Paul Stenning's Blog 2017

Night time in Mauritius

Earlier this year I had the pleasure of traveling around the island of Mauritius. It was during the second night when I truly fell in love with the country. I watched besotted as the swooping palm trees swayed in the heavy, but welcome, breeze.

From then on I was captivated by the island's unique appeal. Poetry has always been my first love when it comes to writing and I couldn't help but feel inspired to write about my feelings that night in Belle Mare.

 

SWEET MAURITIUS

 

Palm tree fingers stroke black ink skies

Coconuts gather like clotted eyes

In the morning when we wake

The night will seem a mere mistake

 

Mauritius

A thumbprint on a giant canvas

Sweet Mauritius

Ever changing and replenished

 

Blazing sun and watery skies

Tears trickle til absorbed and disguised

 

Mauritius, sweet Mauritius

Taming my soul

Wind casts a subtle shift

Unmistaken, igniting Creole

 

Wind guided island

Sheltered from all

Essential growth, rejuvenation

Sweet Mauritius guide the fall

 

Fringed swooping leaves entwine

Gracing, shifting turquoise skyline

Paradise is near, perhaps even here

Daybreak cradles the departing tears

 

 

 

The Slow Death and How To Avoid It; An incongruous tribute to Sean Hughes

The Slow Death and How To Avoid It

An incongruous tribute to Sean Hughes

 

 

 

The Slow Death

“I do not want to die from my own unwillingness to heal” Pema Chödrön

 

My name is Paul and I am not an alcoholic. Although I should be.

 

When I read that comedian Sean Hughes passed away aged just 51, from cirrhosis of the liver, it brought back bad memories. In truth, these memories never really left me. They are with me every single day.

 

My father passed away aged 44 from the same condition. Cirrhosis of the liver occurs when so much alcohol has saturated the organ, that it cannot possibly cope any longer with the toxins and the liver rots, poisoning your body. In my dad’s case he also died from septic shock, which was caused by the cirrhosis. He was effectively poisoned; poisoned by himself.

 

Sean Hughes was a comedian. When I first saw him it was very early in his career. He was great. He had the right balance of self-deprecation and anger, mixed with an endearing insouciance which would remain his trademark. Over time he lost something of that early spark and seemed more content to take mainstream television paycheques. Behind the scenes he was, by his own admission, drinking a huge amount. He’d always done so, after all, he was Irish, and his fellow countrymen were not real Irish if they were not holding a drink in their hand.

 

This is of course, a cultural anomaly. It might be true of the Irish, but it is also true of the Americans, English, Scottish, German, Czech, Russian, the list goes on. Many nations drink a lot. It is either a compliment to their society (as with the more cultured European nations, such as the French and German) or a complete assistant to its debasement (as with virtually everyone else).

 

Alcoholics often use excuses such as these to ease the guilt they feel about not being able to take responsibility for their own lives. It is always someone else who caused the problem. Sean Hughes mentioned that when he did decide to stop drinking for a while, in his late forties, the people around him changed. His friends didn’t seem to like him as much if, by his own attempt to heal, he brought attention to their own poor habits.

 

I have also seen this in action. There are many closet alcoholics who have never considered they are addicted to drinking, even though it is a staple part of their daily lives. If they hold down a job, and don’t drink before they leave for work, they consider they aren’t actually in need of their alcohol crutch.

It always transpires that these people cannot socialise without a drink in their hand. If you don’t join them in bars, or you don’t drink alcohol when in a bar, they don’t really know what to do. Their social norms are propped up by a gradual waning of the brain function as each evening wears on.

 

And this is the reason they drink in the first place. If someone will not examine their motives and their outcomes of behaviour, the chances are that their addictions are heavy set. Whether this is an unhealthy diet, shopping, or alcohol, the people who are not self-aware will be unlikely to put in the work required to change the addiction.

Alcohol is a particularly destructive addiction as it alters the brain and the body far more insidiously than most other addictions. 

 

Sean Hughes admitted he had lived a hedonistic lifestyle and also commented, “who wants to live forever?” Given the timing of his statement, this seemed to be nothing more than surrendering to the inevitable: his body had given up. To even become an alcoholic requires consenting to powerlessness.

 

People who drink to excess do so for individual reasons but the results are invariably the same. Even when people take responsibility and attend rehab, they often find their sobriety does not last. Why is this? It is simply because the rehab is part of the same mentality that created the alcoholic and as Einstein said, we do not solve problems with the same mentality that created them.

 

The alcoholic develops an attitude of avoidance, a refusal to look inside and find the source of their own pain. It does not really matter what that pain is, the result is the same. Alcohol in large quantities is perfect for masking the situation we want to escape. When a person becomes an alcoholic they spend their days trying to find the quickest route to escape their problems instead of facing them head on. This results in the quickest way of blurring the senses and the awareness which is causing them such pain.

 

Like many comedians, Sean Hughes was obviously a tortured soul. He didn’t look happy and now we know why. He also looked considerably older than his years, which is also an unfortunate by-product of alcoholism; your skin takes on a red hue and a crusty, cracked, wrinkled look, as it is gradually being pickled by the alcohol.

 

I lived with my father drinking from morning ‘til night when I was a child. When he did work he drank during his breaks and could never hold down a job because of it.

In the end, he took himself away to slowly kill himself, living the rest of his days in isolation and greater pain. He tried to reconcile with me but I was so poisoned by him and my family situation that I could not bring myself to connect. I would have been too late to help him even though I would have wanted to, as I had no idea just how bad he was, until one night there was a call from the hospital where, I was told, he would not last the night.

 

On the night he died, my mother and stepfather went to the pub and left me in the house alone. They drank at the pub and drank when they returned. Even in the midst of my father’s death from alcohol poisoning, the drink surrounded me as it always had. I did not touch a drop, I just screamed my lungs out, and wrote a lot.

 

I always knew I would never become an alcoholic. My dad taught me that much. What does it do to families? I saw the consequences of people being too weak to address their weaknesses, too consigned to their fate and too quick to blame an outside source for their destruction.

 

The Cure to the Slow Death

"Healing is the end of conflict with yourself " Stephanie Gailing

 

I’d like to share with you what I’ve learned from my time around alcoholics and how you can avoid becoming one, or escape from the depths if you're already there. You see, it’s not that I’ve never touched a drop myself. Far from it. I can enjoy a drink and I have had my fair share of nights out which were affected, or completely wasted by over drinking. The difference is I do not wake up the next morning and want another drink. It’s the last thing I want. And I haven’t been close to feeling drunk since my daughter was born almost eight years ago.

 

There have been many times where I feel so stressed that my instinct is to surrender to the destructive elements which surround me. These are all in my own mind and background. I don’t have alcoholics around me anymore and I run a positive minded, healthy bodied ship. And still, stress results in a stressor response which tells me somewhere deep in the recesses of my mind that a few drinks will make me feel better; they will take the edge off things.

 

If I succumb to the urges, or if I just fancy a drink, then that is okay but there is always just enough guilt to make sure I do not over indulge. I never drink during the day and I will always stop before I feel anything other than relaxed.

 

The real lesson is that when things get tough – and they will – you must do one thing above all else. Confront the problem. Face reality. Then look at healthy ways to deal with it. I’ve been through a series of healing techniques and aids to positivity and I know which ones work and which ones will only provide empty promises, leaving you feeling more empty.

 

Hypnosis and relaxation are masterful tools in adjusting the way you feel. But these alone will not help your situation. You need to master the situation itself, which in turn increases self-esteem, the very thing you lack when you are in the depths of alcoholism.

 

We are all capable of mastering a situation if we just face it. The key to avoiding the slow death is to live your absolute best in the moment. We are all capable of awareness and responsibility. But it seems easier to avoid it and wallow in our own sorrows. The truth is that you will find it is actually easier to do the opposite. Once you make the decision to deal with the problem head on, and you resolve to do so using clear thinking (try walking in nature), not only will a solution present itself, but you realise you do not need the thing you thought you did.

 

The key to this firstly, is to get away from destructive influences. This much, at least, Sean Hughes knew to do. But he couldn’t do it for long enough for it to save his life. Perhaps he left it too late. I know my dad did. When he finally realised he had lost his son by his own negligence and abusiveness, it was far too late. So he drank more to dull the pain yet again. 

 

Some people never realise what they could have if only they opened their eyes and accepted the good that is already in their lives. When I have problems, even major ones, I remember how lucky I am to have the life I do. I’m lucky to be alive first and foremost and I am lucky to have the family I now do, my own family, which my wife and I have cultivated and focused on making a clean living, successful unit.

 

It has not been easy and it will continue not to be easy. But it would not be easy to drink myself into a stupor and ignore my responsibilities. I would find that more difficult.

 

Alcoholism is not an external disease, it is an internal choice. It is actually quite hard to make because the person knows what they are doing, they know they should not have that extra drink which turns into so many they forget. They are committing a slow, painful death and they know it. You think that’s easy?

 

No, it’s easier to say you will never indulge that life. The problem is, the real work then begins. This is the work of your life, to find mastery in the moment without a crutch. And it is a lifelong devotion, one I believe we are here to discover and endure. It culminates in fulfilling our potential instead of watching it ebb away. It is the greatest blessing we can ever have and those who have been through the darkness are best placed to appreciate the light. The light is always there; if you’ll just open the door you locked once upon a time.

 

 

 

September 13, 2017

The Helping Hand, The Guiding Light

Do you raise, or deplete, your fellow man?

 

There are really only two types of people in the world; those who will help people and those who will not.

In this increasingly narcissistic world, the tendency seems to be escalating to find more people who will only help themselves.

 

One day, I believe, these people will wake up and realise they have nothing worth speaking of. As human beings we should be programmed to err towards compassion and consideration for others. This is after all how we build community. We are born into families which consist of parts we have no control over. But over time, we will almost certainly build our own families. How we raise a family, and how we build a communal understanding with others forms the tenets of humanity.

 

Family and community is something virtually every animal understands as crucial to its survival. Consequently, they build this to the exclusion of anything else. Recently, my family inherited a group of stray cats. They were clearly at opposing ends of the grounds of our house. One side was seemingly much more aggressive than the other. There were more of them than the other side and they were adamant that this territory was theirs.

 

On the other side there were only a couple of cats. Both sides recently had litters and there were roughly the same amount of kittens which needed to be cared for on each side. Once the kittens were old enough to feed they began to come to our house. The mothers were already used to us feeding them and gradually began to bring their litter into our territory, which, as cat lovers, we know is a compliment.

