Thursday, March 8, 2007

The Secret Music (Inside of Me)

It's A Secret...
Originally uploaded by lorenzodom

Much ado has been made over a recent publishing phenomenon called The Secret.

On Monday, Newsweek reported that this work is “the fastest-selling book of its kind in the history of publishing with 1.75 million copies projected to be in print by March 2, just over three months since it came out, plus 1.5 million DVDs sold.” (On March 1, ABC News claimed that there were now “3.75 million copies in print.”)



Being a season away before my own book is to be published I immediately became very excited about the success of this book.

Everyone seems to be talking about it and I’ve subsequently had a few conversations with my friends about how hokey it is. The general conclusion is that it is well-packaged New Age blather that takes advantage of the American public that happens to be hungry for an easy-solution to life’s common woes—debt, unhappiness, ennui.

The Secret, as you may have heard, is something that the author, Rhonda Byrne, claims that she found in a book that her daughter gave to her when she was desperately down and out.

Ms. Byrne claims the “Law of Attraction” allows believers to manifest all their most profound wishes simply by thinking them true.

This is seemingly not much different than much else that has inspired us through the ages. Machiavelli, Carnegie, Hubbard, Rand, Nietzshe, Osho are but a few of the popular thinkers and writers that come to mind who have proselytized much the same—visualize and you shall become, you have the power to create and control your own reality, and ultimately, will allow you to be who you want to be.

Alas, the difference is that Byrne is decidedly much more materialistic and panders to modern-day greed. Moreover, she seemingly advocates that one need not act to have what you want—thinking alone is sufficient because there is secret force (The Law of Attraction) in the physical universe that will attract your greatest desires to you via the electro-magnetic pulses emanating from your brain, as created by the energy generated from your thoughts.

Subsequently, friends have argued that this sort of thing takes unfair advantage of the poor and uneducated. From a rational, experienced and intuitive point-of-view I would have to agree, indeed this “secret” seems rather lecherous.

However, playing the devil’s advocate, I pointed out that the five-spot that people donate to Byrne’s get-rich-quick fund for down-loading the video from her website or the 20 bucks shelled out to B&N for the book is perhaps far less than any bloke spends on a weekly basis on the lottery.

At least The Secret might inspire some positive thinking. The lottery on the other hand, probably only pitches its players further into the abyss of despondency.

Anyway, either way, the success of The Secret has me excited, for my own story, 25 Lessons, is also a book about inspiration, is also about an epiphany (or rather set of them) that turns my life around.

However, the difference between my work and Byrne’s is that I argue that one has to act in order to get what they want. Simply thinking doesn’t make it so.

Moreover, I also realized in the process of writing the book that the ability to employ the 25 Lessons came as a result of a lifetime of experience, that I could not have implemented the underlying principles of each lesson without years of training and development, as well as coming to understand what is necessary to execute a life and an art well.

Hence, albeit I’ve offered what I feel are 25 ways one can achieve excellence in photography in particular, or in their chosen art, if not life in general for that matter—ultimately, it takes years of applying each means of accomplishment, countless hours of practice, and an ever-evolving idiosyncratic effort to make each measure, each tool, each method—your own.

Subsequent to one’s individual initiative there will inevitably be much struggle, much strife, and pain. But one must not be daunted! Because, subsequent to the frustration, the tears and the woeful bouts of melancholy (that we all have), there are bound to be extraordinarily positive and rewarding experiences—which most others will likely never ever experience in their lifetime, because they have not acted by applying the lessons they’ve learned.

The alternative is usually to live a mediocre life, to succumb to excuses, the circumstances and the patterns that we all are liable to fall into. And for some apparently, the alternative a-la-mode is to buy The Secret and to simply hope for the best.

And for some, I am certain, I am confident, that The Secret will actually work (for them), but primarily because they are subsequently inspired to act.


Last night, I acted and it made all the difference.

Last night began by meeting Stephanie, my good friend and editor for a happy hour mojito at Havana Central.

I told her I was excited to be there because I was indeed very excited about many things. I had taken charge of a meeting at work earlier in the day and ensured that it ended on time, as scheduled, rather than going over as usual.

The meeting had been held off-site at another office about 45 minutes from Manhattan, and so we had a chartered bus bringing us back at the end of the day. Since the bus came back in at the top of Manhattan I arranged for the bus to drop me off at the eastern edge of Central Park.

