Archive | July, 2012

Informed. Insightful. Important. Why All Voters Should Watch The Newsroom.

25 Jul

Recently I’ve been avoiding the news. By recent, I mean for about 5 years, and by news, I really mean the olds. Because of the advent of digital media, we now have hundreds of channels, websites, and a 24 hour, nonstop news cycle. And yet, the public couldn’t be less informed or educated. I’m not blaming them, nor am I claiming to be the opposite, but there are a significant number of citizens who blindly absorb the same information from the same sources day in and day out, without even a hint of skepticism.

My natural tendency toward cynicism and disbelief, coupled with the laughing-stock that is our current United States government, I cannot stomach the very biased news I see on any channel these days. I’m forced to cherry pick articles and laugh while learning as I watch the Daily Show and the Colbert Report, the only truly honest, inquisitive and insightful bits of news I’m lucky to get. NPR is great, but it’s also so damn dry. My god, I do need some more inflection and editorializing than I often get, but at least their agenda is clear: to inform.

I am interested in politics, but not in debate. I could give two shits what this expert feels versus the other. They all seem to have smart people in their corner and most are represented by power hungry, loud mouths who’ve scared the extremes of the left and right to follow them like sheep. I’ve been a sheep before, again, no judgment, but sometimes I just want to shake these very smart, capable people into thinking for themselves, instead of deciding before they wake up how they’ll see the world the following day. It’s exceedingly difficult to find one right answer for over 350 million people. I’d imagine the process to getting there is complex and daunting, but I’d also imagine the fundamentals of setting up a healthy, informed nation with opportunity is something we can get back to, and I hope we do.

I am patriotic but I’m not wearing rose-colored glasses. Our country is no longer the best and the brightest. Am I glad to have been born here? Definitely. There are so many aspects I love and am proud of, but as one who lived in Europe for three years and plans to travel and roam this planet, I feel and know deeply we can learn a thing or two from other sovereign nations and our arrogance is getting us nowhere. It is in this vein that I enthusiastically recommend the entire American populace watches The Newsroom, Aaron Sorkin’s brilliantly written series for none other than H.B.O.

The Newsroom stars Jeff Daniels, a favorite actor from my childhood (any Dumb and Dumber fans out there?), who’s given some of the best performances of his career in the last decade. You must be sharp and fully equipped to ring off Sorkin dialogue and make it feel as believable and impassioned as it was written. And the cast of the Newsroom does just that. Daniels plays Will McAvoy, a rich and successful anchor of News Night who’s going through a series of changes after an uproarious speech uttered while debating on a news forum at Northwestern. Subsequently, he loses his executive producer and much of his staff, to be left with ex-flame MacKenzie McHale as his EP (bit of melodrama there) and a slew of new, energetic writers and producers encouraged to go back to the days of news with integrity.

After a long period of pandering to ratings and public opinion polls, the talented minds behind News Night decide enough is enough. No longer will they get lost in the shuffle of hyperbolic cable news, where opinions and bias run the show, content is used to inflame, stoke the fire of fear, and the almighty dollar received from advertisers are controlling the invisible hand from well behind the scenes. Their new goal is to return to a news program with integrity, what news used to be, an intelligent journalist informing the electorate with facts; sourced, qualified, irrefutable facts. When the news began, it was designed as a free public service, out from under the control of advertisers and suits, and instead seen as one hour of objective news, free from any influence.

Clearly we’ve gone in a different direction. The Newsroom brilliantly covers major events from congressional elections in 2010, the BP oil crisis, the swelling and ultimate misrepresentation of the Tea Party movement and the resulting losses the democrats suffered at the hands of extreme conservatives like Michelle Bachman. There is a major emphasis placed on objectivity here, and although the show plays on H.B.O. and is perhaps created and funded by Hollywood liberal elite, this show is led by and starring a registered Republican in McAvoy, a man frustrated by the extreme few speaking for the reasonable, and being sensationalized by the very petulant, drama hungry media.

