Crazy Diamond Remix | Mindwaves of the Xiren Persuasion

Becoming adept at conversation; 5 tips that work even if your subject matter sucks.

In Becoming, life on October 20, 2015 at 1:42 pm

conversing

“Power off”

A woman, 30s, sort of a Demi Moore look to her, though less refined, walks into the elevator with me, talking to her phone.

Just the two of us, in a slow elevator.

“Power off

I smile, press the buttons, and

Power off

She’s fixated on her phone. My inner monologue starts writing itself, mostly in question form. Isn’t it easier to power off manually? I notice her nails are almost an inch long – how does she do anything? Okay, maybe it’s easier to voice-command. Does she use Siri for everything? Does Siri ever work well? Remember that time Siri responded to us, saying that she didn’t have the maps for Malaysia when we were trying to look for the closest metro station in DC? I’ve never used Siri since, though I almost got to be her voice in China. Ugh, imagine that, I’d be the bane of every iPhone user’s existence. Well, at least my Father would hear my voice this way.

Power off

Okay. I look over to her, awkward forced smile. Well, she’ll just have to go to the same floor as me. 

“It’s a new phone, I’m trying to turn it off, it’s telling me to swipe, it’s not working.” My awkward smile exchanged for a generous few seconds of her attention before she went back to her phone, forcefully pressing it, in all the wrong places, it seems.

“Isn’t it easier to turn it off manually?” Too many questions in my head, eventually one made it out.

“How do you do that?”

Oh.

###

Surprisingly, in the ever advanced world we live in today, we lose our abilities to do simple things, like turning off devices, and well, talking. Being sociable could mean a lot of things, but a good conversationalist it does not equate to.

We talk via our tech, into our tech, and with our tech, making real conversation with real people, in real time, less frequent occurrences. Few do it; even less do it well, because most people are out of practice. Sounds like a Millennial concern, which in 2015, counts for a heck of a lot.

In my experience, the best conversationalists are lecturing professors and children – which goes to show that it’s not about subject matter. I’ve sat through dreadful lectures and avoid children whenever possible. Content is important, certainly, it’s why we force ourselves through misery to consume mediocre shit. But conversing is an artform heavily shaped by style, and dictated through behaviour. It’s a thing of beauty, really, and once you’ve experienced beauty, anything less becomes mediocre.

A handful of seemingly simple things to try. Rudimentary? I’d go with foundational.

I. Listen

Two ears, one mouth.

Beyond basic math, a Google search with “listening skills” will yield 17,700,000 results in just half a second. Why so much material? Because we don’t, and the world clearly needs it.

Self-accounting is great for deep reflection – do it in solitude, in front of a mirror, but not in front of company. If you want to see a good one man show, go see stand up, and see how terrifying it is. If you are anything less than a professional speaker, do something with much less risk, and much greater value. Listen.

Listening allows for you to connect. Connection is the prize, but it’s also the work. Most people are nervous because they don’t know what to talk about.  Listen, and experience how liberating and great it feels with this problem solved. Listen, but don’t be a dead piece of wood. Respond, comment, sound back, ask questions… and see how the conversations grow.

II. Be present

Your presence says a lot about you. Your “air“, so to speak. Opening up yourself subjects you to being vulnerable, but yet, it’s the only way you can really feel, which is the only way you can really offer something. As you nurture this skill, you also develop empathy, (and thereby saving a couple thousands worth of therapy bills, on a modest estimate.) By being present, you are in turn, valuing and validating the presence of your company, which does two things of magic: 1) their self-esteem increases, and 2) the esteem they hold for you also increases. Being held in high esteem is perhaps, the most noble of all places, which is why it doesn’t come easily. But it’s really not magic, it’s just learned and trained behavior over time.

III. Be genuinely interested

Sounds like listening, but the focus here is on sincerity. No meaningful engagement is without it. Being genuinely interested enables you to pick up cues and hints – emotional, cerebral, and physical, so much better, faster, and more accurate than feigning it, which is deceptive and arguably manipulative. We all know someone who simply can’t take a hint – don’t become that person.