Subsequently, this put me back home even earlier than I had hoped. The walk through the Park in the brisk cold invigorated me. In turn, I thought about how excited I was to get off work early, how excited I was to see Stephanie, how excited I was to convey how excited I was about the book, how excited I was about the lecture being given by Dr. Oliver Sacks that we were going to see later on at Columbia University.

When I arrived to see Stephanie I gave her a big kiss, warm embrace and giant smile. After we ordered our drinks we caught up and at a certain point I told her, flat out, that I wanted to be “Cyan’s star author” —I was feeling it, and I wanted it bad. Moreover, I was willing and working diligently to be able to make it happen.

I conveyed that I had had an epiphany earlier this week, on Monday, when I was suddenly compelled to look for a new job. Albeit, I currently have a great job, in the sense that it is a wonderful company to work for, the benefits and compensation are great, and I work well with my boss—I’m utterly bored and I’ve essentially hit the ceiling in terms of “advancement.” The latter is a problem that practically every corporation faces as the middle burgeons.

Hence, I began the morning by submitting my information to an executive recruiter site, and I did some searching at Google Inc. as well, because I had read that the company had recently opened up new offices in New York City.

By lunchtime however, I realized that regardless of how fruitful my initiative proved, my efforts would be futile in the end. Because even if I found my ideal job (i.e. executive director at a not-for-profit) and it paid me double my salary or even a 100K more than I’m making now , I don’t think I would ultimately be any happier.

Hence, I immediately realized that my time and energy should be placed into the work that I love most and that I have already proven myself at—writing and photography.

For I knew that with the upcoming book launch the opportunity of a lifetime was literally (literarily) on the horizon. And it was up to me to make the most of it. Thus, diverting my focus elsewhere would only prove to be a grave error.

As I eagerly siphoned rum and sugar through my straw, I beamed to Stephanie, “I’m ready to make a difference in my life and in the life of others. It’s my time.”

We continued talking and drinking about publishing logistics and marketing strategy until Doctor Lorenzo arrived.

El Doctor, is my new flatmate and already I am warming up to him. Of course, it helps that we have the same names; it helps that he is Swiss like my last roommate, Claudio, who I quickly became friends with as well; and it also helps that he is (half-)Latin-like-me. If you’re a half-decent person, Latinos tend to have an immediate bond based on the principle of instant-amity* that pervades our culture. So, it was hard not to immediately like Lorenzo.


instant-amity: I like to call it for what it truly is—love, for friendship is merely on the east-end of the spectrum of love, and much like children are born with an overflowing capacity to love, latinos are likewise born to love and celebrate life.

It is thought that we are all born with syn├Žsthesia, the condition in which we do not distinguish between our senses so that we smell sounds and hear colors and feel words. It is only when we are taught to distinguish between them that we build neurological connections that pigeon-hole our everyday experiences into narrow forms of sensation.

We learn to love in much the same way. We learn to throw and hole-up and put the weight of all our wishes and desires and needs onto one person. Thus, it is no wonder that love does not last.

We can and should love more than one person; not necessarily in the same way, not necessarily to the same extent, not necessarily as intimately, but we should love nonetheless (and allthemore).

Alas, when Latinos assimilate into the culture of this country, we lose some of that innate capability to love freely. Small gestures like salutary kisses become promises, rather than simply gestures of mutual respect and love for others that they are intended to be.


Dr. Lorenzo recently defended and passed his dissertation oral examinations at Cambridge University in England, and was subsequently bestowed the coveted a Ph.d, a genuine doctorate in philosophy. He is currently working as a fellow at the Earth Institute at Columbia University.

Hence, as soon as he had his bottle of Presidente (beer) in hand, we toasted to his accomplishment and I asked him to give us the update on the UEFA Champions League tournament currently being held overseas. He brooded a bit lamenting that not only had the power gone out at the bar where he had been watching his team play, but he subsequently found out that Arsenal had been ultimately eliminated. At least there was still Liverpool to cheer on.

At one point, the man sitting next to us interrupted our conversation with some strange babble. I immediately said “Lorenzo, meet the local drunk.” Stephanie was shocked, but I had intuited that the fellow would be a good sport about my jostling.