There’s love interests, diversity in ages, cultures, opinions and backgrounds, but what I get most out of this show is razor-sharp writing delivered in a bold, influential manner. As we follow News Night behind the scenes, we’re privy to the very strict standards both the fictional news show, and the Newsroom in general, holds itself to. Conjecture and insinuation are gone, a party or political figure are not touted or hunted because of the ‘R’ or ‘D’ underneath their name. Is it news worthy? Do the electorate need to know this information? Is it credible and factual? In coming across the recent saturation of coverage this past weekend over the tragedy in Colorado, I can only imagine how News Night would choose to handle this situation.

Often we are consumed with nonsense because we want to avoid the importance of reality, of the genuine issues and challenges at stake. How someone did or did not treat a dog decades ago, reproductive rights (a 50-year-old resolved issue), the legitimacy of a birth certificate, car elevators, level of patriotism, religious beliefs, and college behavior. I don’t care what either of the presidential candidates did when they were 20, unless they murdered or tortured someone, nor am I concerned about their faith unless it majorly informs their decisions about our lives. I am majorly uninspired by most right now. I feel more informed by a very broad, fair recollection of events involving our economic collapse, our military involvement and much of our legislative policies after watching this very unusual, thought-provoking show.

It’d be amazing for our progress as a nation if we all got our heads out of our asses and began actually listening again. If we decided after we heard the facts rather than before we heard even simple opinions, the results would be astounding. We’re in a divisive mess, not anyone in particular’s fault, but the media, cable news like Fox and MSNBC in general, are not helping. Ratings feed their content and their audience and we’re sure to be fed a slop of negative, narrowly viewed topics to keep up reeling in anger and frustration. There is no way we can possibly, fully understand the complicated mess that is our government, so before we dismiss another simply because they think differently than us, we should open ourselves to understanding many different aspects and sides to an issue, and then make a sound decision that resonates most with our values while still respecting another’s.

My hope is people of all sides, but especially those so closely identified by either very conservative or very liberal values to take a step back, open their minds and ears and choose to expose themselves to different funnels of information and insight than normal. I won’t bother myself with it, it’s futile to care about another’s choices, but I can certainly hope for a more engaged, less volatile public. Our differences make us an interesting, cultured country. If we stopped caring about being right, or being better than another, we’d perhaps lead the world again in unified, progressive leadership voted for by a smart, logical electorate. Here’s hopin.

Danielle Robinson
Yoga teacher/ Writer
You, Me and Yoga Makes 3 on Facebook
Follow: @mastic8onthis on Twitter
Articles written for MindBodyGreen

~Feel Stupefied To Be Alive~

Can You Really Be “Born Again”?

11 Jul

The answer is yes and no, like many perplexing questions in life. Do I really know the answer? Probably not. Not sure anyone does, but based on my experience in my short time on Earth, and in the last year in particular, I feel strongly the answer is ‘Yes’.

If you’re amongst the few who’ve either been apart of my life since I began writing, or those who’ve been following this “blog”, first off, thank you. Second, you are probably aware a dear friend of mine nearly lost his life in a terrible bike accident last year. I wrote about it here, endlessly in my personal journals, and to my loved ones through letters and cards, but suffice it to say the experience jarred me from a waking sleep and into a hyper alert reality that death is not only certain, but its influence in each of our lives is pervasive and there is absolutely no way to predict when and how it will knock on our doors.

The term “born again” usually refers to reformed Christians, those choosing to let their previous lives of “sin” go, in order to make room for a righteous way of living now. My intention in writing today is to discuss the way human beings renew themselves, by force or by choice. We learn in life, emphasized while studying Yoga, that our lives are full of cycles with a beginning, middle, and end. We have birth, life and death. At any given moment, you are starting, enduring or finishing something, big or small. Our breath is an ideal, consistent example of this.

