Don’t Forget To Put Your Own Oxygen Mask On First

September 30, 2009 by  
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Years ago I heard for the first time the flight instruction of “put on your oxygen mask on first in case of an emergency before helping others” applied to “normal” life.  Since then I have thought of it often. 

At first there is the reaction, ‘How selfish! Saving yourself before others” but than the realization comes that if you don’t save yourself you can not save anybody else.

Mastering this concept and walking the fine line between it and actually being a selfish person is a life time effort.  We are often pushed into situations where exercising our rights and space is put to the test on a regular basis.  Let me give an example of an extreme case, like illness.  Someone we love is sick and needs us.  How much of our time and energy do we give before we have nothing left?  What about “if you love someone you should be willing and able to just give and give”?  The first thing a social worker tells a caretaker is to make sure they take care of themselves because if they don’t they will run out of steam and won’t be able to care for their loved ones.

And what about in our daily lives when we’re not in a state of emergency and its not so clear how much is too much?

If you are like me, you think “I’m really strong and I can take more than most people, so it is easier if I just make it okay for the other people while I take on whatever needs to be dealt with”.  My thinking might sound noble for about half a second because in this thought process what I’m leaving out is; what about respecting myself?  What about the fact that eventually I’m going to burn out?  And what about that for sure sooner or later I’m going to start resenting the people and/or the situation?  What about what I need?

I don’t think there is any fast and bullet proof equation to deal with this conundrum except to listen to oneself.  Quiet down and if something doesn’t feel okay it is because it probably isn’t.  If you are on a quest for a deeper more meaningful life your inner self will always give you the right answer.   And guess what, as you feel more content you will be able to impact others around you in a much more positive way than if you were exhausted from saying “yes”  and “what can I do for you?” all the time.

So join me on respecting the law and putting on our own oxygen mask on before putting it on others.


Daniel Tammet, The Man With The Incredible Brain

September 29, 2009 by  
Filed under Inspiring People



September 29, 2009 by  
Filed under Blog

One of my oldest and closest friends has just spent a week with me.  A film I co-wrote and produced had its premiere on September 24th and my friend flew from Miami, where he now lives, to be with me.

As many of you know, my husband passed away last year and my family lives in Brazil and Italy.  So my friend wanted to make sure someone close to my heart, would be accompanying me to the event.  Of course he also wanted to experience a film premiere but more than anything he wanted to be there for me.

We have known each other since I was sixteen and he eighteen.  We have stayed in touch when I went to live in NY and him in Brussels.  And when I got married and he moved to Paris, when I moved to Los Angeles and him back to Brazil, and when he moved to Miami and I became a widow.

In the week he spent with me I made space for him in my life.  We went to the theatre, to a film studio, to dinner, to Santa Barbara and we talked and laughed.  He carried my purse at the film premiere and he took photos of me.  He brought the heavy water bottle left outside my house by the water company and he came with me while I looked into a possible new car.

When the morning of his leaving came, I was sad and I told him so.  He replied that he understood.  That I have now grown accustomed to taking care of everything on my own but having him around made me start to relax in knowing that there was someone else to share things with.  Then we told one another that no matter what happened in our lives we would continue to be there for each other. We then hugged and kissed.

Friendship goes through many phases in a lifetime but friends chose to be in your life and they are there when you need to share a laugh or a tear.

In this world of massive communication where we are bombarded on a daily basis with information and requests for decisions, it is easy to let go of friends.  What a mistake that would be!  Good friends are for life.  They are a record of who we are and where we’ve been.  And there is nothing lovelier than sharing a laugh with a friend reminiscing over things that have happened long ago.

Love is like the wild rose-briar,
Friendship like the holly-tree
The holly is dark when the rose-briar blooms
But which will bloom most constantly?

The wild-rose briar is sweet in the spring,
Its summer blossoms scent the air;
Yet wait till winter comes again
And who will call the wild-briar fair?

Then scorn the silly rose-wreath now
And deck thee with the holly’s sheen,
That when December blights thy brow
He may still leave thy garland green.

By Emily Bronte 30 July 1818 – 19 December 1848 was an English novelist and poet, best remembered for her only novel Wuthering Heights, a classic of English literature.


Health, Wealth And … Stealth

September 28, 2009 by  
Filed under Uncategorized

Everyone I’m sure, harbors something they like or don’t about the idea of universal health care and are discussing this pivotal topic at different water coolers, bowling alleys, beauty shops and dining rooms from Maine to New Mexico.

