Blog Archives

In Praise Of Friends

JG-Bid_136 I have friends who are beyond price. Real. True. Friends. Some I catch up with regularly. Some I rarely see. Some I seem only ever to connect with online. But God bless ’em, every single one of them, because I am so frequently such an inadequate friend in return. All too often I greet warmth and generosity with an awkwardness that must feel awfully like indifference. Many times my silence is all I have to give. So this is both a short essay in praise of friends and an apology.

“A friend in need is a pest” — Groucho Marx

I love Groucho and I know he was, – as always it seems about serious things – joking. But he was wrong about this. Knowing that hasn’t stopped me hiding behind this quip. I have treated friends in cavalier fashion for no better reason than their needs were “inconvenient.” Like me – and I make no other comparisons; Groucho was a genius – he was difficult. He was, despite his very public job, notoriously private. He was generous to a fault…. until he wasn’t. He was opinionated, yet fragile, smart as a whip, yet dumb as a box of rocks. He could be a dreadful friend and a trying partner. Ditto. Ditto. Ditto. Ad Infinitum.

“God gave you your family. Thank God you can choose your friends.”

— Oscar Wilde

I love Oscar too. But again – even though I know it was one of his trademark bittersweet epigrams – this misses the mark in my experience. For the most part, my family have lifted me up, just as much as my friends. They’ve so often deserved better from me. I recognize the truth of what Oscar says about choice, though. There’s something wonderful about people who’ve chosen to be in your life.

“I thought I was flying like a bird So far above my sorrow But when I looked down I was standing on my knees Now I need someone to help me Someone to help me please ”  

— Jackson Browne

I can’t possibly express the number and breadth of gifts I owe to my friends; this is a blog, after all, not War And Peace. And I’d be sure to miss someone – or something – that helped shape my life. But I can tell you about a week, one single incredible week, that prompted me to write this. During just the past seven days, I have:

  • Met with a friend who lives impossibly far away and yet has doggedly, lovingly, preserved our emotional connection. I cried when we parted.
  • Had breakfast with a friend who – despite profound difficulties in her own life –  cared only about making mine better. She has never failed to do so.
  • Sat down with a friend who shared her personal story, painful though it was,  because she believed it would help me. Experience, offered  selflessly, can be among the greatest gifts.
  • Received a heartfelt message from a friend who reached out with medical help. We share a challenging disease. But it must be said he has suffered far more severely. He just wanted to help.
  • And on and on it went. And goes on.

To all my friends. Thank you.

Trust. Allow. Get Out Of Your Own Way.



Get out of your own way.

They’re the three key precepts I always stress as an acting teacher.

Of course there is so much more to the craft of acting but I passionately believe these form the core.

My students – I teach acting for the screen – are invariably sceptical.

Almost without exception their initial reaction is; “can it really be that simple?”

The answer – surprisingly – is yes.

And no.

If you absolutely commit to the rules – particularly the third – acting for film is simple.

You’ll notice I said simple, not easy.

There’s nothing easy about acting for the camera.

The ability to give a credible, affecting, emotionally-charged, often laboriously repeated performance, hour after hour, take after take, in a highly technical environment, is high art indeed.

The moment to moment demands on a screen actor are phenomenal.

And even if he or she masters them, the camera is watching the moments between the moments for any flicker of falsity.

Just as a loving lens can be your friend, it can also be your harshest critic.

The camera actually hates acting – it can spot a “performance” a mile awayso actors can’t get caught being themselves while trying to be someone else.

In one of the profound paradoxes of the profession, screen acting demands that actors be – simultaneously – completely open, spontaneous and authentic, while at the same time having already created their character, learned their lines and “blocked” most of their movements!

How is this possible?

To paraphrase one of the giants of acting training Sanford Meisner, they do it by a staggering amount of preparation beforehand, then completely letting go during performance.

They must Trust that emotion is being conveyed without forcing it.

They must Allow whatever arises to do so organically.

And they must Get out of their own way so as not to block, censor or manufacture the process.

Only recently have I fully appreciated those same rules don’t just apply to acting; they’re a powerful template for a satisfying life.

