Category Archives: Happiness

Rogue One (Reviewed by Theo Michelfeld)

Rogue One (Reviewed by Theo Michelfeld) The new Star Wars movie, Rogue One, is phenomenal. This is not a sequel to last year’s The Force Awakens, but a prequel to the original 1977 film—a trip to the Rebel Alliance’s own Dark Side, on their mission to deliver the Death Star plans to Princess Leia. This means the conclusion of Rogue One is not only foregone but four-decades-gone. And yet, even as this film’s narrative funnels beautifully into the 1977 original, it remains harrowing and full of surprises. Last year, with The Force Awakens, I had mixed feelings about the incessant callbacks to the first trilogy. It was fun, to an extent, but it sometimes came across as overly eager-to-please, particularly when the new characters were doing just fine without those distractions. With Rogue One, though, the entire premise is a callback. This movie is a two-hour “Fan Service Moment.” There will inevitably be backlash for this, but as it happens, the premise of Rogue One works. It works so well, in fact, that the countless callbacks this time around feel not only welcome but positively magical. Felicity Jones delivers an excellent lead performance. Her character’s arc is emotionally compelling, which I wouldn’t have guessed—and didn’t—from the trailers. Diego Luna is also convincing as the squad’s captain, whose dubious morality makes him an intriguing ally and foil. Ben Mendelsohn couldn’t be better as the villain with a plausible pathetic streak (last year’s villain had that too… easy does it, Star Wars.) And Alan Tudyk provides comic relief as a droid with “no filter,” a quality much more charming in space robots than it is in presidents-elect. So what’s so great about it? What I love is the sense that the heroes are all ignored, misplaced, wayward, repurposed, used up, discarded… Heck, even the villain is nothing more than a stooge. This was a narrative masterstroke, in terms of tying Rogue One into the original trilogy, since these characters must necessarily be anonymous in the lore of the saga’s inhabitants. Meanwhile, that theme of anonymity also gives this movie its own cultural relevance, here on the 20th of December, 2016. Modern society, including our modern movie landscape, is dominated and bedeviled by its “Cults of Personality.” Yet here we have a Star Wars story in which a motley crew of soldiers risks everything, whether anyone will remember their names or not. Parents should be cautioned: This chapter is not as “Kid-Friendly” as last year’s The Force Awakens. Both films have a ginormous body count, but in this movie the heroes tend to face more “adult-themed” moral choices. (That’s another way of saying, “Sometimes they do bad things.”) Also, Rogue One does conclude as a “War Film,” a spectacular third act that might be too intense for kids. In any case, friends, May The Force Be With You.

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Vacillation (Part II) by William Butler Yeats – An Analysis

  Vacillation (Part II) by William Butler Yeats   A tree there is that from its topmost bough Is half all glittering flame and half all green Abounding foliage moistened with the dew;   What a primal October vision! “A tree there is that from its topmost bough is half all glittering flame and half all green.” This moment of equilibrium, of fiery maple leaves framed in green still vibrant on the tree, can cut through our daily fog of worries and hopes with a singular beam of beauty. And what if we’re the tree?   And half is half and yet is all the scene; Separation is an illusion. 99.9% of all human DNA is the same. We can look and see halves, divisions. Or we can see the halves as making the whole. The yin and the yang together. Here’s a mundane example: Yankees fans, Red Sox fans. What if they realized that they complete each other? Where would they be without the other?   And half and half consume what they renew, Winter consumes summer which consumes winter which consumes summer which consumes winter which…..   And he that Attis’ image hangs between I wasn’t familiar with Attis before reading this poem. He’s a Greek/Phrygian god that represents the fruits of the earth that die in the winter to be reborn in the spring. He’s a ‘vegetation deity’ (I love that!) that embodies the growth cycle of plants.   That staring fury and the blind lush leaf Staring fury = winter. The blind lush leaf = summer. We each carry our own versions of winter and summer with us.   May know not what he knows, but knows not grief. This to me is the ultimate knowing, the place I would live forever more if I had a choice. Not knowing what I know, epiphany so deep that it transcends labeling. And living exclusively in grief is impossible. The full acceptance of the halves, what is wanted and desired and what is feared, the calm welcoming of it all into completion.   ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Lastly, since I’m focused on where spirit and technique meet, I’d be remiss not to point out one technical joy – the beautiful ABABABCC rhyme scheme Yeats uses. It’s easiest to see this by looking at the poem all together. It’ll help to give ‘bough’, the last word of the first line, your finest ye-olde-Irish lilt.   Vacillation (Part II) by William Butler Yeats   A tree there is that from its topmost bough Is half all glittering flame and half all green Abounding foliage moistened with the dew; And half is half and yet is all the scene; And half and half consume what they renew, And he that Attis’ image hangs between That staring fury and the blind lush leaf May know not what he knows, but knows not grief.

