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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Finding the Silver Lining... er, uh, the Copper Wiring in Every Situation




This week I had a large scale artistic project, a musical, blow up in my face. I was the writer and associate producer. It had a large financial backing. It had a team behind it. It was an incredible concept that had “huge success” written all over it. And it turned out that the business model behind the project was flawed from the very beginning, long before I came on board. So, the plug was pulled ten days before the launch of the project—something to which I gave my heart and soul.

Painful. Annoying. Near heartbreaking.

When I got the news, I needed some time to think. I had to take a long walk to clear my head.

Do I give up and throw in the towel? Do I abandon the project along with everyone else? I wanted this to succeed but my heart was just ripped out. What was I supposed to do? I still believed in the concept as long as it was tweaked a bit.

We couldn’t throw the baby out with the bath water. We had components of a show that could still be saved for the future. Sets were already built, costumes sewn, a cast album near completion, orchestrations written, and a pop song from the show ready to go on the radio. 

On my walk I saw a couple of old houses being knocked down to make way for new construction. But before knocking down the old houses, they were being gutted, stripping the copper wiring from inside so it could be resold or used for new buildings. 

When all seems lost, when the thing in front of you looks like a pile of rubble—there’s almost certainly something salvageable from the site of the wreckage.

I’m taking my musical, revamping it slightly for a different audience, keeping the copper wiring—the album, the costumes, and the orchestrations—and living to fight another day.

Bad things happen, even painful things. That’s inevitable. It’s our response to those bad things that dictates what kind of life we lead. 

Find the silver lining in every situation... or the copper wiring. Things won’t get easier right away but you’ll be giving your future a fighting chance. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Lessons from the Road: What a Little Brown Bird Taught me about Winning


Before my flight to Austin last week, I was sitting inside the Jet Blue terminal at JFK  airport and a little brown bird flew and landed ten feet in front of me. The bird had spotted some kind of large nut lying on the ground that it wanted to eat.
The nut was too large for the bird to swallow much less grab with its beak, so it started pecking at the nut. The bird worked hard until the nut cracked into three pieces. But cracking the nut was not the bird’s main objective. The bird started biting at each piece of the nut until it was small enough to chew and swallow. It wasn’t easy biting at each piece of the nut. Smaller pieces were flying in different directions but the bird kept at it and finally ate the entire nut.
That bird was on a mission, a mission to complete his objective, a mission to win.
If that tiny little bird can find a way to win, so can I. But what does it mean to win in the grand scheme of things? What does it mean beyond a little brown bird inside an airport?
Winning is:
  • Persistent
  • Always looking for solutions
  • Willing to take on big challenges
  • Taming the negative voices inside your head
  • Standing up for yourself
  • Standing up for what is right
  • Working within the rulebook to make the rules fit the game you want to play
  • A phenomenon that can lie inside gray areas… until your decision negatively affects someone else—then it’s a black and white situation
  • Patient but not complacent
  • Not a diva
  • Not something that makes you better than anyone else
  • Something that enables you to empower others to win
  • Willing to fail
  • Needing to learn from a failure
  • Earning trust
  • Often different than what you envisioned
  • Following through on a promise
  • Relentless
Winning above all is finding a way to lasso the word “impossible” from the heavens, bring it down to earth, tame it, and make it possible.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Benefits of Singing for Your Supper




Recently I got downgraded. Humbled. I got asked to sing for my supper. 

I was supposed to perform The Gospel According to Josh for three different groups of students grades 6-12 at a private school in ritzy suburb of Detroit... along with a sweet fee to pay my expenses and salary. I got booked by the school’s counselor.

And then the school’s teachers and administration stepped in. “We know nothing about this guy and want to make sure he does what he says he does.” So long three performances and sweet fee. Hello, one paid performance/audition for the school’s faculty and staff to potentially come back in the Spring of ’14. 

But wait... I’ve been presenting this program for three years. Hundreds of positive outcomes. Endorsements. Testimonials out the wazoo... A published book. I have to audition and take follow up meetings with groups of teachers?

Yes you do, sonny boy.

Stewing on all this for a few days it hit me. Singing for my supper isn’t a bad thing at all. It’s a great thing. There’s no way (outside of budgetary restrictions) that they won’t have me back. This product is too good...

But more importantly, it’s an opportunity for me to forge new, deep relationships.  Speaking confidently and intelligently in front of groups of people is a great thing.  It should be something we strive to do on a consistent basis. It helps build trust between two or more people and reinforces the fact that you’re honest and credible. 

When (not “if”) you do a great job performing on small stages, when you take a small opportunity and create something exceptional from that; you’re grooming yourself for bigger and better things. You also endear yourself to the people who are making the ask of you to prove yourself. 

