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SUCCESS: What is it, and are you absolutely sure you want it?

Hollywood, California.

June 2nd marks the thirteenth anniversary of my arrival in the United States. On June 1st 1997 I rented a van, drove to a field in Yorkshire, northern England, with a bunch of my belongings, set fire to everything but the van, and sat there for an hour watching my past wither to flakes and ashes. Next day, I threw some clothes and various odds and ends into a couple of bags and set off for California in search of a new adventure and a different life, thinking, “Let’s give this American Dream thing a try. If it doesn’t work out, I can always come back.”

Well, I never went back.

That’s not to say I don’t get homesick from time to time, because I do. The one word of advice I received ahead of this life-changing journey was from a friend who’d migrated to New York a couple of years earlier. He said, “Remember this: Americans may look like us and speak English like us, but they’re not like us.” Which at the time I thought was the lamest scrap of wisdom I’d ever heard. Now I realize he was right.

Last week there was a general election in Britain. The canpaign was a model of restraint and civilized point-making that collapsed on Thursday in a shambles of wretched compromise and half-hearted go-nowhereness that is so typical of my home country and which I recall with great fondness. An election that sparks lots of debate yet has no clear winner is  just so British somehow. “Getting nothing done, but having a fun time doing it” sums up everything I remember about the culture I left behind. 

Americans aren’t like that at all. They get things done. They’re obsessed with getting things done, as a matter of fact, and they’re proud of it. It’s important to them to achieve things, to make things happen. They each want to be a success, a winner, Number 1 at whatever they do, not realizing that, in any race, there can only be one winner, one Number 1; everyone else is an also-ran. That fact alone leads to a lot of resentment. 

The reason they’re in a race in the first place  is because of a big cultural carrot that was dangled in front of them as kids, called the American Dream. It’s a fun idea, but a hoax. Only, you don’t find that out until it’s too late. Like every other dream, and also like leprechauns and Santa Claus, it’s a fiction. It can never be real. Shame actually, because they honestly, truly believe in it. 

In theory it promises that if you work hard and commit yourself to a particular course of endeavor, you will be dubbed “successful” by your peers and rewarded with riches, an expensive car, a stable family, and a level of recognition that will stand the test of time. The one thing it doesn’t promise, after you’ve given over your life to achieving all these things, is happiness. And there’s the problem.

It didn’t take me long after I got to Hollywood to realize that a vital piece of information had been left out of the story. Nobody, it seems, had told the Americans that being materially successful and being happy often do not coincide. They’re not even in the same ballpark a lot of the time.

That’s why many of them today are so angry and frustrated.

According to the American Dream playbook, they did everything right: they got their education, worked hard, had a family, bought two cars, a house, filled that house with widescreen TVs and computers and Playstations and all manner of other junk – only to find that it led nowhere. All they had to show for their efforts in the end was a bunch of useless stuff and a series of time-consuming distractions that left them worse off financially and certainly no happier than before they were “successful.”

That’s because “success”  based on owning and having stuff is a false god. It weighs on you like an overstuffed backpack, dragging you to your knees, leaving you exhausted from trying, stressed out, sleep-deprived, and shouldering massive amounts of debt, with a life that feels hollow, pointless, and chaotically out of control. 

Next thing you know, these so-called winners are looking for the exit: they’re cheating on their spouse, gambling, drinking, doing drugs, anything they can find to run away from the reality they’ve created, and offload some of the pressure. “Where did it all go wrong? How did I manage to make so many bad decisions? What the hell happened to me?” they ask themselves.

What happened? You mean you don’t know?

You bought into the myth of the American Dream, my friend, that’s what happened. You ignored your individual needs. Instead of focusing on doing what was right for you and only you, and keeping it simple, you got sucked into the machine that makes things very, very complicated. 

You filled your life with stuff. You responded meekly to a barrage of marketing hype, paying to watch movies that were mindless junk, eating food that was hideously fattening and caused cancer, buying first generation technology that was quickly superceded by something better, leaving you with cupboards full of garbage you’d never use again – generally stocking your world with inconsequential nonsense that filled the hours but not your heart. Things and pastimes that met the spurious standard of “being someone”  in a broken, struggling society, but not the urgent requirements of your spirit. That’s what happened, and it’s why you’re on medication and paying child support and hating your job and drinking too much, and why you feel so unfulfilled. 

For god’s sake, I want to yell at them, stop trying so hard. Quit struggling to be first and to win the whole time. In short, give up! I promise you, you’ll feel so much better.   

