Happiness Is Like A Bowl Of Pasta

Posted under Uncategorized by CLowell on Tuesday 3 June 2014 at 5:34 pm

PastaIncreasingly I see the word happiness bantered around like it’s an entitlement. I hear people talk about it as though it were a plate of pasta, and perhaps, that’s not too far off the mark.

To feel true happiness, one must also be prepared to feel the rest of the emotional spectrum. Only then can we define what happiness is and be present enough in the moments that we actually feel it—to appreciate it. A great bowl of pasta is only as good as its comparison to other meals that may have missed the mark.

Moments of happiness are in fact earned gifts. These full rapture moments are rewards for being vulnerable enough to accept the full human experience. Striving exclusively for happiness however, is a bit like striving for a sexual orgasm. You hope you have one when your engaged, but you can’t build a life around a momentary feeling or one aspect of the human experience, and if you’re not in the moment, the intimacy of it will elude you despite best efforts.

For me…happiness is a fulfillment of earned answers. It’s that feeling that I’m doing the very best I can and knowing it to be true. It’s those moments when I’m not dodging, I’m not pretending and I’m not in denial of anything. It’s an earned awareness that I’m open to feeling the entirety of what being human is— the hardest journey known to humankind.

Happiness is not and cannot be a sustained state. It can be an affirming crescendo, a moment where empathy, humility and grace come together in those rare moments that move us, lift us out of our messy human individually and into a momentary state where we understand that we are all, in fact, connected. It’s that rare moment when we, for a split second, drop our drama, our ambition, our egos and transcend the confines and the mortal web that is the social behavior trap we collectively have built and perpetuate.

Like a great dish of pasta, happiness is sensational (if not euphoric) now and then. However, as a steady diet, it quickly grows tiresome. Like carb-overload happiness can become unhealthful if not addictive. Suddenly the special thing it once was–looses its “treat-factor”. The more we force to sustain it, the more guilt we eventually feel. More guilt leads to self-incrimination, then to resentment and finally self-recrimination.

Perhaps it’s the more complex state of “Joy,” that better serves us. Joy in knowing we are destined to fail but the odds of excelling are just as plausible too. Joy is the ability to learn how to do things well no matter how seemingly mundane. Joy is the ability to be grateful at all times because gratitude allows us to better prioritize the short moments we exist here, putting “meaning” at the top of the list.

“Joy” is the ability to understand that life as a journey not a competition. It’s the ability to re-think ‘chore’ by employing our natural creativity to take what might be considered beneath us and elevating it to a human art instead.

It’s finding joy in hoeing the earth for the wheat, weeding the rows in the hot sun so the basil will grow, spreading the manure so the tomatoes ripen. Then giving the sauce the proper time and patience it deserves to mellow in its complexity. Only then, for one brief moment, in the company of friends with happiness emanate…is it ready to be shared. It’s one, disproportional moment, where only you can truly appreciate that the plate of pasta they will consume in a matter of delicious moments, took an entire summer of toil to get there, does fleeting happiness reward the sustainable joy.

Later,
Christopher Lowell

The first step in the reinvention process is to stop pushing the spiritual snooze button.

Posted under Uncategorized by CLowell on Wednesday 16 April 2014 at 9:42 pm

The first step in the reinvention process is to stop pushing the spiritual snooze button.

Hi everyone,

You know how important I feel it is to never simply let life happen, but to take charge and make it happen. Setting the groundwork for each new phases of one’s life is essential if the true desire is to continue to live a meaningful existence. By meaningful I mean one that continues to challenge and educate versus keeping us trapped in old comfort zones.

Today, we watch others reinvent all the time now. In a social media-driven world we are bombarded with personal stories of people making huge changes in their lives to the point where we’re almost numb to these ‘transformation stories.’ These pithy, viral 15-minute accounts of people’s lives never tell the whole story nor do they offer any templates for others to reinvent, because there are none.

Yes, we share the fact that we are all human. However our individual experiences are different (no matter how hard we fight for external uniformity and acceptance) and each internal heart is one of a kind. While we all (hopefully) have a sense of right and wrong, we all rationalize and manifest our mortality, morality in basic MO in completely different ways too.

Only we individual human beings know when it’s time to reinvent whether we ever actually do anything about it or not. There’s an innate trigger in us that starts churning and suddenly there are days when we’re acuity aware of what isn’t working in our lives.