 

We began to feed all cats, from both sides. The more numerous and aggressive cats had apparently raised kittens who were much more wary and afraid of human contact. Yet on the opposite side, the more serene cats produced curious, friendly kittens. One kitten in particular became my very close friend and within 24 hours of first entering our home was asleep next to me with me stroking her tummy.

 

That night I could have kept her in our house but I became worried that if I bonded too closely she may be ostracised by the group. So she was coaxed back to her mother and siblings. They visited less often after this and over time, the mother’s four kittens dwindled in number. My close friend has not been seen since.

 

One night, one of the more timid kittens appeared and was clearly unwell. She would not eat and would not come close enough to be picked up and taken to a vet.

She has been seen only once in the last four weeks and she then ate something but it appears that all four kittens have disappeared. For strays, especially in Cyprus, this is not too unusual. They would need to be completely tamed and kept in the house to make sure they stayed safe.

 

On the other side, where the cats are more aggressive and less human friendly, most of the kittens are growing and thriving. They are still averse to human contact but they are still within their community and still healthy and safe.

 

So what does this all mean?

My judgment of the friendlier cat was only based upon her friendliness towards humans. I had no way of knowing how she would act as a mother. She has turned out to be the type of cat mother that allows her babies to fend for themselves too early, disowning them in the process. They have been left to fend for themselves and it appears they have not survived this test. The mother had become dependent on us feeding her but had no intention of sharing – she often would push the kittens out of the way so she could feed, even if she was already full.

 

Cats have their own way of doing things. They defend their territory and raise their kittens to whichever standard they choose. Much like us. And, much like us, appearances can be deceptive. The less human friendly cats were of less interest to us for obvious reasons. Though we put food out for them, it was clear they were so wild they would never be lap cats and their feeding was always in private. But this does not make them bad parents. Quite the opposite. The aggressive cats’ ways of doing things has been to assert their complete feline instincts and create their best possible living circumstances. They did the right thing for their kind.

 

Cats are totally selfish and narcissistic. Wonderful and amazing as they can be, they only care about us when they have formed a deep bond with us. Or when they want feeding.

 

We don’t have this excuse. We are more developed physically and mentally. Though we share the protective instincts and concern over our immediate environment, we also have the benefit of our community and family which reaches wider than most cats.

 

This means that we can break our family pattern in order to associate with outsiders. When we feel closeness to another person, they become a friend. Beyond this, we can also interact with people who may become acquaintances, or they may remain peripheral. But, whether you believe this or not, we are all part of a human collective where we can choose to raise consciousness, or deplete it.

 

It is common to more regularly encounter “depleters” than “raisers”.

I’m not sure why this is other than to compare the lower frequency human with the cat who is so self absorbed as to not be able to even raise its own kittens correctly.

 

The cat who mothered the four kittens who have now all disappeared, was a particularly gluttonous and selfish cat, even by cat standards. Human gluttony can take many forms. It is not just about consumption.

We consume thoughts and we can consume other people. That is, our fellow man.

Our own narcissism and inner gluttony can take precedence over consideration for others.

 

Those who choose to deplete often choose to criticise and belittle other people. They keep their protective sheen around them, not wishing to share or to help anybody but themselves. They are resentful if others do well.

 

Those who choose to raise the consciousness of other people only focus on improvements. These start from within. Those who help the most often – though not always – have the least, both monetarily and mentally.

 

Consciousness raisers people will help others to fulfil their potential, knowing that when one person benefits, we too can benefit both by our altruism and by the future benefits which will ensue.

In short, those who wish to empower fellow human beings lift human consciousness, while those who do not deplete it.

 

Quite often, when we are at our most positive we encounter a depleter. These emotional savages and conscious drainers love nothing more than to enter our lives at these moments and attempt to bring us down to their level. But this is a subjective choice of ours. We can choose to be brought down or we can look towards continuous improvement. And continuous improvement does not allow for depletion, it can only open ever wider towards enlightenment. Once we make this choice as a human – and it is a choice – we are automatically on the path to enlightenment.

 

In helping others we automatically help ourselves. And even if we ourselves are not helped, we must continue to walk the higher path. When we meet a depleter we must choose to focus on the positive instead of allowing their insidious attempts to hold us back.

 

We are all scared.

High achievement is a scary prospect for many people because it is demanding.

A lack of achievement is also frightening because we then turn on ourselves, knowing we have not reached our best. Maybe we did not even give our best.

Either way, we will be scared.

The positive way forward is to know we ultimately are all scared and a little gesture, a small thought for someone other than ourselves, expands the higher path towards mental empowerment. This applies to all we choose to apply it to.

 

Don’t let your animal instincts bring you into a place of hoarding your positive qualities and turning them into negatives. Embrace the world outside with an eye towards your own improvement. Nourish your environment and then help others to plant their own seeds in which to nourish theirs. It is your human right and duty.

 

 

 

 

Killing is their Business…Inside the Nature Reserve where deer are hunted and killed

August 2017

Killing is their Business…Inside the Nature Reserve where deer are hunted and killed

The sight of deer brushing across open wilderness, unfettered by man or machine, is a majestic memory that stays with anyone lucky enough to see it.

The deer are always aware of any human presence; they sniff the air and gaze with a penetrating stare to assess their own safety.

 

But, at Frédérica Nature Reserve in Bel Ombre, south Mauritius, my wife and I believe we are watching deer – along with a host of other protected wildlife – which are perfectly safe. We are after all, enjoying a trip around an area of land designated precisely for the purpose of protection. By definition, a nature reserve is a sanctuary, a tract of land where wildlife is protected and undisturbed. Wildlife, by definition, includes both plants and animals. Along our journey we see everything from pineapples being grown, to termite nests, ebony trees and local bird life.

 

There is a book promoted by the resorts in Mauritius, known as ‘The Legend of Bel Ombre’. The book proudly tells children the story of the region: ‘Gino the ranger, who watches over the Domaine says ‘My role is to protect the extraordinary biodiversity of Bel Ombre. Here, animals live in peace, they are happy, the ecosystems are balanced and are buzzing with life… It’s one of the last shelters for a good number of Mauritian animals!’   

 

A shelter. An area of protection. Somewhere to hide, safe in the knowledge nothing can harm you. The deer’s naturally developed senses that include highly sensitive hearing and sight seem to be of little requirement in such a tranquil setting.

 

My wife and I are being escorted around the Nature Reserve, a journey of around two hours. Our very own Gino the ranger guide, describes the type of wildlife we will see on our trip. This should range from various birds which are mostly only seen in Mauritius and Seychelles, all the way up to wild boar and deer. 

 

When we first see the deer we are spellbound by their elegance and gentle movements. Only in Scotland have I seen truly wild deer and I feel doubly reassured that in a Nature Reserve, the deer can act wild, but still be completely protected from predators. Given Mauritius is such a tiny island it would be likely that the only animals here which might pose a threat to deer would be something that had been introduced. Predators of deer include big cats and bears. For these you would have to travel to Casela Nature & Leisure Park in the north west of the island. And there, the big cats are well contained.

 

We feel happy to know that the deer are truly protected in the Nature Reserve, but then we spot a large building which falls behind us as we embark down yet another bumpy part of the path which is only just about suitable for a jeep or quad bike.

“What’s the building over there?” my wife asks.

“It’s the hunting lodge,” the guide answers instantly.

My journalism skills kick in and instead of going wild at the guide, I ask nonchalantly for more information.

The guide tells us that over a thousand deer – the very deer we are in awe of watching – will be shot between June and November. [October incidentally is the deer’s main breeding time]. He goes on further and explains the reason there is no mention anywhere of this: they do not want to offend or upset the animal loving tourists that visit the Nature Reserve.

 

Our open awe at the deer we spent many minutes observing was clearly lost on the guide who by now seemed to be under the impression that we were interested in the hunting aspect rather than animal loving tourists.

He explains further that visitors to the resort complex, which includes the Heritage Awali, Le Telfair and Heritage the Villas (Villas Valriche), can pay up to £10,000 [by contrast, our guide trip has cost £100] to stay for a week where they get to shoot deer and take home up to 100kg of meat for their own use.

Should they wish to have the deer heads for posterity these can also be produced and sent home for an extra price. Accordingly, many hunters and people in the know regularly visit to kill deer, and as we later discover, wild boar, for their own recreation and fun.

 

The approval of hunting is an open secret within Mauritius but outside of the country, only avid hunting tourists know of this particular resort and that it is hunter friendly. 

 

According to the Nature Reserve’s official website:

“The natural patrimony of the reserve, protected under the precious guidance of the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation is pure magic. The exploration of the outdoors is a must during your stay at the Domaine.

Sheltered by a preserved environment, this exceptional venue enjoys a panoramic view that overlooks the lagoon and moutains [sic].
…The Frédérica Lodge is a peaceful retreat in the heart of nature…”

 

The website literature, as well as the brochures which are available while staying at the Awali hotel or villas (we stayed at both) do not mention the prospect of hunting. On the contrary, they are invested in promoting the safety of nature. This is indeed the definition of a ‘reserve’.

 

According to the law of Mauritius poaching deer is illegal. From my reading of the law however, it appears that if the deer are in an enclosed area, and there is official permission, that the deer are allowed to be slaughtered.

An animal cruelty offence in Mauritius includes for instance, any person who:

“(m) promotes or takes part in a shooting match, or competition, in which animals are released from captivity for the purpose of shooting them.”

 

The key phrase here is “released from captivity”. In other words, if animals are in captivity and not shot for competition, then it is permissible to shoot and kill them.

Therefore, the way this particular hunting lodge has circumvented the law is by housing the deer precisely in order to kill them. The reason it is permitted is because they are in a confined area.

 

It might therefore be suggested by the companies involved behind this procedure, that the animals are killed under strict rules and supervision. This however is not the case. We discovered that hunters are allowed to do as they wish within the confines of the hunting grounds. This would appear to be standard practise for the pastime of hunting. This means that any of the 2,000 deer (of which 200 are stags) across over six thousand acres of land, are literally fair game for however a hunter wishes to take them down.

 

According to our guide, this practise is allowed because the deer have to be culled; otherwise their numbers would become unmanageable. This paradoxical methodology means that a large piece of land was deliberately designated to protect a certain aspect of wild life. If this wild life begins to grow out of hand, it must be stopped.