What Your Mum – and Groucho – Didn’t Tell You About Advertising

Legendary comedian Groucho Marx once observed that television is called a medium because it’s neither rare, nor well done.

One of the many hats I wear at my multimedia production business – 4th Mesa Productions – is that of Advertising/Marketing Consultant. Another is Advertising Copywriter.

And in those capacities, very often I have to agree with Groucho.

How can we get tv – and advertisements in all mediums for that matter – so wrong?

Because we insist on doing things back-asswards, that’s how?

Here’s a typical scenario. A company decides they want to do some radio advertising. Or tv. Or print. They hold some meetings, thrash out ideas, formulate a plan of attack, then employ someone to work on a script and produce the commercials. Finally, they decide on where they want to place the ads, based on who they think will reach their customers best.

Which is precisely the wrong order!

Effective, targeted, cost-effective Advertising is all about The Three M’s.

In this order:

  1. Market. How can you possibly know how or where to pitch your message until you know who your Target Audience – your Market – is? Always start by clearly defining who you want to reach.

  2. Message. Now that you know who you wish to communicate with or convince, you can craft your message in a way that best suits them. And you can say it in ways they understand. This almost always means taking into account who or what is important to that Market. Always produce a message your Market wants to hear.

  3. Medium. With a clear Target Audience and a Message you know they’ll be receptive to, you can decide how best to reach them. Always select a Medium or Method – radio, tv, print, online, whatever – based on where your Market is most comfortable.

This is not some arcane formula.

This is not, as they say, Rocket Science.

It’s the way we seek to convince people in everyday Life!

When I wanted to propose to my amazing wife, Mary, I had a clear Target Audience.

I worked on my Message. (And believe me, I realised I had to convince not only her, but her family.)

And finally I chose the Method (Medium) I knew she would just love.

Put in those terms, it might sound manipulative, almost clinical.

It’s neither.

Believe me, Advertising 101 was the last thing going through my mind when I proposed.

Market. Message. Medium.

Who we want to engage with, what we want to tell them, then how we’ll do it.

It’s what we do – naturally – every single time we formulate a plan that’s important to us!

And almost 24 years later, I can’t imagine a good day without Mary.

Social Media? pfft. (And btw, it’s killing us.)

So called “social” media is killing us.




Talk about a killer app.

We’re FaceTextTweeting ourselves to death.


Social media is a serial killer – it’s lowering life expectancies by the millions.

We should start calling the various platforms “ANTI-social media.

It turns out that the new mediums we’ve increasingly chosen to communicate with aren’t always connecting us as we imagine.

Instead – as we sit by ourselves in front of our laptops, phones, tablets or whatever – they’re making us feel more isolated.

When we rely too much on social media, we’re lonelier, more disillusioned with our own lives, more envious of others’ and feel more and more alone.

And this kind of social alienation – according to a battery of scientific surveys – is twice as bad for us as being obese and almost as bad as smoking.

Yep, that’s right – OMG! – it’s seriously bad for our health.

Potentially deadly.

And – yes – I’m aware of the irony of posting this article online.

So, what in the world of Facebook statuses or 140 characters is going on?

Let’s get one thing straight; I’m not blaming the technology, nor am I opposed to it.

Tech is morally neutral and I freely admit I “live” on the internet.

But any new technology always arrives before its consequences, so we can rarely predict with any degree of accuracy what effects it will have.

Who could have foreseen the incredible implications of – say – the world wide web itself, for example?



The list is endless.

But in the case of social media, we can’t say we weren’t warned.

For decades, psychologists and social theorists have been warning about a coming Age Of Loneliness.

Well, now we’re in it; the evidence is overwhelming.

Study after study around the world confirm our growing sense of dislocation and alienation.

We’re feeling it in every aspect of our lives – at work, at home and even socially.

(Yes, it’s very, very possible to feel deep loneliness in a crowded room, all the while pretending to be the “life of the party.”)

Social position, financial success, talent, fame – nothing seems to insulate us.

Comedian Robin Williams – whose suicide shocked the world – admitted to a prevailing sense of sometimes unshakeable loneliness.

“I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone,” he once said, “It’s not.”