It shows up as discontent first. Being human, we tend to go directly from discontent to martyrdom because often that’s all we know. Truth is, it’s actually not discontent even though it feels like it. What it is, is the preverbal ‘wakeup’ call from the heart. It’s the spiritual heart (connected to the whole universe) checking in with the intellectual head (connected only to our direct human experience). It’s the soul really saying, “Hey, how are you? Are you happy with your choices so far? Are you getting restless? Are you ready to push forward into new territory yet?”

Our gut reaction from our logical head is usually, “Yes I’m discontent, who isn’t, I’d change things if I could but I can’t”. Meanwhile, our heart nudges again.

Like pushing the snooze button on the alarm clock we often go back to spiritual sleep versus putting our feet on the floor and saying, “Okay you’re right, we DO have to review things!”

Therefore, the first step in the reinvention process is to stop pushing the spiritual snooze button.
Then the stark reality phase (we tend to avoid) begins. During this period, rather then focusing on what we don’t have (which we ‘victim mentality’ humans do) we should be making a list of what we’ll need for the new journey ahead. ‘Don’t’ means we won’t but ‘need’ keeps the door open for possibilities that help us begin the ‘life inventory’ phase.

We have to unpack the bags from the old life. We have to edit the old standby tools that worked once but no longer apply. We then have to repack new personal APPS that, while untested might better serve us better once we get beyond our ‘same-old’ comfort zone and step out into a new world where we begin to make new choices and begin living life with joy versus fear.

Christopher Lowell.

Have Yourself a Merry LITTLE Christmas

Posted under Reflection,Santa Fe by CLowell on Friday 13 December 2013 at 12:22 pm

For years many of my holiday parties were planned to also fill content needs for a variety of different things connected to my various businesses.  Often we were doing Christmas in August to feed the press with holiday ideas so by the time December rolled around I was so over it all that I usually used the few weeks to travel.

Finally the time came when I didn’t have to worry about ‘party planning decor’ for anyone but myself and business co-workers/friends.  But by then I’d set the bar of perfection so high that those same guests expected the same big hoopla.  So a few more holiday seasons went by where I did not want to disappoint…half ego and half because I just couldn’t stop until the finished product looked like a magazine layout.   After the all-day open house finished, everyone went home.  Being single with family on the other side of the continent I just stood and stared at it all wondering if I had in fact totally lost it!

Then came the years when I didn’t have to decorate with so much as a pine cone if I didn’t want to.  But being ceremonious and a bleeding heart sentimentalist, I did a fresh tree with nothing on it but white lights and it was stunning. I filled a bowl or two with Christmas bulbs and dried pomegranates strategically placed, and an organic wreath on the door.   I always made sure I had firewood and fresh candles if people happened to drop by.  I’d crank up the holiday music and bob’s your uncle.

I was amazed at just how little I had to do to give the house a bit of Christmas spirit, especially if I also had cinnamon apple cider steeping on the stove top.  I realized that this business of turning one’s home into Bloomingdale’s or Santa’s village was so not necessary.  The smell of pine and spice, a warm fire, little white lights, shiny bulbs here and there and carols playing was all I had to do to make it feel like Christmas.

When I moved to Santa Fe, the whole town, with its snow frosted adobe structures, red chili ristras everywhere and Southwest interiors already filled with touches of woven blankets, Native American baskets crammed with firewood and paper bags with sand and candles tracing the rooftops and lining pathways…it was more fun being out in it all, than home.

Now I realize that there are a vast many people who adore the holidays, have family and children to consider and wait the whole year to start the decoration process.  But increasingly there are the same amounts of people who, for a variety of reasons, are alone and feel bad that they can’t duplicate their Christmases of the past.  Often decorating the house for one person can be even more depressing than if you simply did nothing.   I’ve learned that Christmas is a shared experience but it doesn’t mean you can’t share it with people other than blood relatives.

Here in Santa Fe I visit the festooned hotels, meet local folks for drinks in the festive atmosphere of guests coming and going.  It’s something I highly recommend for people who are alone. Don’t stay home or feel you can’t go out by yourself.  People are in generally more festive moods and great spirits. At your favorite hotel you can meet people from all over along with the locals who you never see out at any other time all for the small price of a few glasses of wine.

 

If you’re friendly and radiate warmth you’d be surprised at people you’ll meet who will want to continue the fun with you and invite you to their homes…their Bloomingdale’s and Santa’s villages.  Better yet you can meet people whose friendships can last all year long.

Merry Christmas!