Quite candidly, without offering a near endless list of pros and cons, I firmly feel that the currently proposed plan would offer our citizens a far cry better deal than most of us are getting at the present. When people have to take a second or even a third job more for the health care benefits than for the wages, it’s time to re-examine our principles and our way of living.   Families want to be secure in knowing that their premiums won’t go up just when a bread winner looses his/her job.  

When a severely shrinking middle class consider opting for insurance and pharmaceutical  companies to continue to make gargantuan profits which are too stubborn (and greedy) to cut better deals for those most in need, someone’s got to ask, ” When does crazy stop and care start?”

It’s as if the opposition to a universal plan is purposely trying to confuse and mislead the very ones who stand to benefit the most.  Could it simply be a matter of protecting the few who profit?    Could it be that the status quo has literally become too stagnant to fix something that has been on the back burner for too long?

All of us, either directly or indirectly, know of or knew someone who was denied health coverage for one reason or another.  The results being a prolonged illness or the ultimate price … death.  To watch, aimlessly, our loved ones and others close to us lose their health and eventually their dignity, doesn’t have to continue at the alarming rate it has.  Love manifests itself in many forms … affording a healthier life is one of them and taking care of people of this great nation, another.


5 Reminders That Will Affect Your Life

September 26, 2009 by  
Filed under Blog

I am actively working on affecting changes in my life.  I fully realize that I have within me all the tools I need to have a great impact in the way I feel on a daily basis.  I also know that my life is my creation and my master piece.  All the situations that happen in my life give me the choice in how to sculpt my existence.

None of us are different from anybody else.  We all want the same things we only go about getting them in a different way.

So I wanted to share with you the things that I’m now reminding myself of every moment in order to affect the changes I want and I hope you’ll find these concepts helpful as well.

1 – Slow down – The misguided idea that by not having a minute to breath we are accomplishing lots and so deserve some type of reward it is just stupid.  All we do is create stress and miss out on all the simple things that are the basis of real happiness that happen all around us without any appreciation or recognition from us because we just don’t have the time.   Even sex which is mostly free and if you have a partner easy to do falls in the, I don’t have time for it category.  How much time do you dedicated to explore your body and your lover’s body and experience love and pleasure knowing that if you did it would bring you happiness?

2 – Commitment – Whatever it is that we decide to put our minds and energy into should be done with full commitment.  That means no fear of failure.  Fear of failure makes us not fully commit.  Somehow we think if we don’t share with ourselves and others how much we really want something, we have the illusion that if it doesn’t happen we won’t look bad.  The truth is that without full commitment we are going after something with only half a brain and half a heart.  How many of us have actually seen others succeed because they declared to the world what they wanted and went after it with gusto?  Who cares what others think of our successes of failures?  What we should be caring about is stretching our personal boundaries and experience the best life we can for ourselves.  No one knows us and where we have been and what we want like ourselves.  The only person we need to care about in committing is ourselves.  As we don’t have a clue what takes for anybody to get something the reverse is also true.

3 – To Be of Service – Giving and sharing is the best way to get us outside our own heads and make us feel part of a community and to feel and that we have a voice in how the world gets shaped.  We can have a positive impact in the world.  That’s a huge thing.

4 – Live in the Present – The past has happened and the future is yet to register so the only time frame we can experience is the present.  By focusing on the present we can impact the future.  By focusing on the future, we missed the present and become very passive in the outcome of our lives.

I believe in the basic quantum physics concept that the past, present and future co-exist simultaneously.  But that is not to say that we get a second chance to re-do or to experience something in a different way because once the energies of the world shift ever so slightly that moment will never happen again.

5 – Love.  Let’s not ever miss the chance to love a friend, a pet, a neighbor a flower, a family member and a partner.   Giving and receiving love makes us feel safe,  protected and gives us courage to have a bigger life.


A Beautiful Life, The Movie

September 25, 2009 by  
Filed under Blog

In 2007 I finally got to produce a film I had been working on for ten years.  The film based on a play deals with hope, sexual abuse, and relationships.  

“A love story set against the decaying skyline of downtown Los Angeles between a runaway from a suburban small town and an illegal from Mexico. As the emotional walls between them come down a more horrific picture appears, that of a boy searching for a mother who left him behind and may or may not be alive and that of a girl whose idea of love and violence are inseparable. A Beautiful Life is what these two teenagers want and will fight for with the help of an exotic dancer who dreams of a singing career.”