 

It was clearly decided when initially proposed, that a large confined area full of deer would leave the owners of the resort, the Rogers group, able to capitalise on hunters’ deep pockets. To this end, they introduced enough deer that would require a regular cull. Typically, a doe will give birth to 1-3 young in the spring. This means that if the Reserve allows a yearly culling of one thousand deer, they will still have enough to shoot come the next hunting season. Killing is their business and business is good.

 

If true preservation had been their goal from the outset, it would have made more sense to introduce a smaller deer population to begin with. The deer could be tagged and, if necessary, a certain proportion of does could be sterilised. This has been proven to be a harmless and effective process, which controls the deer population for the long term.

 

Personally, I do not agree with sterilisation unless absolutely necessary, but if it is the difference between a deer having a happy and lengthy existence, it is preferable. But, if Frédérica conducted this safe and considerate process they would make far less money. Tourists who come to casually view the Reserve are not paying anywhere near the prices that hunters pay to have access to shooting deer. The opportunity to ride around the Reserve on a quad bike is an afterthought, a misleading window into conservation.

 

On the night after our trip around the Reserve, we dined in the finest restaurant on site, the Le Château de Bel Ombre. The restaurant is most often used by patrons of the Awali and Le Telfair. On the menu we noticed venison and wild boar; fresh from the Reserve.

 

There are many game reserves around the world, which operate under legal permission. The Frédérica Nature Reserve is no different as, by law, it appears to operate perfectly legally. The intricate wording of the law against animal cruelty permits a gap whereby animals can be legally hunted and killed as long as they are in a permitted captive area.

 

Perhaps the first step towards truly protecting the amazing creatures which roam ‘free’ is to force Rogers to be honest with its intentions. By rights this will then include all tour operators who unwittingly send their clients to this holiday destination. Animal loving tourists should not visit any of the buildings owned by Rogers and the company should admit to its practices openly. The Frédérica Nature Reserve should be renamed as Frédérica Game Reserve. Then everybody knows what type of company this is and just why people visit the animals.

 

The next step – or perhaps the first if Mauritius wishes to enter the 21st century in terms of its outlook on wildlife – is to change the laws to recognise that protection and conservation are not wide ranging or ambiguous terms. It is mutually exclusive to appear to protect animals, only to shoot them at regular intervals.

 

The Frédérica Nature Reserve is wrong on so many levels and my attempts at pointing this out to the Rogers Group in order to establish a new way forward, have met with contempt and disregard. I have unfortunately discovered that such inbound protectiveness over in-house practises is quite the norm for Mauritius. And yet it is not as if they do not realise that wording is so very important. Their tourist literature will not reveal the true nature of their attitude towards animals because they know this would result in bad press.

 

There are those who worship the majesty of deer, and other wild, beautiful creatures. There are some who violently assault these animals or allow it to take place. The definition of the latter is cowardly. For these cowards, bad press is the first step towards a humane change.

 

Voice your distaste here: https://www.fredericanaturereserve.com

www.rogers.mu

https://www.facebook.com/RogersMauritius/

https://www.facebook.com/pg/fredericanaturereserve/about/?ref=page_internal

© Paul Stenning 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

 

 

The Inimitable Jayne Mansfield

June 29, 2017

 

“Every star knows you step on some toes to get where you’re going – and some more after you get there. Nobody means to hurt anybody else, it just happens. You always keep saying in the back of your mind that one day you will be able to right all the wrongs. That someday almost never comes.” Jayne Mansfield

 

June 29, 2017 marks the 50-year anniversary of Jayne Mansfield’s passing.

Jayne Mansfield was an iconic 1950s beauty, still cherished today in iconography and cult fan worship, and yet she remains a mystery. She has been largely misunderstood and views are usually at one extreme or another, from Vintage 50s Beauty to Hollywood Harlot. What is often overlooked is her immense talent which stretched to remarkably emotional acting, comedic timing, an overlooked musical and singing ability, a great philosophical understanding and, sometimes best of all, breathy voiceovers.

 

Jayne was a shy child who yearned to be on the big screen and did not stop until she fulfilled her dream. She was also a wife and mother who could not stop having affairs. Some of the men with whom she had relationships were involved in mob affairs and political corruption. Jayne became swept up in the tide, her life came to a sinister crossroads and soon Jayne was the one being controlled and abused.

 

She had a series of explosive relationships with her three husbands, which saw her divorced twice. She was linked to some of the richest and most powerful men of the 1960s including Brazilian billionaire Jorge Guinle and John F. Kennedy, before the US President began his affair with Marilyn Monroe, a blonde bombshell Jayne was always most likened to.

 

No star of the 1950s and 60s appeared on more magazine covers than Jayne Mansfield. Her beauty was beyond dispute but by playing up to the hype and with an intense desire to remain embedded in the public consciousness, Jayne moved herself into a territory where she was perpetually typecast.

 

“Stars were made to suffer, and I am a star” Jayne Mansfield

 

Once a studious pupil herself, when she died, Jayne left her own children bereft of an education. She often overfed them and mostly they were cared for by others in her circle. In many ways, Mansfield was a forerunner for the modern publicity shot; she did not spend time with her children as her career ballooned (and then spiralled) yet she was always apt to use them as a way of attracting publicity. She was fond of creating happy family photographs, particularly during her marriage to husband number two, Mickey Hargitay, and her third husband, Matt Cimber.

 

Jayne died very rich but left her devoted mother – whom she was very close to – absolutely nothing in her will. Her own children were also left without anything. This was in fact because of her relationship with Sam Brody, a successful entertainment and divorce attorney from San Francisco.

 

Brody – it is suspected – was influenced to alter Mansfield’s estate with the collaboration of Matt Cimber. Cimber settled for his portion of Mansfield’s estate shortly before she died in a car crash.

After her death, her estate was valued at $500,000 (over $2 million today) yet Jayne’s estate should have been ten times this based on her career earnings. Although she was known for lavish spending and had amassed certain debts, her estate was woefully short.

 

The best stories about Jayne come from her youth and her initial burning desire to be famous as she entered her teens. The disparity between her studies and preferring to be a movie star, or her role as a mother despite the fact she wanted to become a Hollywood star was already causing contradiction for Jayne early in her life.

 

“I’ve got the strangest build. It’s big in the hips, small in the waist and I’ve got these enormous...shoulders” Jayne Mansfield

 

She earned money part time during her university days as a model for local events and earned a number of accolades that proved to her she could at least make it as a professional model. She was, among other names, Miss Fire Prevention Week, Miss Blues Bonnet of Austin, Miss Fill-er-up, Miss Negligee, Nylon Sweater Queen, Miss One for the Road, Miss Geiger Counter, Best Dressed Woman of Theater, Miss Potato Soup, Miss Lobster and Miss Chihuahua Show.

 

A friend has described the first shift in Jayne’s outlook: “Jayne changed when she started modelling, which happened when her bosoms grew and she would start wearing tight sweaters! That got a lot of attention. When she realised people were interested in her physically it was like a light went on; she knew this was a way to make herself popular. She came out of her shell and started to look and behave like the Jayne we later knew.”

In 1954, when she was still in her teens Jayne packed up and moved to California to be an actress. She studied drama at UCLA in Los Angeles and dyed her hair blonde. The move worked. After a few token TV and movie appearances, where she played at the piano, sold cigarettes or remained completely uncredited, within the space of a year she landed a small part in The Female Jungle, starring alongside John Carradine.

 

In Hollywood she was quickly noticed. With her penchant for walking into movie studio offices and flirting with any man at a desk, her assets were very soon noticed. She was invited to model for Playboy, which was the beginning of the end of her marriage to first husband, Paul Mansfield, who had been reluctant to move to LA in the first place. He believed Jayne was wasting her time attempting to become a movie star and also didn’t want her modelling for a living. He thought she should be a homemaker, like most women of the time. Secretly he was jealous at her potential and though he agreed to go to LA so she could further her career, he hoped it would help his own and was fearful of losing her to another man. 

 

“A 41-inch bust and a lot of perseverance will get you more than a cup of coffee – a lot more.” Jayne Mansfield

 

Despite her husband’s concerns, Jayne continued to garner attention for her modelling and flirtatiousness but she was also deepening her love of true acting and she was lucky enough to be chosen to portray Rita Marlowe in the Broadway production of Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? in 1955. Though she received just as much attention for her figure – she wore only a towel in one memorable scene – she was also noticed as an actress, receiving the Theatre World Award for her performance in the play.

 

At the same time as acknowledgment for her acting prowess, Jayne was developing expertise in publicity. Among the stunts she performed was to jump into a pool wearing a bikini top which was purposely too small and that accidentally came off when she landed in the pool, which just happened to be surrounded by photographers. The publicity brought attention from Playboy and Warner Bros who both made her offers for future work.

 

“I'll have to have a palace, of course. I may not be a princess, but I am a movie queen, and every queen should have a palace.” Jayne Mansfield

 

Now Jayne’s movie career took a leap forward. She was hired to play the role of Jerri Jordan in 20th Century Fox’ The Girl Can’t Help It. The movie played upon Jayne’s physicality (and her by now notorious profile), and unbeknownst to Mansfield, she was already becoming typecast. She was undeterred as the successful film role led to a six year contract with Fox (who lined up Mansfield as Marilyn Monroe’s successor), which she signed on May 3rd, 1956.

 

Fox capitalised on Jayne’s reputation and expertise at playing the role of Rita Marlowe in Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? and created the film version, with Tony Randall, in 1957. Though she was well established in many respects, Jayne was still touted as a fresh new talent and in the same year she was awarded a Golden Globe for Most Promising Newcomer. It was during this year that a notorious photograph was taken with Jayne and Sophia Loren.

 

“Most girls don’t know what to do with what they’ve got” Jayne Mansfield

 

By now Jayne was a highly paid star and she began to neglect her family duties, leaving her daughter with a nanny and spending little time with her husband. The couple had virtually split, though their marriage would officially last until January 1958. On 13 January Jayne was divorced from Mansfield, and married to muscleman Mickey Hargitay on the same day.

 

She had met Hargitay two years earlier when she witnessed a performance from the Mae West revue in New York. When asked by her female friend what she would like to order from the menu she quipped, “I’ll have a steak and the man on the left.”

When Mae West attempted to break up the couple Mansfield knew that there must be an opportunity for publicity and decided to further her relationship with Hargitay, whom she had slept with a few times. The couple also produced a son together who was born just before Christmas 1958. 

 

That same year Jayne had appeared in The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw, a comedy western where she truly displayed her comedic talents and ability to play a stern role rather than the somewhat vacant dumb blonde roles she had played previously. Her singing ability was not in question and yet Connie Francis overdubbed all Jayne’s tracks. Despite this she won a Golden Laurel for Top Female Musical Performance.