Christopher Lowell

 

Santa Fe Update

Posted under Creativity,Dreams,Home Design,Inspiration,Reflection,Santa Fe by CLowell on Friday 18 October 2013 at 3:21 pm

It’s now been five years since I left the world of daily television and the bubble of LA to journey here, into the wilds of New Mexico. I’d outgrown my pot so to speak and I needed to do some serious gardening, as we all must. Often it requires a total transplant to give the root ball a new place to regenerate itself. Some plants thrive in cramped quarters while some need expanse to re-germinate. But new life can’t happen without the faithful process of re-tilling, re-fertilizing, re-pruning and re-cultivating what lies dormant beneath the black topsoil.

In a world of ‘instant’, this dormant time seems like an eternity and why so few embark on the reinvention process. In truth, chipping away at it every day takes about six years. While working here in Santa Fe with local artists, that magic number seems to ring true over and over again. It certainly has with me. When I first left LA some 20 years ago, life took me to Chagrin Falls, Ohio. I used that little town to incubate a new idea. Sure enough it was in the sixth year that the idea was ready to implement and I bought my plane ticket. When I landed back at LAX in 2001, I remembered feeling that if I could actually get a program on the air that could inspire viewers to find their own inner creativity, that no matter what it took, it would be worth it.

I wanted to prove that authentic inspiration could happen on commercial television in a way that gave viewers a real focus and practical tools to make real changes in their lives—not just a lot of lofty, ‘know-thyself’ hyperbole that required a kind of soul-searching that audiences at that time were simply not prepared for. The idea wasn’t to make people sitting on their couches MORE depressed about what they didn’t know about themselves, but to actually get them up OFF that couch. I wanted to get them motivated enough to even move it around a little and see what physical change, no matter how small, looked and felt like. I wanted to attempt ‘healing from the outside in’, using the home as the incubator to provide tangible proof of the creative power within all of us.

At the time, reinventing an entire genre by blending over-the-top ‘silly’ with poignant motivation and practical how-to into an effective story arc that could foster positive change had simply never been done before. Trying to explain it to network executives in the days when early cable TV was just a placeholder took an onslaught of passion, sleight of hand, patience and the covert infiltrating of many camps to finally pull off.

Snail mail still ruled, social media seemed like a fad, Oprah hadn’t yet made spirituality cool, and ‘reality TV’ didn’t even exist. But, under the radar screen, with no budget, a little duct tape and as much heart and imagination as we could muster, we began.  At the end of a remarkable decade on TV we’d accomplished what we’d set out to do, having pushed the media as far as we could. So far, in fact, that my creative roots were crammed so tight I could hardly breathe. TV was changing, an economic meltdown loomed and the spotlight heat-lamps were starting to singe my leaves, which frankly needed to be whacked off at their base. I knew that my next six-year cycle lay ahead.

Meanwhile, this thing called social media had captured my imagination. I remember thinking as I drove out of LA and the dwarfing vista of New Mexico came into view, that it would take time, but social media could change the very face of how we would communicate in the future. What we could not do on TV through the pervasive filters of the networks might one day be possible. In the interim, going away, staying away and entrenching myself in the potential of this new media seemed intrinsically right.

Last year we saw our first compelling sign. My sister, Laura, called and said, “Oh my gosh, the word ‘curation’ has finally made its way into the web vernacular”. It’s a word I’ve been using in media since the late 90’s. All it actually meant (for those of us with histories in TV) was real ‘producing’ — meaning web users were finally demanding more than just two guys and a camcorder. They were ready for talented professionals to deliver intentional, multifaceted and more nuanced programming. They finally wanted well-crafted aha-filled segments with smart, cohesive ideas delivered in the most entertaining way possible. Hello?

The next question Laura asked was, “Are you willing to do it all over again?” Was I ready to reinvent HOME on the internet the way you did on TV?  My answer was no.  The last thing I want to do at this stage in my life is either re-create the past, or retrofit an old TV model (where the politics is often harder than producing the programming) into a new more interactive media.  Did I have the passion to create something new in a new medium that could teach a new generation about the power of creativity? Yes, of course.

In the past years here in Santa Fe, I’ve done far more than just think about it. Over the next months, I’ll begin to quietly test the waters with a new concept. But just like those early days of cable, I’ll need your help because to make it work will require lots of your participation since, as usual, it’s never been done before. I’ll say no more now, but with the new look of our site here, we’ll be launching another brand new platform too…one baby step at a time.