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A 99 for the Heart at the Asia Pacific Harmonica Festival

After spending an utterly exhausting afternoon/evening judging 109 different juveniles (age 6-13) playing solo harmonica, the next day I got ‘adjudicator dessert’. I judged a series of different categories that had only a handful of people in each. One was the senior category, very sweet. Another category was ‘younger than 6’. There was one contestant, a very little boy! We’re instructed to give each contestant a score between 65 (nobody fails if they try, right?) and 99 (nobody’s perfect, right?). So I gave him a 99, a 99 for the heart – his and mine. Later at dinner I talked to Henry, another judge, another man with a big heart. He had given him a 99 too! There are moments in every day where we can be unexpectedly generous in some small way, but large enough to make someone’s day. And this generosity increases your happiness as well. Who will you give your version of a 99 for the heart to today? This is part of a series inspired by Rob Fletcher’s recent trip to Taiwan to perform and adjudicate at the Asia Pacific Harmonica Festival, the largest harmonica festival in the world.   Explore this idea more fully in Quixote Consulting’s team building and team development activities:  Play the Blues – As featured on NPR and in The Meeting Professional  Learn to play the blues harmonica in just two hours! Each team member will receive their own harmonica, a copy of Blues Harmonica for Beginners book and play-a-long CD. Within minutes you will be playing a real blues song together. The grand finale features your team as the stars performing an original blues song that you have created together! Music of Teams – Music of Teams links music and the effective team and transforms your people into musicians of their work.

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Captain America: Civil War Review by Theo Michelfeld

This insightful, intelligent review of the movie Captain America: Civil War needs to be shared. It reminded me of something essential and needed – the difference between certainty and ambiguity/curiosity and how it often equals the difference between fear/anger and connection/happiness. In my Emotional Intelligence Works team training, I explore how it’s the amygdala’s job in the brain to divide and classify threats. The amygdala preaches certainty. There is no room for nuance when your life is literally being threatened. It’s the amygdala’s job to deal with those physically life-threatening events. The amygdala is responsible for keeping us physically safe from harm, but it’s a happiness destroyer. It’s the neo-cortex’s job to unite, to reach for delight. It preaches choices, many options. It’s at home in ambiguity. Paradox becomes a delight, ‘us vs. them’ dissolves. Holding the tension of opposites and acting rationally with love? That’s your neo-cortex being its wonderful self. That’s my two cents. And now, here’s Theo!   Captain America: Civil War Review by Theo Michelfeld Saw “Captain America: Civil War.” Loved it dearly—the heroes grappling with the moral consequences of their adventures, the bridging of divides amidst the plate-tectonic shoving matches. Any Captain America movie is a guaranteed hit at this point, but throw in Robert Downey Jr. and Spider-Man and you’ve struck a trifecta. It doesn’t even have to be good. Thankfully, it’s great. And yet, as the most lucrative film franchise in history, Marvel’s “The Avengers” has predictably spawned an entire culture of backlash against it. Contempt for these movies is often characterized by a belief that myth-making is valid only when it’s centuries old and many cultures removed from our own. But with all due respect, that assertion is as arbitrary and obstinate as any other kind of bias. Interestingly, America’s own mythology largely consists of frontiersmen and ballplayers, presidents and jazz musicians—real people, in other words. But along the way, the comic books happened to evolve, quite accidentally, into our very own homegrown fictional mythical pantheon. The sheer volume of source material is staggering to contemplate, and many of the characters are cultural icons. To simply dismiss it all as inferior to Zeus and Hamlet (et al) seems a bit willfully limited. Just sayin’. We’ve also seen backlash of the “identity politics” variety. It may seem to the film-going public that we should fast-forward through this epic narrative straight to the inclusive demographic “representation” stuff, but distilling the source material into cinematic canon requires a bit of patient tightrope-walking, and an understanding of the decades of social change the comics bore witness to. Comic books were invented by immigrants, outcasts, nerds, and “ninety-eight-pound weaklings.” The medium has long sought to illustrate a quest for justice as told by those who found it lacking in real life. There were twists and turns, indeed missteps along the way, but these meanderings also benefitted from an up-close-and-personal reckoning with the Civil Rights and Women’s Liberation movements during a time when those ideas actually were revolutionary. So consider this new film’s introduction of the hero Black Panther, an African warrior king who gets drawn haplessly into The Avengers’ dysfunction and then carves his own path straight through it. Suffice to say this character “represents.” Embodied with effortless formidability by Chadwick Bozeman, Black Panther is introduced organically into the plot—just as he was in the Avengers comics circa 1968—and then proceeds to dish out more nuance and subtext than the sixties’ comic book writers ever dreamed possible. And let me just say, with all due respect to Zeus and Hamlet (et al) that they can never be Black Panther, regardless of any actor’s skin color. That’s because this hero is no mere token. He hasn’t been “race-swapped.” He’s an African king, sprung from America’s homegrown mythology, and modernized for the screen. I hope his presence will restore some faith that this ongoing epic is indeed the quest for justice it purports to be. “Bah!” the cynics will balk, in another familiar refrain, “…it’s just a set-up for another movie.” But episodic storytelling is really not that controversial. Consider our culture’s loving embrace of various television juggernauts through the decades. The Avengers franchise is merely borrowing the tactics of that closely-related medium. It’s nothing to be cynical about. It’s actually just an “outside-the-box” idea, and a lot of fun. Whew, OK, the defense rests. Let’s talk about how good this movie is. For starters it cashes in on dramatic potential built up over many years and many films. The characters of Captain America and Iron Man occupy the central drama, but happily there are other notable examples of well-written franchise stalwarts. For example we have Scarlett Johansen’s Black Widow, whose decisions impact the plot in a series of pleasant surprises, even as she remains very much in character. The film brings life and fluidity to her well-established arc, and she is just one of many supporting heroes who enjoy similar kind attention from the narrative. I may have mentioned Spider-Man before. Yes, Marvel Studios has rescued this beloved character from Sony, which all but buried the web-slinger beneath three straight hideously unwatchable movies. I had serious doubts about the decision to shoehorn this studio-befouled icon into the new Captain America movie, but Spidey comes close to stealing the show. As portrayed by Tom Holland, he is an absolute hoot every minute onscreen, and there’s reason to believe his future is in good hands. I would also be remiss not to mention Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man cameo. It’s memorable, but I’ll say no more, lest I spoil the surprise. Meanwhile, at its heart, this film takes years of tension between Captain America and Iron Man and churns it into hard-earned, fully-realized melodrama. Yes, there are action scenes (really good ones) but they are widely-dispersed, and emotionally-freighted, and they develop naturally from the plot. The bulk of the conflict is ideological, and dramatized as such. What’s more, these two icons have changed over the years in intriguing ways. Since his first screen appearance in 2008, Iron Man has evolved from demonstrably Libertarian into a force of “Big Government.” Meanwhile, Captain America has become wary of government, and is now a champion of individual sovereignty. Both characters have earned their changes, compelled not just by what they’ve seen, but indeed by what they’ve done. Even more amusingly, […]

