Technology – Connecting our Past and our Future

These days with social media it is so easy to connect with people all over the globe.  We can make new friends and reconnect with old friends with ease. We can use social media to share knowledge and ideas or simply stay in touch with friends.

One thing I have learned in reconnecting with friends from the past is that even though time has passed and changes have transformed our lives – the underlying character traits of most people, remain the same.  If someone I knew had been an adventurous soul in college or high school – they were still adventurous souls.  At least this has been my experience when I have reconnected with people from my past.

Quite honestly at this point in my life, I am so involved with my “now”, I don’t really have the urge to dig into my past. I’ve never been to any of my high school reunions and there have been many.  But when I do reconnect with people from my past, they are always people I have a natural and lasting connection with.  What attracted me to those people then, are usually the same things that attract me to them now and vice versa.

With any type of relationship, I take the attitude that the people who are in my life are those that are meant to be there at this time. There’ll be good relationships and not so good relationships, but each is meant to play its purpose in my life.  The same holds true in business relationships – there’s always an ebb and tide in most relationships, and we learn by it…. Or we should.  There’s the sweet and the bitter side to anything in life and it’s almost like those two ingredients need to be there for a “life well lived.”

I’ve learned a lot about filmmaking and the art of storytelling over the last couple of years, and the one thing that stands out, is that every story needs a “conflict” or an “opposition”. Every story needs contrast.  If it doesn’t – it’s not a good story – at least in terms of the entertainment business of films, TV shows, books, magazines etc.  I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately and I try to identify those themes when I watch a movie or read a book.  There is always an element of conflict or opposition to almost all stories and stories are taken from real life.

So when I look at my ultimate story –my life’s story –I tell myself to accept both the pain and the joys of life, because they are meant to be there. They are part of the process. I tell myself to expect the unexpected and leave any and all possibilities open. I tell myself to bridge the past with the now and allow the future to be what it’s meant to be for a life well lived.

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It’s a Wonderful Life

We have a holiday tradition in our family. Every Christmas Eve we watch the classic Capra movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” No matter how many times I have seen it – I cry every time at the end when George Bailey, Jimmy Stewart’s character, opens a book that is inscribed “no man is a failure who has friends.” The movie is about George Bailey a frustrated but compassionate businessman following in the footsteps of his father. He runs a small building and loan company, barely making a profit, but making it possible for his customers – his friends and neighbors – to get a home.

There’s a crisis in the film where George wants to end his life. An angel comes to him and shows him what it would have been like if he had never been born. That’s when George realizes how much his life has affected the lives of others and what a rich life he really has.

I think we all tend to forget how our lives affect the lives of others. In the things we say. In the things left unsaid. Often times we don’t even realize how we affect others because we are too narrowly focused on ourselves and only see our own perspective. Many times, our perspective might not be what’s really happening at all. The funny thing is that you never really know how your life has affected another’s unless they tell you – and most people don’t.

Every so often when I get frustrated by people’s actions, I remind myself that those very things that people do that make me feel bad or angry or sad – are the human imperfections that make life what it is. I remind myself that my imperfections and actions have an affect on others as well.

Every now and then, I’ll get an email or a Facebook message where somebody lets me know that I affected them in a positive way. It’s usually very something simple that I did or said, but it makes me feel good to hear that I made someone else’s life a little bit better.

Our world has changed a lot since Capra made this movie in 1946. A “friend” has taken on a different meaning – certainly a broader as we communicate globally with ease. But ultimately people are people with the basic human need of wanting to be loved and to know that someone cares about them. When we begin to understand that – it is what we do for others that brings the most rewards to our own life – then it really is a wonderful life.

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More Stuff I Learned While Making a Movie

The day finally arrived – our first screening of Opening Our Eyes – a film that I have poured my heart and soul into over the last year and a half.  Sounds like a cliché, but this project has consumed me in every way imaginable – good and bad.