 

By 1963 Jayne had lost her Hollywood profile somewhat. Fox were tired of her demands and felt she could not be relied upon given the number of pregnancies she had.

 

She was still known as an icon but she had not had a hit film since Rock Hunter, despite a role alongside one of her acting heroes Cary Grant in Kiss Them For Me, which was something of an acquired taste. Jayne had been loaned out by Fox for several low budget English and Italian films.

 

Her solution was to reveal herself completely in the movie Promises! Promises! and it worked to gain her maximum public attention. When Playboy magazine produced the lascivious photographs from the set of the movie and owner Hugh Hefner was charged with obscenity (resulting in a farcical trial), it returned Jayne Mansfield to front page news.

 

“If you’re going to do something wrong, do it big, because the punishment is the same either way ” Jayne Mansfield

 

By now she had two sons with Hargitay and the couple soon had a daughter, Mariska, though Mariska’s biological father is in fact Las Vegas singer, Nelson Sardelli. The couple had an affair from which they were almost married. Just 8 months after Mariska Hargitay was born, Jayne divorced Mickey and was poised to marry Nelson Sardelli, but just a few weeks later, she married director Matt Cimber. They were divorced the year before her death.

 

There are many conspiracies regarding Jayne’s death – including a voodoo hex as she died in New Orleans (not just outside as commonly stated) – although it does appear that the crash that killed her was almost certainly an accident. However I have discovered that the site of her death was almost certainly close to or on top of an old Indian Burial Ground. The crash site which has been memorialised with a white cross in tribute to Jayne is actually be two miles away from the real scene of the accident.

 

That night, Jayne was supposed to appear on the Midday Show (New Orleans Radio Show) with Terry Flettrich. Instead Jayne, Sam Brody and their driver Ronnie Harrison all perished in the crash, while her children (including Mariska Hargitay) all survived. Their deaths led to the introduction of a DOT bar for all semi truck trailers. It is better known as a Mansfield Bar.

 

“I do know that God created us equal and we’re not living up to it” Jayne Mansfield

 

Jayne’s burial place is not, as many believe, in Hollywood. Here there is merely a cenotaph with an incorrect birth date. She was buried in Pen Argyl, Pennsylvania. The night of her death, Jayne’s mother had dreamed about her daughter. She was awoken from her nightmare and told Jayne had been killed in an accident. Vera Peers’ dream interpreted reveals that her belief was that Jayne had ascended to heaven. Jayne is now buried alongside her father and her mother, the site of her grave being significant as it was in an area where Vera had spent some of her early years before Jayne was born.

 

On this 50th anniversary of her death, it is important to recognise that for all her contradictions and character flaws, Jayne Mansfield was an exceptionally original and enthralling person. There is good reason why her image has endured over the years when so many others have faded. May she always rest in peace.

 

 “I guess a lot of people think that a girl who shows her bosom and wears tight dresses can’t be close to God. God has always been close to me. Only He knew what was in my heart.” Jayne Mansfield

 

 

 

Manners Maketh Everyone

25 April 2017

Manners maketh man, so the saying goes. We live in a modern society where this social etiquette has been largely misplaced and in some cases, forgotten completely. How harmful this is to our future is ultimately subjective. For some people, manners are unimportant, the way we interact and behave seemingly having no bearing on our true essence as a person.

For hundreds of years, manners were a commonplace element of society. There was simply no interaction between human beings without the politeness and upright virtues which led to saying, ‘Hello’, ‘goodbye’, ‘please’, ‘thank you’ and so on.

Perhaps most people would contest that because of developments in the modern world, it is no longer appropriate for a gentleman to hold a door open for a lady, or to tip his hat by way of greeting. Would it still be appropriate to remove one’s hat at a dinner table, or during a funeral procession? This too, is subjective. Hold the door open for one lady and you will receive a ‘thank you’, for another woman it will be ignored or even resented.

These seemingly small considerations were once important elements in how we showed respect to one another as human beings. In recent years, the New Age theme, which teaches us we are all one human consciousness, has become a common understanding; and yet we seem to have lost the ability to actually show commonplace politeness and respect for each other. People no longer say ‘hello’ upon initial meetings or when they walk past another person. They do not smile, or automatically use ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.

People used to believe that manners were an automatic requirement. This was not the basis of a person’s character, but rather a necessary prerequisite in how to conduct yourself. A person’s true character and personality were revealed upon further dealings with other people.

Manners do not merely end with superficial interactions however. In the modern age, politeness extends to replying to emails or text messages. If you are in the wrong, it extends to admitting this error of judgement. Apologising when necessary is also a fundamental courtesy to fellow human beings. We cannot always be in the right, we cannot always conduct ourselves with exemplary behaviour, but we can try and make things right when they go wrong. The effort to take responsibility and take action to improve a situation is a core theme to manners, and the basis of integrity.

The selfish – those in direct opposition to the proper conduct – will only think of themselves and disregard others. This often includes relatively unimportant communication (short term politeness) as well as complex contractual agreements between one another, where diplomacy and negotiation play an important role. When humans feel valued by somebody’s treatment of them, they will respond more favourably.

Even so, this theme has to continue beyond the superficial to generate true meaning and integrity. In other words, the beginnings of courtesy to others often extends further. We cannot say with certainty that a polite and friendly person will remain this way for the entire duration of your dealings with him or her. But we can almost certainly contend that if someone is impolite and courteous at the outset, they are going to be trouble from here on in.

It has been noticed in my recent travels and dealings with people that good manners are well and truly becoming a thing of the past. This includes general everyday communication as well as more long lasting interactions.

Sometimes we have to respond negatively to a situation. This might mean we no longer wish to deal with a person. But it is good manners to have discussed things in the lead up to this decision. The more people try and negotiate the better the chance of a positive resolution. And in business, negotiation and diplomacy is key. Perhaps your decision has to be a negative one, but providing feedback and in-depth efforts to help the other person improve is a key component of good manners.

Ultimately, a person with good manners reveals their fundamental worth, and respects the worth of everybody else.

Look at the following list I have compiled.

Manners to remember:

 

* Dress with neatness and love for yourself.

 

* Engage in polite conversation and always use appropriate words and actions in appropriate settings.

 

* When in deeper communications with others, go further and be upfront, open and honest, in turn expecting and welcoming the same courtesy.

 

* Do not think that because there are disagreements or disputes that there is no way forward. Use respect and there is always a way forward.

 

* Be trustworthy; do what you say you will do.

 

Is this list still applicable in the modern world? I see no reason why not, and yet this is not the everyday reality. People are more concerned with looking at a screen than in bettering their natural communication with each other. People will share love related memes online but forget to treat their neighbour with respect and consideration.

Here is one example of just how trust and integrity in people – showing equal and sustained courtesy to each other – can lead to a thriving business even in a changing world: http://www.bbc.com/news/business-39653431

Timpson has been an active company for 152 years and its biggest instigator of success remains the same, from 1865 until 2017. Timpson has insisted upon always remembering a simple way to make a customer feel worthwhile and it begins with good manners. Company owner John Timpson says, “It’s bloody nice when a customer says how nice that guy was. It’s also nice to have a company that has values based on kindness and generosity. You can do good and make money at the same time.”

Both within and beyond a business environment it is time for those who seem to have forgotten some of these inherent principles, to restore their natural advantage as human beings; in that we have the capability to change a situation based upon tactful consideration. And we have the ability to make a friend by instigating conversation with a polite smile and simple manners.

Let us remember that manners are in one way simply a reflection of an impression that we make. This can be a first impression or one that is long lasting. If we make a good first impression, it is highly likely to be, in part, because we have exercised good manners. Then, our true character must reflect this first impression and continue to present ourselves in the best way possible. If we all could have this consideration for others, the world would truly improve overnight.

Manners, even now, maketh everyone.

 

© Paul Stenning 2017

 

 

 

Live In The Now or Forever Hold Your Peace

25 September 2016

When you finish your day do you feel fulfilled? Do you know you have done absolutely everything you needed to, or wanted to, for that day?

If not then you are not living successfully or productively. Let’s forget for now the notion that we all have an opportunity to live again, or that ‘we can get to it tomorrow’. Most of us experience this belief at some point, some more regularly than others. In fact for the majority of people there is little by way of recognition or realisation of their true desire. This applies to their daily lives and therefore to their entire lives.

For those who focus on the present the chances of success are higher. Why? Because if you try and do your best in any given moment, these moments build and create a momentum that in time becomes a habit. These successive, incremental habits then become a blueprint for your life that determines what you will accept and what you will not.

I do not want to end a day without giving my all, or without enjoying as much of my time as possible. I have had this aim for most of my life but being raised with a failure mindset limited my ability to aim in the correct direction. It is a bit like trying to climb the career ladder for 25 years, only to realise at the end of it that the ladder was up against the wrong wall!

You can do all the right things, as you see it, and you can put the most gargantuan of effort into your daily activities but if it is not in sync with your true desires and wishes then it will always be wasted effort. My last blog spoke of the midlife crisis era that we all reach at some point (some earlier than others). This plateau often attacks our mindset when we stop and realise after 40 plus years of doing something the wrong way – hold on a minute, what on earth am I doing? I don’t want to do this, I don’t want to be like that, I don’t want to feel like this. How can I change it?

We all know the saying that it is never too late and there is a large degree of truth to that. It really is never too late so long as you have the energy, desire and motivation but the chances are that if you have this positive trio of inspiration within you that you will have discovered your shortcomings before the age of 40.

For myself it came at the age of 32 when my wife was pregnant with our daughter. I will never forget the day when I sat at the dining room table feeling blank, listless, and inordinately depressed. It absorbed every ounce of my being and there was absolutely no explanation for it. It was a black cloud that hung over me. Remember those cartoons where one particularly sad person is the only person to have a rain cloud over them? That is what it felt like.

I told my wife how I felt and I knew as I acknowledged it out loud, that it had to change. In just a few more months our first child was to be born and I could not bring this weight of misery into her life the way I had carried it in mine for all of my preceding years. Moments of beauty, grace and happiness were always tempered by this circle of sadness that sat in my gut like a bowling ball. I know I am not alone and like others who feel this way, or have felt this way; it is so hard to acknowledge. We just ‘get on with it’ as we know that it is easier to feel busy and accomplish work tasks or chores than it is to take a look at the crater of misery that lies behind our misleading features.