On a level of conduct, being genuinely interested is a mark of being respectful. Showing respect is rudimentary of all good conversationalists. The sharpened awareness that stems from it, is a bonus. Plus, you might hear something valuable – without having to pay subscription/tuition!  This is, in a way, the gift that keeps on giving.

IV. Be open to new ways of thinking 

There’s nothing more satisfying than learning something new. At the core of a good conversationalist is a good thinker. Good thinking shows your values, philosophy, attitude, and worldviews. How you think is your politics; a good conversationalist is a good diplomat. Diplomats don’t start wars.

New ways of thinking, at its worst, will inform you; at its best, will enrich you. Knowledge is power – you can’t lose this one.

V. Go beyond the charms; offer your art; speak to affect.

A good conversationalist is naturally charming; the reverse is not always true. When it’s not true, it’s disappointing, one could even argue – deceiving, and deception is just garbage.

Good conversationalists are artists, artists are givers, charmers are takers. Because most communication is non-verbal, the same line, said differently, have different effects. The way your words land is an art in its own right. Acting lessons, if nothing else, help with this. Get a coach, or just start saying things differently -repeat what others say in your head, people watch and be a fly on the wall. Watch good films and actively learn.

The best conversationalists have always had an affect on me. The way they think starts to influence the way you think, and before you know it, you start to share mannerisms in your speech and draw from the same vocabulary. Studies have shown that people who share the strongest relationships also have very similar ways in which they think … It’s the mental bond that has the strongest hold. That’s one reason one night stands are fleeting and tasteless. Always more seductive to be in someone’s head than someone’s bed. Mental space is a scarce commodity, but good conversationalists reside there.

Good conversationalists also reside in brick and mortar buildings, in that offline world. So stop reading this. There isn’t anymore.

{X}

P.S. Practice makes perfect.

P.P.S. There’s always more.

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Face to Face; a Love Letter to The Art of Acting.

In As Artist, life, Love on October 10, 2015 at 7:49 pm

as artist

I called “cut”. The room was quite tense. The camera started rolling at 10AM, by now it’s almost 2PM, and we’ve got nothing. Day 2 of filming, same subject, same setting, same format, the only difference is text. It shouldn’t be this hard.

Not that we don’t have anything – we have just short of 5 dozen clips of the same text – about the subject himself. A biographical text, so to speak, derived from a series of questions by me, co-written by three creatives, then distilled into its most essential form. Nothing is exaggerated, nothing is untrue. It was confounding to me, how a handful of quite remarkable facts and accomplishments chained together in a lyrical flow, were rendered unusable because the speaker had, time and time again, ran over the words like they were the petty, wilting items in the grocery aisle, on “end of day sale”. I’m not working with wilted salad.

“Do you have another appointment after this?” [read: you seem rushed, and rushing gets you nowhere]
“Are there others whom you should attend to first, so you can be fully here?” [read: you’re not present]
“Take a moment, walk around, grab something to eat…” [read: leave this space for a minute]

I’m running low in the barrel of positive reinforcements… yesterday was fine. Alone on set, I re-checked the frame, the lights, the technical design of it all, and the aesthetics were quite pleasing – the cosmetics, the composition. Beautifully lit, too, but what good is beautiful, if it’s untrue? The camera doesn’t lie. Still images can be very deceiving, but moving picture? “Film is truth, 24x a second.”

That very quote from M. JL Godard changed my life. From actor to director, I suppose I’ve “come of age”, but nothing comes for free.

For an actor, our work is mostly intangible, but if the process involves any degree of blood, sweat, and tears, what we then deliver, you will feel it through the marrow of your bones – and that feeling, is undeniable, is stronger than anything you’ve ever felt, is the closest to truth you’ll ever get. That’s the breath of life, in this often lifeless world we operate in. Close your eyes, inhale; feel. 

