Archive for December, 2012

'Bows Should Try Hypnotherapy

December 31st, 2012
By



Watching the UH men's basketball team shoot fouls has been painful. Missed free throws has already cost them games and the Bows nearly lost another one this weekend when they only made 16 of 31 from the so-called "charity line." The Wahine hoopsters might have beaten Alabama this weekend, had they sunk a couple more foul shots too. Since it's a given they probably take hundreds of shots in practice, what's the problem?

I think it's mostly mental. Studies have shown that positive visualization in sports can lead to improved performance. "See" the proper tennis stroke or golf putt in your mind, and brainwaves show the same activity as if the person was doing it for real. Perhaps, seeing other players miss shots in pressure situations becomes contagious because the next guy to shoot is subconsciously altering his own mechanics to avoid putting up a brick. Throughout the young season thus far, the Bows have gone through patches where no one seems to be able to get the ball to fall through the rim... it's like a magic shield goes up around the basket. Fans begin to expect them to miss, and you can hear the groans in the arena when the contagion causes them to blow wide open shots and easy lay-ups.

A few years back, Riley Wallace used to have two sports psychologists work with his teams. I don't know if they ever employed hypnotherapy or visualization techniques, but Coach Arnold should consider giving it a shot (pun intended). Hypnotherapy isn't hocus pocus -- it's even used in medicine to treat pain these days, according to Mindy Ash, who we featured on Career Changers TV in July. Here's the link to that segment. Give her a call, Gib! Heck, when a Division I team barely makes 50 percent of their free throws, trying something new can't hurt.

*******

On a related sports note, former UH football great Ashley Lelie is getting married today. I got that news firsthand while I was filming a new segment for CCTV sponsor, Argosy University at their Downtown campus on Bishop Street. He was there with fiancee Noza Yusufbekova, an Argosy grad student in their clinical psychology program, who we first interviewed in this segment. Noza is smart, charming, and very attractive, to state the obvious. And I have to say Ashley is a genuinely humble guy. Congrats to both of them! One thing is for sure: it will be much easier for me to spell Noza's last name in the lower third graphics that go on screen.

Our January episode features new pieces on architects, the fashion biz, art and more. The 2013 kick-off show premieres Saturday at 8:30 pm on OC16. For daily viewing times throughout the week, please visit www.CareerChangers.TV. You can also watch segments from past and current episodes on the CCTV YouTube Channel. Happy New Years!

Christmas Reruns

December 24th, 2012
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Every year, NPR airs the David Sedaris recording of his Macy's elf job story that helped launch his writing career. On TV, we look forward to reruns of Christmas classics from Charlie Brown to "It's a Wonderful Life," and listen to the same holiday songs we grew up with. While those things never change, we do... times change, and so do our perceptions of what is right or wrong. I wrote the following piece for the Star-Bulletin in 2008, which appeared in their Christmas Day print edition. This year the missing candle means something different though. I don't think I need to say more than that.


A Wrong Turn Leads to the Right Place

By Rich Figel

Like many people, my wife and I collect Christmas ornaments as souvenirs from places we’ve traveled to. My favorite is a delicate piece from Venice made of green, white and red glass shaped into candles. It’s missing one candle though. That’s why it holds special meaning for me.

In recovery, we’re taught to live in the present because we can’t undo the past. I try not to dwell on the wrong turns I made. But I can’t minimize the wreckage alcohol and drugs caused in my life either. My flame could have been snuffed out by two drunk driving accidents I had when I was a reporter in New Jersey, fresh out of college. I was lucky. No one was injured by my reckless disregard for others. Instead of giving up drinking, however, I gave up driving and moved to New York.

All of that was a distant memory when Isabel and I took our first trip to Italy in the summer of 1999. This was a reward of sorts for living sober. To make the most of it, we studied guidebooks, listened to Italian language tapes in the car and carefully planned our itinerary months in advance. Nothing was left to chance — or so we thought.

After nearly 24 hours of flying economy class and long layovers in Newark and London, we arrived in Venice. Our luggage did not. Wearing smelly clothes, we checked into our hotel on the Lido, a small island across the lagoon. International movie stars flock here for the annual Venice film festival. But when we opened the door to our room, my wife’s face dropped. It looked dingy and rundown, nothing like the charming photographs on the website. The trip of a lifetime was off to a disappointing start.