The worst thing in life is to end up with people who make you feel all alone.”

Singer Janis Joplin said shortly before her death that she was working on a tune called, “I just made love to 25,000 people, but I’m going home alone.”

Popular idols Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, and Princess Diana, were famously lonely.

Experts are scrambling to explain why – but the usual suspects are our high pressure, time-poor lifestyle, the proliferation of “stay at home” entertainment sources, the disintegration of the family unit, our increasingly transient working lives and a prevailing tendency to ask “what’s in it for me?” before anything else.

Whatever is behind the isolation epidemic, it’s not good for us, big time.

We’re social creatures and we crave human companionship.

Real, face to face human contact.

But the cyber soup of social media in which we’re swimming feels more like cement.

Or quicksand – the more we struggle, the deeper we sink.

The technology is everywhere; we feel we must be part of it.

We have to keep up.

We have to contribute or at least take part.

What are others saying, doing, sharing?

What are we missing when we’re not online?

We mustn’t be left out.

What will others think of us?

Yet the reality is that social media offers so many choices – and demands so much time and such rapid responses – we are often overwhelmed, rather than empowered, and we get stuck.

We feel damned if we do and damned if we don’t.

We are left feeling plugged in…. but tuned out.

There are, of course, many wonderful things about the communication revolution.

We can, if we choose, stay in touch with family and friends, and make new ones, anywhere, anytime.

Distance is no longer a barrier.

All we need is a basic internet connection or mobile phone carrier.

It’s instant, cheaper than it’s ever been historically, and incredibly accessible.

So why then is the most common message we sms something like; “we must catch up?”


Non committal.


We don’t make an actual appointment, a definite date, time and place but rather a vague suggestion, however heartfelt at the time.

It’s what psychologists call “distance regulation.”

We’re actually using the very technology that connects us to distance ourselves emotionally; to keep ourselves safe, to control the level of intimacy – in effect, to reinforce our isolation.

Social media has the power to do this.

Britain’s Mental Health Foundation warns; “social media users can feel forced to present idealised versions of themselves to the world and spend their time comparing their lives to other people’s at the expense of physical social interaction.

While Facebook can mean getting in touch with a loved one in a distant country, hungering for online responses is far from healthy.

While the young generation is often thought of as being the most connected, few realise quite how alienating social media and modern life can be. “

And that dislocation – say an overwhelming number of medical studies – is a ticking time bomb.

According to the prestigious New Scientist; The range of harmful neural and behavioural effects of perceived isolation include increased anxiety, hostility and social withdrawal, fragmented sleep and daytime fatigue, increased vascular resistance and altered gene expression and immunity, decreased impulse control, increased negativity and depressive symptoms, and increased age-related cognitive decline and risk of dementia.”

Collating 70 different studies involving more than three million people, a recent US University meta-study concluded:

  • loneliness increases a person’s risk of death by 26 percent

  • social isolation by 29 percent

  • and living alone by 32 percent

Specialist women’s counsellor Marian Spencer says; the younger generation are growing up in a world where interaction with others is predominantly through a screen.

“Although communication is taking place, there is no physical interaction,” she says.

It is very difficult to effectively send or receive messages correctly without facial expression or body language to help decipher the true meaning of the message.”

But it’s not all gloom and doom.

Perhaps the best news about all of this is that we are – to a large degree – in control of our engagement on social media.

And that means we can balance the negative and positive effects.

Even the most extreme prophets of digital doom aren’t recommending a permanent digital detox.

Rather, they say, awareness is the key; genuine awareness of when we’re really engaging…. and when we’re using the tech to avoid it.

When we’re neglecting other aspects of our non-digital life.

When we’re feeling addicted, compelled, rather than making a choice about social media.

And when it makes us feel worse, rather than better.

Hiding in plain sight on social media is easy.

Claiming back our real lives can be a lot more rewarding.

Our Leaders Lie. We Lap It Up.

They lie, play us for fools, change their minds on a dime and waste our money.

Sometimes they do much worse.

We wouldn’t have them as friends in a fit.

We’d avoid them like the plague at a dinner party.

So why do we keep electing them?

