Driven to Succeed

NOTE: This is actually a repost from my Honolulu Star-Advertiser newspaper website blog, but I felt it was apropos since it involves the movies LIMITLESS (eh) and POETRY (worth seeing, although a little slow) and writing, which is what most of my Gecko blog readers seem interested in.

Last week, you may have noticed I didn’t post anything… or maybe you didn’t, since the newspaper no longer promotes the blogs in its print edition, and the home page blog box only has room for the ten most recent posts, which are sometimes three or four consecutive short volleyball/football/political items. The non-staff blogs get squeezed off the home page quickly, so there’s not much motivation for other SA bloggers to post stuff that isn’t being promoted or read.

However, that’s not within my control. So when I write something, I want it to be meaningful and not merely random notes or thoughts. The problem is good essay-style writing takes a lot more time and effort than your basic blog filler. And time has been in short supply since I took over editing duties on my Career Changers TV show. Anyhow, I just finished the new September episode that will begin airing Thursday night on OC16, and think it’s pretty good. More on that later in the week.

What I really wanted to comment on are two recent Scientific American articles about lessons from Sherlock Holmes on “seeing” versus observing, and paying attention to what isn’t there (or “non-choices” being a choice that we should also think about). For instance, have any of you wondered whether the newspaper’s new paywall would affect online content or bloggers and the Star-Advertiser’s internet readership? Does the lack of comments or public outcry signal something worse than indifference — apathy?

We live in curious times. Never before has there been so much emphasis on the need to succeed and finding a competitive edge due to the dicey economic conditions. Yet at the same time, never before have there been so many self-help books/programs about “being in the moment” and finding spiritual contentment instead of focusing on specific material goals. This hit home for me over the weekend while watching two diametrically-opposed movies that embody this existential dilemma.

The films came from two different countries with very different cultures: the U.S. and South Korea. There was the Hollywood high concept movie, LIMITLESS, which is about a loser writer guy who becomes addicted to smart pills that turn him into an opportunistic genius. He is able to make millions in weeks, but the downside is others are willing to kill him to get their hands on the wonder drug — that is, if the drug doesn’t kill him first. Essentially it’s the New American Dream: get rich fast by using the financial markets to make money instead of having to actually work for it. And success is the ultimate high.

The next night, my wife and I watched POETRY, a slow-moving, poignant portrayal of a simple Korean grandmother, who works as a maid. She’s been forgetting everyday words and is diagnosed as having Alzheimer’s. Then she learns that the teenage grandson she is taking care of, is one of six boys who repeatedly had forced sex with a school girl, leading to her suicide. The woman wrestles with the moral dilemma of what to do about the boy, while struggling to write a poem for a class she signed up for on a whim… well, not a whim, but more of a long-delayed need to express herself before dementia robs her of the words she can still remember.

LIMITLESS is a so-so film. Too much voiceover narration by the protagonist telling us the story. Despite all the snazzy visual effects and pumped up music, in the end, it felt lifeless. Artificial. POETRY is the opposite: the characters don’t actually say a lot — in fact, the protagonist doesn’t say anything about what she’s really thinking about her grandson and what he did. The movie shows us through her simple heart-breaking actions what she’s feeling inside. At the end, she finds the words for her poem, and it speaks volumes about her character and what matters in life. In LIMITLESS, the protagonist’s big goal at the end is to win a political office! Oh, yeah, like he’s gonna change the world because he’s super smart now. Obviously, that movie bears no relation to the real world where intelligence is not an asset in politics.

Lastly, on this theme of seeing versus observing, it reminded me of driving in the car with my wife. The other day, Isabel noticed there was a new shop in Kailua. It had actually been open for awhile. I knew that because she always does the driving, and I’m the passenger. As the driver, she has to focus on the road ahead and immediate concerns such as oncoming cars, while I have the luxury of time to look out the window and take in the changing landscape. But as a writer, I also try to make it a habit to “observe” my surroundings wherever I am. In a way, I’m like that Korean woman, jotting down notes and details for the poem — or scripts, in my case, that I want to write.

In my own quest for success as a screenwriter, I’ve often written with blinders on, focusing on the high concept Hollywood story — fast-moving page turners like LIMITLESS. But in the process, I may have missed smaller details that would have made my stories more personal and moving. More human. I look around at all the people who are driven to succeed in the corporate or financial world, and wonder if they too are missing the little details that transform mundane moments around us into poetry. The irony — or paradox? — is life is all about limits. But what makes us human is the need to push beyond limitations and rules, for better or worse.

Here’s the links to the aforementioned Scientific American pieces that got me to thinking about this topic:

Lessons from Sherlock Holmes

Don’t Just See, Observe

Last chance to see the August episode of Career Changers TV before the new show premieres on Thursday night! Click here for daily viewing times... or check out video segments on the CCTV YouTube Channel.

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