even though he's had his own issues with LOST, for some reason seeing his name in the credits over and over had a different effect on me than it had in the past.

It wasn't schadenfreude, it was "why him and not me?" I came into (and then lost) contact with Jeffrey long before LOST. I was a newly hired development guy for Civilian (then known as Spoke Film) and I cast my net wide looking for submissions. Naturally, I hated most of the stuff that agents sent me, but when I read Jeff's scripts (one was called "Conspiracy of Weeds" and I can't remember the name of the second) I called and set up a meeting. Nothing ever came of my interest in the scripts ("Conspiracy" was later made with the far less interesting title TANGLED), but I became friends with Jeff and his wife Holly and for a while he even rented office space from Civilian.

Jeff was talented and a very nice guy, and remembering the clever twists and turns in his scripts that I read it's not hard to see how his contributions to LOST earned him a co-creator credit. "But aren't I ALSO a nice and talented guy who has clever twists of my own to share with the world?" that stubborn part of my brain kept saying every time I saw his name on the screen during our LOST-athon.

Try as I might, I couldn't silence that little voice. In fact, a rapid succession of similar events only made it more insufferable. I saw TWILIGHT and, lo and behold, one of the producers is I guy I used to work with at Wendy Finerman Productions. He was a junior development exec then (hey, kinda like I once was!) and LOOK AT HIM NOW. At the grocery store, I saw a girl I went to UNC with and was once friends with who is now producing Adam Sandler movies. We're the same age, and moved out to LA around the same time, but LOOK AT HER NOW. I watch an episode of GOSSIP GIRL and hey, I used to take meetings with the co-creator and occasionally go for drinks with our mutual friend. Damn, what did she have that I don't have?

Yeah, but would dealing with Chuck Bass' problems be any easier?

I know, of course, that it's an enormous oversimplification of the way lives and careers play out to compare myself to them, and I also know that the choices I've made have taken me out of the running for some of the successes that they are now enjoying.


Anyway, having all those things happen within a span of a few days really bummed me out for a while. But the more I thought of it, the more my mood improved. I've achieved a pretty damn high level of happiness without the industry success that I'd pursued for over a decade. I've indulged and explored my creative side and expanded and tested my business acumen while developing a personal life that I'm proud of.

And who knows, the best may be yet to come? But the biggest thing that came out of all this for me is the sensation that no matter what happens from this point forward, I was in the game. I played alongside some of the game's top players, even though I never won the big game myself. I've taken the sum of my experiences and spun them into a state of mind that, I feel, is at the very least prepared for any number of challenging paths the future may hold.

Should I happen to find my way back onto the industry path, I'll be ready. And if it doesn't ever "happen" the way I longed for it to? Well, I'll be ready for that too.