Revel Life

Truthtelling & Spinoza’s God


I am in love with Meghan Daum’s essay from Sunday’s NYTimes, “I Nearly Died. So What?” It so perfectly captures my own irreverent feelings every time I hear one of what I’ve come to call “The Platitudes,” which perhaps I should put in ALL CAPS, so ubiquitous and “believe in them lest you commit blasphemy” have they become.

No, I do not think that a brush with death need wake us up to anything, and I definitely do not believe everything happens for a reason. I have too much life experience to believe that, not to mention the mincemeat the renowned statistician David J. Hand made of that in his book The Improbability Principle which, true confession, is waiting, as yet unread, in my must read asap queue. Still, I am 99.9% sure that Hand will win me over, predisposed as I already am to see logic where others might look for mystical magic. I am, it is worth noting, a highly spiritual person. I just don’t use the logic of spirituality — which belongs more to the nonphysical world than the physical one (in my opinion) — to run the practical aspects of my life.

I do, as it happens, let the mystical intrude upon my ordinary reality. As a writer, I know, for example, that when we step away from a problem, the answers come via a process that is nine kinds of mystical.


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The Lost Art Of Mental Rigor


One afternoon last week, I sat in the living room of my father’s best friend, looking out at Lake Michigan from the penthouse floor. It was the four of us, my father’s great and lifelong friend (and schoolmate from the University of Chicago, where they both earned earned political science PhDs), his wife, an accomplished academic in her own right, my husband and myself, and we spent two of the most glorious hours talking — about Dr. Hamilton’s life and career (which intersected with my fathers as if they were the rhythm sections in each others’ bands), about his wife, the other Dr. Hamilton’s career, about their daughter and my father, who have both gone on to the great beyond, his daughter having left us in the plane crash that also took the life of Ron Brown, and my own father having lived to the ripe old age of 80, about the losses that shape a life and also the gains. It was cerebral and emotional and connected in a way that conversation so rarely is these days. It was a great reminder of how lucky we are when we have an opportunity to commune deeply with our minds and hearts engaged.

Dr. Hamilton and my father had the rarest of friendships. They were great admirers of one another, as human beings and as grand intellects who shared a deep commitment to social justice (they both played significant roles in the Civil Rights movement and in racial justice and human rights in the years beyond). Hearing him speak of my father with such love (and later hearing of my father’s great love for him from my stepmother), I was reminded of the proper role of the intellect in both public and private life. It is a lost art, this routine almost ordinary use of the mind through which we engage the big and meaningful ideas that turn our world.

I thought of those hours in Chicago when, upon my return to La La Land, where some of us work as hard as we can to pretend that nothing real matters, I turned on the telly and watched a couple of episodes of Showtime’s excellent if poorly titled series on global warming, The Years of Living Dangerously (you know a title’s a poor one when you can’t remember it to save your life).


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What I Mean By
“Living The Life We Came For”

Life We Came For

There’s a phrase that pops up a lot when I’m blogging, “living the life we came for,” which reeks, I know, of “destiny” and  “fate,” terms I think are often misunderstood. So, I’m taking this moment to define those terms and to talk a bit about what I mean when I speak of living the life we came for.

Our destiny, quite simply, is the highest possibility that exists for our lives. It’s who we might become given the unique set of talents, attributes and experiences that we have at our disposal this lifetime.

Our fate, on the other hand, consists of all the things that happen to us along the way, both our trials and our triumphs, our good fortune and our bad.

Our fate, if we let it, can become our lives. We suffer a loss, for example, and it defeats us, or we set out on a safe but inauthentic path and we stick to it, because it’s lucrative or we’re successful or we don’t know what else to do. Or, if we choose, our fate can become the raw ingredients from which we cook up real and authentic and meaningful lives.

This doesn’t mean you can have any old life you want. We can’t be or do anything (and we’d be wise to stop telling our children that they can). I, for example, couldn’t be Adele if I wanted to. I simply don’t have the singing chops, nor do I have the one of a kind combination of ingredients that make Adele Adele. What I can do, though, and what we all can do and teach our children to do is pursue our own singular lives with a measure of the passion, commitment and drive she’s shown in the pursuit of hers.