Things began to look better the next morning. The hotel’s breakfast room had a a glorious view of San Marco, where the Doge’s Palace and the Basilica are located. We hopped on the vaporetto, an unglamorous water bus, and as we cruised down the Grand Canal, I became oblivious to the stifling heat and the B.O. of tourists crowded around us. I only saw the fading grandeur of this dream of a city.

Venice on foot is a different matter. The guidebooks are useful as long as you stay close to the major tourist sites. Venture into the heart of the city, and you soon discover that streets often go by two names, smaller canals and bridges don’t correspond with maps, and many passageways are dead ends. We got completely lost, which can be fun if you’re in the right frame of mind. But we were like those couples on “The Amazing Race” TV show, who blame each other for every mishap. When we returned to the hotel and saw our luggage had been delivered, I thought we had turned the corner.

Wrong again. The next day was even hotter. Shorts and bare shoulders are forbidden in Italy’s centuries-old churches, so we had to dress appropriately and sweat it out in line with hundreds of others who were waiting to get into St. Mark’s Basilica. You’ve probably seen pictures of it: the Byzantine domes in the background while lovers embrace amid flocks of pigeons. Since we were quarreling, the grubby birds were merely a nuisance to us. We came to see the church treasures — not for romance.

A group of German tourists were ahead of us. They seemed to know where they were going, so I followed them. Awed by the marble geometric designs under our feet and the ornate ceilings above, I missed the entrance sign for the museum where the church relics are displayed. Before we knew it, Isabel and I were back outside the Basilica. Despite my pleas of ignorance, a guard told us we had to stand in line again if we wanted to reenter.

Screw it, I said. We decided to move on to a less famous church. According to our map, Santi Giovanni was a short walk from there. But I made a wrong turn somewhere. What should have been a 10-minute stroll became another frustrating excursion that stretched into an hour of wandering around in a steamy maze.

Finally, we found Santi Giovanni. It is huge. Inside, the soaring vaulted arches resembled the bow of a gigantic wooden ship turned upside down. The stained glass windows and altars were works of art. Yet it felt strangely empty to me. We walked over to another section that was like a small chapel. As we were leaving, a priest walked past us with a beatific smile on his face.

Back in the main area we saw the German tourists again, standing in the center of the church. The men had cameras around their necks and their heads were bowed. They stood in a circle, holding hands, and began to sing a hymn in perfect harmony. Their voices filled the church. It was the most beautiful sound I have ever heard.

Tears streamed down my face. Perhaps it was their devotion, or the acoustics … or maybe it was the collective effects of being weary and flustered, but the church that seemed cold and dead to me was brought to life by their singing. I looked at Isabel and she was crying too. Neither of us is religious, but I felt blessed to be there with her. Had we not gotten lost and taken so many wrong turns, we would not have been here to witness this moment. I held my wife’s hand and listened in rapt wonder.

When the men finished, they simply smiled at each other — the same smile I saw on the priest’s face as he walked past us. Then the Germans quietly left and we never saw them again.

That was in 1999. Two years later, after the devastation of 9/11, we went through the ritual of decorating our Christmas tree. It was a somber time. Isabel’s business, which depended on tourists visiting Hawaii, was struggling. I worried about the future, and stopped writing. What was the point? Nothing made sense.

A couple of days later, the tree toppled over. It was a mess. The strands of lights were tangled and twisted. Ornaments were strewn about. A glass candle from the Venice piece had broken off. Isabel was at work, so I asked a neighbor to help me stand the tree back up. I restrung the lights and was able to glue together some of the broken ornaments, but the glass candle wouldn’t hold. I couldn’t fix that one.

While I was washing my hands and thinking to myself that the tree didn’t look quite as nice as it did before, I heard a commercial on TV. It said it was all right to grieve for the victims of the 9/11 attacks, but the best way to respond to terrorism is to live.

