Category: Life

The Salt of the Earth

Sebastião Salgado is a renown Brazilian photographer who has his career explored in-depth in the 2014 documentary The Salt of the Earth. His subjects tended to revolve around his learning as an economist: workers, displaced people and others affected by the geopolitical forces.

The documentary gives his insightful glances into the artist within Salgado, like when he describes the method behind his portrait photography, “The strength of a portrait is that in that split second, we understand a little the life of the person photographed. The eyes speak volumes, the expression of the face. When you do a portrait, it is not you alone who takes the picture. The person offers a photo.”

Seal calves

Some of his images can only evoke sadness and despair, something Salgado fell into after witnessing the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. The Salt of the Earth does not hide the terrible truths of the human condition.

Despite all this, there is hope for the future. The documentary ends on a positive note as Salgado finds a way to “undo time.” Perhaps that’s what photography does–capturing moments in eternity, while simultaneously, we must acknowledge that some moments are lost forever.



Hospital Visits and Perspective

I’ve been making the rounds at Bridgepoint Active Healthcare to see a friend. It’s described as a “complex cares and rehabilitation center hospital.”

The first time I came by to see him, I noted his roommate, an elderly gentleman who we’ll call “Nigel.” Nigel wanted to know why I was building my friend up (I was reminding him of the great things he’d done and the great things he was going to do when he was out of the hospital).  It’s got to be understood without saying that positive thinking helps people heal.

There was another moment where I really caught the essence of Nigel’s thought process. He was staring out the window, looking at some people waiting for the bus and moaning, “Everyone else is out there.” Yes, out there doing things, leading active lives and moving on. At least from his fifth floor window perception.

Nigel was confined to a wheelchair when he got out of bed and confined to the hospital due to some sort of brain injury or memory problem. His wife and other family members came to visit him on a regular basis, but as soon as he was alone, self-doubt and self-pity surfaced.

I’m not here to say what’s right or what’s wrong. Were any of us in Nigel’s precarious position, perhaps we’d have similar thoughts as he experiences. It’s a lot to handle, being hospitalized indefinitely. And yet Nigel probably had some really good years when he was younger. He’d had the same chances as the people waiting for the bus.

The point is, we all get our chances. That’s why we have to make the most of them when we can. Forget other people, forget comparisons, forget judging people from afar. Just act with intention and commitment today, because that might be all we ever have.

Mental Confidence

Many factors come into play when discussing success. Some will point to a superior educational pedigree. Others to inherent class advantages. Some like to chalk it up to luck. And then there are those who talk about cognitive patterns that are hardwired into us–obviously, that’s my preference.

We are conditioned into our mindset by those around us and other environmental stimuli.

As the quote goes from Good Will Hunting, “Most people never get to see how brilliant they can be. They don’t find teachers that believe in them. They get convinced they’re stupid.”

I won’t get into the debate over which type of teacher, professor or coach is ideal– authoritarian, authoritative or hands-off. But I will make the bold suggestion that if certain types of people don’t mesh with your goals, perhaps it’d be better to move in separate directions.

In a great article from on the Mindset of a Champion, the author talks about how our relationships are key to success. Some common pitfalls are listed:

The worst thing you can do is start throwing negativity into relationships before they’ve even been established. Talking behind someone’s back. Arguing with people over nothing. Letting jealousy affect your ability to be professional/courteous/polite. Maintaining or allowing negative relationships and people to stay in your life is another mistake.

No matter how talented someone is, no matter how much potential they have, they can be brought down to the level of mediocrity or non-achievement without the right people around them. The bad attitudes of others rub off and surface as bad habits in you.

Formula One champion Nigel Mansell devotes a page in his autobiography on how himself and his wife actively distanced themselves from friends who were overtly negative about his embryonic efforts in Formula Ford (a feeder league for Formula One):

There were people whom we hardly ever saw, but if something went wrong they would come up to us and say, ‘I could have told you about that. I could have told you that wouldn’t work.’ It’s amazing how many people we’ve run into with that attitude.