I was filming a musician. As a musician myself, I equate what we do with love and truth as well, but there are differences. If there isn’t love, there isn’t passion, then the work is void of depth or artistry; there needs to be fire.

There isn’t a correct way to compare music to acting, but of one thing I’m certain – that acting forces you to confront yourself, and all that’s deep within you, in a way that music allows you to sink into, and quite possibly, drown. Music is like mother ocean, it offers an escape; acting, well, you’re on fire and you’re running on a one-way street straight to hell, repeatedly. Because, Meisner.

The art of it is so. The business is a whole other beast. Hence, the actor’s dogged training in the art itself, its techniques, camera techniques… years and years of training that makes acting itself, its proper profession. Years and years of character sculpting and forced emotional-palette widening that neither music theory nor ear-training quite get to.

30 minutes on the clock, my talent has returned, with coffee, thank god. One rehearsal, we almost had it, the cameras roll, and we’re shut out, again.

I turned the camera off, and what proceeded to unfold, was in essence, therapy. Unbeknownst to me, I had stepped into the shoes of all the great acting coaches I’ve had. I was channeling them all, even the ones I’ve only read about. Of the many things I said, the most matter-of-fact had been that, the hardest lesson in acting, is learning to let go and unlearning all that adulthood and society have conditioned and socialized us with. Reversing that takes more than two days; for some, even two decades will only scratch the tip of the iceberg.

So, it was a moment of epiphany, of revelation, of miracle, and even that is an understatement, when a dragon of more than four decades had been slain. The dagger was not from me, but the blood burns in my hands. If this is what I’m devoting the rest of my life to… I’m okay with that. These moments, I can live and die for them, even though the cost is unimaginably cruel. Can you be so in love with your art? I don’t know. I just know I am, and the evidence before me, confirms it.

It’s been almost a week since its death, and I remain affected, as if it had just happened. Another country, another set, another wrap, I still remember it all, all too clearly. It was a moment of raw beauty, where no words could accord with justice, but ending the blog here seems without manners.

The tears we are reduced to, along the path of artistic training, are worth more than the petty emotions of a baby. They aren’t signs that we need to grow up, but rather, anthems of having grown up, the lament of all that’s sacrificed, and the realization of all that’s lost… A classmate once reported to the Chair of the Acting Department of the conservatory where I trained, that “we all had breakdowns”, to which I quickly added, “no, breakthroughs” – because there is a difference.

Among the 74 clips I have trimmed down to work with, one of them, I know, marks the transition between being in the dragon’s shadow, and being free, truly, free. In between the takes, there was that private space, that sacred space, that elusive truth which we trade our vulnerabilities for, and forever seek to reach… be it actor, musician, or any other creative through any other medium.

As artists, we need that truth like it’s the air we breathe. We need it to live, to create, to imagine fantasies that feed the rest of the world. Because when all the glamour and lights fade away, all we have, to taste, to save us, is the air we breathe.

Exhale.

{x}

Feed me F*cking Fermatas; 6 holds if this is how we date now.

In courtship, Love on June 15, 2015 at 10:05 am

Feed me fermatas

Date for dessert? While it may not look as picture perfect, or present itself as exotically described, the nature of the romantic diet is changing with each new App that serves up human beings at your fingertips. Because this is how we date now, and it’s cacophonous.

We don’t know what romance looks like now, because we’re drowning in a sea of triple-filtered art, adjusted with the perfect aperture, because even amateurs know angles matter. We think romance is glamour and glitter comparable to Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair Coverpage, but note that she didn’t wear her “I woke up like this” shirt, (does she even have one?) Irrelevant. Romance is satin corsets. Romance is perfect hair that arrives on set in a box. Romance is made-up with chemicals that could fill an entire coffin. Yes, romance is dead sexy.

Romance today is romance filtered to amp up sex appeal, the innovative dirty old tricks that food photographers have employed for decades to induce your saliva. As if knowledge is power. What did we learn? Instead of being in the moment, we’re being in our phones as we so generously share with the world, the moments that we’re missing, havingmissing.