I continued by saying, “Actually, this is ‘The Captain.’” He had introduced himself earlier to Stephanie and me, but apparently I had goofed on his moniker, because he immediately corrected me. “It’s The Commander! Hell, I don’t want to be promoted.”

He actually reminded me a bit of a black Ted Turner, the original Captain Outrageous. This guy wore an ascot, a navy blue jacket and the kind of big sunglasses that Farrah Fawcet and Lee Majors, the Six Million Dollar Man, used to wear.

After taking a sip of his scotch, he leaned over and began telling The Doctor and I that there was a spaceship hovering above us, waiting. Oh, oh, “Ooo Wali Gama,” I thought, “This guy’s not only a lush, he’s also a loony.” This all-too-close encounter was the perfect segue to the entertaining evening that awaited us.

Thus, before there was time for an abduction, the doctor checked his watch and confirmed that indeed it was time to go. It was getting late and we had to head over to Dr. Sack’s lecture. We weren’t entirely confident that there would even be any seats left.

Along the way, Lorenzo left us for a moment because he had to stop by his office first. I wasn’t sure he would actually rejoin us though, because he was justifiably concerned about not getting a seat.

Our fears were confirmed as soon as we arrived because there were already two rows of students slouching and half-standing at the periphery of the main seating area.

Nonetheless and allthemore, I wasn’t daunted, for I knew reality and fate were in my grasp.

Hence, I asked Stephanie to stand behind the last row, while I searched around for a couple of chairs.

I went as far as the front of the auditorium directly behind the dais and podium where Sacks would speak. I must have done something good in a past life because as I arrived, building services had opened up the back room and I was handed the first two of a dozen extra chairs, and carried them over to create a makeshift new front row at stage left. I flagged Stephanie to come over and asked a stranger to please watch over the seats as I walked back to retrieve two more chairs for the doctor, and Robert (another doctor in the making) who was intending to join us as well.

Within minutes they had found and joined Stephanie and I. I was proud of myself because, once again, I did not allow circumstance to circumvent my existential existence, my reality, mi vida.

The event started with a rather long-winded introduction by Dr. Eric Kandel, Chair and University Professor at Columbia, as well as a Senior Investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. He is also founding Director of the Center for Neurobiology and Behavior at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2000.

Dr. Kandel began by making a heavy-duty and awkwardly public plea for Sacks to leave our rival, NYU, and to sign on at Columbia. Oliver seemed to fidget uncomfortably in the huge armchair at the front of the auditorium as his “good friend” Eric made his case.

In the process, Kandel lauded Dr. Sacks’s career and most notable public achievements. These included the book Awakenings, which inspired a play and then the movie starring Robin Williams as Dr. Sacks and Robert DeNiro as Leonard, the patient who was momentarily awakened by a new experimental drug, L-dopa, after having been asleep for a number of years. Leonard had a severe form of encephalitis, commonly known as "sleeping sickness."

(Coincidentally, albeit not attributed to encephalitis, there was an article put out by the Associated Press today titled Woman awakens briefly after 6 years.)

Eventually we learned that Sacks is currently clinical professor of neurology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, adjunct professor of neurology at the NYU School of Medicine, and the author of nine books, including the popular title The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat: And Other Clinical Tales.

Once the public trial was over, Dr. Sacks got up and began his introductory remarks, which rambled primarily over the interplay of memory and musical agility.

Eventually, Sacks read two case studies from his forthcoming book, Music and the Brain, to be published by Knopf in October, 2007. And along the way Oliver opined upon subjects such as syn├Žsthesia, blind piano tuners, perfect pitch, and child prodigies.

He also spoke at length about a middle-aged man who after being struck by lightning was suddenly inspired to create and be creative, a man who had never played piano before in his life but suddenly had an obsessive impulse to teach himself to both play and write, so that eventually, after ten years, he is able to compose original classical pieces, as well play notably well. Hmmm, sounds uncannily familiar.


“My memory of men is never lit up and illuminated like my memory of women.” –Marguerite Duras

An hour into the lecture, all the talk of mind and music soon began to trigger a flurry of related memories in me.

First, I thought of Marie.