On July 11th, 2011 my irrational fears died and my genuine fears came to life. The level of uncertainty swirling around those few days left me with the worst unease in the pit of my stomach. Since I was young, I’d been rehearsing, planning for the future, fine-tuning with arrogant clarity how my life would play out. My twenties had been a tumultuous experiment in how wrong I could be and how laughable it is to even think you can outline your life even moments from now with any real accuracy. Everything I assumed about myself, about others, about life was so unbelievably, utterly wrong and that realization came crashing down shortly after my friend did. From that moment on, I was new, born again. The same old me was there somewhere, but a fog had been lifted and I was seeing clearly, from a more intelligent place than just my eyes. I saw myself for the first time, the error of my ways and the pain I’d inflicted on myself was crippling.

I wasted little time with guilt, an emotion I let sit uncomfortably in my gut for many years previously, and one I’m nearly 100% rid of now. I witnessed someone, 6 years younger than me, who lived with such humbling openness, with such joy, such courage, such exuberance, that I’d spent much of my friendship feeling in awe of that personality trait, as if it was something he was born with and I was born without. I learned what it meant to be truly generous, to give another permission to be their full selves and to celebrate them for it. That’s fucking generosity. You can keep your 20 bucks, your gifts, your things. Give me a doorway into authenticity and fullness and that will inspire a thousand re-births in others. I saw that how we treat people is a choice we make before we walk into the door. Instead of waiting to see if someone will impress us, if they’ll be convincing enough to earn our connection, we instead go in knowing the potential to laugh and engage with another human being is imminent and we’re all worthy of that exchange.

The way we choose to approach our day, independent of our interaction with others, can tell us definitively if we’re operating out of love or fear. I don’t mean to simplify what is probably a very complex life for you, as it feels to me, but events in our lives can inspire a lot of reflection, a lot of pondering. Catharsis breeds change, from the inside out. Through the beauty in my friend and others, I saw the fallacy in my own being. I lived almost entirely inside my head rather than out of my heart. Each day, each person, each encounter, went through my internal processor for analysis. This required judgment, an interpretation. I wasted so much time deciphering things that just were, they needed no opinion, there was no result, but somehow I made it so. The short list of things that matter in life have no opposite, just as life itself does not. There is birth and death. Life is simply life. Genuine love has no opposite and the truth needn’t any debate. It is what it is.

Before, I feel I was over-thinking every decision, allowing the images and my perception of others influence how I felt about myself, how I approached my career, my relationships, communication, and connection. It was bassackwards! I spent many years feeling so inadequate and stuck, wanting to do so many things but finding no courage, no gas pedal to actually pursue them, to try and fail, to fucking live. I was always honest in words but a liar in action. What I despised in others clearly was living within me. It felt so impossible to break that cycle, to find the end, and to begin again anew. I’ve written before, many times, that I was uncomfortable letting my old self go. Everything I was doing and saying was some recycled form of bullshit I’d said and done before. Nothing was original, nothing was extraordinary, nothing was me. I’d believed every bad word I’d heard or thought about myself previously and allowed that to inform my decision making. I had a loving, supportive family. I lived in Europe for three years. I’d landed every job I applied for. I had many interesting, amazing friends. And why? Did I deserve it? Was I worthy? Had I earned it? How easily could it go away?

Turns out everything we experience in life will go away at some point. That purse you bought a couple weeks ago will mean nothing to you very soon. The degree he earned will prove meaningless once he enters the work force. Then, his work experience is the standard by which he’s judged. That high school or college girl who broke your heart will move on to another, as will you. And that money you earned will somehow be spent, as it should be. There are no bills and no barter system in the afterlife. This is all we get. That 5 bucks someone borrowed from you and forgot to pay back is lost in the hands of another now. That food has been swallowed, digested and excreted out of your body, only for the cycle to begin again. That embarrassing moment witnessed by dozens of others will be forgotten by all but the subject: you. Can you let go of all that you were up to this moment and decide right now to come forth as a lighter, healthier you? You can.