My journey into self-improvement had been some 25 years in the making before I really hit the key to transition. It still took several more years to get it right and to know the true path. This is really down to two important things, acknowledging and healing the past and its cause of your present situation, and learning to listen to your inner self when it is freed of the burden of that past. Neither is a short path to glory – it takes time, correct guidance and concerted effort.

When you free yourself and your mind, the world opens into a new territory as if a light has shined upon you, and several new paths emerge. There is then the new trick of knowing which path to take, but that is another story (let’s just say it’s a nice problem to have).

When I used to work regular jobs – even jobs I loved – I would be spent at the end of a long, hard shift. I used the regular ways – time drinking with friends, being so busy I didn’t have time to think, the list goes on – of coping with this feeling that I was giving to someone other than myself for their benefit, and the only benefit I really had was a regular pay packet.

My work on the side as a burgeoning writer at least opened a new path but on a personal level the light within me was still shaded by confusion. This was simply a matter of focusing on being busy and feeling productive but knowing deep down that there was nothing of great worth to my end product.

Having been through the variety of experiences which led me to self heal I can see the difference between how I now spend my days and how I once did. I only feel productive if I have done everything for myself and my family that I can possibly do, all the while knowing that it is geared in the right direction.

That direction is something which is internally right for me; focussing on enjoying my work, focussing on making sure our daughter learns all that she will need in life, focussing on being a loving husband that helps my wife be the best person she can be, volunteering with animals and regularly thinking of the bigger picture so that I never forget the humility to inspire me every day to live with gratitude to the higher purpose. I know these words may sound a little new age. I don’t mean them in a superficial way, I really live by them. I know the difference because I lived so long in the chamber where all efforts echoed around the empty halls.

The key to transition in my experience as I have noticed in particular is the difference in making an effort and expecting thanks for doing so. Most people want acknowledgement and acceptance; these are normal human expectations and desires. The problem is, when we carry a failure mindset around with us, we want approval and acceptance from other people because we do not give it to ourselves. Their approval can therefore never be enough, even if we receive it, which we often do not. Others are too busy thinking of themselves to give everything to you, to us.

Our own acceptance and approval within is all that matters. It’s nice to receive thanks but it is not really important to me. I do good deeds, or make an effort for others because I want to, not because I want something in return. The only thing I expect is love and effort from those close to me. This is linked to being the best person I can possibly be. In order to realise this ambition I need to provide for my own needs and give to others in every way possible as well. I would also include the thanking of the universe and the higher power as a significant part of my daily existence of thanking others instead of expecting it for myself. More about this another time.

Two things before I go for now.

I mentioned knowing your true path. It is important to state that I do not know this to the exclusion of everything else. In other words, it is not intransigent. It can change from day to day. The path only consists of being your true self. This is the path. The path you walk can change, sometimes from day to day. So there is no exact never changing goal for all of my life ahead – how can this be applied when life itself throws up so many surprises?

Secondly, when I first began to research the idea of living with true power within I often came across this magical phrase of ‘the present’ and ‘live in the now’. Let me tell you, this doesn’t mean an awful lot to most people. It’s too easy to get distracted by tomorrow or next week to focus entirely on today. That’s ok. The present to me is our immediate period, both now – this minute, today – and the week, even month, ahead. This is all we can really see and predict if you think about it. And even then it can change. Tomorrow it could all be different. I have learned to come to accept this is the case, but the more you become familiar with your inner guidance (and we all have it) the closer you will find your present lining up to your future. Like they say, success is just failure turned inside out.

Live in the now or forever hold your peace.

© Paul Stenning 2016

 

 

The Golden trAGEdy

23 July 2016

I recently turned 40. It’s a milestone which is heavily vaunted and if you take the positive association – life begins at 40 – then a promising one to reach.

It is natural to begin to wonder about where you are in life. This can happen at any point, not just when you reach a particular turn of a decade. For some, those thoughtful, analytical types like myself, it happens often. You ponder and evaluate your moves and your experiences, as you want everything you do to be the best you can experience. You seek the most positive, illuminating moments in life and there is simply no point persevering through negative events unless there is a very good reason; the most positive of outcomes.

I do believe, and it is my experience, that you often have to cross the abyss in order to find a paradise. The deepest of failures can often inspire and produce the greatest successes. It took me a while to become so philosophical about unfortunate events but they can be something to welcome as the highest point of failure and frustration is usually the turning point to where the positive change occurs. As long as you maintain your positive outlook and persevere then it becomes simple mathematics; the balance of probability.

Experiencing symptoms of uncertainty or frustration is of course a natural part of life and a perfectly normal part of being human. It is what we do and where we go with these feelings that counts. When one has a midlife crisis – which statistically is more likely to occur right about now for myself – then it is merely that the normal, acceptable fleeting moments of doubt have turned into crippling uncertainty and major dissatisfaction – not where you want to be when you realise time is actually limited.

Time is an arbitrary measurement but the solid references in our culture of turning years and (especially) decades mean that we are under a deliberate misapprehension that when a number changes and features a new zero, we have something new to fear. More medical check ups, just because, less time to play with, time to make bigger decisions, and yet the ever increasing spectre of responsibility as your children start to grow older and you start to make more mature decisions based on everyone’s welfare rather than just your own. It’s enough to make you confused, nay mad, and all this before you even take into account your ever ageing physical construct.

There is only one recourse but it is paradoxical. To ensure your physical structure maintains its health and remains productive you have to work towards the long haul, a persistent and consistent maintenance which allows glitches on the graph but does not tolerate sustained damage. In short you need to remain physically active and treat your body well, through an exercise regime and solid nutrition. I’m lucky. I live in near perpetual good weather where a variety of great fruit and vegetables are constantly in season. I can walk by the sea or in the mountains and I can swim and exercise in our swimming pool.

This is a long-term procedure, to persistently take care of your body and it required a durable choice to move my family to the Mediterranean. It was in truth a quick and easy decision as we have lived here before but it is still a major decision, much like the long-term health choice which is made in association.

Aside from your physical body and its place in the physical world, you need a constant maintenance of another kind, that of your mental acuity. This is on one hand an enduring focus, such as keeping your brain active in a variety of areas, but when you think of your day-to-day enjoyment of experience then you can only really do one thing; seize the moment and enjoy it for what it is.

To me that in itself is a paradox and one I have often struggled to understand. It is a confusing statement: seize the moment; fine that is in our control. And yet, enjoy the now for what it is. Well, what if the now is not what we want? Should we enjoy the now that we don’t want because we are being positive, or should we construct a new reality, which in turn would not then be the reality we are already in? Can you seize an existing moment if you alter it to a new one?

If we make such a life altering decision then we are risking fate turning, and inciting failure. It is the major reason why most people prefer the status quo to change. No matter what the change, and no matter what the status quo, they will opt for the familiar, the devil they know.

But in doing this, if you are in a ‘moment’ (and do not forget that moments can last for years) you cannot possibly enjoy then you will merely believe you have to enjoy the moment, or there is something wrong with you. But really, deep down, you are not enjoying it and are just afraid to acknowledge so. Because if it is acknowledged then it will require change, action. And that is scary.

The New Age philosophy that is presented to us in a multitude of formats teaches us to accept, to love, to live in peace and harmony. But this does not take into account our inner feeling of peace. If that is not present then we will age more quickly, reaching the nadir of the midlife crisis and all the while brimming with fiery anger and resentment, a culmination of unfulfilled potential and confusion.

The solution is not to battle with ourselves. As I enter into my forties I acknowledge the confusion and the paradoxical battle that those of us at this stage of life find ourselves presented with. Our enjoyment of life, in the moment and towards the long-term goals, is merely down to how we handle ourselves.

The more philosophical and accepting we are, as opposed to judgemental and analytical (I speak as a recovering advocate of the latter two awkward characteristics), the less we will experience powerlessness. This goes hand in hand with employing a direct and confident approach that we control our own lives. Even when we do not control a situation, we can control our reaction. There is power in the moment, in every moment, and it is in our hands. This has always applied to life, to my life, but it took me until my early thirties to start to see it.

It is frustrating to realise there could have been more happy moments, more control than I ever thought possible back when I was a mere youth (even in my early thirties) in life, but the realisation at a critical juncture of my life saved me from perpetual misery and the midlife crisis. Thus, the neon sign flashing 40 is not as daunting as it may once have been. Rather, it is an invigorating challenge to retain balance, and yet strive forward.

© Paul Stenning 2016

 

 

 

 

God Bless America

I’d love to write a travel diary. The problem is when I travel I have no real desire to write. I only feel like writing when I return. I’ve never really suffered with jet lag but this time it did take me a few days to return to normal. It is during this post-trip haze that inspiration usually strikes. Having looked over the itinerary that myself and my family followed for almost 3 weeks away, the diary is full, but only for events.

We travelled from Cyprus to Jamaica, via an overnight in London and a brief detour through Miami, which incidentally must have the worst airport in America. After a week in Montego Bay it was onto Pittsburgh via Charlotte, which by comparison features a magnificent airport, despite its small stature.

The writing of character, that of interactions with people and how you experience an event or how you feel, can really only truly come in the moment or very shortly afterward. Writers learn early on that a notepad and pen next to the bed is a good idea. Inspiration usually strikes shortly after waking, or it hits you when you least expect it. Walking is paramount when looking to clear your head and be inspired, and a shower will often provide the most lucid thinking of the day. Why? Because you aren’t thinking about it. It just happens. It is not conscious or deliberate, but totally organic.

This type of lucid awareness and inspiration is magnified tenfold when, rather than just go for a 90-minute walk, you experience airports, flights and new places and new people for many days in a row. The mind is open but I have found that it is then that I have the least inclination to write. Sure, I have lots of ideas and I can put my thoughts about future projects into context (one thing I realised on my vacation is that I have way too many projects that I am enthusiastic about and need to restrict my writing).

But actual writing? Why would you sit down with a pen and paper when all you want to do is experience life? This is the paradox of travel writing. How can you write when you travel? Other than on the plane or in the airport, if you are not more concerned with enjoying your trip, you’re doing the wrong thing. Anyone who can concentrate on a flight enough to work has my admiration. It’s all I can do to stay remotely alert enough to enjoy in-flight cuisine. I am lucky if I read a little. Mostly I look forlornly into the distance and try desperately to hear whatever is in my headphones properly.

As soon as my feet hit the tarmac of a new destination I cannot wait to get started experiencing the culture change. The easiest way to experience a place is by examining how you feel, what are the initial reactions you have internally? Miami = not so good (bad airport), Pittsburgh = great (old but character-laden airport).

