Friday, June 27, 2014

Week Twenty-six – Halfway through!

This week I reach a milestone in my quest to write a weekly blog for a year and turn it into a book, and here we are, halfway through!

First of all, I want to thank you all for continually supporting me by reading my weekly blog, the great news is that we are halfway there! And without you I would not be here. So whether you have read all 26 blogs so far or only a few (even just one) you have contributed to my commitment and dream to push myself as a writer to produce 52 bite-sizes blogs with my experiences and views in life, which in turn may have, so far, given you inspiration and ideas on how to better live your life. All 52 blogs will then form part of a self-help book which will be entitled “A pack of cards, 52 ways to raise your game” a title inspired by my son who in a conversation about my book reminded me that there are 52 cards in a pack, the same number of weeks in a year and of blogs I will write. It’s amazing how and when inspiration comes to you and everything around you gives you an idea.

So to celebrate this milestone, I thought it would be a good idea to share with you one of my first writing pieces I wrote back in 2011 when I began to blog. It is entitled “A writer’s world – Everything is an idea!” and it is appropriate in the context of how I’ve come to be here today and how my son inspired the title of the book. So enjoy it, keep on reading and once again, thank you for your support, as long as someone out there reads, I will write!

A writer’s world – Everything is an idea!

When I was a young kid, my mother worried about me. Not because I was not good at school (which by the way I was terrible) or because I hanged around a bad circle of friends (which I didn’t) or because I was perhaps into drugs or drinking (which I was either) but she worried because I had a very vivid imagination… strange thing for a mother to worry about!

But as a parent, you always worry about your children and whether they are going to be socially awkward or outgoing. If you see your child at a party, standing in a corner, not talking to other children, you’d think there is something wrong with them and so we enroll them to attend a drama class to help them come out of their shell. I was one of those kids whose mother worried about being a social outcast (I know, hard to believe hey?). She also knew that I had a very vivid imagination and her love and passion for Theater inspired her to take me with her to do theatre. And I will thank her for the rest of my life as she gave me the greatest gift any mother could give to a child, the encouragement to do what I enjoy most, using my imagination.

I grew up as a child actor, working from the age of 10 in theatre (and no, it was not child labor and I was still going to school, which I hated!) and unlike most children my age; I was doing something that let my imagination run wild. Being in the theatre and playing different characters was just what my head needed; it helped me transport myself to different worlds. You could almost say that acting was child’s play; it was for me! I was not in the yard with other kids playing; I had my own playground and an audience who appreciated what I was doing.
Now at the age of 47, I work in Human Resources and in the past I’ve facilitated training, which is like acting. As a trainer, one of my opening lines to relax the participants and introduce myself is “I was a child actor, but I was a rubbish actor” People always look at me in astonishment that I call my self a rubbish actor, so I follow by saying “and do you know how I know I was a rubbish actor?” no one ever dares to answer but I’m sure many think of a few things to say. I wait and then proclaim, “Because I am not famous today!” That always gets a laugh, and then finish by saying “If I had been any good I would be in Hollywood and you would be watching my films!” There is some truth in that, me being a rubbish actor, but a major factor for not being famous today is the fact that I never worked hard at it (I was a lazy Actor). I did continue to fulfill my need to exercise my imagination as an actor working for an amateur group but I haven’t acted now for over 10years building up my frustration and locking up my imagination.

The other great gift my mother gave me was the passion for writing; she knew that another way to get all those ideas out of my head was to channel them through pen and paper. As a child I used to write stories, which never left the scrap piece of paper upon which I wrote them, but they were out of my head! As a teenager I used to write drafts of movies I used to conjure with my childhood friend, often taking center roles as the heroes and good looking leading actors, these where often action driven adventures inspired by blockbuster Hollywood movies we would watch. We used to create different characters and occasionally we were able to bring some of these to life at my father’s social parties, in short sketches, where he enjoyed showcasing his son, the actor. And all of the time I was exercising my passion to create stories and characters that live in my head and needed to come out!

And as a young adult I worked for a theater company down in Putney, south London, where I had the tremendous opportunity to put my vivid imagination to good use. Group 64 Theatre, as it was know back then, provided me with the platform to showcase some of my work; plays that I had written and nurtured for years like a farmer nurtures his crop until it grows and he is able to harvest and share with the world. Unfortunately, I left Group 64 to pursue a more mature career in Human Resources and forgot all about my world, the world of imagination and adventures, the world of acting and writing.