They, of course, are our “leaders”.

And around the world, in any era you care to name, they’re a pretty dodgy bunch.

The last person to enter parliament with honest intentions was Guy Fawkes”  – author unknown

Leaving aside their politics – this article isn’t about partisan positions, it’s more about personality types and why we support them – let’s focus firstly just on how our leaders present themselves.

After all, that’s a lot of why we voted for them, right?

Some frightening examples from the near past.

Former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher; surely among the most patronising public figures ever.

She always addressed us as a schoolmarm might tell a feeble-minded student their goldfish had just died.

Later, her successor Tony Blair would come to embody spin over substance in the most terrifying way, John Major would turn the simplest sentence into mind-numbingly dull word salad, Gordon Brown would perpetually sound angry with us – although we never knew why – and on and on it went.

In the US, former president JFK smiled a lot but was assassinated before we found out how spectacularly unfit – physically, morally and emotionally – he was for office, Richard Nixon turned looking furtive into a cringeworthy artform. Ronald Reagan made everything – from the mundane to military intervention – sound like third act exposition in a B grade movie and the less said about the personal “styles” of Bush Jr and Clinton the better.

Onetime Australian PM’s Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser competed for insufferable arrogance, Bob Hawke surpassed them with ease, Paul Keating looked and behaved like the Grim Reaper’s attack dog, John Howard’s media appearances made him the poster boy for unfailing untrustworthiness and Rudd-Gillard-Rudd was a blur of ego, ambition, subterfuge and government by soundbite.

I want to stress – again – that I’m talking about public persona and perception here, not the particular leader’s policies; some of the above achieved brave and remarkable things for their countries.


But given how they presented themselves, why did we elect them in the first place?

And it’s not as if we’ve learned our lesson.

Our blind spots at the ballot box continue with the current crop.

(Or crap. I wish this was the collective noun for politicians.)

Britain’s prime minister David Cameron sounds like the youngest headmaster ever to address St Trinians; his every utterance at the same time highly rehearsed and yet somehow ridiculous.

America’s Barack Obama looks for all the world as though he’s watching an all-important basketball game that’s going on just behind the camera.

Off to one side.

He’s not actually talking to us, he’s charmingly preoccupied and will get back to us after the match.



Australian PM Tony Abbott’s presentation is part neanderthal, part bully-boy.

(In the interests of balance, Bill Shorten is the “Tribute Band” Opposition Leader; while he turns up for gigs mostly looking the part, his pitch is off and you just know he hasn’t written his own material.)

Every nation gets the government it deserves.”Joseph de Maistre

If the above quote is true, our problem with our political masters goes way beyond how our leaders and would-be leaders look and sound.

It goes to their actual substance.

So, how do voters make that judgement?

And how do we get it so wrong, so often?

Psychologists say it’s complex but a major factor is that we have a “schizophrenic” attitude to what’s strong and what’s weak, depending on the context.

For example, in some political situations, we value and reward unwavering determination; it’s seen as a strength.

In a personal context, we’re more likely to judge the very same qualities as inflexibility and arrogance.

Our leaders, it turns out, are always facing this kind of double-edged sword.

Psychologists agree – broadly – on the qualities that make great leaders.

But the problem is these same qualities can also mask sociopaths, narcissists and just plain tossers.

For example, leaders show intelligence and make choices that move a group forward.

So too, do know-it-all wankers. They’re bright, they know it, and they’re determined to move you in one direction. Theirs.

Leaders embrace responsibility, psychologists say.

Again, we’ve all been led down the wrong path by a loud voice that sounded as if he/she knew what they were talking about but didn’t. Or wildly incompetent people who put their hands up for a job and then failed miserably. People like these were just itching for responsibility. It didn’t mean they were prepared for it.

Leaders, psychologists say, understand their followers and focus on their needs.

So do telemarketers, used car salesmen and jihadi recruiters.

Another trait shown by leaders we’re told is excellent interpersonal skills.

But the ability to influence doesn’t guarantee a desirable – even moral – outcome.

Think Adolf Hitler.

Or cigarette advertising.

Strong leaders have a need to succeed, we’re told.