And then it is the people. Generally it has to be said that in Miami the airport staff were a lot less polite and courteous than in Charlotte. The southern hospitality was more southern higher up the south, which seems somehow dichotomous.

In general however, having not visited America for some time, and having only previously been in New York whenever I have been there, I was exceedingly impressed by American hospitality.

From my family’s experience in the USA I would attribute politeness, integrity, directness and understanding to the American people. That’s a fair summary of some of the most important attributes to a human experience that I choose to value. In comparison, in Cyprus, hospitality and courtesy is generally out to lunch and in the once Great Britain, people have forgotten how to communicate. And the Brits were never good at being direct, not without being rude anyway.

By contrast, the American people made you feel happy to be alive. Happy to be in their presence because they gave you the impression they were happy to have you there. Now I am not about to start playing Dixie just because of a nice vacation. I’m not saying everyone in America is wonderful. Yet Cyprus and Jamaica are comparatively small islands. In Cyprus there are an estimated 1.2 million people. In Jamaica the population is just under 3 million. America is populated by almost 300 million people. Shouldn’t the odds be greater for a less consistent, more recurrently negative experience in the latter destination?

And I am only referring to the east, where we spent most of our vacation time. According to most reports, it is in the golden lands of California where people are at their most happy and hospitable. What happens when you visit there? Maybe I would be playing Dixie afterwards.

Having heard from American friends – in different locations, over many years – that standards were dropping in America, just like elsewhere, I was bowled over to experience the United States that I always wanted to see and feel.

In Pittsburgh I experienced a genuine warmth that was so profound it felt nostalgic and traditional. Where did my nostalgia peak? How could it be sparked when I had never visited the city before? My only guess is that the human warmth I experienced made me feel I was back in my childhood.

You know the story; people used to leave their front doors unlocked, everyone knew each other, and everyone felt pride in who they were. The latter aspect is where I feel that us British misinterpret the American way. We perceived directness as bluntness and rudeness. Yet it is merely confidence.

And the ultimate irony is that the British have forgotten how to be friendly and polite on anything like the scale that you will experience in America. 

Confidence is only due to knowing yourself and what you want. An American will ask and even expect to be given what they want, when they want it. They are not being rude, simply direct. The British reserve is often a form of procrastination and a lack of awareness. I don’t really know what I want, therefore how on earth could I possibly ask for it?

The American directness translates to service also, which is the basis of any great country. Treat those in your presence with awareness of their needs and put a smile on your face and there is nothing that can stop it. I believed America was a great country before revisiting it. Yet in my mental preparation before arriving there I did expect a little – ok, a lot – of dependence on technology over and above human interaction. I expected the shine might have disappeared from its traditional image.

What I found was a people who are thriving in their own ways and yet coexisting with characteristic friendliness. I was surprised by the amount of self-sustaining businesses and areas of interest, many of which have nothing to do with technology, but rather follow traditional areas of earning a living – from crafts to merchandise. Whilst visiting the excellent National Aviary in Pittsburgh I even had a bald eagle fly back and forth just a few inches from me. I could feel the air from its immense wing power, which was beautifully humbling.

Even the television coverage has improved from my former experiences in the country. It is not quite as relentless in bombarding viewers with medical commercials every two minutes as it once was. The only thing that was an overkill was the presidential coverage. Even this charade, which is so much less meaningful than we are led to believe, did not dampen the American spirit that prevailed all around us.

We stepped back in time and I forgot to write. Often I forgot to even think. For me that was a true vacation.

God Bless America.

© Paul Stenning 2016

 

 

The Path of Change - what side are you on?

“The mind of man is capable of anything – because everything is in it, all the past as well as all the future.” So said Joseph Conrad in Heart of Darkness. If we look at the brain and the human body as a hologram and believe the universe to be another part of the overall hologram then this would indeed apply. The holographic nature of life is worthy of research if you have not already done so but put simply, applying this to the terms I will state here, it is believed that we are all part of one huge giant consciousness.

According to research by the amazing American author and speaker Stephan Schwartz, who has composed the Laws of Change, it takes 10 percent of a people to change in order for the remaining 90% to follow suit. The reasons are too long and varied to go into here but consider this for a second. Only ten percent need to alter their values and affect positive change for the remainder of the population to feel the shift in their consciousness and begin to follow the more righteous path. Yes, even from a population of seven billion people.

Ten percent sounds like a fairly low, easy number to attain but the reality is just for one person to change, or a massive one percent of the earth’s population, takes an enormous effort and a great shift of perspective, thought and action. I write this not as some fancy observation to share but to make the point that our human culture is dying away and few people seem to be noticing.

We are heading in the opposite direction from utopia but most people are too coddled in their gadgetry to notice.

The screen on which you are viewing this right now will more than likely be a portable device, so you may easily switch to another window or menu and this page will disappear. Chances are most of you will have already done this. But for the faithful you may already understand what I am saying.

How many times a day does a person check their phone? This could be for all manner of messages or alerts, whether they are from email programmes, news websites or Facebook. The latter is the modern day scourge of the human being. We are supposed to be feeling, thinking, talking mammals. It is only our ability to talk which separates us from the animal kingdom and even then, just because we do not understand animal language does not mean they do not talk. In fact it has been proven that many animals understand what we say, both to each other and to them. Can we say the same of our understanding of the language of cats, dogs or birds?

Personally I do not own a portable device other than the most simplistic mobile phone I can find. The reason is because I have no interest in staying up to date with events in the world or constantly on alert for new emails or Facebook posts (yes this does explain why I am slow sometimes to reply to many of you). Thankfully it is a part of modern culture which has no remote appeal to me. I prefer to stay alert to the laws of nature and the beauty that exists in the real world rather than the artificial landscape where most people hide. I don’t think the vast majority of people realise they are hiding.

For the likes of Facebook, Instagram and their ilk have been a surreptitious human experiment in suppression. There is a permanent overload of the human senses and none of it is aligned with our natural state or purpose of harmony.

In becoming inharmonious within ourselves we can only be out of sync with our fellow human beings. And there is the key word: being. We are supposed to remain in this state in order to experience what is around us and within us.

It is not merely the advent of Facebook that has thrown people into this selfish mode of denial and repression. For instance, when I was at secondary school in the late 1980s people (those in my town at least) didn’t have portable computers or even mobile phones. For some years we didn’t even have girls (I don’t mean they weren’t being born, I mean I went to a Boy’s School). It was 1997 before I got my first mobile phone and it was the size of a house brick. But whilst at school there was a 95% club. I could raise this percentage to 99 or more but I am being kind. This club consisted of people with generalised thought and action.

As the hologram and hive mind evolved from schoolboys of yore (the school formed in 1929) to assign the ways and methods appropriate to think and behave there became a certain code of conduct which was expected to be adhered to. If like myself you were ‘different’ and preferred different music to the herd, or looked different or worst of all, did not follow the hive mindset and thought differently, then you were a pariah within the school. Multiply this mindset with modern technology and you have a recipe for complete and utter destabilisation dressed up in the form of progress.

Music saved my life in times of deep distress but my own obsessiveness in this field eventually became destabilising to my own personal development and awareness. This is the curse of any obsession – it dilutes the balance in a person’s life and influences every thought. Traditional music shops have all but disappeared in most countries but they are likely to make a comeback at some stage, especially if their success in Japan is anything to go by. In Japan the obsessive culture has bred an octopus containing thousands of record shops all of which are an audiophile’s dream.

For myself, I could no longer enjoy the environment to any great degree. The reason is that I no longer feel obsessive about the collection of music, which is different to the enjoyment of music. It took many years for me to dispose of my collection but I feel all the better for doing so.

The obsessive need within many humans to own material possessions and to focus inherently on their values rather than those of other humans or nature is a serious blip in the human consciousness, which only takes us further inside the hive mind.

If we want an object or a possession rather than time (whether by ourselves or with another), or freedom merely to be, then we are trapped within a materialistic bubble. When people kidnap or murder and enjoy the thrill of possession of another person they are rightly considered mentally ill, but the collection of material possessions is often viewed as something to be admired. I would counter that they are both forms of mental illness.  

I believe that unless our possessions help to increase our knowledge base of wellness then they are superfluous to our development and even our overall enjoyment. For instance, creating a library of books which bring enjoyment and fulfilment and assist in the increase of learning – however arbitrary or relative – is tantamount to progression. Providing – and this is the key part – that we can apply this learning to future experience. If we do not, then the learning has been in vain.

I believe we are here to progress as human beings, and as a human species. As one progression happens, and is joined by another in the appropriate mindset and goal, it can build to create a new hive mind. This works much more easily in a negative sense. One day eBay is invented, within the space of a few years there are hundreds of millions of users all obsessed with possessions.

A positive hive mindset can never be trapped within the walls of the hive for long as long as progression is seen to be accumulative. Like a record collection that is added to on a daily basis, a knowledge base of awareness and progression can increase at the same pace. Buy one record a day and by the end of the year there will be a significant collection buckling the shelves. Make personal progress your long term goal and you will be a vastly improved person measured one year from the time you began your goal. That is an important point – there is no time frame for personal progress, true growth happens at your own pace.

However, time is short so we are led to think. In the interests of mortality and an understanding that we only have the moment, we should surely do what makes us happy. If everyone stopped to consider as they trawl Facebook for the hundredth time that day, whether this is really fulfilling them then the honest answer would almost certainly be no. But still people continue to do it. It has now become a collective habit and an overwhelmingly negative one.

If you asked most people whether they could live without Facebook they would say ‘yes’. If you asked them whether they could live without their family they would say ‘no’. And yet a couple who should be happy and in love, content with each other’s presence and company – now almost universally seem to spend more time looking at their phones than each other.

The only control most of us have is of ourselves and of our time. I have previously written of the virtues of freedom, of the absolutely unmistakable need for free choice. We all have it, whether we realise it or not. But it is being eroded by the permission we give to a series of robotic devices to rule our lives. Life maybe short but time on a daily basis is not. We have hours every single day to make the most of.

I strongly believe most people now would not know what to do with their time if their phones and computers were taken away from them. The measure of a society, or a country, or a universal people, is surely their Top Trumps score out of ten when it comes to mindfulness, awareness and knowledge. Take these things away, emboss the person’s brain with a series of meaningless interactions and destroy their capacity for thinking and learning anything significant and you have one dull human being when their toys are taken away.