Initially, I could not remember her name. Frustrated, I began to run through the alphabet, slowly penning each letter in my notebook, digging into each line and serif for a cue, consciously spewing into the synaptic gaps in hopes that I might spark a gleam in that ol’ gray matter of mine.

I ended up running through the full gamut, and underlined three letters, J M and S, in the process.

I played those notes over and over in my mind until M struck the deepest chord.

M. M, m, m. Michelle, Marie, Maria. Maria, Marie. I flip-flopped between the latter two.

Then, I suddenly remembered the amusing conversation I had with myself at the time about all the Marys, Maries and Marias of my life.

Mary gave my first childhood kiss, Marie saved me from 11 months self-imposed celibacy after I graduated from college (long story, not to be made short, here at this moment) and Maria, oh the delectable Maria, the only colleague I allowed myself to date while in graduate school.

Thus, when Marie came along, I was quite amused by the alliterative coincidence of their names. She was a therapist-in-training, studying to get her masters in music psycho-therapy at NYU. We had hours of delightful conversations about her work with many of the same kind of patients that Dr. Sacks was rambling on about this evening.

Occasionally, over the years, I have wondered about where and what she might be doing. She was (is) a good soul, that Marie, for she intensely cared about her patients and was exuberant about the healing power of her work. Her enthusiasm was infectious and I was inspired to write a few essays about the power of music at the time. I sincerely hope she is well.

I also thought of F, an old flame of mine, as well as a brilliant and budding doctor of psychiatry. Although I remember her fondly and have always thought highly of her, I think she’s still mad at me; after all she’s still psychoanalyzing me from afar—“…for my own good” she says. Like Marie, we too once had many wonderful conversations about her work.

Perhaps, if time will not heal this wound, music might. I hope, on occasion, that she is compelled to listen to the dozen or so CDs I compiled for her.



she wrote, "I donated the CDs to an old people's home-- never really listened to them-- because I thought you would appreciate the old people jiving to the music."



Admittedly, I secretly pined to see them both at the lecture last night. I wanted nothing more than an innocent glimpse into the past. Nothing more than a smile from across the room.

Alas, ultimately, we didn’t stick around long enough for me to scan the place.


During the Q&A period, Sacks made the remark that struck the deepest chord for me that evening. Paraphrasing, he said, “Sometimes accidents, incidents and circumstances happen to individuals that trigger latent abilities in them, and in turn they discover a whole new world for them, an entirely new way of looking at and enjoying life.” In his cases, the untapped talent was music, in my case it happened to be photography.

Since we had spoken about endorsements earlier, I leaned over to Stephanie at that moment and with a high-browed smile and sparkle in my eye, I commented, “Maybe we should get Oliver to endorse 25 Lessons...” She chuckled and said “Yeah, maybe.” As funny and fantastic of a notion this suggestion may be, I was dead serious, for I am pumped and ready to take control of my fate.


The event soon began to stretch and was threatening to fall over into two hours. Luckily, Stephanie’s daughter was waiting in the back with her father, John, and saved us from having to sit through the long line of questioners that were poised to tap Oliver for his thoughts. Sylvie had text-messaged her mommy to indicate that her five-year-old tummy was hungry.

After showing me the message, I suggested to Stephanie that we sneak out before getting stuck in the exiting throng. She agreed, and we slid out through the side.

We decided to return to Havana Central for dinner, where Dr. Lorenzo and Robert rejoined us after hearing the last questions.

Rebecca was our waitress again. The last time Robert and I ate here along with Claudio, we had the pleasure of having Rebecca as our waitress. Once again, she was a sport and went along with my playful interactions with her.

Unlike the senior moment when I tried to recall “Marie” an hour earlier, when she first approached my memory served me well, because I simply sputtered the first name that came to mind—Rebecca—and she smiled in return. Thus, I knew we were off to a good start.

The conversation unfurled all over the table for the rest of the evening. We went from reviews of The Last King of Scotland to why Westerners tend to group 50 different countries as “Africa”—to current strains of thought in economic and cognitive theory.

Fortunately, for me, I also got to sit between philosophers on different ends of the developmental spectrum—Dr. Lorenzo on my left and Sylvie the precocious five-year old on my right.

Eventually I was treated to the story about “The Animals and The Magic Tree,” and eventually I learned the secret words that made apples and peaches and plums and pears, as well as mangoes and papayas all blossom from the bosom of the tree that lie “across the river and at the top of the hill “—Ooo Wali Gama.

