Spin spin whisky and gin, I suffer for my art
Bartender I've got wild mushrooms growing in my yard
Fix me a quart of petrol, clams on the half shell
Feels like prohibition, baby, give me the hard sell
More, give me more, give me more more more
I'm your yes man, yes ma'am, I'm your yes man
Lloyd Cole, "My Bag"
"What's money? A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night and in between does what he wants to do."
Many people have been asking lately, "What is it like to be Ira Israel?"
Actually, nobody has ever asked that question - it's a stupid question - but last night a buddy did ring to inform me that according to Google Analytics "Ira Israel" was Googled more times last month than "Shiva Rea."
"That's amazing..." I thought, in total disbelief, seeing as I am only teaching yoga a few times a year at Esalen and my mindfulness DVDs sell well, but... oh, I guess my Huffington Post articles on mindfulness and music and politics and films and relationships are reaching more people than I imagined...?
Or... maybe many people just want to know who Ira Israel the Australian psychic is?
Or... maybe many people just want to know how Ira Israel the Cincinnati murderer is doing in jail?
Or... maybe many people just want to know if Ira Israel in Miami Beach is still alive? (He is not, if you are interested. May his soul rest in peace.)
Actually, in all seriousness, I was brought to tears yesterday when I found out that someone had used something I wrote on the Huffington Post in December of 2012 as a source of inspiration on their website:
Several times per week someone approaches me in a restaurant or yoga class or cafe, asks if I am Ira Israel, and tells me that they love my articles and asks if I ever thought of writing a book?
There are five unpublished manuscripts on my computer - many of my articles come from them. All of the rejections letters say, "Very smart but..." or "Very European... have you tried finding an agent in the U.K.?"
"What an interesting idea!" I reply. "No, I never thought of writing a book. Do people still read books?" I say while wondering when "intellectual" became a dirty word.
I must admit that at any time during the 25 years following a near-fatal car accident if someone examined my life from the outside - Ivy League degree in Sociology (moderately useless), Master's degree in Philosophy (substantially useless), three years writing in Paris (fun, indulgent, yet ultimately profoundly useless), film school in New York City (or, "How to flush $150,000 down the toilet"), Master's degree in Buddhism and Hinduism (ideal for a career in the food service industry), yoga teacher training (I don't even need to say it), Master's degree in Psychology (oh, that one might come in handy some day) - they would have said, "The poor soul... he is lost!"
And then one day I was teaching at Rodney Yee's studio when I noticed a woman in downward dog splay her shoulder blades and simultaneously meld her thumbs and index fingers into the floor and a voice rang in my head that said, "Make a DVD..." I went over and whispered in this stranger's ear "I have to make a DVD with you" and she laughed and said "Sure!" That afternoon I put an ad on Craigslist for a film crew and all of my interests for the past 25 years magically converged into a single focus: to write about everything I have been studying and teach it in workshops and on DVDs. That's how life happens: when you least expect it. When you are flying without a net and have faith that the universe will catch you if you fall.
If anybody during any of those 25 years had told me that someday I would be a Licensed Psychotherapist and Licensed Counselor teaching mindfulness and yoga and making DVDs I would have thought he or she was mental!
Like many independent contractors, most years I could not afford proper health insurance. When I asked the editors for whom I have written countless articles to be paid for my writing or for health insurance they laughed in my face. On April 1st I signed up for Obamacare and had my first extensive physical in a long time. I feel particularly blessed to have found Dr. Jennifer Sudarsky who is one of the most conscientious, comprehensive, and compassionate physicians I have ever met. When I went in for the results of my blood tests - all stellar, on paper I am the quintessence of physical health for 47 years-old - Dr. Sudarsky confided in me that she has been treating many patients who are "tired and wired."
This phrase made me think of Brigid Schulte's recent book "Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time." My take-away from the book is that although the average leisure time in America has remained fairly consistent over the past 50 years, the way people PERCEIVE that time has dramatically changed (c.f. Schrodinger's Cat - the observer influences the phenomenon). For example - and this is a true story from earlier this week - I texted a yoga teacher to see if she was teaching a public class that day. She texted back that she wasn't teaching again until Saturday. She had asked to assist me at Esalen this summer so I texted to invite her to meet for tea to discuss. She texted back, "Slammed. No can do."
This is an example of what Ms. Schulte discusses in "Overwhelmed." Most yoga teachers, psychotherapists, meditation teachers, nutritionists, graphic designers that I know would often say that they are "slammed" or "crazybusy." And yet, all of us get paid to be someplace probably an average of 15 to 20 hours per week. Technically, the remainder of the 60-65 waking hours of the week and our weekends would be considered "leisure time." From the outside it appears as if many independent contractors have a plethora of free time - yet I have never met so many "tired and wired" and "slammed" people in my entire life as I have during the last few years in groovy, sunny, laid-back Los Angeles!
As previously noted, nobody in my orbit is curing leukemia; nobody I know is working 80 hours per week in a Chilean coal mine or at the Foxconn factory assembling iPhones. Anyone who has a job where they have to show up someplace for 20 hours per week is not "slammed" in comparison to the billions of people on planet earth who live on less than $1.50 per day or the millions of people who work 80 hours per week in factories (no 5 year-old ever woke up and said, "Someday, mommy, I dream of working in a factory!" - did they?).
So the question is: taking all of this into consideration, how does one alter one's perspective to perceive that being obligated to show up someplace for 15-20 hours per week is a tremendous luxury? Or, more precisely, how does one learn to replace the resentment and non-acceptance (the "not good-enough") that our minds' create with gratitude and acceptance (and "good-enough")?
A friend suggested that I read Rod Stryker's "The Four Desires" to determine my "vikalpa" or the underlying message that I was signaling to editors and publishers that told them "It's OK, I'm so happy your company is thriving! You don't need to pay me for writing. Don't worry if I don't have health insurance... really, just make sure your shareholders get their dividend checks."
It is funny because the occupation box on my tax returns from 1991 until 2005 was always filled with the word "Writer." Is "Writer" even an occupation anymore or are we all just weaving together soundbites such as "8 Ways To Change A Tampon" so that Tampax can buy banner ads? (Oops, are men allowed to say "tampon" or did you just cringe?)
I dunno... maybe I'm idealistic?
Or maybe I'm naive?
Maybe I'm not as smart as all of those people writing articles such as "6 Things To Do In The Rain," "7 Ways To Roll Up Your Yoga Mat," "8 Ways to Change a Tampon," "9 Ways To Make A Dinner Reservation," "30 Ways To Sauté Chick Peas," "How To Burn The Maximum Calories When Farting" or "New Harvard Study Links Wearing Underwear Backwards To Early Onset Alzheimer's"?
Or maybe my writing sucks, is utterly worthless, I completely wasted 25 years of my life, and I am fundamentally incapable of saying anything that anyone wants to hear?
I am not sure anymore...
But this is what I do know: I need to retrain my mind to think "Wow, what a great luxury it is to have the time to write meaningful articles that raise consciousness around all of the hypocrisy, exploitation, greed, fear, and selfishness that permeate our culture" instead of thinking "Ira, how is it possible that the person who cleans your editor's toilet earned more money this morning than you have been paid to write for all of the last three years combined?"
So if you Googled "Ira Israel" and stumbled across this article, this is what it is like to be Ira Israel - the one who isn't the Australian psychic, in jail (yet), or deceased (yet).
Very very grateful.