We didn’t have enough money or enough time but had a committed cast and crew.  There were many difficulties and we were able to overcome each one of them. 

On October 2nd A Beautiful Life, will be released in a number of theatres across the US.  The film features Bai Ling, Jesse Garcia, Dana Delany, Debi Mazar, and Angela Sarafyan. 

Below is the link to an interview I gave today about the making of the film.


8 Ways Doing Less Can Transform Your Work & Life

September 24, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured

Do less, be happier.

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” - Antoine de Saint-Exupe

Post written by Leo Babauta. Follow me on Twitter.

Most productivity blogs and books will teach you how to do more, to get more done, to be more productive.

I want to teach you to do less, to get less done, to be less productive.

And while I’ve written about it before, I think it’s time we take a look at how this can really change your work life, and your life as a whole.

Doing less is not about being lazy (though being lazy is a good start) – it’s about focusing on quality rather than quantity. It’s about getting off the hamster wheel of productivity, so that you can create something great rather than just being busy.

Let’s take a few examples:

  • A furniture maker can mass-produce a ton of cheap furniture that will fall apart within a year. Another craftsman might produce way fewer pieces of furniture, but make them beautifully and solidly, so that they’ll last for generations. If he makes them well enough, they might even be sought out and remembered for their great design.
  • A programmer can write tens of thousands of lines of code, and produce a lot of software that works. A less productive coder can write a tenth of the lines, perhaps even editing down what she writes so that there’s less code, but they’re better written. This small program might be the most useful thing on many people’s computers, flawless code that just works.
  • A writer can churn out lots of words (hundreds of thousands, if not millions), but have his work read by relatively few. Another writer can write a small but powerful blog post or ebook, and have the post be spread by thousands of people.

In each case, the person produced less, but focused on quality. The impact of the smaller work was higher, and thus the time worked was better spent.

I’d argue that by focusing on quality, you could work less and still have a higher impact. I’ve done this in my life – by cutting back on my work hours, I actually get less done but have a higher impact.

I should note: this takes courage, to do less. You have to shed all the old ideas of working harder and working more and being more productive. You have to forget about what others think about your work habits, and instead think about the impact the work has on the world and your life. You have to change the way you do things, and that’s never easy.

But it’s worth the effort.

Here are some ways this philosophy can change your life and work:

  1. Less hectic, busy schedule, less stress, more peace. Doing less leaves free to schedule less, leave more space in your schedule, work at a more human pace.
  2. More ability to focus, to find Flow, to work in the moment. When you are doing too much, you are constantly switching from one task to another, constantly interrupted, constantly distracted. Do less, clear away distractions, single-task.
  3. Work has more impact and spreads further and wider. When you do too much, your work is spread thinner, you have lower quality, and people won’t spread your work or give you awards for low-quality work.
  4. More pride in your work, which feels good. Feels awesome, actually, to create something worth putting your name on.
  5. People appreciate higher quality. Customers rave. Readers enthuse. Reviewers glow. Bosses promote.
  6. More time for family and loved ones. Not a small benefit. Be sure that if you do less, you use the saved time for something important. Like quiet time for the ones you love.
  7. More time for other things you enjoy. I use my time for exercise, or reading, and of course my family.
  8. Free yourself up to create amazing things. Creating is hard to do when you’re busy and distracted. By doing less, you can create something great.

How to Do Less

I almost didn’t include this section, as to me it seems obvious: you just … do less. But I realize it’s not obvious to everyone, so I’ll share a few tips (many are familiar to long-time readers):

  • Slowly cut back on non-essential commitments.
  • Have fewer meetings.
  • Say no to requests, as much as possible, so you can focus on doing something great.
  • Cut out distractions, especially the Internet.
  • Single-task and focus.
  • Churn out a shitty first draft, then edit.
  • Edit some more. Make it beautiful and minimal.
  • Make it something you will be proud to claim credit for.
  • When you find yourself doing busy-work, stop, put it off, find ways to cut that out of your life.
  • Whatever blocks you from doing your great work, kill it.
  • Set limits on how many things you do each day.
  • Focus on the most important tasks first, before you get distracted
  • Set limits on your work hours.

It won’t happen overnight. Change gradually, but surely.

“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage – to move in the opposite direction.” - E.F. Schumacker


Why We Cry

September 23, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured

By John-Paul Flintoff

Women do it 64 times a year, men just 17. Actors and politicians do it on demand. But why does crying happen in the first place? John-Paul Flintoff learns that even scientists are still guessing.