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What Kind Of Badass Are You?

Bad Ass Surfer Woman

I had an interesting experience earlier this week. I read a TV pilot I’d written for reasons still not fully understood — I’m not a TV writer and don’t truly aspire to be (but more about that downstream). When I was done, I got up from my chair and thought “meh.” It was “okay“. It was “good enough.” With some time and rewrite work, it could be better, maybe even sellable,  though the odds of selling any TV pilot, even for an established TV writer, which I am not, are quite slim. I could invest the time in my long shot mediocre pilot, or I could invest my time in the things I’m really good at and that seems to suit my life right now: writing a novel (my first) and exploring ways to get more involved in making a better world. These are my passions, really, writing and change-making, and TV isn’t really the place for that. At least not for me.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’m really good at and passionate about. I’ve started a novel and I’ve begun to explore ways that I can make a difference in the world. I am retooling myself as a writer and change maker and am still sussing out what that means. What I know, though, is that I’m good at writing prose and that I love it in a way that I never loved writing  screenplays, even in my heyday, and that I certainly don’t love writing TV.

The “meh” TV pilot was the third script of mine that I’d read in recent months. The other two were screenplays for feature films, one of which had gotten me a lot of attention and been developed with some hot shot producers. My reaction to both of those screenplays was also “meh.” Both had their merits, both were arguably better than a good chunk of what’s floating around, but they weren’t amazing feats of artistry either.

Oddly enough, I don’t feel bad about any of this. I think I’m a good screenwriter. I don’t think I’ll ever be a great one, in part because I don’t really want to be, but also because I think my natural talents, my true greatness, such as it is, lies somewhere else.

I think I’m a natural novelist. I have no illusions that it will be easy and expect to write trillions of drafts before I have a great novel, but I do believe I have a great novel or two in me. If I applied the same energy to a screenplay, I don’t think it would be half as good, and I know it wouldn’t be half as satisfying. I am philosophical in nature and a little overwrought. I’m interested in themes, and excited about the controlled meanderings and internal exploration that literary fiction allows. I also know how to structure things well, thanks to my background in film. Writing this novel I’ve begun is a joy, whereas just thinking about reworking on of my screenplays or pilot makes me blah. I’m full of ideas and I want to put them on the page in a way that you can only do with fiction or essay. I also want to connect my ideas with the world. I want to use my sharp mind and my big heart to contribute to the conversation that’s happening everywhere you look these days about how we can make a better world. The question of how I can get a movie made pales in comparison and, honestly, knowing what it requires, it just isn’t worth it to me unless it arises organically from the passion projects I’m committing myself to. I can’t keep chasing that film crack, because a film badass is not the sort of badass I am.

It’s a good question: “What sort of badass are you? I don’t mean what have you succeed at. I have enough super successful friends to know that success that’s divorced from some sense of meaning or calling can feel empty, even if it does keep fear at bay. I mean, who are you really? What have you come here to do? What is the true best use of your considerable talents and gifts.

I think of it the way I think about ingredients for a recipe. There are a lot of things you can do with cauliflower, so knowing that you’re a cauliflower (or a lawyer, or a evolutionary anthropologist, or a writer) doesn’t really tell you very much. That’s just an ingredient with which you could do many different things. The kind of badass you are will determine what you cook up with the ingredients you have.


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Morning Mental Health Walk:
Stepping Into Luminous Being


This morning I went for a walk and noticed, for the second time in the last two weeks, that starting my day with a walk —  outside, in the sunshine and fresh-ish air (I live in L.A. where fresh air is more conceptual than real) — is the single most important thing I can do to ensure that I’ll be firing on cylinders all day, better even than yoga and meditation, which is saying a lot. Of course, walking can itself be a meditation. I learned that great and beautiful lesson years ago, at the feet of the famous Buddhist monk Thich Nat Hahn, with whom I once spent a glorious weekend doing walking meditation and listening to him speak and being led by him in beautiful moving meditations in a jam-packed room that reminded me that we are in these bodies, and that our presence here — in these bodies, in this world, in the wheel of existence — matters.


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