You don’t need to lose a loved one or even experience grave danger yourself to recognize what patterns are not serving you. Each word you utter, inside your head and outside to others, carries weight. In it, along with your gaze and facial expression, your body language and attitude, houses your belief in yourself, your view of life and just how consumed you are by the voice in your head. The edge of my words signaled my distrust, my negative expectations, and because my attitude was so hardened, so cynical, my experience reflected my assumptions. Cycle after cycle it was never me, it was life. Forget that I AM LIFE and my perception is 100%, entirely dependent upon my thoughts and emotions preceding it. My friend had a beautiful experience in life, he believed (believes still) so strongly in Love, because that is precisely was he is and was. He is life. He is love. We all are. Once all the B.S. was put on pause and all that was shown was compassion, trust, encouragement and hope, I suddenly realized what a waste of time and energy everything else really was.

Of course there are and always will be frustrating people, violence, atrocity, failure, tragedy, confusion, loneliness and negativity of innumerable colors. Money will come in and out like the wind. People will float in and out of your life. You will own clothing, furniture, homes, jewelry, cars, boats, stocks, bonds, electronics; and then one day, you won’t. You’ll barely remember them, nor should you. None of that speaks to who you are and what you have to give. Not a stitch. Not a penny. Not a grade. Not a brick. No image, no noun can adequately reflect the intangible properties you bring into the world at any given moment. If you feel uncertain, unworthy, undeserving, the solution is to start over, re-define yourself and be born again into a world whose only judge is You and the standard of living is based upon how much you laughed, learned and hugged each day.

This isn’t about renouncing possessions and moving off the grid, an exaggerated re-birth where there’s very little semblance of the lessons you’ve learned, the influences that have carved your path and the loved ones that have seen you throughout your journey. Money is essential in feeding, clothing and sheltering ourselves and in enjoying some luxury experiences like travel and skydiving. But that in no way means we must define ourselves by it, assume we are less than another because we have less, have earned less, weigh more, have a different education, wear less shiny things or simply have different talents or skills. There is no one like us on this planet. There are 7 billion human beings and not one has your D.N.A., not one sees the world from your perspective, not one whose heart beats for the same reason yours does. In that same vein, you can look across the bus, cafe, street to another and know that they’ve experienced pain, they know loss in some way, they have anxiety and stress and they, too, get in their own way as we all do at some point.

My hope, my goal, in however long I’m granted this life as a human being is to complain less and feel grateful more. I want to say yes more and no less, to myself in particular. I’m going to continue to talk myself into things that clearly scare me, to recognize my excuses as just that, a ticket out of living. I’ll no longer pay rent in stagnancy. I am in perpetual motion, beginning, persevering and ending all day, everyday, without fear. I acknowledge that I have an infinite capacity to love, my energy and time are valuable, and this truth applies to every other human being on this planet. I will treat even the rudest assholes with respect because it feels good inside my being to be calm in the midst of a storm, to be kind amongst antagonism, to be genuine around even the most insincere, to be patient during fits of frustration, and to be loving in overwhelming swirls of hate. We each can be a beacon of light even when surrounded by darkness.

Die to your old self each night and be born again into a fuller, better, happier You each day. Don’t put off living because of your fear of dying. It takes courage to be authentic, to see the good in yourself and others, to laugh loudly, cry benevolently, dance wildly, to do what you love regardless of the sacrifice or reward, and to live ecstatically every single damn day just because. You choose your experience, your view. Choose wisely. Choose lovingly.

Danielle Robinson
Yoga teacher/ Writer
You, Me and Yoga Makes 3 on Facebook
Follow: @mastic8onthis on Twitter

~Feel Stupefied To Be Alive~

Italian So Good, Even My Nonna Approves. Riccardo’s: Chicago’s Best

8 Jul

I’ve had the sheer pleasure of living and eating in Chicago for two years now. Each day of my life is scheduled around food. Seriously. I am that sad person people refer to when they say “there are those who eat to live and those who live to eat.” I’m the latter. I live to chew, to taste life as much as I can, and eating is a full on sensory extravaganza. Or at least it should be.