So stay tuned…

Christopher Lowell

Words Without Intent

Posted under Inspiration,Reflection,Santa Fe by CLowell on Thursday 22 August 2013 at 10:33 am

You know we hear parents say to their kids all the time, “Use your words.” Yet increasingly in social media I see adults abusing them. Now that everyone can anonymously log on and let instantaneous opinions rip on anything and everything the barrage of people randomly typing has become numbing. Words without intent are losing their impact. Words with the wrong intent are increasingly becoming more damaging. In this race to get ‘Likes’ and ‘Followers’ words are used often to bait response rather than to simply share points of view. More time seems to be spent using words to react rather than putting into the world interesting ideas, well thought out concepts and compelling questions that help focus on what’s important.

When I look back at my own life I see this vision of myself as a passionate youth (misguided or not) talking, talking, talking — with great animation, hands flailing and a posture intent on being theatrically as compelling as possible.

When I look at my middle years where my job was to create pithy and meaningful content 24/7. I remember its initial thrill but soon found out how hard it was to put ideas out there to millions of people on-demand each and every day. There were weeks when I was spot on….then weeks where I was on automatic pilot. As an inherently people pleasing person, with a disproportionate amount of insight, I was the go-to person for dispensing advice and thought that I was using my words for the good when in fact it gave me purpose and identity.

As I’ve moved into this part of my life I see how actions are even more important than those words and that it’s the intent behind every word that becomes far more powerful. I’ve joined the ranks of those older people who say little. There are people I may have misjudged in my youth. People who frustrated me because I couldn’t elicit their response or felt judged in their silence. I get it now. I understand that no matter how relevant words can be, one can only answer a question that’s actually been asked.

So today I work hard on the intent behind the words I say and the language I use. When I see overly chatty adults of similar age being verbose and theatrical, I tend to recoil. I see that they’ve lost the meaning behind their words in favor of hearing themselves talk and in so doing make others feel uncomfortable with what they spew, coming off as more personal drama than contributive conversation.

In an age where words are now hurdled at us at lightning speed and a comment, good or bad, written in one second, becomes part of a never ending scroll that disappears down the page, we might want to spend more time defining who we are first, what things really mean to us personally and if in fact we actually do have something to say before we say it.

Christopher Lowell

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Why Can’t Kids Leave the Nest?

Posted under Family,Home Design,Inspiration,Reflection by Christopher Lowell on Thursday 8 August 2013 at 10:31 am

I don’t have children so this could seem like a ‘loaded gun’ topic for a non-parent. However I do know, having talked to many kids (including in my own family), having done shows on the topic and having been an odd child myself, that getting out into the world is no longer that cut and dry, sink or swim preposition it once was. Fear is fear and it breeds with either not enough information, or way too much of it at the wrong time, manifesting in two completely different ways.

For example, I was born one of those kids who arrived here scared from the very beginning. Call it baggage I brought with me? Who knows where we come from when we arrive here or where we go when we leave here. We all have our own beliefs concerning these great universal questions that have confused, intrigued and dominated the minds of we humans since the beginning of time.

In my world the fears that plagued kids were questions of the unknown. Everything was new and left to our imaginations because information was scarce. The world was just changing with social unrest; women’s liberation, the hippie culture, civil rights and world domination occupied the headlines and our juvenile consciousness. We heard our parents quietly talk about these things in the other room. These were issues that were mass fears and incubated by too little information. With no internet or private sounding boards, the question of the 60’s was ‘what’s going to happen to us as a nation and a species?’ The individual questions of personal ‘happiness’ were back-burnered in favor of global fears like nuclear war, Viet Nam and basic survival.

Kids today, however, are dealing with the more intrinsic devastatingly personal issues that come with way too much information at their way too inappropriate disposal. Their access to all information at their immediate fingertips is more than we got in ten years of “real” world living.

We got disappointed, disenchanted and blind sided in doses… increments that were in sync with the rate we matured. Kids today don’t get that filtered and earned ‘school of hard knocks’ privilege. They can Google anything, see anything…EVERYTHING! Their often-unsupervised information retrieval happens on their beds in what was for us, our pink and blue bedrooms amongst our stuffed toys and model airplanes.

Movie media ratings, the laws that supposedly govern minors and make adults feel somehow in control… are gone. We only pretend out of our own sheer mortification that these faux preventative laws are effective. But as long as a child has a smart phone today, if they can think it, they can see it.