Mansell goes on to say that if these people were more constructive in their approach, their opinions would have been palatable.

I have a cousin who has always been negative to me since my childhood. She’s older by about 7-8 years, so perhaps a false sense of superiority or smug condescension blossomed with the age gap. While I couldn’t imagine going up to her and criticizing her prospects at her office job, she’s always had “smart” things to say about writing, journalism and the arts.

I find it ludicrous that this kind of person presents themselves as a direct impediment to mental confidence and then complains when communication breaks down. Worse still is when someone with no context or background in an area wants to pontificate as an expert on the subject material.

As the article from states, I don’t need an army of ‘Yes-Men’ to fluff false confidence and agree with everything that I do. But I also certainly don’t need prolonged exposure to toxic opinions that offer no benefit to me whatsoever. And neither does anyone else.

Zero to Hero

One of my favorite scenes from The Sopranos is where Tony starts questioning his entire life– asking “How did I get here?” instead of selling pots and pans in China. Being a sociopath, he finds a way to dismiss any attempt to actually change his life. Worse still, those around him–notably, Meadow–get sucked into the family business.

Still, this begs the question about whether things could have turned out differently. What if Tony had been born into a Norman Rockwell-type family scene? Not suggesting he’d be happy, but certainly, he wouldn’t be caught up in a life of criminal activity.

Of course, it doesn’t matter where Tony Soprano grew up or who he became. As a fictional character, or even looking at real life examples, people want to believe they have the option of choice. Rags to riches, or so they say. If you’re in the majority of people who wasn’t born into the good life, could you condition yourself into someone who has it today?

As artists, creative types and writers, we put ourselves in positions, each and everyday. The outcome is always guaranteed before anything takes place because we know the maximum potential that a project entails. We enter into that contract knowing the pitfalls, drawbacks and rewards.

All of this being said, for Tony Soprano, there’s only the next score. For Sopranos creator David Chase, there’s only the next project. And for myself, well, with the right approach, the sky’s the limit.

In 2006, boxer Clinton Woods, then the reigning IBF light-heavyweight champion, was being awarded the ‘Fighter of the Year’ award in Britain. Former boxer Alan Minter, a famed British middleweight champion who had faced Marvin Hagler, was slated to give a speech about the award-winner’s merits. Instead of speaking about Woods, Alan Minter stole the moment for himself.

Said Woods, “Minter stood up and went on a rant about his son’s (Ross) career and then started talking about his own fights. That would be fine under different circumstances – I think Ross is an improved fighter and Minter is a former world champion – but it wasn’t his moment, it was mine. He didn’t mention me once in a speech which was supposed to be about the winner of the Fighter of the Year!”

There’s a concept in yoga, one of five Yamas, called “Asteya.” It translates into non-stealing, which seems like a clear directive. But it can apply to much more than theft or fraud involving money, coin collections or hedge funds. Attention is something that can be stolen, as Clinton Woods’ story illustrates.

It should be a simple matter of etiquette that dictates social graces. Clearly, Alan Minter is a bitter old man or a narcissist, and there’s never any compromising with those types of people.

In any organization, group or social circle, there will be people pushing themselves to the forefront regardless of the context. The best example I can give of this happening to me has been when someone has criticized my writing without actually having read my work. How can you give an opinion on something where you don’t understand the ideas, rationale or lay of the land?

There’s no easy way to deal with this situation in sports, the entertainment business or corporations. As long as someone has power, a name or value, they are going to want to self-perpetuate their influence like a virus.

At one particular press conference, a Russian TV journalist went on a long-winded question that involved multiple pauses. Then his question had to be translated back to the English press. What he was doing to the room, participants, media– and even his own outlet– was painful to experience. I was glad to see the event staff roll their eyes and refuse to take any further questions from the Russian journalist.