Because a lot’s missing.

Missing between the myriad of screens and our lives; between the narratives of our lives; between what we show vs. what we are; between what’s filtered vs. what’s real. In the forging of more and more connections, a disconnect is growing between our public vs. private selves, online vs. offline selves. When we choose quantity over quality, something is sacrificed. At which point, does the scale tip over, as we dilute ourselves across multi-platforms in the world of 2.0? In which dimension do we then exist? In which dimension are we searching for that elusive more? In which dimension are we truly present? In which dimension does the meaning we so yearn for, reside?

I’m not your therapist. I’m a composer.

Yet, I didn’t always understand that sometimes, “less is more.” During my undergrad composition studies, my music had been very “notey”. Too many ideas, too many motifs, too many notes; I wrote with the ego of a piano major. Reduce, hold, and stretch; bin the notes, hold what’s there, extend the phrase by another bar or two. Then, the music started to breathe.

Because space. Ahh….

What a novel idea.

Yet, we fill every space we have, with all the notes we gather, with yesterday’s garbage, and yesteryear’s baggage. Input, input, input, because we derive security from our tangible constructions. But what if I told you, that you could get security elsewhere? Wouldn’t you like to hold onto the tingling moments for longer? At your discretion? What if I told you, that instead of using your tech., that you could use a fermata? Or six?

I. Hold the Gaze

Eye-contact is what’s used to place someone at the crosshairs. How are you planning to get a decent shot if you don’t hold still? It’s basic, almost animalistic. Like my driving instructor told me the first time I sat in the driver’s seat, “look where you’re going”. Hold the gaze, if you’re interested in pursuit.

II. Fermata Face-Time

Because Face-Time is real time – online or not, and there’s a reason why they call “real time” “real”. Facetime gives you no screen to hide behind, no time to come up with a perfectly phrased response, rehearse a perfectly executed move, or manufacture a witty comeback. In fact, the very quality of “witty” is rather time-sensitive. Witty is sexy in person, delivered in real time; witty, a few days later, reads manipulative, and conniving. If you value the person, make room for, and fermata facetime.

III. Hold Conversation

Because looks get old real quick, and if you can’t converse, learn. The longest conversation I’ve had, in one sitting, was 8 hours, with content so rich, nothing was recycled. Yet, there are people with whom I can’t continue a conversation past 8 minutes. I’m interested in things. And you should be into people who are interested in things, too, because raising the common denominator is public service.

IV. Hold silences

Because I’m a walking contradiction. I believe in lines from movies, even though they’re not real. But this one is. Straight from Pulp Fiction, “That’s when you know you’ve found somebody really special. When you can just shut the fuck up for a minute and comfortably share silence.” 

So much happens in silence. So,

fermatasilence

V. Hold moments of nudity

Because it’s good for you. Emotional nudity, too. Imagine charging through the battlefield, without weapons, without kevlar. Would you still make war? With what? You’re without guard, defenseless, vulnerable, the preconditions of being real. Unshackle the social conditioning that form your shell. Fermata on the nudity.

VI. Hold your breath

Because the most magnetizing moments are felt, not filtered. If it’s so easy to order up a human being, then why is it harder and harder to find the real thing? Is it possibly, because we’re spending too much time looking in the wrong places? Is it possible, that the real thing happens, in real time? When we are not seeking for the validation of others, but ourselves? When we are really listening to our hearts, instead of counting the ones clicked by others? Fermata inhale; fermata exhale.

Voilà, 6 holds to up stamina and endurance, the way our ancestors did it. Nothing lasts forever, so savour the transient moments of tingling sensations; sustain the butterflies; prolong the moments of the elusive more. Perhaps it’s all illusion, perhaps it’s all myth, but since we realize what we want is a lie, then just maybe, this is how to get it.

I’m not your therapist, only a composer, but perhaps you’ll have a better sounding love story, with space to breathe, to sing, to discover new beats.

If music be the food of love, Seamless some fermatas.

{X}