As I looked up at the marquee of the State Theater in Traverse City, MI last Sunday morning, it hit me – we had done it.  My daughter Erin and I had set out to make a film last Spring about people all over the world who were making it a better place – and we did it.

It was and will continue to be a lot of work – a lot more than I ever could have imagined.  There have been some of the lowest of lows and the highest of highs along the way.  There have been times of disappointment from unexpected sources and times of encouragement and support from remarkable people who came into my life because of this project.

I have learned so much since embarking on this journey – here are just a few things:

Believe in your dream.  Lots of us have dreams but most of us don’t really believe in them.  I think that makes all the difference as far as making your dream a reality – the ability to believe that your dream will happen.  I have felt that this would happen from the first moment that I conceived the idea – I saw it – I heard it – This idea picked me – not the other way around.

Trust – I knew all along that for this film to be what I had envisioned it to be – I couldn’t do it alone.  It could only succeed through the support  of all the people who have contributed to this project from the beginning, whether by supporting it financially or just by being there  for me to spring ideas off of.  I really had to open myself up and trust that would happen  – and it did.  That’s not to say that I haven’t had my share of disappointments along the way, but I had to get past them and then learn to trust – again.

Work with people who share your vision.  I used to think I could edit.  but after working with my brilliant editor, Erik Freeland – now I just think I’m a hack.  Finding Erik was a blessing.  It’s not all that hard to find a good editor,  but to find an editor who has the same drive and passion as I do for what this film is or can be – is a rare gift – and I know that. There have been a handful of times in my life, when this serendipity has happened and sometimes, I’ve been too busy to take notice – but this time, I not only took notice – I welcomed Erik’s vision.  Because I was open to what Erik could bring to the film – it’s so much stronger.

Friends – As much as I know that I should never do anything for the sake of other people’s approval, there is always a part of me (my ego) that surfaces and seeks that approval or validation.  Funny thing is that when you create something that is coming from such a sincere place in your own heart – a project that you’re so passionate about – people come into your life because of it.  They are drawn in by your own enthusiasm.  So when others, disappoint you or even take no notice at all – you realize their approval doesn’t really matter.
Chris Guillebeau has a wonderful blog post about this.

Feedback – One reason I had a couple of sneak previews this past week was to solicit feedback.  When I get consumed with the mechanics of making a movie, especially the editing of the movie, I often get caught up in the nit picky stuff, (which is very important) but I need to step back and digest it as the overall movie.  It’s tough when I’m so close to it, so I always solicit other’s input. I know I can’t accommodate everyone’s suggestions because I’d end up with a big mess if I tried.  Some comments ring true and I may take them to heart, while other comments aren’t really along the same line of my thinking,  so I discount them.  Some people’s comments are brutal and cut deep, but after I get past the initial hurt, I realize sometimes, that the comments that cut deepest are the one’s that strike closest to the heart of the matter – and my inner voice takes notice.

Overcoming resistance – The most important thing of all.  I did what I set out to do and that is to make a film that will motivate others and move them to action. During the first Q&A last week, a man stood up and thanked me for making the film.  He told me that he hadn’t even intended to see a movie that morning – he had been looking at the posters announcing the lineup for the TC film festival this week and saw the marquee and came in.  He told me that it changed his way of thinking – that it changed his life.  And then he told me that I needed to screen this film for as many people as possible.  That’s my ultimate goal – to share this film with others – and if one person in every audience reacts that way – well what more could I ask for?

This film may not be perfect and it may not be for everybody (certainly not the cynics), but I did something a lot of others never do – I executed my idea – rather than give myself lots of goods reasons why I couldn’t.   I could cite plenty of reasons right now that could have or should have stopped me in my tracks.  But I didn’t stop because I had such a strong belief in this dream – I saw it too clearly.