I broke down and cried. There I was, fretting and cursing earlier because our tree fell over and some ornaments broke. It was nothing compared to what happened three months before. I thought about the church in Venice, and how lost I felt at different times in my life. I can’t say if it was chance or fate that I survived the car wrecks and alcoholism, to wind up here with Isabel in Hawaii. I can only wonder, and be grateful for what I have.

So each year when I unwrap that ornament, I remember how fragile life is. I think about the missing candle, and it puts everything in perspective.

*******

To find daily viewing times of the Christmas episode of Career Changers TV, please visit our website. You can also watch video segments from past shows on the CCTV YouTube Channel.

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Obama Beach Story

December 21st, 2012
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I originally wrote this story in 2008 for my nieces, Sasha and Ana, who are about the same ages as President Obama’s daughters, Malia Ann and Sasha. Since the Obamas keep returning to Kailua for Christmas, I keep running it each time in the hope that some day he or his kids will read it. In my little hand-made books for my nieces, Uncle Monkey is a grumpy, cynical chimpanzee writer of animal-centered tales that mirror current events in the human world.

PROLOGUE

“Can you tell us a Christmas story?” little Ana asked.

The chimp scratched his chin and nodded. “Hmm,” he hmmm’d. “Yes, I can, as President Obama would say. Actually, he would say, ‘Well, um, yes’… except it’s a sad tale that will leave you weeping with joy or laughing in sorrow. It’s about a character named Sandy Claws.”

“You mean Santa Claus, don’t you?” interrupted Sasha.

“No, Sandy Claws was a crab who lived in the ocean. But he liked to hang out on the beach too, where he would scavenge for odds and eggs –”

“You mean odds and ENDS,” Ana said.

“No, eggs — fish eggs and bird eggs, which he liked to eat for breakfast. Now stop trying to tell me what I mean and listen, or I will not continue!” Uncle Monkey snapped. In truth, he was cranky because he had a beginning for his fable about human greed, but he was still searching for a satisfying ending. He often told himself, It will all work out in the end. Yet all the troubles in the world never seemed to end! So how could things ever work out? This thought made him sad and depressed.

“Well,” he said, sounding a bit like the President. “I did, um, say it was a sad story… and… look, these are troubled times with enormous challenges facing crabs and sea life due to global warming –”

“AHEM, ” Ana interjected. “We want to hear a Christmas story, not a political speech!”

“Oh, okay,” sighed the grizzled old chimp. “Here is The Fishy Tails of Sandy Claws, The Crabby Crab of Christmas Beach, which was rejected by all the fish book publishers.”

“Did you try to sell it as a movie or TV show?” asked Sasha.

Uncle Monkey nodded yes. “My agent thought it would be perfect for Animal Planet Shell-o-vision, but they felt it was too depressing for kids. They thought Sandy Claws acted greedy and shelfish.”

“You mean selfish?” said Ana.

“No — shellfish! Ever since ‘Finding Nemo’ became a big hit, they only want fish stories. Not crab fables or shrimp tails. They’re prejudiced against shellfish. But I will tell you the story and you can judge for yourself if Sandy Claws was selfish.”

“I thought you said he was a shellfish,” Sasha noted.

“Yes, he is a shellfish. But I meant selfish this time… oh, never mind. Just read the darn story, okay?” he grumbled.

EMPTY BOXES by Uncle Monkey

Once upon a beach in Hawaii, there lived a cranky old crab who constantly complained about the litter and mess people left behind or threw in the ocean. It made him so mad that fish and “honu” (Hawaiian sea turtles) would ask if he had sand in his underpants, which might be irritating him. But since none of them wore underwear, this only made the crab even crabbier.

Christmas was the worst time of all for him. Sea birds and monk seals would mock the crab for the way he walked sideways. When he angrily raised his claws and snapped them at the birds, they laughed at him. “Ha! You couldn’t snip your way out of a wet paper bag with those weak little claws of yours,” taunted the birds.

Turning red with embarrassment, the crab retreated to his hole in the sand. Sandy Claws didn’t have many friends. Like many crabs, he was shy and at parties would not come out of his shell. And his habit of eating dead fish he found on the beach was a turn-off for live fish he wished to befriend.