And then I was given the opportunity to take a new role in training for my company, a job that consisted in traveling a lot to deliver training across Europe. This new career would take me away every week discovering new places and new adventures. Little did I know that this job would be the starting point to re-kindle myself with my old passion and help me get my head clear from all those characters asking me to put them on paper again! Traveling took a lot of my time in the working week, and this new job was all work, from the moment I left home to the moment I got back, 24 hours a day. And at home, the weekends were not mine, but my family’s, it was full on, every minute of the day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

A year went on and I loved it, but there was something missing. I had a good balance, spending good quality time with the family and giving 110% at work, so what more did I need? And then it dawned on me; what was missing was what I would call from that moment on as “me time”

I was not doing anything for me; I was doing stuff for everyone else, but not for me. And I discovered I had around 10 hours traveling time, which was dead time. Most travelers use this “dead time” to read or watch a movie or listen to music, I also did at times but that wasn’t enough, I needed to do more, something that would fulfill that “me time”. In one of the trips I opened my personal laptop and looked at it. I didn’t want to watch a movie, listen to music or play solitaire. I didn’t want to do any work either. So what else could I do? And as I stared at the blank screen I had that eureka moment; Write! After all, laptops are the modern portable versions of typewriters! And I was off!
Since then I’ve written a array of work from full-length musicals, full-length plays, comedies, several short plays, a monolog and several episodes of sitcoms and movie scripts! These are all still just drafts except for the comedy, which the first 20 minutes of it was performed at the Soho Theatre in London for “the first 20 minutes” competition.

I’ve revived my passion for writing and everything I see is an idea I want to write about: a new play, or a book or a film, a blog. The more I look the more ideas I get and my travels keep on feeding these ideas. I see so many people, different places and situations that I just have to write about it.  And I guess primarily I am a scriptwriter; I love putting dialog together for those characters in my head, although I am also working on a book. I believe in writing because someone, somewhere maybe is interested in reading my thoughts, the ideas that pop into my head, those ideas that make a good play or TV series or even a film that one day many would enjoy, ideas that come from experiences and observations from my travel, the people I meet and the different situations I find myself in every week. I want to share with everyone my world, the world in my head, the world of a writer.

I don’t know if I am any good at this, but what I know is that I love doing it. I love putting thought to paper and to me that is 90% of the job done. I’ve heard of  “writer’s block” which I guess means you run out of ideas and you inspiration stops. Well not with me! I feel that if I don’t put my ideas on paper my head will explode! And by they way I am a firm believer that writing is not just about using clever words, I don’t have many of those; writing is about painting a picture that your readers will be able to see, and some times the simplest of descriptions can paint a thousand images. If like me, you have a very vivid imagination, you need to give life to some of those stories, characters and situations for everyone else around you to enjoy!

I hope this week’s blog has inspired you to do what you believe in, with determination and passion. Getting half way through my project has not been easy and I know there are twenty-six more blogs to write. I can’t wait to continue brining you more “short bursts” of inspiration, get the rest of the cards out of the pack so you can raise your game!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Week Twenty-five – The Georgian Factor!

Inspiration comes from seeing people love what they do, and when they do it, they do it with Passion!

Dancers from the Nabadi Folk Theatre
 It was a small room, 6 rows of seats and a stage no bigger than your living room. There were more performers than there were audience members, and yet I was deeply moved by an artistic company called the Nabadi Folk Theater, a group of Georgian dancers and musicians bring to live the history of Georgia from Adam and Eve to today, the energy and passion as they danced and performed for a handful of people was electrifying! The previous night I had also been to a similar venue, the Georgian State Pantomime Theatre, a couple of streets away, where I was also witness to one of the most emotional and emotive mime performances I have seen in my life. Again there were more performers than audience members but it made no difference, they drove the passion and art to their captive audience as if we were thousands of people out there, bring tears to some of the audience members as they told the story of St George and the dragon. And what was extraordinary about this experience is not only that these performers were driven by the passion for their art to levels I have not see for a long time, but it didn’t matter where they were or what their performing space looked like, or the fact that there was only a handful of people, they were giving 110% to their art and I was in Georgia, not the one in the US but Eastern Europe!