Here are the bullet points about success:

  • Success is whatever you consider is right for you. It is not a competitive sport. It is not a comparative exercise. You, and you alone, decide what success means in your own life. Nobody else’s view is important.
  • If you require cars and houses and a fancy address and fashionable clothes in order to earn people’s approval and feel like you made it, then you’re not a success, you’re just needy.
  • Authenticity is everything. If you have it all, but you feel like you faked it or compromised your integrity to get there, you’re not a success, you’re a phony and you’re slowly dying inside.
  • You can have no money, live in a dumpster, and not know where your next meal is coming from, but if you’re happy being that way, you’re successful, and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.

Los Angeles in particular has been hard for me. I love the place, love the people, I’m very settled here. But as an outsider – in particular as an outsider from a country whose hidden creed is to get nothing done, but have fun doing it – I still look on the life here with some dismay.

In Hollywood, nothing is ever straightforward. It’s always about selling more, earning more, having more than the next guy, coming out on top. Lunches are all business. Parties are not fun events; they’re opportunities to hand out your card and take names and numbers. By 9pm the movers and shakers are gone and in bed, ready to be up at 4.30am, in the gym by 5.15, in the nearest Starbucks by 6.00, and at their desks by 6.30, ready for a thirteen-hour day. Everyone seems to work around the clock here, in their struggle to score points or gain some mythical advantage. 

Rules are flexible, cut to suit the situation. Nobody you engage with can be relied upon to do what they say they’ll do, or even to tell you the outright truth. Everywhere you turn there are secret negotiations going on, ulterior motives, measured responses, concealed agendas. It’s beyond sad. As a result, their lives are hideously complex and highly pressured. Nothing is ever clear for them, nothing is ever easy, and nothing is ever enough.

When I go to parties, I’m surprised to  find myself the focus of attention. People want to hang out with me. Why? I only figured it out recently. It’s because I’m different. I’m  authentic. I have no agenda, I seek nothing from you; I don’t even have a business card. If I want you to know my phone number, I’ll tell you. I go to parties simply to eat your free food, get drunk, misbehave, and laugh a lot. In Hollywood society, that makes me unique. And it’s so not the American way.    

Americans are opportunists. Their lives are underscored by a quiet greed. They focus on personal short-term gain while remaining blind to longer-term consequences, whether it’s invading foreign countries or refusing to vote for healthcare bills or running a red light and almost killing pedestrians in their haste to be one step ahead of the rest. I mean – jeez, no wonder they’re so unhappy. And you can tell they’re unhappy because they smile so damned much, hiding their inner pain beneath a thin veneer of bubbly engagement.

So much conflict and suffering could be avoided if they’d only take a leaf out of the British book and play a straight game, sit back, and do as little as possible. Be happy to be alive, wherever you come in the ranking. Accept second place with grace. Alas, they can’t. They need to win. They must succeed at all costs. It’s the American Dream. Have have have, get get get, go go go.  

A while back, I made these same observations to a seasoned film producer at a party, thinking he would understand. Instead, he replied, “This is America. Nobody invited you. Nobody’s making you stay. If you don’t like it, leave.” And he walked off.

Ho-hum.

Watching the UK election play out this week, I admit I became wistful. There are definitely things I miss about my homeland that I can’t get in California. Warm beer, four seasons per year, crowded streets, the rebellious attitude to authority, the sense of belonging to a culture and not a system. But most of all I miss the quality of life. I miss sitting around pointlessly for hours in bars and restaurants, chatting and laughing ’til you cry, and ridiculing and groping your friends. I miss genuine wit and funny interactions. I miss jovial banter. And I miss that feeling of going nowhere and doing nothing that typifies most evenings in England.  Believe me, there’s no British Dream. Nobody would stand for it.

Few people in the UK place great value on winning or being Number 1 for its own sake. In fact, it’s frowned upon. Nobody wants you to become more successful than they are, and they’ll shun you if you do. All most regular folks want is a good social life, a job that pays for that social life, friends who like a laugh and who you can rely on and do stuff with, and a pillow to rest your spinning head at night after you come home drunk. Everything else is a bonus. I miss that.

Oddly, on June 1st 2010 – 13 years to the day since I burned my belongings in a field in North Yorkshire and said goodbye to my old life, a book about my new life is being published in the UK. 

Naked in Dangerous Places (Or Stranded in Dangerous Places, as the UK publishers have called it) relates what happened when I got my own travel series on American TV. Two seasons, thirty-two shows. It was a crazy ride, but one that ended in disaster and cancellation. Some might say inevitably, given how I feel about the American attitude to winning.

When the book came out here last year, it baffled many Americans. “Why would you write about something that failed?” they asked me time and again. 

