Archive for May 2013

Fool’s Gold

May 12, 2013

Towards the end of every month, I make the hour-long drive from Kailua to the Oceanic Time Warner Cable headquarters in Mililani to deliver my new half-hour Career Changers TV show, which airs daily throughout Hawaii. I could upload it to their FTP server, but that takes over 10 hours and truth be told, I like taking the scenic route through the lush green Koolau mountains. It reminds me how lucky I am to live in the islands — a Mainland transplant, like so many other adventurous souls who came before me in search of… I dunno, something different. Through my show, I’ve gotten to interview successful inventors, multimillionaire entrepreneurs, struggling artists, each lured by a vision or quest of some sort. No matter how rich or famous they are, the one thing they all talk about is “passion” and they all seem to be driven by the desire to explore ideas. They love going off on tangents and asking questions.

I suppose that describes many writers and screenwriters as well. Yet the vast majority of those who are trying to make it in the entertainment or book biz will give up somewhere along the way, and wonder if it was worth the cost in time and personal sacrifices — not to mention the sting of rejections, and frustration of seeing others break through with work that you think isn’t any better than your own. Career envy sucks. But on my most recent drive through the Koolaus, I was listening to an old CD mix when “Fool’s Gold” by Graham Parker came on and a wave of euphoria hit me. Waiting for that big call from an agent or producer, working on so many aborted scripts and book drafts that I’ve lost count, ever striving for that elusive success as a Writer… it’s all been fool’s good I’ve been searching for — when here I was living in Hawaii, with another show wrapped in which I interviewed a pioneer in the video game world: Henk Rogers, who got the rights to Tetris and parlayed it into a business empire that spawned the Blue Planet Founation and his latest mission, space exploration (he just got back from spending time on Richard Branson’s island talking about commercial space ventures in Hawaii)… and the day before I had been asked to speak to over a hundred young people who are part of the Hawaii Job Corps training program… and earlier in the week I had gotten approval from a federal agency in Washington, D.C., on a video I produced about human trafficking for broadcast (part of the 808HALT project)… and I realize, none of this would be happening if it wasn’t for me having the crazy idea that  I could write a movie or create a TV show.

Okay, so it’s not Hollywood. I’m not making huge amounts of money. However, I’m proud of my little Career Changers show because it provides inspiration to people who want to change their jobs or lives. When I interviewed Henk, I was worried about taking up too much of his time since I knew he had an important business appointment scheduled. So as I’m wrapping things up, he stops my cameraman from removing his mic, and says: “But you haven’t asked me about my first jobs when I was going to the University of Hawaii!” He postponed his meeting to talk about how he cleaned grease traps, and was really good at moving furniture (hmm, stacking boxes… Tetris blocks?). His favorite job was driving a cab for Charley’s Taxi because he learned to talk to all kinds of folks, which he believes is a skill that led to his business success. I’m sitting there looking at framed photos of Henk with the Obama family, Richard Branson… art work by Roger Dean, who did the Yes album covers and Virgin Records twins logo… the Russian computer that the Tetris creator used to program the very first version of the game… and he’s talking about the best compliment he ever received was on his furniture packing skills and how much he enjoyed driving a cab!

The bigger takeaway from my talk with Henk was how a heart attack in 2005 at the age of 53 changed his perspective and led to new life “missions” that included trying to save the planet by reducing carbon dioxide — something that’s been in the news again — and making a “backup” of earth life on other planets. You can see his interviews on my CCTV YouTube Channel by clicking here (second part is about Roger Dean and his involvement with Burning Man). No matter how successful you are (or aren’t), Henk’s point is we should all have our own bucket list of things that could make a difference in the bigger scheme of life. Personal achievements are nice, but in the end, did you at least try to help make a positive impact on this planet while you were alive?

Oh, damn, I’m at over 700 words and didn’t get to what I was going to write about that drive and how music also plays such an important role in our lives. When we’re down, it can raise our spirits. It can inspire us to keep going when we want to quit. We connect moments and feelings to old tunes. So I was smiling as “Fool’s Gold” faded out… and then the Grateful Dead came on with one of my all-time favorite tracks: “Not Fade Away/Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad.” It’s a live recording that lasts about 10 minutes long. Back when I used to drink and party like there was no tomorrow, I would ask DJs to put it on and I’d jump up on bar tables to dance and scream with wild abandon when Jerry Garcia tears into a soaring solo that still makes me want to get up and dance, and I was feeling so happy at that moment alone in my car I wanted to let out one more wild scream like I used to —

But it got caught in my throat. It’s been nearly 25 years since I had a drink or gotten high, and my knees won’t allow me to jump on tables any more. Still, I tried my wild man yell again and let out a scream of joy, and thought, hell… if this is being a failed writer, I’ll take it. Sometimes fool’s gold is all there is at the end of the rainbow. Then you realize, it was the rainbow that was the real treasure all along.