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Sleeping With Strangers

My 15-hour flight to the Asia Pacific Harmonica Festival in Taiwan was with EVA Airlines, a Taiwanese airline, on a 777 airplane. It holds over 300 people. After people settled in and we got fed, the lights dimmed and people fell asleep. I did as well, fitfully sleeping off and on for the next dozen hours. It was then I came to my next travel revelation. How extremely comforting it is to be in a plane full of sleeping people from another country! A shared innocence is a powerful and peaceful thing. As Tom Waits sang, you’re innocent when you dream. One of my most powerful memories of traveling in Mexico was sleeping in a hammock in a single-room shack next to the Gulf of Mexico among a dozen local fisherman all in hammocks, Mexican radio quietly droning throughout the night. It was a deeply peaceful experience, unforgettable. We’ve all had enough division to last several lifetimes. We know the ill effects, the “dis-ease” that division causes us internally. If you want to influence yourself and others for a mutually wonderful outcome, go for connection and aim for appreciation.   Explore this idea more fully in Quixote Consulting’s team building and team development activities: Emotional Intelligence Works – EQ is twice as important in contributing to excellence as IQ and expertise combined. Learn how to effectively manage your emotions and those around you for sustained success. Influence: The Power of Persuasion – How can we consistently capture an audience, effectively make a point and carry everyone along toward a goal? How can we influence an outcome, even if we’re not in a position of authority?  

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The Comfort Of a Plane Full of Strangers

My 15-hour flight to the Asia Pacific Harmonica Festival in Taiwan was with EVA Airlines, a Taiwanese airline, on a 777 airplane. It holds over 300 people. Within minutes I realized I was in a unique situation. I was one of a handful of white people. Everyone else was most likely from Taiwan. While boarding, everyone around me was holding green ‘Republic of China – Taiwan’ passports. How comforting it is to be in a plane full of people from another country! There’s something special to me about being an outsider, an observer of a culture that is not my own. It provides a fresh perspective on my recurrent patterns of thought and behavior that are usually left unexamined when I’m in the U.S. But even more wonderful is to feel a more universal connection with people not from the U.S. There’s been so much talk in the news these days of dangerous immigrants. In my Emotional Intelligence Works team training, I explore how it’s the amygdala’s job in the brain to divide like this, to classify threats. The amygdala is responsible for keeping us physically safe from harm, but it’s a happiness destroyer. It’s the neo-cortex’s job to unite, to reach for delight. When I’m feeling that connection I know I’m happily being guided by my smarts, the neo-cortex. Human DNA is 99.9% identical. What if there’s nothing to fear from other humans, whether they look like us or differently? This is a helpful question to live into.     Explore this idea more fully in Quixote Consulting’s team building and team development activities: Emotional Intelligence Works – EQ is twice as important in contributing to excellence as IQ and expertise combined. Learn how to effectively manage your emotions and those around you for sustained success. Influence: The Power of Persuasion – How can we consistently capture an audience, effectively make a point and carry everyone along toward a goal? How can we influence an outcome, even if we’re not in a position of authority?  