And I realized – of course, they wouldn’t understand that, would they? They’ve been programmed with the American Dream software. It’s a winners-only club here. They have to succeed. If they don’t, or they fall short, they keep quiet about it, whereas we British, we believe that failure builds character, and tells a more interesting story. So we write books in which we appear as happy losers, and we feel no shame in that. 

At least, that’s my take on things in Britain. Then again, I’ve been gone a long time. Maybe they’ve become more like the Americans. I do hope not, for their sake.  

TV Swami – he say YES to Stranded in Dangerous Places. But of course he would, he wrote it.

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Want to join a health rebellion? Sign up here.

Psssst! This way! Keep your head down.

Forgive me if I talk in whispers, but this is a big day on TV Swami. Because today we’re starting a rebellion. Oh yes.

Just a small one. Nothing too alarming. But one that could affect significantly people’s health and wellbeing for years to come if they dare to jump on board. I’m not exaggerating. There’s a chance here to be in on the ground floor of a revolution, in which a growing number of disaffected citizens unite to turn their back on:

  • the massive PR spin put out by doctors, claiming that they actually know what they’re doing a lot of the time, when I don’t think that’s true;
  • pharmaceuticals that usually don’t heal, they merely suppress symptoms or, worse, generate a whole bunch of new symptoms they didn’t have before. “This product may cause dizziness, dry mouth, kidney failure, headaches, nausea, collapsed lungs, a prolapsed colon….” You’ve seen the ads. “Ask your doctor if Phebopraximunxilkahesathite Plus is right for you.”
  • the medical establishment which has such a stranglehold on media advertising, spending billions to brainwash the general public into believing that standard medical practices are the only way, even as they’re suppressing information that validates alternatives to taking pills or surgery. 

Well, this is where we take a stand. Or at least, I do.

For the past three years, ever since a doctor told me I had only twelve hours left to live and removed my gallbladder, when in fact all I needed was, not surgery at all, but a harmless liver and gallbladder flush to remove stones that were causing me pain – since then I”ve become a disaffected health rebel. A wild man operating outside the system, researching my own health regimen and pushing doctors, and dentists even, to the farthest fringes of my life where I can’t see them. Having said that:

  • Do I still pay for health insurance? Of course. This is America, you need a safety net;
  • If I broke my leg, would I trust a doctor to treat it, or a dentist to handle a serious toothache? Sure I would, are you nuts?

I’m just handling the rest myself, that’s all. No more prescriptions, no more operations or treatments done in fear or panic. Prevention rather than cure. Anything less than a full-blown emergency is now in my court. I’m reclaiming my power.

Last night, I attended the 100th birthday party of Dolores Hope, Bob Hope’s widow. Phyllis Diller was there, and Bing Crosby’s former wife, and Gloria Stuart, that woman who played Rose in Titanic. She herself is almost 98 and holding up well. Kinda. As is Dolores, looking coiffed and well-turned out, even though she was confined to a wheelchair.

In fact, I’ve never seen so many people in wheelchairs in my life, outside of a convalescent home. It looked like the starting line of a go-kart race for the old and infirm. Everywhere I turned, it was hard not to trip over a body flopped lifelessly in a seat. Making this one of those fun but utterly tragic affairs that leaves you feeling happy (and in my case quite drunk on free champagne) but also contemplative and a little sad. 

And it got me wondering, as I sat on Dolores and Bob’s sprawling couch, admiring their private golf-course beyond the patio doors: what’s the point of spending your life accumulating houses in Los Angeles and Palm Springs and hundreds of millions of dollars, if you’re too sick and tired to enjoy it? Is this truly our destiny? To be enfeebled and dependent and chair-bound when we’re older and barely able to slice our own birthday cake without the help of nurses and assistants standing by? Or is there another path?  

What if we were to do things differently?

If we turned away from the previous generation – most of whom smoked and drank, did very little exercise, and generally assumed they’d be dead by 80 at the very latest, so why bother taking care of yourself? – and dared to look after our bodies in new, more enlightened ways? So that not only do we reach 100, but we zoom carefreely right past it, outliving all the nurses and assistants, and cut the cake ourselves. 

That’s my new goal: to outlive everyone.

I know that life isn’t a go-kart race. But it could be. And quite honestly I’d rather be in a go-kart than a wheelchair any day.

Anyway, three years ago, after my utterly needless gallbladder operation, I was so annoyed with the medical profession that I set out on a major journey of exploration, experimenting with dozens of different methods, foods, techniques – much to the amusement of my friends, who thought I was insane! – in an attempt to find myself a bunch of small things I could do every day to prevent future sickness. To keep my body healthy and vital. And after much trial and error, I hit on a regimen that I’m sure no doctor would approve of, but which, to a health rebel like me, a wild man operating outside the system, made total sense and actually felt good when I tried it.