I had behaved badly, and feared the worst. I went looking for my father, gave him a reasonably accurate report, then did something that – now I think about it – seems rather odd.

Specifically, I released a salty, protein-rich fluid from my lachrymal apparatus, improvised adjustments in the muscles of facial expression, added a few non-specific and incomprehensible vocalizations, and convulsively inhaled and exhaled air with spasms of the respiratory and truncal muscle groups. To put it another way, I cried.

Like most boys, I sometimes allowed my conduct to deviate from the ideal: running around the house, gabbing on my brother, setting things alight. But the occasion I have in mind was different. Not because of the specifics of my crime, which I no longer recall, but because this time my father interrupted to tell me I was too old to cry. (How old? Somewhere between eight and 12, is my best guess.)

His point, I suspect, was that for years he had not expected me to take criticism tearlessly, but now he did. As it happens, he does not remember the incident – and insists he has never felt anybody can be “too old to cry” as such – but it lives with me still, the shocking realization that I could no longer squeeze out tears to escape trouble. A rite of passage for which there is no name, although we all go through this, or something like it

I have, of course, cried many times since then. Even relatively recently – in front of my father and others too – although not ordinarily to avoid a bollocking. As an adult I have cried for characters in films and books. I failed an important exam, once, because my eyes constantly flooded as I tried to put from my mind the death of a close relative the night before.

Bill Clinton was laughing and joking with colleagues at a funeral when he noticed he was being filmed, immediately became serious and welled up.

I burst into tears in front of a flatmate – a man – after my mother was made redundant some years ago. In my first job as a journalist, after spending a whole day sitting beside a nitpicking editor as he went through my work, I went home and cried to my girlfriend. After severing major blood vessels in my foot, I wept in front of my wife (as she had by then become) and a roomful of strangers. Four years ago, after reading the memoir of a woman dying from cancer, I drove to the reading group where that book had been chosen for discussion and cracked up on the freeway, allowing my tearful gaze to rest on a beautiful sunset and … driving into the car in front. (I stopped weeping, obviously, to exchange telephone numbers with the driver, but the incident provided still more reason for crying again afterwards.)

And let’s not forget this one. Last year, on a fast road in Texas, a squirrel dashed out in front of my car; even the slight bump caused by driving over it, minimal though that was, thanks to the excellent suspension on my rental car, was sufficient to generate tears.

To write this is embarrassing, even shameful. To cry for a squirrel; how could I be so pathetic? But it is also self-serving, hinting at a sensitive soul – and a bold move, to put all this on public record. As I was researching this story, a glamorous woman told me something that I only hope others feel too: “There is nothing more powerful than seeing a grown man cry. It shows a sensitivity and vulnerability that is very appealing.”

Over the centuries, as between cultures, the appropriate context for tears has varied considerably. St Francis of Assisi is said to have gone blind from too much crying. In the 12th century epic, Song of Roland, the lords of France weep bitter tears, pull their beards and faint from grief. As Tom Lutz writes in his brilliant and witty book, Crying: The Natural and Cultural History of Tears, only Monty Python could do justice to the idea of 20,000 knights in armor weeping and fainting and falling off their horses.

Among later European classics, comedians could have fun with The Sorrows of Young Werther, in which Johann Goethe’s hero sobs almost constantly, and many Victorian melodramas that came after. (Europe dried up, it is said, during the First World War, because there was just too much to cry about. But I reckon crying became unfashionable earlier, around the time Oscar Wilde joked that you would need a heart of stone not to laugh at the death of Dickens’s Little Nell.)

A common ruse of journalism is to justify writing about something by claiming that it is on the increase. But to write that we are all crying a lot more these days would be absurd because any such change would be glacially slow. All the same, we tend to forget how often we do cry. In one study, researchers asked English speakers to keep daily records and, at the end of the year, to estimate how frequently they had cried. The guesses were much lower than the diaries showed: women cry 64 times a year, on average, and men 17.

To find out what sets us off, I recently looked up stories that appeared this year in two mid-market newspapers, in which the words “crying” and “tears” both occurred. The subjects they covered most often were, in roughly this order: the deaths, births and illnesses of children; and of parents; cheating husbands; and violent ones; absent fathers; pedophilia; rape; adoption; the hell of school exams; remembering lost loves; or retired guide dogs; accepting an award for acting; problems with builders; and onions. Most of these things, thankfully, do not arise often. The most common causes of crying are low-level frustration or sad moments on TV. Which may explain why, according to extensive research, adults cry most frequently when they are alone, at home, between 7pm and 10pm.