If I had grown up as a child in this century I would doubtless be the same. I’m lucky that computers were not around much when I was young. My curse of obsession became music but this can be managed. An addiction to a phone which sits in your pocket is more difficult to manage.

One last point. In the interests of human control, books are being destroyed in their traditional format. The argument is now that we can condense a real library onto a device which can store so many thousands of books without being cumbersome. Really?

What is the purpose of books? There is a reason why a real book opens like a door.

When in possession of a real book we are far more likely to interact with the contents with sufficient patience and interest that will more likely lead to a positive outcome. ‘Owning’ thousands of books that you can never find the time to read, that are so easily skimmed and not fully understood is of no benefit to our brains or our consciousness.

I am not of the mind that any book is better than no book. I do think what you read is important. But a book is certainly better than scrolling your phone absentmindedly, because if nothing else it trains the mind to focus and still. By doing this it is just one step towards mastery of our minds. This mastery is essential – among a seemingly small 10% which actually is a frighteningly high proportion of people – for our transcendence.

If we gain specificity in our lives and take control of our time we are fulfilling our true human destiny. The current prescribed destiny of the human race – and the one which we must avoid if we do not want to destroy ourselves – was predicted within the pages of the Bible.

See Genesis 11:5-9,

“The LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them. Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another’s speech…

Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of the whole earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of the whole earth.”

© Paul Stenning 2016

 

 

 

Soul Power

The word ‘soul’ is chiefly defined as: 

1. the principle of life, feeling, thought, and action in humans, regarded as a distinct entity separate from the body, and commonly held to be separable in existence from the body; the spiritual part of humans as distinct from the physical part.

2.
the spiritual part of humans regarded in its moral aspect, or as believed to survive death and be subject to happiness or misery in a life to come:
arguing the immortality of the soul.
 
I had to check the exact definition after recent thinking got me, well, thinking, but it has disappointed me as it means just what I thought. Dig a little deeper into the meaning and we also have:
 
4.
the emotional part of human nature; the seat of the feelings or sentiments.
 
5.
a human being; person.
 
6.
high-mindedness; noble warmth of feeling, spirit or courage, etc.
 
7.
the animating principle; the essential element or part of something.
 
So, before we start, it is safe to say that you could argue the word soul is very broadly defined and can be arbitrarily applied to multiple aspects of humanity, whether referring to a person who is alive, or dead.
 
Most frequently people refer to the word as either a type of music or the ghostly apparition that leaves a body when the body dies. In many cultures the word refers to an essence that can remain outside of a living shell, whether human, animal, or otherwise.
 
I certainly like to think beyond the realms of mortality, and immortality, and apply the meaning of the word to our life here on earth, in the here and now. We carry our soul inside our being, somewhere, somehow. We can at least agree that we all have a soul of sorts. The only argument is to how that is used and when it becomes a factor. Does it only apply to when the body dies, or when you listen to James Brown? Or does it exist on a daily, conscious level?
 
If so, does that mean that we can wrestle the soul from within the subconscious and place it into everyday awareness in order to become one with our soul? I believe so and I also have come to see that this is one of, if not the, meaning(s) of life. We are so often told in New Age literature that we are one with all human consciousness – we are all one and we should group together to live as one, like one giant pulsating human entity.
 
It would be nice wouldn’t it?
Well, not really. Do you want to share the thoughts of someone else? What would be the point of having individual bodies, thoughts, feelings and idiosyncrasies if we were all meant to join as one whole? We are human, fallible creatures, subject to all manner of emotional disturbance which we can only control if we know our true meaning. We can only know our true meaning of both existence and purpose when we know ourselves. In order to know ourselves, we must become one with our self. To do this we have to become selfish, and become aware of what we truly want as individual human beings.
 
This essence is certainly unique to each person, or it should be. This is where the difficulty lies and the reason why people forget about their souls. It is easier, particularly when we have been trained throughout early life, to follow the established pattern and become the person or thing that is laid before us. Live where your parents lived and brought you up, do the job they are qualified to do, support the same sports teams, follow the same mundane patterns and habits acquired from their parents, and their parents before them. It’s easier because it is pre-planned. How many people book a flight, and wait to board the plane at a set time, and then change their mind at the last second? The chances of someone doing so are minute, because plans have been made, the carpet is laid out in front of them and it is easier to walk onto it and follow the established pattern.
 
This is all most people do when it comes to the direction and outcome of their own lives. But to do this is to lose your soul, one fragment at a time until it becomes scattered and eventually dissipates into oblivion. In the Terminator movies, the Terminator can reform itself even when destroyed, sloshing even a scattered liquid mass back together to recreate a human form. Human beings don’t work like this, which is why the characters and technology of the Terminator (especially the machine itself) was a brilliant metaphor.
 
For a human to be able to piece together parts of their fragmented soul takes years of refining habits and learning what is their original essence. Your essence is not your DNA or your genetics. Your essence is your very soul itself, the one thing that makes you independent of your parents or your experiences. It is who you are when the piper calls the tune and it is who you are when you are greatly tested. 99% of behaviour is learned, but the remaining 1% is more important than anything you have ever learned from someone else. That 1% is your brain matter that isn’t used; it is your instinct, your decision that comes from within. It is the soul that stops you from getting on a plane when you feel you shouldn’t, even if you are in the check-in line.
 
When the soul is affected by outside stimulus it can be thwarted from its soul purpose. Recently my own soul power has been tested. Noise, I have noticed, is one of the killers of your soul spirit. My family and I moved to the Mediterranean to escape the humdrum existence and to enjoy the blissful pace of life in Cyprus. There is no better inspiration to write and to be who you truly are than to view the mountains, the sea and to have nature cloaking your home and outside living space.
 
Noise, any noise, carries energy waves. Some noise is pleasant and pleasing to the mind and the soul and some noise can dissipate your essence. My soul is warmed by the quiet hum of crickets at night time, the sweet chatter of birds and the light brush of palm tree leaves guided by the wind. Interference to this pace which I have found flows with my heart is not welcome. It is not just for work, it is for personal happiness.
 
A 2 month and one week spate of (thankfully, temporary) neighbours has disrupted my natural happiness. Their complete lack of consideration for anyone around them has spoiled the energy around our home and thus, my soul has been seriously affected. I am not suggesting that we should all walk around in a cocoon of soft walls, oblivious to the outside world. What I do mean is I have discovered that for me personally – particularly at this point of my soul’s development where huge life changes are taking place – that unnecessary and prolonged noise disrupts my natural energy and preferences. Being selfish, I don’t like hearing other people’s noise when it is unnecessary and prolonged.
 
We should not have to accept a situation we do not like that contributes in any way to our happiness and disruption of our natural progress. Being selfish is all about recognising what is not good enough for us and making strides to rectify the balance our soul cries out for. By being selfish in this regard it makes me a better husband and father. When energy is depleted by losing your soul’s rhythm you are much more likely to make poor decisions and react badly to otherwise minor situations and incidents. Buoyed by the true rhythm and flow for which your soul cries out, however, will lead you to the inner promised land that only you can provide.
 
This is how certain amazing people keep their sanity, and dignity, when placed in inhumane situations. Because their soul is safe, so is their true worth and they act this way regardless of the outside circumstances. Just because you are not in a perilous situation does not mean you should treat your soul any less importantly. The true meaning of our personal – and it is very personal – journey can only be known by looking within. The answer is not in the lack of communication with one’s self.
 
The more disturbances (noise, i-phones, tablets, TV) you are exposed to, the more the soul withers and the true purpose of your own journey is ever more fragmented. Why else is it that when people go on holiday they often find a missing piece of their desires, their dreams, their hopes, their selves? Because the everyday humdrum existence has been given permission to leave for a week or two the real soul can emerge. But so often those plans made, the thoughts given permission to enter and the spirit which seeks to grow so much more is rammed back into its box upon the return to the place of your own choice of four walls.
 
If you are older than 18 or so, the chances of this having already happened to you is very high. No one is immune from this splintering of our dreams and true inner desires unless we catch the pattern and stop the rot. As the wonderful and inspiring writer Brenda Ueland once said, “Since you are like no other being ever created since the beginning of time, you are incomparable.” This should be true. Ueland was referring to the possibilities within anyone to become a writer. When I first heard her speak about this potential, I thought she was crazy. Much like she pointed out elsewhere in her remarkable If You Want To Write, most writers react to this statement with a patronising stance: You? Be a writer? Not unless you can write like myself, peasant!
 
But she is right. The reason is because writing – especially handwriting – is part of our true essence. It is something we were all born to do. Therefore it should be a part of all of us. This is just one aspect to your soul you are probably missing out on. Finding the fragments and piecing them back together to make you whole should be your life’s work. Begin it today. For me, my journey continues.
 
“The human soul has still greater need of the ideal than of the real. It is by the real that we exist, it is by the ideal that we live.” Victor Hugo
 
 
 
 

Freedom of Choice

How can freedom be granted by someone other than yourself?....

For many years I felt like a perennial drifter; both figuratively and literally. I was lost in the wilderness in terms of my career, i.e. I didn’t really have one. I moved around a fair bit when I was a child and when I reached my teens and started living with others, before living on my own, I also followed the same pattern. There were not many times where I stayed in a house more than 6 months. Sometimes I went further afield - like when I ended up in New York - but most of the time I stayed in the general area I had lived in from the age of 8.

This is what most people do. The only thing I didn’t do that most people tend to think about is to buy a house in this same area. At one point my career settled down. Before becoming a full-time writer I worked in a music shop, back when music shops still carried the responsibility of providing the knowledgeable music resources for the general public. I did this for 7 years which, for me, was an unbelievable record of consistency and commitment. I had never worked in a job for more than a year before and I had never enjoyed my work the way I enjoyed handling vinyl and cds, not to mention having a responsibility I knew I could carry.

Perhaps, if I had not spent my hobby time so involved with writing and building a writing career at the same time, I might have still been in that job. The company I worked for has been one of the rare success stories in this era of music shops often closing down.

But even when I was there, in my early and mid-twenties, my fellow staff members were all thinking about laying down roots. Those who were my age and older were all taking the familiar steps of buying a house, quite often in the very same area where they had spent their youth. At the time I had security with my job, a decent wage and no real ambitions beyond enjoying my life and sticking with my job. It was the perfect time to buy a house, both in terms of my situation as well as the housing market, which had dropped to allow many affordable properties. I almost did it. But I didn’t. Those I worked with almost all committed to buying flats or, in some cases, large Victorian houses in the area they knew. They were lucky to have bought at the right time; the last time really where good quality houses were affordable and just before their value suddenly sky rocketed a few years later.