As a very hyper-imaginative, curious and already spooked child I would have been devastated. Every click of the mouse pad would have given me enough ammo to be convinced that the world really was crazy, that what I only thought was myth or legend was actually real, that I didn’t amount to a hill of beans and beyond my parent’s front door was an insurmountable nightmare.

This is the first unfiltered generation coping with the inappropriate information overload alone, by themselves. A recent documentary, Sexy Baby (HBO), deals with this very issue and a must-see for any hardline parent that still uses the phrase, “Well, when I was a kid…” with exasperation or as a weapon.

Don’t get me wrong, it drives me nuts that, while members of my own family struggle to put food on their tables, their kids take five years longer to get their first job and contribute to the household they still live in. But in the end (no matter what kids say) it’s not that they won’t take jobs (like flipping burgers) because they feel it’s beneath them. The same jobs we were desperate to get when we were kids because we couldn’t wait to get out into that unknown world.

Sure they have a million excuses that make us apoplectic. They come off smug, entitled and brilliant freeloaders. But we have to see beneath the seeming arrogance to the paralyzing fear beneath that comes with seeing too much. Like it or not we have to come to terms with the fact that we never had to deal with seeing a constant graphic depiction of the worst of humanity all over the globe because we clicked the wrong search button just trying to find information to help us with our homework.

Sure parenting could be better in some households but this is even bigger than ‘parents’. It’s a global assault that has to be dealt with and language to our children with candor versus denial or embarrassment. In a world where porn is actually part of kids’ lives, and proof of no consequences for bad behavior is only a click away, we have to buck up and love these kids through arrested development… walking a mile in their bewildered shoes. They may look like adults but…

Christopher Lowell

Going Green Isn’t For Sissies

Posted under Gently Used & Recycled,Home Design by Christopher Lowell on Monday 22 July 2013 at 10:10 am

I was recently booked for a show called Going Green. At first I told my publicist that I was hesitant to accept the interview because for designers this issue is a loaded gun fraught with complications and unrealistic expectations.  While everyone’s heart is in the right place at the start, the expenses and the final results are often fraught with maddening compromises that end up re-enforcing the fact that we’re just not there yet, try as we might.   Especially with those of us who are commercial designers, where certification is taken very seriously, building 100 percent green is still almost impossible (especially on competitive, realistic budgets).  The management of a recent hotel job I did wanted to do a completely green boutique hotel in Southern California.  The budget was tight.  So, many of my custom furniture designs were slotted (by the architect and builders) for manufacturing in China.

I warned the management team that while the idea of building ‘green’ was truly noble, the only way to do it was to build everything domestically where every step could be monitored closely.  Well, to make a very long 6 month saga short, the furniture arrived and everyone was ecstatic with my designs–all except for the green inspection people who (as I’d warned) found that many non-green chemicals were used in the woods and laminates of most of the furniture even though the Chinese manufacturers had signed off on the fact that everything was ‘green.’  Green by their standards but not ours.  Well, the hotel opened and has since won many awards but the certification of green was not one of them.  Instead the hotel calls itself “environmentally conscious and green friendly” which it is.  They recycle, prompt guests to conserve resources and since the motif I designed looks very organic, no one is the wiser and at least it feels green.  I designed the hotel to look as fresh and evergreen years from now so the spaces won’t date, whereby the management might be forced to add even more non-green furnishings to the carbon footprint.

I’ve worked with residential clients who want all green home design but in the end aren’t willing to compromise with the aesthetic they had in their minds or the added expense required to build completely green.  I’m not saying it can’t be done, but it’s not for the faint of heart or the thrifty for sure.  However, that doesn’t mean we can’t do something about our environment or try to at least be conscious of our resources.

One of the greatest ways we can serve the environment is to use what’s already here, green or not.  It’s why I’m a huge fan of recycling wood, metal fittings and using resources that have been made of existing materials.  Then there’s the recent uptick in consignment shops that are popping up everywhere.  The stuff might not be certified, but at least we’re recycling and not adding to the carbon footprint.  Since the individualized look is very much the attitude of today’s interiors with cool, sometimes quirky expressions and eclecticism is very much in vogue, these consignment shops are a real blessing and full of treasures that can help tell your interior story.

‘Curating’ is the big buzzword of this decade, feeding into this, too, as people are beginning to get real satisfaction in hand choosing elements already in existence versus building custom or from scratch.  Using one’s creative eye and developing the ability to put existing things together in unusual ways is in fact a kind of art form all its own and does positively impact the environment profoundly.  Now that the negative mystique of ‘used’ has been replaced with the positive word ‘pre-owned’ and the appreciation for past design has heightened, recycling will greatly reduce the carbon footprint offering new and stylish, guilt-free options for today’s interiors.