A couple of years ago I wrote a blog entitled “Armenia has talent” (which you can read here too) and it describes a similar experience to the one I had this week in Georgia. I was privilege to see in Yerevan a group of performers deliver an amazing variety show comparable to any professional production you see in the glitz and glam of the UK/US West End/Broadway shows and far more superior than those pre-fabricated programs such as the X-Factor. So I find myself again writing about talented people and this time with “The Georgian Factor”; it is fantastic to know how much talent you can find in the most unlikely of places. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy as much as everyone else, the elaborate productions in the West End where you can witness some amazing talent too and very creative ideas, backed up by the financial possibilities these companies have, but attending productions like I have this week in theatres no bigger than a two bedroom apartment, remind you of what the performing arts are all about. And perhaps most of us do not spend enough time supporting these amazing companies full of artists who bring to live with their passion and talent incredible experiences beyond any multi-million dollar productions in the big stage. If you are someone who, like me, enjoys a visit to the theatre and occasionally treats yourself to a good West End show, I would encourage you to also look for these hidden gems, these small companies who can move you and inspire you just as much as seeing Mama Mia or Phantom of the Opera. The experience goes beyond the visual element, and their humble surroundings and simple settings bring to life their talent and the magic of theatre. I guess I am fortunate enough that I am also able to experience this in places you wouldn’t imagine finding yourself seeing one of these productions.

As well as being infused by the artistic experience of seeing these two shows, this week I was also reminded of how important it is to be passionate about what you do and who you are. Both performances where very different, one was a Pantomime company representing their story thought movement and rhythm, the other a dance and music assemble telling the history of a country through music and dance, but there was one thing they both had in common; their passion for what they did and the pride of their Culture. Georgia is a nation that is passionate and proud of their heritage, people and history, and although a small country, they are rich in traditions and Culture, as well as a passion for their country. You may argue that this exists everywhere, and that it is not uncommon to find people united by their passion and love for their culture and nation, but trust me when I say that there are few countries I have seen or visited that have “The Georgian Factor”. There is something about their passion, not just for their history and traditions, but also for life. It’s a place where they celebrate everything in life, everything that has made them a grate nation today. The dancers, musicians and performers I saw on stage truly believed and were passionate about the stories they were telling, stories of national pride and great heritage. They believed in what they did not just as a job, but a way of life. The fusion of art and a belief in their country made their performance go further than any experience I’ve had before in a theatre.

And this is something we can all apply in what we do. I have now worked for my company for 23 years, and I truly believe in our company’s culture and heritage. So everything I do, I do it with passion, with conviction and a drive to infuse this belief to others I work with and to those unfamiliar with my company. I also have a passion for my writing, this is my art, and through this I am able to express my desire to share with others my experiences in life. I was asked this week how many people read my blog and my answer was simple; as long as someone out there reads, I will continue to write it. It doesn’t matter if it is to one or one million, I believe in what I do and my passion drives me to continue to put thoughts to words.

I encourage all of you out there to live your life with passion, with conviction and share this with those around you. Share your passion for life because for me the word passion means “pass it on” phonetically written (pas-si-on) - sharing with people what you believe in and drives you to do what you do with excellence. In anything you do, whether you are a performer in a small theatre sharing the history of your country or working in a company delivering great business results and customer satisfaction, remember greatness does not come from altitude but from attitude!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Week Twenty-four – Where did it all go wrong?

Man has been on this earth for thousands of years, and somewhere along the line something changed!

They say that observation is the mother of all skills as you can learn so much from being aware of everything that is around you. This week I saw two situations that made me wonder where did it all go wrong with human beings on this planet. I guess this subject may be deeply philosophical and too long to explore human behaviour in this blog, but I will try and share with you what suddenly stroke me like lighting. All humans live their lives in the following sequence; birth, childhood, teenager, adolescence, adulthood, old age and finally we die. I will begin from the end, which it may seem confusing, but events took place that way.

