Tuesday, April 15, 2014

 

Tyler Perry Follows His Personal Vision

"Me and critics, you can forget about it. I don't read the reviews, but if someone tells me there's a good one I'm shocked because, especially if it's not a black person, I always expect them not to get it. Always."--Tyler Perry, September 2010 issue of Empire

If someone presented Tyler Perry's life story to a Hollywood studio as a script with the names changed, it would be rejected as ludicrously implausible. Perry, the son of an alcoholic carpenter from New Orleans, was sexually abused by two different neighbors and he twice attempted suicide in his early teens. When he was 22, an episode of the Oprah Winfrey Show about the therapeutic value of writing inspired him to draft a play titled I Know I've Been Changed. Perry spent his life savings at the time--$12,000--to stage the play. "It ran for four days," Perry told Empire's Dorian Lynskey. "I expected 1200 and 30 came." Perry clarified that the attendance was not even 30 per showing: "Thirty, that's it. Over the whole thing."

Perry worked dozens of different jobs before he was able to support himself via his theater work. Finally, in 1998 he again staged I Know I've Been Changed but this time he used a converted church as the venue instead of a theater. The tremendous success that ensued proved that he had connected with an audience yearning to hear stories of hope and redemption. Perry believed in his vision even when times were rough: "Every time I wanted to give up I could see it in my mind--I could see it being successful. And I knew this was the God voice in my mind. I knew it was God because there's not one person I can look back on and say helped me get to this place. Not one."

Perry honed his skills by staging roughly 300 shows a year on the Chitlin' Circuit from 1998-2005. In 2005, he produced his first movie, Diary of a Mad Blackwoman. He has since produced more than a dozen movies that have grossed more than $500 million. The popularity of Perry's work results from the combination of humor and inspiration that Perry conveys to the audience. Lynskey comments, "Christianity is part of the moral furniture of his movies, but the message stems more from the church of Oprah: do the right thing, respect yourself and others, follow your dreams, etc."

Perry often dresses in drag in his movies and his brand of slapstick comedy is not universally appreciated. Spike Lee sniped that Perry's depictions of black characters are similar to the "coonery and buffoonery" displayed decades ago in old Hollywood movies. Perry said to Lynskey, "I'm speaking to the masses in a way they understand and not speaking down to them and not saying, 'You're a coon or a buffoon because you enjoy this.' That's insulting on so many levels."

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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

 

The Wisdom of Thich Nhat Hanh

"Life is precious as it is. All the elements for your happiness are already here. There is no need to run, strive, search, or struggle. Just be. Just being in the moment in this place is the deepest practice of meditation."--Thich Nhat Hanh

The Pocket Thich Nhat Hanh is a small book that contains a large amount of insight. One of the main ideas is that it is very important to be actively engaged in whatever one is doing at a particular moment, as opposed to worrying about the future or fretting about the past. Hanh explains:

It is of no use to sit in a peaceful forest if our mind is lost in the city. When we live with a child or a friend, their freshness and warmth can relax us. But if our heart is not with them, their precious presence is neglected, and they no longer exist. We must be aware of them to appreciate their value, to allow them to be our happiness. If through carelessness and forgetfulness we become dissatisfied with them, and begin asking too much of them or reprimanding them, we will lose them. Only after they are gone will we realize their preciousness and feel regret. But once they are gone, all of our regrets are in vain.

Hanh's writing style can seem almost childishly simple but do not be misled; his way of thinking and his way of living are pure and profound:

Have a look at the apple tree in your yard. Look at it with complete attention. It is truly a miracle. If you notice it, you will take good care of it, and you too are part of its miraculousness. Even after you have cared for it for only a week, its leaves are already greener and shinier. It is exactly the same with the people who are around you. Under the influence of awareness, you become more attentive, understanding, and loving, and your presence not only nourishes you and makes you lovelier, it enhances them as well. Our entire society can be changed by one person's peaceful presence.

Hanh explains that peacefulness should not be confused with passivity and/or weakness:

Understanding and compassion are very powerful sources of energy. They are the opposite of stupidity and passivity. If you think that compassion is passive, weak, or cowardly, then you don't know what real understanding or compassion is. If you think that compassionate people do not resist and challenge injustice, you are wrong. They are warriors, heroes, and heroines who have gained many victories...

Human beings are not our enemy. Our enemy is not the other person. Our enemy is the violence, ignorance, and injustice in us and in the other person. When we are armed with compassion and understanding, we fight not against other people, but against the tendency to invade, to dominate, and to exploit. We don't want to kill others, but we will not let them dominate and exploit us or other people. You have to protect yourself. You are not stupid. You are very intelligent and you have insight. Being compassionate does not mean allowing other people to do violence to themselves or to you. Being compassionate means being intelligent. Nonviolent action that springs from love can only be intelligent action.

John Wooden urged his players to "never mistake activity with achievement." It is tempting to think that every situation, encounter and confrontation demands immediate action/activity but often the best response is to stay calm and look at things in a larger context before making any bold statements or moves. Instantly lashing out in response to every real and perceived injustice can provoke other people to lash out in return. The best chess players excel at what I call "the art of doing nothing while accomplishing something," meaning that they subtly and relentlessly improve their positions very patiently without taking unnecessary risks; it is difficult to do this in chess and even more difficult to do this in life but mastery of this quiet approach leads to many victories.

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