How do we deal with people stealing attention from others? From promoting their own egotistical or self-important viewpoints and crowding the airwaves with static? In a Facebook era, with everyone feeling entitled to air random thoughts, grievances or opinions, it’s not going to be easy going forward.

A common question that I sometimes get asked is, “What got you into martial arts/MMA?” I usually answer “I got beat-up a lot in high school” and that always gets a few laughs. It’s not a completely serious or honest answer: While high school was unpleasant at times, and I had my fair share of bullies, they weren’t always in the typecast mold like Nelson Muntz from The Simpsons or the Cobra Kai dudes from The Karate Kid.

Another important consideration is that bullying isn’t something that ends in high school. There are bad experiences in college, hostile workplaces, or toxic relationships. There are times when ordinary people become victims of the personalities around them, so much so that movies like Revenge of the Nerds and Office Space have comedic takes on adults confronting and dealing with bullying (even if the bully happens to be a no-good printer).

One experience happened to me, of all times and places, when I was performing in a FR!NGE Festival play in University. For whatever reason, one of the girls in our group began to say nasty things about my acting during rehearsals.

Did I actually do something to solicit her comments? Maybe tell a joke that got taken the wrong way, or inadvertently criticize her own skills? I don’t remember saying or doing anything that could have been misconstrued to her, but if I did, it would have been better if she’d confronted me directly instead of making every moment I spent on set miserable and uncomfortable.

For my part, I didn’t respond by confronting her, or asking the director to talk to her. Because she was criticizing my acting, I felt that the only defense was to be a great actor. If I did respond to her comments, I felt that I’d be validating her criticism on some level. Maybe this was just a cop-out by me. It certainly wasn’t the only one.

I didn’t like the atmosphere  missed a couple rehearsals or showed up late to others. This might not sound serious, given that the FR!NGE Festival is meant to be low-key entertainment and fun, but college is only a couple of years removed from high school. For the dress rehearsal, I showed up hungover with no voice– inspiring fear to the director and my cast-mates, as I would close the show with a little song.

Push came to shove on the night of the performance when we were slotted for the evening’s finale. While my bully certainly felt superior to me throughout our rehearsals and had played up the ability of our cast-mates (in comparison to me), something became apparent literally seconds into our play: I was killing it.

The sell-out audience of a couple hundred students and parents had been bored to tears by the mediocre and uninspired performances that had preceded us. When you’re 20ish, you can be a little pretentious and have a false view of how entertaining your work is. For many of the plays, this was the case.

95 to 98 percent of comedy comes down to timing and tone– a pause here, a sarcastic twist there. On this night, I was switched “ON” and broke through the audience’s mask of pretend enjoyment. Even my previous night’s hangover was no bother as I hit every note on that final song. After the play, people were congratulating me for hours, saying that I’d rocked it.

As for my bully, she dejectedly chimed in with praise, as well. There had been no ambiguity over who the star was (until the awards show for the FR!NGE Festival, but that’s another story of political intrigue/corruption. Apparently the event organizers felt no shame in giving each other or their best friends the honorary awards for best play/performance/etc) and she had to admit that she had been wrong about me from the very start.

I never became friends in real life or on Facebook with this girl. I just felt uncomfortable being around someone who had acted maliciously; that ugliness is hard to forget. She became irrelevant once I stopped having physical proximity to her in college, and once I was done acting, she had zero power to criticize me.

I don’t want to say too much about what became of my former bully after college. I saw her in a Facebook photo today– that’s what made me think of this story. I could say “It didn’t end well for her,” but that would be another misnomer: It probably wasn’t going well for her in college, either.


While I have a few other stories about bullying, they are just stories. There isn’t necessarily a life lesson or learning experience here. In fact, I would have rather never have been in a compromising position to begin with. Still, I’ll start sharing a little more, if anything, because I’m sure many people can relate.