I was travelling this week by subway in one of the busiest cities in the world, Moscow. Like many underground systems in major cities, especially during rush hour, you have to fight to be able to get onto the train and you are packed like sardines in a metal can. Moscow is no exception and to some extent probably busier than other cities I know. I was travelling with a Russian speaking colleague, and just as well, otherwise I would still be there trying to find my way out! As we stood inside the train, more and more Moscovians boarded eventually getting too packed to move anywhere. A young man got on at one of the stations and he had with him a small scooter, folded, which he kept close to him on the floor by his legs. He has nowhere to go or move and stands, like the rest of us, trying to hold onto anything he can. A man, considerably older than him, stood a few feet away and stared at him intensely. One of my favourite pastimes when I travel and an essential part of my inspiration to write is observing people, so I am usually fully aware of what is happening around me and at this point I already know that something is going to erupt. Within a few seconds of the doors closing and the train moving away from the station, the older man looks at the young guy and start to shout at him. Like the British, the Russians stood there ignoring what was happening and the fact that this man seem extremely agitated and shouting at the young guy. After a few more seconds, he pushed his way through two people in front of him and faced the young man whom by now was trying to avoid eye contact with his aggressor. I am standing right next to them and my heart began to race thinking I may be caught in the middle of a fight! The older guy continued to shout in an agitated manner while the young man, calmly answered him and tried to avoid starting a fight. As we arrived at the station, which seemed to take ages, the doors opened and the grumpy old man pushed his way out of the wagon, disappearing through the crowd mumbling something. Doors closed and we continued our journey. When I asked my colleague what was that all about she confirmed that he was just a grumpy old man who hated young people and was upset that this guy had his scooter on the train. There was no real reason for his reaction and it was hard to understand why would someone behave that way.

I reflected on this experience that night and I began to wonder why would someone react like that, what makes someone become so bitter and twisted, attacking a perfectly innocent stranger on the train. He will probably die like this, angry and unhappy.

Now let me take you to where all begins, when we are born. A day later after the subway experience, I was travelling to the airport on the express train from Moscow. It is a very comfortable service, good and clean trains and it is faster than a taxi in traffic. It’s always fairly busy but nothing like the underground and usually there are plenty of seats for everyone, often with ample room to move about the wagon. Most people using this service are Russians as Foreigners may not be aware of the possibility to travel back and forth to the airport by train. As we set off for the 45-minute journey, a couple sat there with their young child who, like most children, was not able to sit still for more than 2 minutes. So like most parents, to keep him amused, they walked up and down the train while he explored this fascinating new experience. As he walked down the aisle of the train, the 2/3-year-old boy would stop and smile at every person he came in contact with and most passengers would return the smile and a kind word. Upon receipt of a smile from a stranger, the boy would reward his new friend with the cutest laugh you have heard. Repeatedly he visited the strangers on the train to share his smile and laughter, and this kept him, his parents and the rest of us entertained on the long train ride. One of the most contagious things in life is a smile and laughter, and he was spreading joy amongst his fellow human being on the train. As we arrived at the airport he was picked up by his parents and waved goodbye to all those strangers whom he had never seen in his life and probably will never see again but he had touched deeply, in just a few minutes together. I know I will always remember him and his cute laugh; his openess made a great impression on me.

As I boarded the plane and sat waiting to take off, I still had that fantastic image of the young boy walking up and down the aisle giving joy to people and sharing his smile. I reflected on this when suddenly it hit me; I made the connection between the little boy and my experience on the subway the day before. Here there were, two human beings, with age as the only thing that kept them apart, and yet they were so different; I could not help thinking if the bundle of joy that had brighten my journey to the airport would one day turn to be the grumpy old man I saw on the underground. Or was the aggressive old guy a happy young boy once upon a time? Where does it all go wrong? Surely we are all born the same, we all have the same capacity to share a smile and make people laugh, we are all born with the innocence that child had, an innocence that allowed him not to be intimidated by people and bear no prejudice against anyone in that train, he treated each of us the same, and gave everyone a smile, there were no barriers, no differences, it didn’t matter who you were, he was interacting with everyone.

I guess life is too complex to be able to answer the question “where does it go wrong?” We are who we are, very complex beings. May be if everyone was able to keep this innocence we are all born with, there would be no prejudice, no conflict, no hate and the world would be a better place.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Week Twenty-three – Stay Focused and true to yourself!

Life is full of surprises, twists and turns, it is a rollercoaster and we have to hold on or you can fall off and hurt yourself!