The reason he disliked Christmas so much was that more humans would flock to his beach for the holidays, and many would toss their flower leis into the water or throw wrapping paper from their gifts on the sand. Sandy Claws had to pick up all the bows and ribbons these careless people threw out. But he was jealous too because no one ever gave him any gifts. All he ever got was the empty boxes people left behind.

Then one Christmas Eve, something remarkable happened. He noticed there were more humans than usual with cameras, all stopping and staring at a particular house near his hole in the sand. There were men in long pants, wearing dark sunglasses, talking into radios while standing around the house. Obviously a Very Important Person was visiting. But who could it be?

“Pssst… wanna know who it is? Do ya?” whispered a little birdie. “It’s the Obama!”

“What’s an Obama?” asked the crab.

“I dunno, but everyone is wearing shirts or carrying signs that say something about Obama,” the birdie replied.

“Well, whoever or whatever this Obama is, I hope he does something to clean up the ocean and beaches,” the cynical crab said.

As more people came and left, Sandy Claws saw that some were leaving gift-wrapped packages next to a palm tree by the Obama house. What could be in those boxes, and who were they for? “Maybe they’re for me!” thought the crab. Oh, he knew they were not meant for him, but he could not resist the temptation to pretend that these presents had his name on them.

And when he sneaked closer to the packages, what did his beady stalk eyes see, but the name Santa Claus on some labels. “Close enough,” said Sandy Claws as he began to drag the boxes back to his hole. Using his claws and smaller pincers, he carefully removed the ribbons and unwrapped each package. Then he took out the gifts and replaced them with wilted, soggy flower leis he found on the beach or other plastic junk he plucked out of the ocean. Some of the boxes he re-wrapped contained nothing at all except a little sand. After he put the bows and ribbons back on, he placed the packages next to the palm tree where they were originally left.

Sandy Claws looked at all the gifts he had taken: candy, cookies, Hawaiian goodies and also things for little girls such as dolls and toys. So it was clear this Obama had children. And Sandy Claws disliked children because they were always chasing after crabs like him or poking sticks into their holes in the sand.

“Ha! I’m glad Obama and his daughters will be getting trash and empty boxes for Christmas,” the crab muttered to himself. “Besides, why are people giving them more useless stuff when they obviously have so much already?” Which made Sandy stop to think about the gifts piled up around his humble hole. To fit in all the pilfered presents, he had to dig out more space. It was exhausting work to make room for things he didn’t really need.

Despite his constant grumbling, the cranky crab realized he didn’t have it so bad after all. He had eight good legs, plenty of garbage to eat, plus a beautiful beach he called home. “I should share my bounty with the honu, fish and dolphins. They’ll see that I may be a shellfish, but I am certainly not selfish!”

That evening, the men in long pants with the dark sunglasses (which they wore at night to make themselves look more mysterious) picked up the “re-gifted” packages and brought them into the big Obama house. Meanwhile, Sandy Claws put all his pilfered presents into a large mesh bag he had swiped from a kayak, and dragged it into the sea to deliver his gifts to less fortunate sea life.

“Ho-ho-ho! Merry Christmas to all my ocean friends,” he called out. Soon he was surrounded by curious dolphins, fish and honu. Even a couple of sharks cruised by to investigate what was happening. He opened the mesh bag and began to give presents to the smallest and youngest creatures. Unfortunately, all the candy and cookies had dissolved into a messy mixture.

Nice,” snickered a sarcastic starfish. “Some gift!”

Undeterred, Sandy Claws gave a silver necklace with a silver flower charm on it it to a baby parrotfish…. who ate it by mistake. “That’s just great,” the angry parent parrotfish squawked. “Why don’t you just hand out sharp hooks to all the baby fish, huh?!”

“Sorry about that,” the crab said. “How about a doll then for your other baby fish?” However, as he pulled the cheaply-made doll from the mesh bag, his claw severed the plastic head. The monk seals and dolphins began to play an underwater version of soccer with the doll head. Sandy looked at the label on the doll’s body: MADE IN CHINA. “Tsk-tsk,” sighed an old honu.  “That doll was probably made by underage kids who are forced to work for slave wages!”