So, if you’ve never been to a furniture consignment shop, check one out. You’ll soon discover things that are timeless, interesting and beautiful if you look closely.

Here are a few tips when shopping in those kinds of stores:

Don’t impulse buy.  Take a photo of what you’re considering with your smart phone.  If you’re afraid the item will be sold while you make up your mind, tag it with a small deposit.  Think about the purchase while in the environment that you’re going to place it to be sure it’s what you really want.

Never underestimate the time you have to refurbish something.  If an item needs work, calculate not only the time you’ll need to rehab it, but the space and the tools needed to properly get the job done.

Most consignment shops today don’t take broken items in the first place, but you must still beware and test everything like drawers, handles and basically all moving parts.

Be on guard when considering furniture that was originally ‘ready-to-assemble’.  RTA items rarely (once put together) survive being moved from place to place.

Think twice about any furniture that was made to house electronics.  As a designer of office and entertainment furniture, we’re always having to re-adapt new furniture design to accommodate new technology where cord management is critical, new air ventilation requirements are needed and ease of remote signals are part of the ever-changing equation.

In the end these re-used, recycled pieces often have something new stuff doesn’t; a pedigree and vibe of having already been lived with, loved and part of someone’s everyday history, where worn spots have been earned and the authentic signs of use are part of the charm.

These things can remind us of the difference between ‘old’ which we often fear and ‘aged’ which is often a state of earned and mellowed grace — to be prized and praised.  In these things we often see the thoughtful hand and creativity at work.  We see relevancy to the times in which these things were first made and even the whimsy and sense of humor and daring that were part of a process or the statement being made.

Honoring what’s here is often as important as searching for what’s next and new.

You can do it!

Christopher Lowell

The Lone Ranger

Posted under Creativity,Dreams,Inspiration,Reflection,Santa Fe by Christopher Lowell on Thursday 11 July 2013 at 10:35 am

Here in Santa Fe the filming business is booming… at least for the moment.  With this western, gothic Sci-Fi trend in the movies that calls for great (seemingly period-looking) expanses, New Mexico has it in spades. The Lone Ranger was filmed here, and many of us were involved specifically and indirectly.  For off beat, dusty, edge-of-the-grid series like Breaking Bad and many others in the genre we’ve become the go-to location, especially since its proximity to LA is such a quick commute. With our landscape come the quirky props and the leather faced extras that no casting agent could find anywhere else.

Naturally, I have friends who work in the movies here and even I, from time to time, do some consulting since (as some of you many know) I actually have more experience as a set designer for media than I do as an interior designer for home.  I’ve always been candid that I’m not a member of A.S.I.D. but rather S.A.G. (Screen Actors Guild), a distinction I don’t mind correcting people on because anyone who has ever worked as a set designer for legitimate stage, TV and film wears the badge of honor and can easily make the transition to residential interior design if they so choose.  And many have — going all the way back to the early MGM years.  It’s a cake walk compared to the very volatile, time-compressed, high pressure, very exacting and rigorous world of media design — one that few interior designers are ever prepared for.

In their world they’re often the sole boss, and a nice lunch is included.  In the media world it’s the script, director and a whole slew of executives you’re trying to please that complicate the process while you try to serve the story.   Everything the camera sees is (or should be) a visual extension of the character that informs the audience in a way words simply can’t.  Those whom I hired to work on my show were all seasoned set designers, not interior designers.

My consulting here, however, has been more about the politics of media design and helping stressed out set dressers navigate their often impossible world.  Since for years I operated as both designer and executive producer, too, it’s given me a rather unique perspective in the art of impossible compromise.   Which is a nice way of saying that no matter what you do in media design, you’ll never get even close to what you creatively really wanted or originally envisioned.  Which is another way of saying if you don’t stay fluid, you’re screwed.

I get calls on a weekly basis from shoppers or designers in their cars who are balancing clipboards, Starbucks and cell phones, who need to vent or are hyperventilating because they have one week to create ten location sets, fully dressed and on the money, while sifting through the often abrupt, uninformed incoming text messages from the ‘office.’