I discovered so many amazing things. What foods turn to acid in your stomach, what kind of exercise keeps disease at bay; even how to sit correctly on the toilet. Seems I’d been doing that all wrong for years.  It’s been incredible.

Furthermore, starting today, I’m going to share some of this regimen with TV Swami readers. Not suggesting that you try it necessarily – that’s up to you. You’re a responsible adult, you must decide whether rebellions are right for you, like Phebopraximunxilkahesathite Plus . But more as a living example of what can be done to yourself on the inside, to keep in shape and try to ensure that your body is functioning at optimum levels well into old age.

Today’s topic is swishing. Or oil-pulling. In fact, I’ve been swishing while I wrote this. I do it most days, and find it carries significant benefits for me.   

WHAT IT IS 

Swishing is an ancient Ayurvedic technique (known as kavala gandoosha) that started thousands of years ago in India, and involves swilling organic sesame or sunflower oil around your mouth on an empty stomach each morning, to draw toxins out of the mucus membranes.

WHAT IT DOES

If you believe the holistic experts, swishing cleanses the bloodstream, ridding you of  poisons. They claim it brings a certain amount of relief for sufferers of glaucoma, heart and kidney problems, ulcers, bronchitis, and a bunch of others. But even if you’re not ill, given that it removes toxins, it may well insure against future illness.

At the very least, it makes your teeth whiter and keeps your gums in incredible shape.

WHAT YOU NEED

  • 1 tablespoon unrefined, cold-pressed, organic sunflower or sesame oil. (I use sunflower, it’s less heavy)
  • a glass of warm water
  • 1 teaspoon of sea salt
  • an empty cup or ramekin

HOW TO DO IT

It’s so easy.  About an hour after you get up in a morning, and before you eat breakfast, sip the oil into the mouth and start “chewing” it to trigger the saliva. Chew chew chew. Work it around the teeth, sucking and swilling it, keep it going. Swish for fifteen minutes or so. (Make sure you’re doing something else while this is going on; it’s very boring.) Then spit it out.

DO NOT SWALLOW THE OIL.

By the time you come to spit, it should have turned a foamy white. If it hasn’t, I bet you’re cheating and you didn’t keep it in long enough.

That foamy white stuff is toxic. So I spit it into the trash, not in the sink or the toilet. Apparently, if you spit it on a plant, the plant will die. I also carry a ramekin or cup with me during this process, because one time it triggered my gag reflex, I spat it down my shirt, and couldn’t get the stain out.

Once you’re done swishing, swill the mouth with the warm salted water, then spit that out too. You might want to clean your teeth at this point.

That’s it. Done. Morning swish over.

Obviously, if you’re allergic to one oil, use another. If you get side-effects, quit, or at least consult a health professional before continuing. You’re an adult, you know the drill. But several people in my circle do oil-pulling regularly, and nobody’s experienced any side-effects.

Questions? 

There’s a site that answers most of them. Read that before you try it. And of course Curezone has a very active support forum on oil-pulling, where you can ask every question you can think of and find out a whole bunch of information. Also, here’s a nice little article I found useful.

Anyway, Dolores Hope’s 100th birthday party ended at 7pm. As we were leaving, tripping drunkenly over photographers and wheelchairs, I saw there was a ton of food left on the table. Food that, because it was free, I’d eaten waaaaaaaay too much of. In passing, I asked one of the waitresses what would happen to it. She said they’d be throwing it away.

What????

Appalled, I suggested they take it to a homeless shelter instead. “Oh no. We can’t,” she said. “The homeless people sue if you do that, claiming food poisoning. Then you have to pay them millions.”

They do? Jeez, another tragedy.

Probably in the past, one greedy, self-serving lawyer filed suit on behalf of a vagrant and won the case. Now all homeless people must suffer and go without free food because of one guy’s disgraceful opportunism and stupidity.

I mention this, by the way, only because there are stupid, greedy, opportunists everywhere these days. It’s simply a fact. People who’ll read my little blog here, somehow find a way to abuse the process, and rush straight to their lawyer. That’s why we have disclaimers. Mine’s to be found on that tab at the top of the page. I’d be grateful if you’d read it and digest the contents.

TV Swami – he say YES to spitting up toxins.