This too shall pass. But in the interim, take stock of your current circumstances. Singing for your supper will keep you humble and hungry — two traits that will keep you on the long route to the success you seek and deserve.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

A Peek into the book The Gospel According to Josh: A 28-Year Gentile Bar Mitzvah (One of my fave parts)




The snippet of the book that I’ve included below is one of my favorite parts of the book. It was the first time I got to really know my dad in depth, after his passing of course; a moment in existence where I got to have this intimate conversation with him just by reading his personal diary. It reminds me that we all have a story, and though it might not be the next New York Times Best seller, each of us has something valuable to say and to contribute to the world. Happy reading :)

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Searching for a pair of boxer briefs beneath a smattering of unmated socks, a wall of nostalgia washed over me like an ocean wave—reminding me that the bottom drawer was full of my father’s personal effects that I took from his bedroom the day after he died. I hadn’t looked at or even thought about them since the day I brought them into my apartment. Sliding open that bottom drawer, I carefully removed a few old Life magazines with covers featuring Diana Ross, Henry Kissinger, the inventor of the Polaroid camera, and Nikita Khrushchev. I also took out a copy of one of his old driver’s licenses and an enormous, dusty American flag that the U.S. Government gave my father in honor of Haakon’s burial in Arlington National Cemetery. The last of what I pulled out were three old photo albums that I, until this day, had never viewed. 
Inside the first photo album were pictures of my father from the early 1970s while on vacation with some of his friends and family, a few years before he met my mother. He had an odd, thin mustache and looked much happier than I had ever seen him. While thumbing my way to the back of the album, a thin leather-bound booklet that I didn’t recognize slid out from between the pages of the plastic sleeves. It was light brown and threadbare. The pages were yellow and tattered, and the whole of it was held together by a rubber band. Inside the cover was my father’s trademark handwriting—neat little words in all capital letters. 
This was his old diary. In it were the childhood games he used to play, the names of some of his old neighborhood friends, and the girls with whom he was smitten during his Lutheran elementary school days: 

My first cigarette was great. But since I’m thirteen, I was scared to smoke when my parents got home so I threw it inside our piano. My dad smelled it and got it out in time. I didn’t even get in trouble. They just told me not to burn the house down. Neat!

As I flipped through the pages, his writing became more perfunctory and his dated entries were few and far between. Toward the back he wrote about his early twenties and talked briefly about his time at Park College in Kansas City, Missouri. 
He listed all of the jobs he had ever held (teacher, substitute teacher, amateur lawn care specialist, store clerk), but what he seemed most enthusiastic about was the law. He wanted to be a lawyer. A few pages were marked only with the words, I want more out of life,” written over and over again—reminiscent of Jack Nicholson’s deranged character in The Shining
 My father almost married a long-term girlfriend, a woman who was in love with him whom he found utterly beautiful but emotionally unstable. He also doubted whether he could commit to just one woman, and subsequently broke up with his long-term girlfriend at a coffee shop to keep her from going on a “psychotic rampage.” On the last page was a list of places he had traveled to: Germany, England, and Italy; along with a short list of places he needed to visit before he died: Jerusalem, Norway, and Vancouver. 
I learned more about my father reading twenty pages of his diary than I ever had in the twenty-five years I had known him. Conversations about television shows, family members, or his opinions on biblical doctrine always came easy, but we never talked about anything deeper. Who he truly was, how he felt about women, or what he wanted out of life—those were things that only a skilled and meticulous excavator could uncover. And my father didn’t keep company with any of those scholarly diggers. 

(—The rotten apple don’t fall too far from the tree, my dude.—)
(—Oh, god, do not say that.—)

This was the first time I had ever met my father, a flawed man, but a human being with hopes and dreams. My chest pounded with sharp pangs of pity, my heart ached for this man. This diary was damning evidence, beyond a reasonable doubt, that he had given up on himself a long time ago. He never made a real effort to become a lawyer or anything else for that matter. And he never made it to Jerusalem, Norway, or Vancouver.  
What happened to the man in the diary? He grew up, took a dead-end job with the State of New Jersey, married Holly, found religion, had three kids, and killed himself. What turned him into the angry shell of a person who taunted me as a child and who now haunted me as an adult? 
I carefully put away all of my father’s personal effects then lay down on my couch. With my hands behind my head, and my eyes closed, I tried to picture what my own life would look like in thirty-five years. Due to my lack of sleep the previous night, I was fast asleep within minutes and toe-to-toe with Ghost Dad once again. 

eleven
new waters
This particular dream started out the same as all the others. But this time he wasn’t holding a wad of cash, but a leather-bound diary as if he was preparing to read aloud from its pages. He appeared to be in a foul mood, his face red and covered in sweat like a fire-and-brimstone preacher of old. Before he could say a word, I leapt from the graveyard and literally flew toward a place to which I knew, instinctively, neither of us had ever been. That phantom menace, my dead father, followed me till I touched down in what looked like a rainforest. A massive gorge with a river sprawled out at its bottom separated the luxuriant Technicolor paradise from an endless and ashen, barren field. 
Ghost Dad, dejected and desperate, stood on the other side of the gorge, unable to cross over to meet me. Overcome with sympathy for this pitiful apparition, I began searching for ways to help him cross. Just as I turned my back on my father to venture into the rainforest to find some help, a soft wind snuck up from behind and whispered in my ear. 
“You cannot help him enter until you learn the secrets of the rainforest,” said the wind, tickling the fine little hairs on my earlobe. I spun around as fast as I could in order to catch a glimpse of whomever was speaking, but the wind grew violent and knocked me to the ground, causing me to wake from my sleep. 
Ensuing days were spent ridden with apprehension, while working to decipher the meaning of that dream so different from all the others. For the sake of a good night’s sleep and my personal sanity, these appearances had to stop. I had to uncover the “secrets” of the rainforest before he returned. 

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The Gospel According to Josh: A 28-Year Gentile Bar Mitzvah was recently approved by The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s recommended reading list for survivors of a loved one’s suicide. www.gospeljosh.com