In Praise of Men: A New Story

Bradely CooperBenedict Cumberbatch

Brad PittChanning Tatum

Steve CarellShai Lebeouf

Mark RuffaloMichael KeatonBest David Oyelowo

What do these actors have in common? Ok, all of them are incredibly handsome thanks to the photographer who edited these “manly-men” into stardom. No one really knows what they look like as real people who get up on the wrong side of the bed or have a bad hair day, no one can envision them while spitting in the sink or going a few days without a shower. Oh and we speculate, believe me.   But, in the end they stay iconic on the screen for us to project all our ideas of “what a real man is anyway”?  Until this last film year.  The story has changed.

This past year something happened. It is part of a bigger gender shift. A bigger shift of the heart. The stereotype of the man who saves the day, the hero that we worship, the protector, the provider, the man who is Knight, King, Hero, or the Lover began to crack under the weight of it all. (not in Marvel Comic movies but we want it that way) Not only did these actors each jump over a cliff and become a broken version of any one of these male stereotypes during this last year in film, but they showed that underneath the roles, the expectations and the demands for what a man should be, is a human being carrying a different kind of weight: Psychological scars, forgotten emotions, a guarded heart and soul pain. These actors are the caricatures of a global “coming out” of sorts. Portraits of men in turmoil, suffering, pain and loss, having carried the crippling stereotypes for centuries. These warriors, businessmen, fighters, heroes, fathers, sons, husbands, soldiers and leaders each reveal a story that is rewriting itself.

Although the movie “Unbroken” did not win any awards or even a nod at the Golden Globes, the title alone could be why. The movies that have made a mark in film this year, have catapulted these male stars into a kind of acting that sets them apart, is expressly because all their amazing performances are about being… broken.

This is how film is perched on the edge of our changing collective consciousness and takes big bold brush strokes and paints a global picture for us to use as a mirror: Namely, that men are waking up, falling apart and choosing to break out of the stereotypes for the male gender that is in the process of being deconstructed all over the world.  Men are breaking down and trying to remember who they really are. We have leaned on “new models” for men through the gay debate, with pacifists, the younger generation, the metro-sexual revolution, through the alternative approaches to relationships in general in order to anchor the changes that are afoot.

We see the emergence of new ways of being for men in all these examples, but it has not been till now that the mainstream “John Wayne’s” of this world began to break out of their box which was made by society for the good of society. Well that was the thought anyway. But now we are seeing that all those “manly men” around the world are coming out of the closet of their own denial, their own hardships, their own illusions, having fought the good fight or towed the line and now we are hearing the other side of their story which in many cases is full of sadness, tragedy and fear. We all need to listen. And there is nothing more life changing than seeing all these themes projected onto an IMAX screen.  There is no running away.

The movies that have sparked this conversation and truly cranked up the quality of movie going a bunch of notches are listed below. In my opinion, everyone should see them all.

Foxcatcher: Steve Carell is a man so stripped of his own identity and carrying the identity of the entire Du Pont family that he is lost under a blanket of family power and limitless money but without a conscience which has created a mental instability that ultimately end in tragedy. John Du Pont played by Carell, has it all and nothing at all.

Foxcatcher: Channing Tatum who has always been a pretty boy in movies is a wrestler that has no sense of who he is apart from the sport he plays. He is so out of touch with his own talent and his own skills that he wanders between one authority figure and another just trying to do the right thing, but with no voice of his own. His brother, played by Mark Ruffalo, struggles to keep his brother on track as his coach, tries to have a work life and a be a good father and husband and yet is seduced by money which ultimately will be the death of his ideals.

American Sniper with Bradley Cooper is heartbreaking as we watch a loving man buy into becoming the soldier and going four tours to Iraq since he wanted to be patriotic. He kills over 160 men women and children as a sniper and loses his soul. The ravages of PTSD and the lost ability to have emotions or feel at home even when back in the good ole US of A is what he earns by becoming a killing machine for his country.

Birdman with Michael Keaton is a painful portrait of a man’s lost identity, his failing life, his crippled relationships as he tries one more time to be relevant, important, talented and famous and simply figure out who he is. One of the very best movies of the year.