Sandy Claws was very sad. He tried to do a good thing by sharing his gifts. But all he got in return was scorn and scoldings. This was his worst Christmas ever. As he turned sideways to crabwalk away, he heard a small soft voice call to him from the ocean floor… “Hey, Sandy,” the tiny starfish said.

“Yes?” he replied hopefully.

“YOU’RE NOT GONNA LEAVE ALL THIS CRAP HERE, ARE YOU?” yelled the angry starfish. The gifts that looked so nice and new when he first unwrapped them were just more useless junk and garbage — because, as the dolphins would say, they had no useful porpoise for these sea creatures.

*******

On Christmas morning, Sandy Claws woke up and decided he would return to being crabby since being generous did not work out very well for him. But as he walked home, over the sound of gentle waves breaking on the shoreline, he heard two young girls giggling with delight. It was coming from the big Obama house. “Oh, no! Those girls will be so disappointed when they open their presents and see they got garbage, or worse — nothing at all!” he blurted out to the little birdie pecking around in the sand next to his hole.

“Whatcha gonna do, Sandy? It’s too late to fix things now that you ruined their gifts… unless — nah, it’s too crazy,” the birdie said, his voice trailing off.

“What? Tell me!” the crab implored.

“You could make up for it by offering yourself as a gift to the Obama,” chirped the bird.

“Huh? You mean…” said Sandy, slowly getting the bird’s drift.

“Yeah. Crab salad. Self-sacrifice is what Christmas is all about, right?” the birdie noted.

“Maybe they don’t like crab meat though. In which case, it would be a wasted sacrifice,” said Sandy. Depressed and dejected, the forlorn crab looked up and saw the entire Obama family was gathered outside in front of the house with their presents. He quickly scooted over the sand and rocks to get a closer look at the famous family. There was the President, his wife and two young daughters, all beaming with anticipation.

The father handed wrapped presents to his wife and girls. “These gifts are from the good people of Hawaii. I wonder what they gave us! Let’s open them, and, um… let’s see, shall we?” While he and Michelle carefully opened their packages, Malia and Sasha gleefully ripped open their gift boxes.

“Hey! There’s nothing in my package,” whined the older daughter.

“Mine is empty too,” frowned the younger sister.

The wife held up a wilted flower lei that was still dripping sea water. “It smells like wet dog,” she sniffed. The father held up his empty box. A few grains of sand and pieces of plastic junk fell out. He smiled though and took the wilted lei from his wife. Then he put it around his neck.

“Dad, are you crazy?” asked the younger daughter.

“I think the people who gave us these empty boxes are the ones who are crazy,” said the older sister. “Not just crazy, but mean too. Why would anyone wrap up boxes of nothing!”

Their father nodded thoughtfully, paused for a second as he looked out at the beautiful blue ocean and white sandy beach. “Well, girls… um… maybe someone less fortunate than us needed what was in those boxes, or wanted those things because they lack, um, something. So they took the things inside the boxes… and, um… they forgot that they could not take what the gift-givers intended to share with you — with our family. And that is the gift of love. What I see in this empty box is Hope and Love.”

Sandy Claws’ eyes welled up with tears. But as he tried to wipe them with his big claw, he nearly cut his eye stalk off. He sniffled and turned to the little birdie. “The Obama understands the true meaning of Christmas. Sometimes the best gift is… nothing!”

Then they heard loud laughter — it was the father and mother, who were consoling the crying girls. “Nah! Just kidding. Your mother and I got you real presents that are inside. You think we’d give you nothing for Christmas?” the father chuckled.  The sisters wiped their tears off and smiled. Their father sniffed the soggy lei and made a face. “I bet some crabby old McCain-Palin supporters left us those packages. At least we can be thankful it wasn’t a bomb.”

So Sandy Claws was right after all. Sometimes an empty box is the best gift.

THE END

*********

Ana and Sasha looked at each other. “That’s a terrible Christmas story, Uncle Monkey!” said Sasha. Ana agreed: “Nobody would give a bomb for a Christmas present!”

“Ah, but they could. That’s the point of my story. Things can always be worse than they are,” the chimp replied. “So, a box full of nothing can be better than a box that has useless stuff in it… or worse, BAD things in it.”