Stay Focused and True to yourslef!
 Do you sometimes feel like giving up? Do you occasionally ask yourself why you are doing things? Does it get too much and feel you can’t cope? Is it all worth it?  Everyone, at some point or another, has had these thoughts and feelings about life; it’s a natural reaction and happens to us all. The key to get through this is by staying focused and true to yourself, making sure you hold on to what you have and never give up. It’s not easy and often it can drive people to hitting low points in their lives that we have never imagined, but everyone is strong enough to get through anything in life.

This week a friend of mine shared a personal story that brought home how important it is to stay focused and true to yourself and it inspired me to write this week’s blog. As an aspiring writer and an all rounded person juggling work, family, health and hobbies, I realised how essential it is to stay focused to achieve everything I want in life. In our conversation, my friend shared the resent death of a personal friend, an inspirational character, who throughout his life stayed focused and true to himself, achieving everything he wanted. I read an article about his life and it was evident that everything he had achieved had been through sheer hard work and determination to be the best in his field. From what I could read and what my friend had told me, it hadn’t always been easy and at times he did hit an all time low, but always stayed true to himself, no matter what. This takes character and a passion for life, something we can all learn from.

So what makes people like him stay focused and true to his life even in the face of adversity? I began to think about this as I was running my usual 8 kilometres on the treadmill. As most of you know I have fallen into the habit of running (a good habit I may add) and this has become essential and central to my life; it gives me a good balance and keeps me focused specially after a long and stressful day. On the evening my friend had shared her devastating news, I had finished work and dinner with my colleagues, and went back to my room to do some more e-mails and work before going for my usual run. As I sat in front of my computer, I realised I had forgotten (due to time difference) that I had a conference call I had to attend at 10pm my local time! This immediately broke all my plans and I was now stuck in my room until 11pm. The easiest thing to do in this situation is to say “oh well, that’s that, I won’t run today” finish the call, get ready for bed and watch some TV. But staying focused and true to yourself means you have to do what is right, not what seems the right thing. In this occasion I knew that going to the gym and getting my run in, even if it was a shorter run (may be 4k) was the right thing to do, even though it didn’t seem the right thing (I mean, who goes for a run at 11 o’clock at night right?). So I finished my call, got into my running gear and went to the gym. At 11.15 pm I began my run.

I have gone to the gym with the intention to do a shorter run. As I finished the first kilometre my thoughts were focused on the day and how late it was. I then shifted my mind and began to think about my friend’s story and how inspirational her friend’s life was. As I hit 2 kilometres I was now “in the zone” (if you are not sure what I mean by “in the zone” it’s a state of mind where you are focused on your running and can feel every muscle moving and every breath you take, you are aware of your body working out). I knew at that moment that whatever time it was, it was irrelevant, I was on the treadmill, and needed to think about my running at this point. So I got to kilometre 3 and I was almost half way of my usual run. I run to music and currently I listen to a set of songs by Phil Collins, which are the inspiration to a musical I am writing. The songs are my focus when I run to think of the story line I am writing. Suddenly Kilometre 4 was here, I was now halfway my usual run. Remember at this point I had said to myself I would only do 4 k. As I continued to run and listen to the music I began to think again about my friend’s friend and how important it is to remain focus.

I stopped the treadmill, wiped the sweat of my face and drank water to the sound of my phone’s running app summarising my run; I had completed the 8k, at a good pace and I was ready for more! I didn’t stop and 4, I knew I could do the 8.

I got back to my room and wrote the title of this blog, I now knew what I was going to write about this week. As I laid in bed, falling asleep I realised I didn’t know what time it was, time had become irrelevant at this point, I had accomplished so much; I ran my 8k, continued to develop my story line for the musical and now I had a title and a subject for my blog; who cared at this point what time it was, I was done for the day with amazing achievements that matter (I had also managed to talk to my family via Skype, they are essential to my every day achievements!).

I do want to make it clear that It isn’t always easy, and often life throws things at us that may stops us from staying focused, but as long as we remain true to ourselves, to what we believe in, to our passions, to what makes us tick, getting back on track is simpler and seamless. “Stay Strong” is a slogan I have also shared with you in previous blogs which a dear friend Kenan Topuz uses to stay focus. I learned from him that to achieve you need to stay strong, and to stay strong you need to remain focus. I encourage everyone to keep this in mind, write it down, keep it on the wall, carry it on your wallet, and next time you face a situation where you need to do the right thing, remember these true words, they will give you the strength and focus to be true to yourself.