No other animal sheds emotional tears (as opposed to tears of irritation). Charles Darwin, who confirmed this in his book, The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, acknowledged that crying could be useful to infants for attracting attention from caregivers, but ultimately concluded that tears were more or less useless; like the appendix, an exception to the rule that purposeless behavior and body structures will not be maintained during the course of evolution.

Perhaps he was right and we will eventually lose this faculty. If we do we may miss it because, as a means to stop intimidation, crying would seem to be less humiliating than the chimpanzee’s preferred tactic of presenting the hindquarters.

The pageant of public life is frequently enlivened by tears from grown men (and women, of whom more later). These leaky outbursts, even following behavior more than usually shameful, can raise a man’s popularity and immediately produce forgiveness – if not necessarily from the individuals he has hurt, then at least from anonymous millions who read the newspapers and watch TV.

But even the most powerful weapons in the armor of public relations do not always work. In the US, the Democrat Ed Muskie flunked the 1972 presidential primaries after crying in front of the press corps. (A hostile press had written that Muskie’s wife was “emotionally unstable”. He claimed they were not tears on his cheeks but snowflakes.)

In Russia, the former prime minister, Nikolai Ryzhkov, who also cried on camera, was forever after derided as the “weeping Bolshevik”. But many others have turned tears to their advantage, including Oliver North in the Contra hearings, Jim Bakker, the fraudulent TV evangelist, and Bill Clinton, who always managed to tear up at need.

Once, notoriously, Clinton was laughing and joking with colleagues at a funeral when he noticed he was being filmed, immediately became serious and welled up.

Such weeping, less than fully sincere, may put you in mind of Lewis Carroll’s walrus, in Through the Looking Glass, who weeps for the oysters as he cheerfully eats them. Or of the musician Liberace, who said after he was libeled that he would “cry all the way to the bank”. Or the poet Robert Lowell, who memorably wrote that we “piss hogwash through our eyes”.

Despite this roll of male dishonor, studies have shown that women, in particular, use crying purposely to manipulate others. This has long been suspected. Over the years women’s tears have been described as “the world’s greatest water power”, and “stronger than any acid”. According to one proverb: “Every woman is wrong until she cries.” Outdated misogyny?

British Prime Minister’s wife, Cherie Booth, had tears in her eyes during a speech defending herself against behaving improperly in a deal relating to her son’s university accommodation. Several newspapers unkindly interpreted those tears as forced. She was faking, they insisted, to win sympathy that she did not deserve. But surely she is a bit old for that. Whatever would her father say?

At birth, most babies cry at C or C-sharp. (That is, according to one American study.) As they grow older, they learn to cry at different pitches, and with different intensities, durations and qualities. At around 10 months, they cease to cry primarily when alone, in favor of crying when a caregiver is present: crying becomes manipulative.

Along with the noise – and usually, as we get older, without it – come tears. Ordinary tears, which lubricate the eyeballs every waking minute, are produced continuously in the lachrymal gland, which rests between the frontal bone and the eyeball, at up to two microliters a minute, or nearly 10 ounces a day. They flow from the outside, upper edge towards the center and drain away through puncta, or holes, on the lower eyelid.

If the flow is excessive, as the result of yawning, coughing, vomiting or sneezing – or a poke in the eye – the 0.3 mm-wide punctum cannot handle the flow, and tears slosh over the edge of the eyelids. This also happens when we weep.

But what causes emotional tears? The philosopher William James, following Darwin, considered emotions to be little different from reflexes, occurring without prior rational thought. Only after experiencing the bodily sensations of, say, anger or fear, James argued, do we cognitively recognize the emotions. But this does not explain why the bodily sensations arise in the first place. Nor is it clear how James accounts for blushes, which, as anybody can testify, come after embarrassing thoughts, not the other way round.

And anyway, if bodily state alone determines emotions, why does the losing team in a football match feel miserable and the winning side euphoric – when both have played for the same duration, on the same pitch and in the same conditions?