Did I mention the DISCLAIMER?

www.cashpeters.com

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I’m not going to lie to you: we’re screwed

They’re showing an episode of new cop drama Lie to Me on hulu.com. Episode 6. A young girl has gone missing. In order to track her down, the main character in the show, played by Tim Roth, is given the job of striding around various houses and offices being quirky and unpredictable for an hour, as main characters in dramas have to be now, if they’re to compete with Hugh Laurie in House.  

Roth plays a human lie detector who uses body language and other psychological tics to tell if people are being deceptive. And we the viewers play a group of people who have to sit through sixty minutes of this stuff, of actors clearly acting and reciting words they’ve learned from a script, and try to pretend we’re enjoying it.

So unriveting is this show, in fact, that, leaving it to play in the background, I skip the visuals and only half-listen to the dialogue while switching to another screen and writing emails.  

I don’t know about you, but I’m finding dramas like this harder and harder to focus on these days. And it’s all the fault of reality television.

Such is the pervasive, even insidious presence of reality TV in our lives, from the good ones like Amazing Race  and Kathy Griffin, Life on the D-List (and even those are contrived to a certain extent), right down to the lowest of the low, such as I Want to be a Hilton, Keeping up with the Kardashians, Hey Paula, Kid Nation, and Sons of Hollywood – clunkers all – that anything less than real people on screen yelling at each other and facing constant rejection and upset in real environments (mostly Hollywood mansions), is starting to seem phony and dull and performed.

I’ve said this before, but actors need to watch out, because they’re going to be surplus to requirements soon. In fact, a word to Rachel Bilson and Hayden Christensen about their wedding: I hope someone’s filming it, my dears. You may need the income.

Luckily for us, TV networks are in a recession too, and since top dramas cost around three mill an episode to produce, and reality shows cost…I don’t have an exact figure in front of me, but let’s say fifteen bucks. And also since recent tentpole dramas that were supposed to be huge – Christian Slater’s My Own Worst Enemy, for instance – tanked badly in the ratings, the focus is shifting away from scripted tosh to less costly ways to keep us entertained. Or if not entertained exactly, then at least preoccupied, diverting our minds from how this ghastly economy is impacting our lives, which nobody wants to think about.

Anyway, according to ABC News today, when the fall season rolls around in September, one of the networks’ prime responses to the deepening recession will be a raft of programs about…the deepening recession.

Kelsey Grammer’s in one of them. He plays a Wall Street financier who becomes a nanny. Totally believable, that. Another is about young investment bankers who quit the world of finance to become something else. What that might be is unspecified – though unemployed and living under a bridge is probably the most realistic option. And there’s a sitcom about a Detroit car worker who’s down on his luck. Of course, if he were to move out of Detroit, his luck would change immediately and he would be a lot less depressed, it’s a terrible city. But I don’t think that’s part of the story arc.

So you get where I’m going here. TV is downsizing. Even NBC, to save money among other things, is about to replace its entire 10PM drama strand five days a week with Jay Leno’s new talk show. A bad idea? Sure. And believe me, I’ve told them a thousand times in my dreams. But one we’re stuck with. 

Interestingly, though, the crisis we see playing out on TV is a reflection, not only in content but actual substance, of what’s going on out here where it matters, in the real world.

Hard times like these are good for us. They’re cleansing. The tide of prosperity has gone out and it’s going to stay out for a while. That forces us to reevaluate our priorities. Losing your savings, being laid off from a job, getting thrown out of a house you couldn’t really afford because you overextended – all of that is traumatic and a major shock to the system, natch, but believe it or not, it’s a good thing. It helps you regroup, prioritize, clean out the cobwebs. You’re compelled to ask yourself, the way the networks are doing: what job do I really want? Where would I like to live in future, now that this unwanted and unexpected choice has been thrust upon me? Am I in the right relationship? Have I been happy up to this point or do I need to make changes? Was it wise to put Jay Leno on at 10PM, given how bland, uneventful, and anemic his talk show usually is?

All of this is a vital step towards a better life. So that when the tide comes back in again, and it will, you’re ready for the next stage. That’s why there’s no point complaining about it, or getting depressed, or, worse, taking it out on society by shooting up a post office or shopping mall, or whatever your plans were for today. Instead, get a grip. Make the big changes now, and when everything stabilizes again, you’ll be glad we all went through this. Trust me.

By that time, of course, Lie to Me will have been canned, as will that Kelsey Grammer sitcom probably, reality shows will represent 95% of all TV output, and the only memory our children’s children will have of these gruesome, difficult, depressing times will be that Jay Leno will still be on at 10PM and nobody can figure out a way to get rid of him.   

Lie to Me gets two magic carpets out of five for being slick. Otherwise…

TV Swami – he say NO.  

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