Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Interview with Becca Strong of Strong Desire, Inc.

The parking lot at the Tail Swish Lounge was empty except for a dusty ‘57 Corvette in the far corner.  Becca Strong parked her Hummer in the most convenient spot, which just happened to be the handicap parking space by the door.  The Hummer was pilon-orange with chrome everywhere.

She’d been invited to do an interview with Will Jacobs for the “Personalities” section of “Family” magazine, a newspaper insert read by half the country every Sunday.  He profiled a different person each week: fading celebrities, inspiring sports figures, eccentric millionaires.  She heaved open the restaurant door and wrinkled her nose: Pine cleaner and dirty dishrag. Charming.
The only customer raised an arm in greeting.  God, what a greaseball.  She flashed him the Gracious Smile. 
“You must be Will,” she said.  “I’m so glad we could meet.”  They shook hands and sat down. 
“You’re just as beautiful in person as in your ads.”
“Thank you.” A large blue stone glowed at her neck, and she wore a tailored sun dress and strappy gold sandals.  Becca made a point of being beautiful, because brains and intimidation could only get you so far, and she was a bit spotty on charm.
A young Chicano man brought them menus, and Becca looked over the offerings:  Burger, double-burger, bacon-burger... She scanned down to the bottom of the page...bean burrito, beef burrito, beef and bean... She closed the menu and slid it to the edge of the table.
The young waiter came back, and took Will's order.
Becca asked for “Orange Pekoe, on ice, with lemon.”
The waiter looked at her dubiously, then said:  “I’ll try,” but she had already tuned him out.

“They do great burgers here,” said Will.  “I believe I’m actually addicted to them.  I sometimes wonder whether they sprinkle them with nicotine or something.”

Becca smiled noncommittally, sat back and waited for Will to finish babbling.  She’d never been any good at small talk.  Becca smiled and nodded, only half listening, resting her mind until the interview began.
“...and so I said to myself: ‘I have got to meet that woman!’”  Cue smile, that’s it, don’t look confused.  He’s talking about you.
“Well, here I am.  And I’d love to tell you about Strong Desire, Inc.
“Okay... well, the first thing I’m curious about is whether you consider yourself a spiritual leader.  There has been some controversy about whether Strong Desire is a cult.”
“No.  And no again.  Strong Desire, Inc. is not a cult.  It’s not even a religion.  This is a business, selling things.   It is a lucrative business, and I pay taxes just like everyone else.”
“You’ve helped so many people.  It interests me that you haven’t considered the advantages of tax exemption.”
“No. I knew right from the start I wanted to make money.  Of course, I do make the world a better place, but helping people is secondary."
Will scribbled something in his notebook. 

The waiter returned, thumped down a Coke and an iced tea. Becca took a sip of her drink and slid it over so that it nestled with the ketchup and sugar packets.

“But if you’re not religious, what motivates you?
“I’ve always known that the best way to earn money is to give people what they want at a reasonable price.”
“You make it sound so simple.” 
Becca shrugged one shoulder, but didn’t enlighten him.
“What kind of products and services do you offer?”
“Most of the things people buy are substitutes for what they really want, Will.   For example, a man buys a sports car because he wants virility.  Or a woman buys a dress because she wants to be beautiful.  I sell what people really want, without being coy about it. I sell sex, youth, beauty, wealth, love, comfort, direction, hope—“
“You sell hope?”
“Yes.  That’s one of my most successful product lines.  We have the more traditional products like talismans, inspirational posters, fortune-telling. Of course, there’s the new Hope Diamond jewelry line, which is merchandised alongside the Hope perfume.  Initial sales are very impressive.  And then, there are crossover products. For example, beauty products can take the form of herbal remedies, diet pills, anti-aging creams and  pheromone-enhancing perfumes, just to name a few.”

“You seem to have such a deep understanding of human nature. Do you have a background in psychology?"

“God, no.  What would I want that for?"

The waiter came back again. Will picked up his notebook to clear the way for a burger half-buried in potato wedges.

“One thing I’ve always believed,” Becca continued, “ is that people don’t need to talk about their problems.  They need them fixed.  Why would I waste years of someone’s life on ‘Counseling’ when I can sell them exactly what they need right now?"

“Of all the things people come to you for, what do people need the most?”

“People want a lot: They want to be rich and powerful and thin and beautiful and happy.  They want love and friendship and self-confidence and respect.  But mostly, I’d have to say, everyone needs to be told what to do.” 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Routine is the Birthplace of Wondrous Things

"Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans."
            --John Lennon, among other people, (although Lennon was probably the first to sing it)
Goals can be accomplished so slowly, so incrementally, that we don't even realize we've reached them.
Detours and big, big mistakes can happen the same way: we're going along, doing the best we can, trying to choose the right path day-by-day, and suddenly we're in debt or married to someone we don't love, or really, really fat. Or whatever.
Life sneaks up on you.
It's all very well to live with intention, but sometimes we get tired, we get distracted, or maybe we just deceive ourselves.
Sometimes, we accomplish a big goal, and we think to ourselves, well, that was anti-climactic. No ta-da, no splash. Just a feeling that maybe we should be more excited.
This is why ceremony is important: Marriages and birthdays, holidays and funerals are punctuation marks that give life rhythm and shape, so we can look back and say: Look here, I did this. This happened then.
But for the most part, it might not feel like you're going anywhere, even if you are. Because even the most exciting life is a life of routine. Because without routine, very little gets done. Very little of consequence, anyway.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Meaning of Life, According to Joseph Campbell

"People say that what we're all seeking is a meaning for life. I don't think that's what we're really seeking. I think what we're seeking is an experience of being alive."

We can live our lives heroically: fully, completely and truly. But if we don't have the guts for that, we can stay at home and be an example of "the dull case of the call unanswered." What call? The call to adventure. The call to risk failure and humiliation and discomfort, to risk our finances. And heartbreak. All in the name of something deeper. We have to think universally, to live large instead of just taking the easy path.

If we really want to "feel the rapture of being alive" we have to "participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world." "The attitude [of a hero] is not to withdraw from the world when you realize how horrible it is, but to realize that this horror is simply the foreground of a wonder and to come back and participate in it."

You have to transcend "the universal tragedy of man".  "It's a wonderful opera, except that it hurts."

Quotes from Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth, Episode 2; The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Ch. 1 & 2