More confusingly, the same thoughts can produce two different emotions. Pity and schadenfreude both arise from the contemplation of somebody else’s misfortunes. So why does only pity make us cry? Hormones certainly have some influence: in tests, patients injected with adrenaline have reported feeling something like an emotion but not the emotion itself. (“I feel as if afraid,” said one. “I feel as if I were going to weep without knowing why.”) But neurologists are unsure of the precise pathways of the nerves controlling the glands that release hormones, let alone what happens in the brain to stimulate them.

They have, however, identified two different memory systems: one declarative and one emotional. People with brains damaged in accidents, who lose the use of only one of these systems, either (a) react with great fear to a person who hurt them, but without having any explicit memory of that person or the injury or (b) remember clearly the person and the injury but without strong feelings. This suggests that reason and emotions are not opposed to each other, as Plato long ago suggested. On the contrary, it indicates that reason and emotions need each other to function properly.

One person hoping to find answers to these mysteries is Ad Vingerhoets, one of a handful of academics, worldwide, to have devoted their attention to crying. Like Lutz, he recently came to London for a conference on adult crying hosted by the Freud Museum, but I meet him in Tilburg, in the Netherlands – a place best known for its soccer team, PSV Eindhoven, a rock academy, and the university where Vingerhoets is professor of clinical psychology.

Vingerhoets had worked for years on the psychophysiology of the emotions when somebody at a party set him thinking. “A man asked me, ‘Is crying really healthy? I don’t believe it.’ I couldn’t tell him. There’s very little in the textbooks.” Over time, the professor became consumed by the subject, which everybody thinks they understand, but which proved less comprehensible the more he looked into it. (Is sobbing fundamentally different from merely getting watery eyes, or for that matter a quivering lip? Nobody knows.)

At Tilburg, the study of psychology is scientifically rigorous, based on laboratory tests rather than mythology and metaphor. One of Vingerhoets’ PhD students, Michelle Hendricks, is analyzing the distress caused by seeing somebody else cry. This morning, as part of an experiment, she has a volunteer coming in to watch a movie in the lab: a room at the end of the corridor has been specially prepared, with a huge TV set-up before a leather-effect sun-lounger.

The volunteers are undergraduate students, obliged to take part in a certain number of experiments each year, but allowed to choose which ones. Before the film begins, they are told what will happen and asked to sign insurance forms. Next, they complete a questionnaire about their mood and climb on to the sun-lounger, where Hendricks wires them up to monitors assessing, among other things, blood pressure, heart rate and sweating. They are also given a button to press whenever the film, Once Were Warriors, elicits tears.

When it ends, they must complete another questionnaire. One volunteer recently pressed the button eight times, reports Hendricks with evident satisfaction, but roughly three-quarters do not press it at all. “I think maybe the movie is not touching enough. It’s pretty violent. Also the environment may affect them. They’re in a strange room with all kinds of wires . . .”

Examining the forms from her latest volunteer, Hendricks says: “She was happy before the film. Not so much after.”

I find this fascinating, but wonder if Vingerhoets and his team ever worry about the seriousness of their work. As he drives me to the airport, the professor seems to admit as much when he tells me about a friend and former colleague, a world expert in blinking, who gave it all up for a career in politics. “This would seem to be one answer to the question of ‘why oh why?’.”

I leave Holland little clearer about my own crying habits, let alone those of Cherie Booth. But soon afterwards I come across another piece of research, much like the one Donkers mentioned. In tests, individuals were asked about their own reactions to watching men and women cry, and also how they thought other people would react in the same situation. Most felt that “people” would be more bothered by male crying than they themselves were – indicating a substantial, if unacknowledged, acceptance of male crying.

This makes a lot of sense. The British soccer player Paul Gascoigne became a national icon in 1990 after he cried in the World Cup, even though his tears were entirely self-pitiful. Then there are the weeping movie stars. Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt and Tom Hanks are well known as sensitive types, but even the conventionally macho Mel Gibson, Sylvester Stallone and Bruce Willis have shed tears on film. Indeed, it has been argued that actors are more likely to win awards if their performance requires them to cry.

Thinking about this, I wonder whether, after decades of exhortation from pop psychologists – many of whom believe crying to be therapeutic, although this has yet to be supported by hard evidence – men have acquired a new license to cry in public. And whether, owing to the even mightier imperatives of feminism, women have felt an equal and opposite prohibition.

Lutz, in his book, hints at exactly such an idea. He believes this may be part of a more general trend towards the centre: just as politicians seek to position themselves away from the extremes of left and right, so men cry to prove they are “not too manly” and women suppress tears to prove they are “not too feminine”. For me, this can only be good news. Cherie Booth, on the other hand, may regret making the mistake of crying while also not being a man.