Ooo Wali Gama.

I was genuinely enchanted by her tale, for not only did it sound musically much like the African folklore that I studied while earning my BA in international cultural studies and cultural anthropology at UCLA, but it also pleased me because I promised to convey the delightful story to my boys the next time I could.

In return, I told Sylvie one of the my own stories that I had conveyed to Enzo and Nicky—one about the band of wild roaming orange monkeys that I had to pacify and enchant one day on way home from work. As Sylvie attentively listened and laughed, I Ooo-Ooo’d and Ahhh-Ahh’d and scratched my armpits to convey how I calmed the wild bunch of primates, and ultimately saved the city from any unnecessary monkey business.

My primal instincts also took over whenever Rebecca came back to check on us.

Ooo Wali Gama.

Shamelessly, I oozed niceties upon her and at one point charmed her into bringing us a couple of glasses red wine to fortify the pitcher of sangria we had ordered. I had pointed out to her that it was rather weak and that it tasted more like fruit punch. She was gracious enough to try it herself and soon came back with extra vino to make things right. Dr. Lorenzo seemed rather impressed by my Daren Cohen impression, and I joked that I was using “The Secret.” We all laughed, and we continued our light-hearted conversation until just after 10 o’clock or so.

As we exited the restaurant I went up to Rebecca who happened to be standing at the entrance and I hugged and kissed her. And looking her straight in the eye, I said “Thank you Rebecca,” hoping that she might remember me.


After braving the cold once again, eventually I got home, washed up and got into bed just after midnight. I then called Flavia and for a warming moment, she let me read to her. I read an excerpt from Margueritte Duras’s The Lover across the scratchy wire that extended from Morningside Heights to Bronxville.

Much as I had often done in the past whenever I read the boys a bedtime story, I found myself stumbling, mumbling and tripping over words, as I barely hung on to the thread of consciousness.

I had tried to read the following:

Fifteen and a half. The body is thin, undersized almost, childish breasts till, red and pale-pink make-up. And then the clothes, the clothes that might make people laugh, but don’t. I can see its all there. All there, but nothing yet done. I can see it in the eyes, all there already in the eyes. I want to write. I’ve already told my mother: That’s what I want to do—write. No answer the first time. Then she asks, Write what? I say, Books, novels. She says grimly, What you’ve got your math degree you can write if you like, it won’t be anything to do with me then. She’s against it, its not worthy, its not real work, its nonsense. Later she said, A childish idea.


I too was fifteen and a half when I realized that I wanted to write. I too was readily discouraged by my father.

I had read James Joyce’s Ulysses and even though I did not understand a lot of the arcane references at first, the intricacy of his words set me on fire—ablaze with a grandly romantic and inextinguishable love for words.

Hence, reading this excerpt was a good way to end an evening that reminded me that the power to craft one’s destiny, to be exactly what you want to be. Duras’s words reminded me that despite life’s obstacles our greatest desires are always within our grasp, for the power to achieve anything is cradled within our imagination and our ability to exercise our individual will.


The next morning, as inspirational as the evening had been, I woke up a groggy almost-40-year old alone in bed. My head felt slightly heavy, and so I dragged myself over to the kitchen to make my daily bread, my usual three cups of espresso.

After taking a shower, making my bed and getting dressed, I stood in the kitchen with the doctor and for a moment lamented, “This is one of those days that I wouldn’t mind just staying home and going back to bed. Spare yourself the agony and don’t go into the private sector, remain an academic.”

What the doctor said next was music to my ears, as well as my heart, mind and soul.

Really, what he said resonated, reverberated, and resounded within me for the rest of the day because it was symbolic of the lyrical path I want my life to take, a journey that would have me live a life that is full and extraordinary; a life where I might write, think, observe, and inspire others for a living.

What the good doctor said was:
“Lorenzo, you’ll be an academic some day.”

I smiled, because I believed him.

To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded. – Ralph Waldo Emerson


It’s a secret…

p.s. I reposted the following essay to flickr on January 9, 2008, because initially it was censored by flickr because apparently the publishers of The Secret had complained that I had used the their trademark red wax seal in my image. Or maybe it simply is because this essay is so damned long!

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