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Werner Herzog’s Two Tips to Hone Intensity and Appreciation of Beauty

My favorite documentary film-maker is Werner Herzog. Some of his films have profoundly changed how I view life and art. If you’re curious, check out any of these four: Grizzly Man, Wheel of Time (2003), Grizzly Man (2005), Encounters at the End of the World (2007), Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010). Here are Werner Herzog’s two suggestions for how you can hone intensity and appreciation for beauty. He intended these for aspiring filmmakers, but they apply to all of us. “Read, read, read. There’s hardly anyone reading anymore.” “Travel on foot. The world will reveal itself to those who travel on foot. But that’s advice that no one follows. But it does matter. You have to be in a situation where you understand the heart of man. And if you do, then you will be able to understand difficult situations and catastrophes on your shoot. You will know how to handle an actor, adversities.”

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Three Muhammad Ali Quotes To Help You Persist

Sustained practice of anything that matters is not easy. I know. Sustained practice of music is on my short list of things that I am very interested in/suffer with. It’s part of my path to find a way to persist with joy, to not shy away from the path and not to make it drudgery – to find the middle way. Ali knew the drudgery side of persistence to well. He said, “I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’” But what if we don’t need to suffer now? Or suffer in a way that’s joyful? I notice the speed I persist at something helps dictate whether it’s joyful or suffering. The slower I go, the less fear is involved, and the more love is involved. Resiliency is in large part about self-care, self-listening, self-feeding. As Ali also said, “It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe.” As I discuss in Emotional Intelligence Works training, that pebble in the shoe after a long day is often the tipping point where we get emotionally hijacked and lose. Life is repetitive. We wake up and do the same routine day in and day out. This repetition can either sooth or be a pebble in the shoe. We have something we want to persist at, something of deep value. Persistence means repetition, but as Prince sang, there’s something very special very close at hand: joy in repetition. Explore this idea more fully in Quixote Consulting’s team building and team development activities: Emotional Intelligence Works – EQ is twice as important in contributing to excellence as IQ and expertise combined. Learn how to effectively manage your emotions and those around you for sustained success. Resiliency: Five Keys to Success – Leverage the five principles of resiliency – engagement, efficiency, endurance, flexibility, and loving the game – for peak work performance and enjoyment.

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Prince On the Value of Working From Joy

“I feel good most of the time, and I like to express that by writing from joy. I still do write from anger sometimes, like in ‘Thieves in the Temple’ [from Graffiti Bridge]. But I don’t like to. It’s not a place to live.” -Prince in a Rolling Stone interview from 1990 We experience all of the emotions. But we have a choice which ones we live in. Joy is a choice, like any other. As is anger. I see so much anger in America these days. That’s a choice to live there. I also know that cleanly feeling the darker emotions without hurting anyone is often the gateway to the higher, lighter emotions. All of this emotional weather, all moving across us. And we try to grasp onto joy, and to push away anger. How futile! But when joy visits, and it visits us all, we can put it to good use. We can write from joy, have our most important conversations with the people we care about while joy is visiting, spend precious quiet moments alone with that visiting joy. And we can express the anger, like Prince did with Thieves in the Temple, but like Prince, it’s not the place I want to live. Where would you like to live today? What emotion will charge your work today?     Explore this idea more fully in Quixote Consulting’s team building and team development activities: The Ultimate Game – Travel around the giant game board, furiously completing wild and wacky trivia and team challenges in the craziest team building program ever. Wicked Good Chowdah Cook-off – Alright, all you chowda heads, have a killa time. This is wheah all the fun times ah as much fun as a dingah on a Saddadee night. Play the Blues – As featured on NPR and in The Meeting Professional  – Learn to play the blues harmonica in just two hours! Each team member will receive their own harmonica, a copy of Blues Harmonica for Beginners book and play-a-long CD. Within minutes you will be playing a real blues song together. The grand finale features your team as the stars performing an original blues song that you have created together!

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May Flowers in the New York Botanical Garden

When I lived in NYC, my favorite things included finding nature there, whether on the edges or in the very heart of the city. Laura took these beautiful photos recently at the New York Botanical Garden. I was struck by how idyllic these settings look. In a city of 8.4 million people, there’s not one of them in these photos. Beauty, space, and quiet are nearer than we think.

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