They remind me daily of that world where you can’t help but take things personally but know you can’t.  It’s a world where artistic integrity seems always to clash with, well, just about everything else.  In my on-the-run therapy sessions, I’m continually telling people to breathe, put their egos in their back pockets, do the best they can while I’m helping them prioritize what are the absolute key elements required to ‘sell’ the authenticity of the (often sober and gritty) spaces they need to create.

I do this production therapy because it’s good for me, too.  It reminds me of the razor edge that sensitive creative people straddle every day.  How one’s forced to be intuitive but not let the (often abusive) experience of continual compromise harden that very gift one was hired for in the first place.

Show business is littered with hard core cynics who have compromised way too much and way too long. I’m always reminding their ‘victims’ of this cautionary tale to exercise empathy but not get caught up in the drama of it.  If it sounds like a huge life metaphor, well it is.  Often, the very people who oppress us simply don’t realize they do it.  They’ve turned the corner that we never should.  People who abuse us are often abused themselves or have been too abused by others in the past;  meaning that they got their feelings hurt traumatically too early in life to have gained the experience with which to process the situation.  As a result they pass on the still-not-dealt-with to those around them.  It’s simply a sign of a broken heart that was never protected.

You can’t change them in a business setting, though Lord knows I’ve made the mistake of trying.  So what do you do?  You work hard to develop a richer inner life that keeps this crazy world and the people who live and die by its rules out ‘there’, but don’t let their agenda-laden reality crowd or shut down your soul.  However you have to feed the kitty.  You have to make time to arm the heart you’re protecting with the fuel it needs to combat the outside world.  Read things that inspire you, versus finding people to bitch to.  Start working on a personal dream of yours so your soul can go there in your head while someone is pummeling you.  Get to that grateful place each day if only for a moment to give thanks that you know the difference between inner spirit and faith and the often cruel man-made forces that encircle you.

And above all never chastise yourself when your feelings get hurt, like it’s some kind of weakness, when it’s actually a good sign that you’ve not hardened.  While you in fact might be given a momentary dose of disillusionment remember that it’s not a personal betrayal of your soul, but simply the outward way of the world that’s been like that since the beginning of time.

You can do it!

Christopher Lowell

PS: While the Lone Ranger never became the empowerment movie Johnny Depp had hoped for, his makeup is a great visual of the fractured outside world we wear on the surface with the human soul peeking through…which, by the way, is why he chose it.

Home of the Really Brave

Posted under Inspiration,Reflection by CLowell on Thursday 4 July 2013 at 11:49 am

I returned an email this morning in my dark bedroom, securing my 4th of July plans.  I followed the eerie blue lit path from the kitchen window weaving between the sofa arms to images of waving muddy flags, Jefferson in Paris, the signing of the Independence in a reeking stuffy blue wainscoted room full of frustrated men trying to manage their British bought horsehair wigs in the summer heat.  Exhausted and overwhelmed they pondered that the fate of a new world had just been momentarily decided.

I flashed on other crescendos that have become part of todays crepe paper, parade and potato salad celebrations .  I waited for the last sputter of the coffee to brew efficiently while watering my wilting sage plant.  The new thyme leaves were finally reaching up to meet the sun peaking over the Sandia mountain range in the far distance beyond the five miles of pinion trees.  I wondered if I had any dry mustard for the devil eggs, if I was going to make that lemon mayonnaise or just doctor the jarred stuff.  I checked the fridge for capers, wincing at the light and putting the bacon on the cutting board.

I leapfrogged to the moment when I had entered the White House with the embossed invitation in my hand that now hangs on my wall. Feeling somehow more American that a bohemian chap like me had even passed the intimidating security check, but smug in the fact that my family’s ancestral portrait of Mr. Bradford hung there in the Hall of Governors.  Strains of the Naval orchestra playing the Aaron Copland piece filtered through my head underscoring our coming down the steps from a tour of the upper rooms with the marble floor and the red carpet and receiving line forming below.

I stuck my finger in the rosemary plant trying to keep my bargain with it not to over water when the pomp of the Washington visit made me wonder what the very first night must have been like.  There, in the confusion of a half-finished White House, with men sitting on rum barrels in the dark, their horses snorting beyond the arch where the front door would be hung. Lone candles flickered on exposed beams and columns rising into the night sky pointing in the direction where the rest of the roof would soon be. They danced across plank boards, dodging around stacks of bricks over gaping holes where the floors had yet to be laid, reflecting in a courting mirror propped next to a wash basin by a crate labeled Virginia.