I was fortunate to be raised by genuinely amazing cooks, in particular of the Italian variety. Both of my father’s have a talent for cuisine, albeit one of them takes all day to execute a semi-annual gourmet meal. Nonetheless, they have a feel for food. Each woman has their own specialty and touch. I have a few favorites made by each. My Mom made a home-cooked dinner almost every night growing up and I can’t remember one bad meal. Somehow through all that goodness, we all still pale in comparison to my grandma.

Nonna (Italian for Grandma) or Grammy as I so affectionately call her, is the most intuitive and efficient culinary artist I’ve ever met. She’ll work all day, grab some groceries and whip up an amazing dinner with dessert in 30-45 minutes. And she loves it. Never complains. She’ll eat a meal somewhere, like it, but find a way to make it better so she loves it. Despite living in Italy for three years, traveling around Europe and living in big cities here in the States, I’ve never had a better meal than one my grandma made. And for that, we’re all screwed. I go into a new restaurant with limited hopes and expectations. I’ve had many amazing experiences with food throughout my life and I’m grateful to have found an authentic Italian spot in Riccardo’s.

I first delighted in Riccardo’s exquisite cuisine while celebrating a mutual anniversary with dear friends during their visit to the windy city. My friend is also Italian with an awesome grandmother who makes delectable sauce, so we both enter Italian restaurants with a sense of wonder. I did some searching and found Riccardo’s quaint location in East Lincoln Park, where Clark street meets Dickens. With a very small, navy awning with yellow letters, Riccardo’s unassuming facade is warm and welcoming. As soon as I entered, I transported to a different time and place. I was back where I feel a big chunk of my heart still lives, in the land of passion and pasta: Italy.

With tall ceilings, curved architecture and large paintings on the walls, Riccardo’s is cozy and bustling, seating roughly 60 people max. There’s staff of all ages, a testament to a family run institute, many of them speaking Italian, laughing with the customers and providing knowledgable, sound advice on which amazing items from their menu to try. I’ve been back 6-7 times and I still can’t get enough. I’ve taken my very selective grandmother, mother and family members, all of which ooed and ahhed at the pure bliss entering their mouths. Can’t wait to go back.

Riccardo’s is special. It’s a splurge. When we’re aiming to save we’ll elect their tasting menu. For $33 you select a 1st, 2nd and dessert course. You’re greeted with prosecco and amazingly fresh bruschetta. Their house wines are as good as anything I had in Italy and they have a wide selection should you desire something specific. On our multiple visits, our group has enjoyed veal meatballs in osso buco sauce (remember, Italians eat everything. They value quality, natural ingredients and they honor the life they’re eating.), gnocchi with wild oxtail, fried zucchini flowers with prosciutto and mozzarella, garbanzo flour crepe with wild boar sausage and fava beans, papardella with pork cheeks in chianti sauce, vitella tonnato, beef carpaccio, spaghetti carbonara, risotto with porcini mushrooms, pork tenderloin with parmesan risotto and oven potatoes, and much, much more.

My god I am salivating as I type! I must go back immediately. Truth: I cried the first time I experienced Riccardo’s. All the elements of our dining experience were so spot on, of such high quality and I really just felt nostalgic for Europe. There’s no rush when you eat. You sip wine, laugh, savor each succulent bite and moan the entire way through. Their tiramisu is as authentic as I’ve had, as good as my dear Italian friend who labored over it lovingly for one of our last meals as residents. You walk out onto Chicago’s beautiful streets, slowly sauntering off your epic meal, just as the Italians would do.

It pains me to see people choose mediocrity. Please know that Olive Garden could not be farther from authentic Italian and most American restaurants claiming to make genuine food straight from mamma’s kitchen are bullshitting us. There are certainly spots all around the country who focus on quality of ingredients and superb execution of their chosen recipes. They’re usually family run and less easy to find, but they’re there, and they’re worth every mile you drive and every penny you spend. You have one life. Eat, drink, laugh and love well. You deserve it. Give yourself the gift.

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