Again, so do Nigerian e-mail scammers.

Drug addicts who need their next fix.

And angry loners with guns and too much time on their hands.

Psychologists cite courage and resolution as leadership traits.

But too much courage, or courage in the wrong circumstances, can be deadly – to oneself and others.

And people can be “resolute” about the darndest things; it doesn’t make them right.

In 1974, the world’s top scientists were focussed on the coming “Ice Age”, for example.

Perseverance is also listed as a prerequisite for leadership.

But when does single-mindedness, doggedly pursuing some objective against all the odds, become foolhardiness?

It might be another quality that’s downright dangerous in a leader.

Great leaders, according to psychologists, have abundant self-confidence.

So did my late cat, with particular reference to heavy traffic. (You’ll notice I said “late” cat.)

Flexibility and adaptability are leadership cornerstones, psychologists say.

But too often they can be seen in a political context as “backflips” or “broken promises” so politicians tend to err on the side of inflexbility.

In a sense, our leaders are damned if they do, and damned if they don’t, on this one.

Assertiveness is often quoted as a mark of leadership.

And so it can be.

Leaders need to to able to lead.

But in the cut and thrust of political argy-bargy and to “win” the current round of the news cycle, it can easily tip over into outright bullying.

And then there’s the Magic Fairy Dust of politics – charisma – that indefinable quality that seems to make certain people popular.

But to be popular isn’t always right.

And to be right isn’t always popular.

Perhaps that best sums up the dilemma for our politicians.

Sometimes I pity our leaders, I really do.

(Not often; after all, they signed up for it.)

But in their defense, they’re being held to an almost impossible standard, hour by hour, in a goldfish bowl.

They’re being judged – often pre-judged – and then hung out to dry.

And, as the saying goes, they “can’t please all of the people all of the time”

But mostly I just wish they would make better choices.

And that we would too.

No Chairs. Just Seats.


Just weeks ago, Treasurer Joe Hockey told us that we’d “fall off our chairs” over some aspects of the Intergenerational Report.
It didn’t happen.

In fact, the silence was almost deafening.


The “national conversation we had to have” was a whisper, at best.
Expert analysis was quietly measured.
Comment was muted.
Meanwhile, a few puzzled pensioners pondered a future career at Bunnings.

But it left most of us feeling – rather than falling off our chairs – more like we were getting up from a bean bag.
There was a brief moment when we all realised we were getting older but after a few creaks and groans, getting back up seemed pretty do-able.

(Nothing to see here, folks. No chairs and no voters were injured in the making of this report.)

Smilin’ Joe probably should have saved the Hockey hype for the upcoming budget, due in just two months.
All the signs are he’ll need it.
To paraphrase another battle-weary cigar-smoking politician, this is a budget that is going to have to mean “so much, to so many, and be paid for by so few.”
And it’s LCP MPs who will be losing their seats if the government gets it wrong.
Remember, government attempts to get any of its key measures from the previous budget – was it really 7 months ago? – one after another have crashed and burned.
Senate difficulties aside, it’s been a legislative disaster.

So how is the next do-or-die document shaping up?
Remember, this is a document that has to turn around the iceberg-prone, barnacle-encrusted ship of state that is the Abbott government.
It has to re-set – can we stand another one? – the Abbott agenda.

Officially, the PM is upbeat.

“This will be a budget that is prudent, frugal, responsible,” Mr Abbott says.

“But there’ll be something in it for families, a better child-care deal in particular, and there’ll be much in it for small business.”

That’s good.
And bad.
Good because everyone loves fluffy kittens, sensible budget management, incentives and handouts.
Bad because it does nothing to address the real issue; the government has a hole the size of Texas in its income stream.
Too much money going out, not enough coming in.
It’s not like the Abbott government can plead ignorance.
This is the government – in fact, it goes back to when Mr Abbott was in opposition – that has banged on about the “Debt And Deficit Disaster” left by Labor until it was blue in the tie.
Yet even now its locked into a schizophrenic narrative.
On the one hand – politically – the government must counter the perceived surprises and unfairness of its first budget.
On the other – economically – it must reign in spending, potentially alienating the very people it is trying to woo back to the cause.
(A third imperative is to find large, reliable, politically-palatable income streams. But politics is “the art of the possible”, not the damn-near-impossible.)