Mele Kalikimaka! May all your empty boxes be filled with good memories and room for better things to come. You can still catch the Christmas edition of Career Changers TV daily at different times on OC16. Click here for the viewing schedule and links to videos on the CCTV YouTube Channel.

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Christmas Project

December 11th, 2012
By



There are so many worthy causes at this time of year that I almost feel guilty about asking you to consider one more. But the people I'm going to tell you about aren't "Ellen" show type families who have had some hard luck and can't afford certain luxuries or vacation trips to see her in person. Compared to the ones who write Ellen for help, these people have very little. They have endured more than most of us can even imagine. Yet they ask for nothing except the chance to work for a living... and to be with their families.

I'm referring to immigrant farm workers who were victims of human trafficking schemes. Having filmed some of them for the 808HALT.com coalition project to increase awareness about this growing international crime problem, I found it difficult not to become personally moved by their plight. However, you should care too because without immigrant laborers, I don't believe we can have sustainable agriculture in Hawaii. When you go to a farmers market or grocery store, think about who actually grew that produce and picked the fruit. There is a human cost to the food we eat.

Through the good folks at the Pacific Gateway Center, I'm helping to put together a Christmas wish list from 60 families of farm trafficking victims, who have been reunited in the past year or two. They had to be certified in order to be given refugee status by the U.S. federal government, which then allowed their spouses and children to come to Hawaii. When I interviewed some of them for a 808HALT video I'm producing, I asked how long they had been apart. They nodded at the translator and answered in Thai. The translator solemnly said: "Eight years."

I looked at their kids, who were now in their early teens... some around nine or ten... and it took me a moment to compose myself. They were smiling now, although I could see the pain in the eyes of the men and their wives. It was the same stoic expression I saw in Samian, a Thai farm worker I interviewed last year for a segment that aired on my Career Changers TV show. After we finished filming, he gave me a stalk of apple bananas and two green coconuts as an expression of gratitude. His simple gift touched me because I knew it was all he had to offer his guests. So last December, I asked his PGC caseworker -- Nora (Andy South's mom) -- if there was something I could get him and his two boys for Christmas. Samian asked for a rechargeable flashlight for himself, a handheld electronic game for his youngest son, and a nice shirt for his teenage son. I may not be Ellen, but I was happy to be able to fulfill his modest wish list.

Anyhow, there are 59 other families just like Samian's that have humble requests we're hoping to fulfill this Christmas. Thanks to PGC, a few of them now have their own 5-acre lots they are farming and are selling their own produce. They live in old rundown plantation houses in Kunia, which unfortunately PGC cannot do improvements on until they get approvals because they are so old they are covered by historic homes rules. None of the families are complaining though -- in fact, PGC has been getting requests from Thai trafficking victims on the Mainland who heard about the PGC Farms concept. The problem is PGC hasn't been able to get other landowners to lease them lots at affordable rates to expand this program.

If you would like to be a part of the Christmas project, please email me at richfigel@gmail.com. We're asking each person to pick one family member to get them a gift, drop it off at PGC, and send us a photo of yourself  so we can forward it to the recipient -- because it's important that they know others care about them. These immigrant workers were brought here under false pretenses and abandoned, separated from loved ones for years, and only now are they beginning to see the promise of America.

And that brings me to my parting thoughts. A community activist, who I respect, claimed there are plenty of local people who would be willing to work on farms if the pay was better and they were given decent benefits. She cited MA'O Organic Farms as an example. Hey, I love what MA'O is doing -- but they offer scholarships to the young people who work on that farm, and not all of them want to be farmers for the rest of their lives. It reminds me of the old satirical op-ed piece in the Onion by a fictional farmer's son pleading NOT to save the farms because he didn't want to be stuck doing that kind of work. The truth is most of the immigrant farm workers hope their children get a good education so they won't have to work in the same fields they toil in.

So while it's nice to talk about sustainable agriculture and buying local, the question really is how much are you willing to pay for it?

*********

Programming Alert: OC16 has added more primetime slots for Career Changers TV! You can catch our Christmas episode daily at different times. Please visit our website for the viewing schedule, or check out segments from past and current shows on the CCTV YouTube Channel.

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