But did she, as accused, fake her tears? I ask Mark Borkowski who, in addition to wearing pinstripes and advising major companies on public relations, has a background in performing arts. “In public life,” he says, “you are always under pressure, and you have to show strength. We have a tradition where you can’t show emotion; you’re trained to deal with the media and not to be seen as who you really are . . . People do want to see the honest human face, and when someone cries, there’s huge appreciation. But they might also think this has been manipulated.

“If you went into the street and asked people if they thought PR people were using tears for leverage, I think seven or eight out of 10 would say ‘yes’, so you have to take that into account. And there’s too much light on the puppet strings, when it comes to the Blairs, so if I’d been asked I would not have advised her to cry.”

But each client is different. “If someone said to me – before a press conference or interview – ‘Look, I really want to keep a stiff upper lip’,” continues Borkowski, “I would probably say, ‘No, let it go, people want to see the real you.’

“If they said, ‘I would like to pull out a hanky at paragraph eight in my speech,’ I’d say no.

“Nobody has ever asked me, but it may happen. If somebody publishes conclusive research, there are going to be a thousand publicists telling clients to think about using tears.”

If that happens, they may want to get in touch with Dee Cannon, an acting teacher who works at Britain’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) and for private clients who have included actors Matthew Modine, Jon Voight, Courtney Love, the singer Craig David and the former soccer star David Ginola.

Cannon, who is in her 30s, wears sunglasses on the top of her head and sits back on the sofa with legs crossed – but leans forward urgently to explain the mysteries of the acting theory originated by Russian producer and actor Konstantin Stanislavsky, known as the Stanislavsky Method, and particularly his use of emotional memory.

In classes, she explains, students lie on the floor. To relax, they are encouraged to imagine themselves on a beach, or in a garden. Then she asks them to look back on a traumatic episode. “It’s normally death, to be honest,” she says. “Or it could be a car accident.”

Whatever it is, the memory must be at least five years old, because the emotion associated with anything more recent may be too strong to control. Cannon invites them to shut their eyes and consider every aspect of that event. “You get them to go back to the beginning of that particular day,” she explains. “Where were they? What were they wearing? What were the sounds and the smells? You try to get them right up to the moment when they picked up the phone and heard the bad news.”

Gradually, this forensic attention brings most students to tears. Is it odd, for Cannon, to see everybody crying at her feet? “A little.” But also gratifying? “Oh, absolutely.”

Afterwards, she asks students to identify the precise detail that elicited the tears. “It could be the look in someone’s eye, or an intake of breath, or the sound of the telephone.” Whatever it is, that’s the trigger they take with them into the studio, or on to the stage.

As in representations of drunkenness, says Cannon, the most effective criers appear to struggle against their condition. Thus, just as it is funnier to watch drunkards straining for sobriety than mere slurring and staggering, an audience is less likely to be moved by incontinent sobbing than by characters who fight back their tears.

“Well, it doesn’t always take much to produce tears, especially if you’re feeling a bit low in the first place . . .” She pauses, remembering something that is interesting, particularly for students of rock music, but which leaves me no more sure than I was before about my own tears; and less sure about Booth than my father was about me, justly, all those years ago.

“The point of acting techniques,” says Cannon, “is that you are in control. Vulnerability and sensitivity are not techniques – although if you are clever you can use them. When I worked with Sinead (O’Connor, the Irish singer and actor) she would just tap into something and cry. It was amazing. But she would say, ‘I’m on my period, I was feeling vulnerable before I came in’.”

John-Paul Flintoff is contributing editor, Financial Times Magazine.


Five Steps To A Happier Life

September 21, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured

Nobody can guarantee or be guaranteed happiness forever but there are a few things that we can do every day that will help us have more satisfaction and a better outlook in life.

Below are some ideas in how to live a happier life.