Nightcrawler is the most efficient portrait of a sociopath played by Jake Gyllenhaal who only wants to be “important in life” and who will go to any length to achieve this. His portrayal of a damaged man “faking his life” and feeding off the misery of others untill he gets what he wants at any cost, is nothing short of brilliant and a little terrifying since he is very much like most of the leaders in our country.

Fury is all about war and the soul. Brad Pitt and the amazing Shia Lebeouf reveal the underbelly of the warrior and war itself. Shattered, spiritually destitute these men try doing their job and holding onto even a little humanity along the way. They do not succeed. This is all about the wounded soldier. as is American Sniper. This is the single largest archetypal wound for men in our culture.

The Imitation Game is riveting and true. But the character played by Benedict Cumberbatch is all about being a “different sort of man”, oddly out of sorts with society, a genius who was responsible for turning the tide of WWII and finding that there was no place for him in the world post war.

Selma is a look at the deep internal struggle for Martin Luther King played by David Oyelowo who did a five-star performance in a five-star movie and brought three days in the 60’s back into our consciousness, since we are still fighting the fight for freedom in a hundred ways every day in our world.

So for the women who have always wanted a man who could reveal his emotions, who would stand for justice without killing, who had integrity and creative passion, who protected all of life, not just freedom, who laughs, plays, sings, dances with life, these few actors are telling a story that is all about the shift away from the stereotypical man of our culture, to the man of the future. Women have always wanted more. And it seems that now men do as well. More than ever before.  I cannot wait to see what is next.


The Telling Room

selectric typewriter

My generation had no idea that the age of the computer was coming or what it would mean. Back then spelling was a mandatory class we took. We could not go into middle school without getting a passing grade in “penmanship”. I remember practicing my upper case and lower case letters on lined paper over and over again until all my words flowed like little art forms onto the page without effort. The act of writing with a favorite pen and crafting a story for school magically changed brain chemistry and balanced right and left-brain. But, now days, writing on anything other than a computer is rare and making up stories is becoming rare as well.

Then in college we had Selectric Typewriters that were all the rage, which replaced the typewriters that had spools of carbon ribbon used by Hemingway. Then came the Brother Word Processor and life was about to change forever.

Fast forward to my daughter’s generation who had computers in school, spell-check and there were no spelling and grammar classes or cursive in school. In fact unintelligible printing replaced cursive and the intimate relationship between a well-sharpened pencil tucked neatly in a row inside of a wooden pencil box put to a blank piece of paper all but disappeared. In fact reading books began to disappear and daydreaming and imaginative story telling was capsized by video games and television.

The art of storytelling is under siege and in fact the power of storytelling is rapidly becoming a lost personal art, and an underutilized healing tool in our society. Even movies are slowly giving way to franchised super hero trilogies and beyond that dominate the world of storytelling on the big screen.

But, there are those who want to teach storytelling to kids and young adults as a means to unlock creativity, unleash personal power and heal lives. One such teacher and writer is Susan Conley, a co-founder of The Telling Room, a creative writing lab in Portland, Maine who believes in the power of stories to transform lives and change communities.  She also believes that writing and storytelling healed her from cancer. Here is her story on TED:

Susan served as the executive director of The Telling Room for its first two years of life before moving to China, where she wrote a memoir titled The Foremost Good Fortune (Knopf, 2011). This book chronicles the years Susan, her husband and two young boys lived in Beijing, learned Mandarin, set out on The Hunt for the Greatest Dumpling in China, and contended with Susan’s cancer diagnosis. The book was excerpted in The New York Times Magazine and The Daily Beast and was voted a Goodreads’ Choice Award Winner for Best Travel and Outdoor Books of 2011.

Susan has been the recipient of two MacDowell Colony residencies, a Breadloaf Writer’s Fellowship and a Massachusetts Arts Council Grant. Maine Today Media gave Susan a 2011 “Greatest Women of Maine” Award. A graduate of Middlebury College and San Diego State University, Susan has taught creative writing and literature seminars at Emerson College, as well as at Harvard’s Teachers as Scholar’s Program. She continues to teach all flavors of writing workshops at The Telling Room and has a novel forthcoming from Knopf in the spring of 2013. Susan lives in Portland with her husband, Tony Kieffer, and their two boys ages 9 and 11, who are avid story tellers themselves and not at all sick of dumplings.