The people who bought those houses however, have stayed there. Because this is what people do. Even if someone decides to make a quick killing in the housing market, they only reinvest their money back into the same volatile market, usually in the same area. Some time later in the future they might not be so lucky with buying and selling property. It’s a little like winning at a casino. Those who win an unexpectedly large amount are best walking away with it. When it is “reinvested” it usually ends up back where it came from.

But this blog is not about the housing market, or making or losing money. I want to talk about freedom. When I was younger I only sought freedom. I did not seek fame and riches, I simply wanted to leave school, then move out from my parents, then go; just go, anywhere, I didn’t know where. All I knew is I had to go. Maybe I was instilled with the urge at a young age, maybe I was subconsciously encouraged at the right time, that you didn’t actually have to stay where you were if you didn’t want to. Certain unhappy experiences growing up only served to feed my urge to move on and I always knew it was possible, no matter the circumstances or situation.

For many years I felt free even when, looking back, technically I wasn’t. I was locked into a job, a flat, a house or - briefly - a mortgage. I was tied to friends, family. In other words, I was tied to other people or things, like most people. Was I free? Only in my mind. I didn’t feel as if I made decisions based on what others wanted, I felt I was fairly free and open and did what I wanted. To a large extent I did, but the ultimate freedom was missing.

It took me all of my twenties and most of my thirties to realise something. Freedom only exists for you if you truly have freedom of choice, but the good news is that you ALWAYS have freedom of choice. But it is up to us to take the risk, and to take the responsibility, of accepting freedom. This might sound like a strange thing to say, after all isn’t freedom granted to us? Isn’t freedom something you earn, or are given by someone else? This is a common concept. But it is completely paradoxical. How can freedom be granted by someone other than yourself?

One must choose freedom. This is the circle known as freedom of choice. In any situation there is always freedom of choice but many choices inhibit your freedom. Only one choice can grant you freedom and that is the choice of freedom itself.

Let me explain. I believe that pressure and stress in life come from allowing someone else to have power over you. This can be completely obvious, or it can be subliminal and surreptitious. For instance, a “good deal” in buying a house at a certain time can seem like a reasonable, logical decision and it might seem to be in conjunction with one’s own wishes, after all, here is your job, your friends, your family. But is there freedom involved? You have the albatross of a 25 year mortgage, the commitment to retain your job or some similar employment for this period. If the housing market booms you will have the choice to cash in, should you wish. But if it crashes you are stuck in your house unless you can afford to lose money. You have the expectancy, and therefore reliance, that all your friends and family will stay in the same area for the period you have elected - or are forced - to remain.  

Here, though you have chosen to buy a house of your own free will, you are tied in to all manner of factors which depend on someone, or something else. Even your decision to buy the house in the first place (not to mention where it is placed) will have almost certainly been influenced by your experiences in life and the teachings you received from your parents. Most likely, your ambitions and ability to perceive your worth and what you are capable of will have been heavily influenced by what your parents have achieved and what they tell you (or subconsciously influence) that you can achieve.

Over the long term, these inhibited choices of allowing our own decisions to be influenced so much by others, lead to resentment and stagnation. They also lead to a narrow, or completely closed field of vision. One only “sees” what one is used to and expects. Anything outside of this comfort zone is therefore a huge burden or shock and here stress and pressure begin to build. To put it a different way - if we make choices based on our avoidance of stress, we will only welcome it into our lives at some point. If we only make choices based on avoidance of achievement, then this is exactly what we will achieve - avoidance of potential and achievement only of what we believe we are capable. But at this point the capabilities have been significantly reduced because we have commitments, commitments which inhibit natural and free choice as we are tied in to various forms of unyielding pressure to continue to make the “right” choice.

To avoid doing this is scary and so many people are too frightened to make the choice, but it is truly liberating and the freedom of choice then opens new doors. In fact using the method of freedom of true internal, know thyself, authentic choice, a door can never be closed. If one is fully shut and locked, a new one can surely open simply by being open to our own internal and external possibilities. I suppose what I am saying sounds a little Hippy or New Age and it is, only I don’t believe it requires meditation or hallucinogenics to connect with our true, authentic selves and thus open ourselves to real freedom of choice.

True happiness is freedom. Giving yourself the freedom to choose, saying “it’s up to me,” relieves stress. This is a natural occurrence because the mind (and body) thank you for resisting the urge to keep doing the “right” or easy thing and just be yourself, go where you will, as if there are no limits, even when it appears that there are limitations at every corner. The only limitations are those you have been conditioned to believe are in place. These come from the same elements which make you buy a house around the corner from your parents, or near your job, or your friends. It’s a neverending form of peer pressure and it usually begins at school. The desire to fit in and be like everyone else is a popular choice but it instantly shuts down your own freedom as you are then chained to only make decisions that everyone else would likely make or approves of. Such as, that’s right, buy a house near all your old school friends.

I did some research on this just to be sure I wasn’t mistaken. Out of 30 people I still know of from school or work, 100% live and work in the same county (or in many cases, even smaller specific area) they did ten years ago. 95% live and work in the same county or small specific area they did when they were at Primary School, 30 years ago. I am sure if you think of your own friends and family the same statistics will apply.

In other words, even those who do make a move in their lives will probably only do it once, especially if it is a big move.  
The frightening thing is most people don’t even know they are trapped by regularity, habit and the training of the mind. In people of my generation, the overriding teaching we received was to “get a good job” and “renting is dead money, buy a house”. Do the right thing; the right thing meaning the same thing everyone else is doing. Anything deviating from the norm is seen as a threat and any possible scent of freedom is quickly doused by the fear of what might go wrong if we followed that chink of light known as opportunity.

This is a deeper subject to go into in a later blog. There are so many examples of people who gave up their personal freedom in order to please somebody else. As I stated earlier, this compromising attitude and surrender only breeds stress and resentment. I learned a while ago that the best thing I could do for my wife and daughter was to please myself first. I have to try and please them too, as much as possible, but if I don’t take care of myself and put me first, how can I take care of them with any real consideration and commitment?

You have the power to free yourself. The good news is that power is yours to claim. The bad news is that power is yours to claim. It’s not an easy choice to make, but it’s the only one there is if you seek true freedom.

The Life Lessons of Tootsie

I recently watched the film Tootsie, probably for the 50th time. There is no doubt that it is a classic movie and, although it is dated in some ways, it struck me when watching the film in late 2014 that some things never change.

In the film Dustin Hoffman plays Michael Dorsey, an actor who realises he is not being offered work because of his attitude. The plot makes a point of proving that Dorsey is a talented, knowledgeable actor and his agent (played by unsung hero of the movie, Sidney Pollack) makes a point of proving that the reason no one will hire Dorsey is because he is so difficult to work with.

At the time the film was released, in 1982, there was more interest in the fact that Dustin Hoffman was playing a woman than the subtleties of the plot. Yet those subtleties are there to see.

The first point the film really makes is that no matter how talented someone is, their attitude is far important in the eyes of the world, especially a world (the entertainment industry) that can give you something as fickle as money and fame.

The second point is that no matter what you do, and no matter how good your attitude is, your role in the entertainment business is subject to another person’s opinion and it can be scathing and unfair. Michael Dorsey’s friend in the movie, played by Teri Garr, is rejected at an audition simply for the way she looks. When Michael Dorsey becomes a woman in order to audition for the same part he too is rejected, ironically, on the basis of his looks.

But here, when he uses his customary obnoxiousness and shows a flash of what everyone would class as a ‘bad attitude’, it is viewed in a different light. This is firstly because he is dressed as a late middle-aged woman, and this attitude and hostility seems at odds with that demographic, and secondly because this attitude – carried by the older woman – is right for the acting part.

In another twist of irony it is interesting to note that the idea of the film went through many changes over two years before it was even taken on by Dustin Hoffman, and it also went through rounds of rejections at every major movie studio before it was eventually made into a film. It had been purchased by producer Dick Richards in 1977 but it was five years before the film was released. The film went on to become the second highest grossing film of 1982 and today remains a classic.

The ultimate lesson the plot makes is that sometimes you have to be something that you are not in order to be accepted. Once you have that acceptance you can turn things on their head if you choose. Despite being offered a huge contract and becoming a popular soap opera star in the movie, Hoffman’s character begins to hate the idea of being somebody he is not and reverts to his true self: argumentative and uncontrollable. He changes the script live on set and becomes aggressive to those who have the power to dispense with his services. By this point he doesn’t care because he does not want to be someone he is not. (There is also a more subtle point to the plot that when you become part of a huge corporate industry or business that you may lose your identity in the process).

By the end of the movie when he has revealed his true identity, he makes amends with a woman he has fallen in love with (played by Jessica Lange) and tells her he is the same person and that he “just has to learn how to do it without the dress”.

In an interview with Dustin Hoffman he reveals that Tootsie, a film everyone found hilarious, was never a comedy for him. Hoffman emotionally declared that: “There are too many interesting women in this world that I haven’t got to know, who I would never have spoken to at a party, because I’ve been brainwashed…”

And here we have the third most important lesson in the movie; that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and humans, with all their fickleness and learned objectivity, sometimes need to be forced to see a person differently in order to accept them. 

Times do very much change and 2015 will probably see more so-called technological advances than ever, but the essence of humanity does not change. We are driven by communication and human relationships, no matter how much we can now choose to interact electronically.

There are a lot of parallels with Tootsie and the way the modern world works. There are many parallels between the acting industry and the writing industry; judgements are merely opinions, and these are fickle and often led by the quick judgements people make based upon looks (this can be the look of anything, from your website, to your personal presentation).

In another cross dressing classic movie, The Rocky Horror Picture Show (the most high profile piece before Tootsie, seven years earlier) Tim Curry’s transvestite character Dr. Frank-N-Furter warns his guests not to judge a book by its cover. Funny how so many years on this is what most people still do.

In the acting and writing industries, those who are responsible for hiring and firing do not have time to get to know people; they have to make snap judgements and they rely on their own talent and experience to decipher whether someone is right for a part or for a publishing house. But they can very often be wrong.

In everyday life we have no such excuse for snap judgements and if there is one thing that will make this year, and every year, successful for you is to view people beyond their cover. Whatever you think of someone, you might be wrong.

Happy New Year, folks.

“So many quiet walks to take
So many dreams to make
And with so much love to make
I think we're gonna meet some time
Maybe all we need is time...
And it's telling me it might be you
All of my life” Stephen Bishop, It Might Be You