Sitting there alone in a cavernous space that would one day become the very symbol of this country I wonder how they felt.  No internet, no plumbing, no mail delivery, thousands of dead bodies in the path of this elusive thing called freedom. The only tools at a handful of men’s disposal was pressed paper and quills and ideas and the pressure of a fragmented group of territories waiting anxiously for their next thought — their next big idea.

Suddenly my perpetual maddening feeling for today’s reality show style politics seemed distant. I felt grateful to be reminded that there was a time when it really was just about human faith, where the idea of freedom was about the right to have an individual opinion.

What monumental concepts to be burdened with, to articulate the ideals for “We, the people”.  At a time when just not to be owned by another man or enslaved under the rule was as mind-boggling as our first trip to the moon or the Smart Phone which we curse in bad cell service areas because we can’t send our latest tweet, instantly letting the world know we just ordered a bagel that’s taking 4 EVR!

I’m just sayin’…

Happy Human Independence Day.

Christopher Lowell

If Not Now, Then When?

Posted under Dreams by CLowell on Thursday 27 June 2013 at 11:18 am

Renaissance.  The very word itself means rebirth. New start, revitalization, revival, recovery, reawakening are all synonyms for this word.  For the past 6 years I’d predicted that we were headed into one–the first in a very long time.  People thought I was nuts while all hell seemed to be unleashed all at once. But I have seen this before.  No, not the dust bowl Grapes of Wrath… I’m not THAT old.  But I do watch a lot of old movies, and that one just recently.

Everything we Americans knew and took for granted went up on the chopping block.  Homes foreclosed. Suddenly real estate investments that had been the solid American dream were no longer.  Jobs evaporated and many Americans felt humiliation and shame for the first time–but soon it was clear that they were not alone and the shared experience became a leveler for the first time.  Yet thousands scrambled just to hang on to what they had, to no avail, as many watched all they’d worked for disappear.

Lest you think I was somehow insulted–not at all.  Naturally, the last thing on people’s minds were decorating their houses.  The design goods market came to a screeching standstill. You could bowl in the aisles of now overstocked retail stores because the last thing people were thinking about was buying pretty things for their decor.  Furniture stores that had been in business for generations went belly up.  Manufacturers of home goods closed their doors.  Even TV got out of the lifestyle business, save only for HGTV, who was stuck there and who reordered their lineup to offer shows that didn’t decorate but were all about how to sell, stage or liquidate.

I still held to my belief that a renaissance was pending.  I saw the early earmarks.  I took it as a sign to retrench, rethink and wait to see how the next years ahead would change Americans who would now go though the most relevant shared experience in decades.

We’ll, we’re here now.  Limping a bit but on the other side.  We’ve looked at the jobs we do and did in a different way.  We’ve prioritized what our new ‘essentials’ are.   We’re going inward more than before, giving ourselves permission to see ourselves in a clear light.

However I worry that in our amazing resilient, adaptive way, we truy understand where we are (smack dab in the middle of new possibilities) and don’t settle out of reverberating shell shock.  I hope that what we’ve been through doesn’t have the reverse effect that it could, that it doesn’t lower our expectations for ourselves with the thinking that to just be stabilized is good enough.  I hope that having been slapped down a bit, with greater understanding of humility and the rebooting of our core values, we also remember that we are in fact now entering into a rare renaissance phase pregnant with new and vital opportunity.

It’s a time where more aerial thinking can move us farther ahead than ever before, where the internet can finally help us find the niche communities we didn’t know were out there.  We can use the web to explore ideas and garner support for our dreams versus simply talking about them or criticizing others ambitions.  Instead, use the web to find others who have gone for their dreams and ask them how they did it.

A renaissance is the ideal time to ask ourselves what it is that will make us happy, fulfill us better.  It often ushers in a new age of entrepreneurialism where we can finally muster the courage to invest in our personal desires (having less to risk with more receptivity than has been in the ethers in a long time). Where we take those long-buried big ideas we thought were so ‘out there’ and put them back on the front burner again.

If not now, then when?

The next four years will be pivotal.  What happens right now will set precedence for a very long time.  But the renaissance window of innovation, clarity and receptiveness will not stay open long so I encourage every one of you to use the time wisely.

Want to go to chef school? Want to start an online business?  Want to work on your own and be the master of your own destiny?  Now is the time to do more than just think about it… really explore those ideas that keep coming up.  If something strikes you, start by Googling it!  Reinvention starts with curiosity and a single question and the desire to know the first answer that will lead to the next… and then the next.  If not now, then when?

You can do it!

Christopher Lowell

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