Quantum Storytelling


I sat in a kind of stupor as the credits rolled, the crowd silently leaving the theater. I had a feeling that being in Oklahoma at the time, the majority of the moviegoers were baffled by what they had just seen. No one was talking, something had happened. I was the only one still in my seat. I had sat through three hours and two full bags of popcorn watching Interstellar. Not because Matthew Mcconaughey is beautiful or talented but because I knew that embedded in this film was far more than star power.

I am not going to review the movie here. But, I want to talk about how story can wake you up. Interstellar was written and directed by the Christopher Nolan who did Inception. Most of us know how it felt to watch that movie and witness something just outside of our grasp, but mesmerizing and intriguing enough to keep us glued to our movie seat. Interstellar was no different for me but far more powerful since it is a premier example of how story can change us at every level. I mean really change us.

That any filmmaker would attempt to take me into the heart of quantum physics and nudge me toward a new and more defined perception of time and space gets my attention. Flaws of moviemaking aside, I loved one particular thing about this story: That it revealed what the shift on our planet and in our own DNA as humans may be all about. And that is powerful.

I find myself gravitating to substance instead of the entertainment value of story. And Interstellar seemed to allow me to sink into the big questions of life, the unanswered questions, the heroic ones and the questions we all fear to really look into the heart of.   Questions of where do we come from, why are we here, what is god, are we alone in the Universe, what is beyond three dimensional existence, is there more than one Maya in the solar system and what does relativity and gravity have to do with everything? As for me, those are the only questions I am interested in.

So when I took the leap three months ago out of the world of psychotherapy and embraced what I truly love the most in life, I did so with the understanding that story would heal us as individuals and story would heal the planet in ways that are ineffable, illusive, complex and sometimes simply a mystery.

I held up a torch in my life to ask for stories to come to me. I held tight to my deep love and passion for stories of transformation, survival, hope and love as the greatest power in the Universe as I intended to write only these stories, and help others bring their amazing adventures and dreams into reality. I got far more than I bargained for. Gratefully.

People from all over the world are finding me in some of the most unusual ways. Phone calls and emails from those who suddenly feel ready to reveal secrets of the Universe only they have been entrusted with, stories of unparalleled heroism that will change lives and creative dreams and fantasies that speak to transforming our own natures from war to love, and from fear to magic.

I am pausing to allow myself to feel how very important each one of these stories are and how I can be a part of birthing weapons of mass love and power which is the medicine our planet needs. Medicine the storyteller needs as well, which will affect them on the deepest level imaginable and affect the lives of their families.

Storytelling is a sacred event. I cannot urge everyone enough to begin to see the stories that you have lived or imagined as sacred energy that you were entrusted with long before you were born.   You alone are the keeper of your own unique story of bravery, courage, pain and suffering, triumph of the spirit, love and lost love, finding god or becoming god.

The energy inherent in a great story or film creates a resonant response in our physical bodies, our thoughts and our hearts. That resonant energy begins a cascading shift and change in our own cellular nature. We are not only changed emotionally or intellectually when we read or watch an amazing story, we are changed energetically and physically. This is why I would always caution against the Horror and Death Film. We are changed in ways that only fear can accomplish when we subject ourselves to the images that these films provide in abundance.

And fear releases adrenaline and then fear becomes an addiction to the thrill of the adrenaline. In the end we are physically, emotionally and spiritually changed. The same can be said for the stories that we need far more: Stories of love and hope and courage. Stories of overcoming the unthinkable.

So, I am blessed to be given the opportunity to help any storyteller birth what is uniquely their primary and most powerful contribution to their legacy on this planet: A personal story that will resonate with the people who have simply been waiting for your story and just have not known it.

Later this week I will post under Screenplays the movies that are must sees and the books that should be movies. We all need food for the soul since our souls are under siege by technology and a planet in peril. Your story is a life raft, is a story to help each of us remember who we are, who we were born to be and who we have yet to become. Bravo to our brave storytellers.

Find your voice