There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so – William Shakespeare

  1. Be a Part of Something You Believe In – It can be any type of organization that supports a social cause. This activity will act as an anchor by giving meaning to your life no matter what else is going on.  Helping others or doing something for the environment gets us out of our heads and gives us a feeling of accomplishment. It will also get you engaged with others and give you responsibilities.
  2. Share Time with Friends and Family – This one seems obvious but some many of us get so involved with work that we forget that friends and family feed our hearts. Feeling loved and belonging to a group gives us the inner strength to go out into the world.
  3. Reflect on the Good – Quite often people concentrate too much of their attention on negative outcomes and leave no time to positively reflect on their successes.  It’s natural for a person to want to correct undesirable circumstances and focus closely on doing so, but there must be a healthy balance in the allocation of personal awareness.  It is important to mindfully reflect on the good while striving diligently to correct the bad.  A continuous general awareness of your daily successes can have a noticeably positive affect on your overall emotional happiness.
  4. Be Honest – Being truthful without being hurtful is key to our well being.  Lying to ourselves and others create an environment of negativity.  Always tie loose ends and try to leave things on a good note so you can move on without having emotional strings attached.
  5. Slow Down And Enjoy The Simple Pleasures – We are always in such a hurry that we never get to appreciate all the gifts that are given to us on a daily basis.  A tender moment, a beautiful sunset, laughter, a pleasant smell, these are things that enrich our lives and give us pleasure.  But if we are always running we don’t see any of it.  Small things, such a nice meal with a loved one, has the capacity to make us really happy.

Really give it a try to these five life altering suggestions.  You’ll see how much more you’ll be able to draw out of life.


A Beautiful Life

September 20, 2009 by  
Filed under Blog

A Beautiful Life, a film I co-wrote and produced will be released on October 2nd.

The film deals with rape and Maggie’s (the lead character) belief that love and violence are one and the same.  I’m not going to give the plot away but the film ends on a hopeful note and that is the beauty of the story and that is why I spent so many years of my life trying to make this movie.

I’m often asked what attracted me to the material, as it was a play first.  Early on my response was: “It’s really compelling material.” But the truth is I have a lot in common with the lead character.

For one, I was sexually assaulted in 1994 when the US was the host of the World Cup.  I was attacked by a fellow Brazilian, an attorney, who was here with the Brazilian delegation.

This happened right after I moved to LA from NY and after my divorce from a very unhappy marriage.  Needless to say I was very fragile.

I was able to go to the police station and because the OJ, Nicole Simpson case had just happened, I was taken very seriously.  The man was arrested in his pajamas at the Beverly Hilton Hotel and the police took his passport away. 

His friends found my phone number and started calling me at all hours of the day pleading with me not to testify.  “He didn’t mean it.  You know how Brazilians are.  He has a one year old boy” his friends kept saying while my mind kept thinking: “Maybe I shouldn’t have been so nice, did I lead him on?  I did fight.  I did ask him to stop.”  What ended up happening during the assault is that I left my body.  It was like my spirit was hovering over me and watching from a distance the scene below. 

The police sent me to the Santa Monica rape crisis center.  I was there assigned to a therapist.  Their goal was to help me.

The man had appendicitis in jail and was taken to the hospital.  His friends kept calling me. The detectives kept calling me: “We’re counting on you to testify” they would say.  And I didn’t know what was up or down.

My Santa Monica therapist said to do what I wanted, do what I could.  What I wanted was to run.  What Maggie wanted was to run.

After a couple of months I told the detectives I couldn’t spend another year of my life getting phone calls and feeling guilty.  The detectives were angry at me.  They thought it would be an easy case but without my testimony they didn’t think they could get a conviction and decided to let him go.

I wished I had more time to calm down before having had to make the decision to testify or not.  Victims of sexual abuse are often so immersed in shame that the last thing we want is to be placed in a court of law and answer antagonistic questions from the defense attorneys. 

I wished the therapist that was assigned to me would have also helped me understand that by letting the guy go I might put other women in jeopardy.  I still hope his experience here was enough to put a stop to his actions.  But I don’t know.

Maggie and A Beautiful Life became my way out of my shame and paralyses.  By working on her words and her hope, I gave myself hope.   I turned my loss into something positive but I was lucky to be able to do that. 

There are so many of us, men and women, that have experienced what it is to be objectified; to count as much in the eyes of another as a table or chair. 

I don’t know what makes a rapist a rapist but I do know we need better tools to help the victims and to be able to put the criminal on trial without having to drag the victim through another humiliation.

A Beautiful Life is a tough movie.  It puts in the foreground the very real consequences of abuse including the rejection and the blame that we suffer even from people that love us.

Maybe the film is not everyone’s cup of tea but the subject it discusses should be everyone’s cup of tea as it happens more often than we care to know.   

But what I really have in common with Maggie is that I too want A Beautiful Life and like her, I won’t stop fighting for it no matter what life throws my way.


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