Whenever I pull back from my dreams and succumb to my own resistance, I stop and think about a line from a Joni Mitchell tune where she writes about old friends being “cynical and drunk and boring someone in some dark café”.  I stop and I think about that. I sure don’t want to end up being one of those people who piss away their own life by passing judgment about other people’s efforts or causes. And then, I get out and do something.  That’s how I’m making a difference.

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The Power of Nostalgia

I’m not one to “look back” much, but I watched a story today on the news magazine show Sunday Morning about nostalgia that got me thinking about the past. Apparently, according to the “experts” who were interviewed on the show, being nostalgic

Gang of friends. I'm on top step.

and looking back into our past isn’t such a bad thing for us to do.

But being nostalgic wasn’t always looked at as being “good” for us. In fact in the 17th and 18th centuries, nostalgia was considered a medical disease and as recent as the 20th century, it was classified as a psychiatric disorder.

Nowadays, many psychologists think it’s healthy for us to look back at our past and recognize that we have overcome hardships and setbacks in our lives and in doing so we gain the inner strength we need to move forward. With time comes perspective and with that comes a certain resolve.

Advertisers have capitalized on the power of nostalgia for years. They pitch and promote new products by connecting them to people’s fond memories of the past or how they perceive the past to have been. Pepperidge Farm commercials were intended to provoke memories of home baked goodies from our childhood and associate them with their products. Or as the fictional character Don Draper from Mad Men said when referring to the power of nostalgia “ It takes us to a place where we ache to go again – it’s delicate but profound”.

So as we close out another year and in fact the first decade of the new century, take a few moments to think about the past. I think most of us will realize that all the obstacles that seemed insurmountable at the time, ended up being necessary for all the other things to happen in our lives. Just like George Bailey in the film “It’s a Wonderful Life” found out when he had been given a glimpse into how things would have been different had he never been born – he really did have a wonderful life. He just needed to look back and take notice.

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Reconnecting with The Ancient Ones

What started out as a mileage run to the West Coast on Friday, turned out to be a day of interesting connections.  My plan was to fly out to San Francisco on Friday morning and return the next morning.  I needed one more flight – the cost of a cheap ticket – to reach the next level of my airline elite status. I have a pretty full travel schedule next year and the upgrade in status will be beneficial.

Since I had the time, I decided reconnect with an old college friend whom I hadn’t seen in over 25 years.  He picked me up at the airport and from the moment I got into the car until we parted company later that afternoon, it was like we hadn’t missed a beat.  Both older, yet fundamentally the same people we were back in college.  There was a comfortable feeling being with each other even though so many years had gone by.

Later that evening I had drinks with a colleague whom I had met a few years back at SATW’s (Society of American Travel Writers) conference in England. During the evening I mentioned a personal project I was embarking on “People Making a Difference” and queried him about story ideas and people he may know. That conversation led us to talking about the travels we’ve each had over the years.  We quickly discovered that we had made similar backpacking odysseys back in the early 70’s. We began to retrace the paths we had each taken – I spoke of traveling from Cairo to Beirut, then on to Damascus and through Iraq to Kuwait. He followed with a nearly identical itinerary and picked up the journey from Kuwait by boat to Abadon, Iran and overland to Afghanistan.  We soon realized that we had been to the same places during the same period of time.

We both commented on the fact that we never come across people in our lives that have had that kind of parallel experience.  He then told me a funny story. He had traveled back to India with his grown son when a young traveler came up to him asking for money so he could get something to eat.  My friend told the traveler about his own journeys when he was his age. The young traveler responded by saying “Whoa – you’re one of the Ancient Ones”.  My friend relayed this story to me and pointed out that traveler’s comment had been spoken in a manner of respect, the same manner of respect with which native indigenous peoples refer to their elders or “ancient ones”.

It was an unusual day where I set out to take a trip for the sake of miles and ended up reconnecting with my past on a couple of different levels.  I tend to look forward in my life rather than at the past but sometimes reconnecting with your past connects circles and reminds of us who we really are. I kind of like being an Ancient One.

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