Moving the nation’s finances from the red to the black seems as far away as ever.

Deputy secretary of Treasury’s fiscal group Nigel Ray has confirmed that the Abbott government’s current fiscal settings would never achieve a surplus.


That’s perhaps the most complete and competent refutation of the LCP’s claim that they’d put the adults back in charge if we voted for them in 2013.

And all the while there’s the ticking time bomb of Tony Abbott’s leadership.
A budget backlash would almost certainly lead to an explosion in the party room and then the PM’s office.

Leader-in-waiting Malcolm Turnbull must be on the edge of his chair in anticipation.

Dead Serious – why we need to talk about Capital Punishment, Suicide & Euthanasia

American novelist Ernest Hemingway famously said; all stories, if continued far enough, end in death.”

Well, duh.

But death is a discussion the world really needs to have.

I want to talk about only three kinds; two are state-controlled and the third is very much of concern to governments and society.

Not that the myriad other forms of death aren’t important.

They are; death in war, in terrorist attacks, through sheer poverty, preventable disease, hunger, through domestic violence, and so on.

The world is a dangerous place and there’s no shortage of ways to die.

All of these are deaths the world needs to talk about.

But so are capital punishment, voluntary euthanasia and suicide, my topics today.

And yet so often we don’t.

These deaths are somehow more challenging, more polarising, more painful.

Bali Nine conspirators Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran will almost certainly die soon by an Indonesian police firing squad; shot through the heart from a distance of 5-10 metres.

Should they survive the initial salvo, a designated subordinate will then press the muzzle of his gun on the prisoner’s head and fire a “finishing shot.”

This is capital punishment at its most savage, stripped bare.

Worldwide, the statistics are unequivocal; capital punishment is not a deterrent.

It doesn’t work.

Most often it’s advanced by people and courts that can’t tell the difference between justice and revenge.

Watch virtually any Hollywood action film you can name if you want to see how much trouble Americans seem to have with that particular distinction.

Papa Hemingway, of course, wrote his own last line with a shotgun.

That was suicide.

On average, one person dies by suicide every 40 seconds somewhere in the world.

Global suicide rates have increased 60% in the past 45 years.

Who knows how many of those who kill themselves would have had regrets; would have made a different choice, perhaps only moments later?

The effect on society is incalculable.

And then there’s the right to die for people who are facing terminal illness, euthanasia.

Should it be a right?

Many people directly affected say “yes.”

Author Sir Terry Pratchett – who died recently and whose brilliant mind entertained millions – was one.

Pratchett said he wanted the right and the means to end his life when those extraordinary gifts were diminished by his relentless Alzheimers Disease.

So, please, let’s have these important discussions.

For the record, my own views.

I am opposed to the death penalty in all cases, with the one exception of Top Gear presenters whose initials are Jeremy Clarkson. (OK, so perhaps I just mean enforced silence rather than actual death.)

On suicide, I think – sadly – some people make a sane and rational decision to end their own lives.

That said, emotions are mercurial and I would urge anyone with even the vaguest notion of suicide to get professional counselling.

Death – as far as we know – is permanent.

Sometimes the feelings that drive people to kill themselves are not.

And the right to die?

I believe it is a right.

My own mother – with her whole family present – took this course in the bravest way imaginable.

Who better than the person who is suffering – assuming they’re mentally competent and not being coerced – to make that final decision?

Or we could all just follow the lead of the eccentric comic Steven Wright, who said; “ I plan to live forever. So far, so good.”

I look forward to talking to you

Thanks for stopping by.


I’m looking forward to becoming we’ll much better acquainted in the days, months and years ahead.

It’s a big world out there but – perhaps for the first time in history – we have the tools to make it small enough to reach out and share our stories.

I hope, for example, we’ll get to analyse current events, look to the future, share sometimes controversial ideas and express our true feelings – no matter how challenging any of these might be.

We won’t always agree.

But – from my end at least – this will always be a safe place to be, and share, who we really are.

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