After the 2016 U.S. Elections: Whose Land Will It Be?

Los Angeles, California

November 14, 2016

This American election, unlike any since the Civil War, has been nation and earth shattering in its implications. This was not normal, and it may take awhile to determine America’s moral compass and role in the world.

The country that I passionately love and have lived in as a Vietnamese-American immigrant and citizen for over four decades suddenly appears to be a less welcoming place than I and many others had thought. I had hoped that unity was a shared national objective, not a lingering question. I can’t help but feel like a foreigner in my own land even in California, on the liberal edge of an increasingly ‘Divided States of America.’ I noticed similar nativist sentiments while visiting London this past summer during the Brexit vote, which seems to have spread across the Atlantic and taken invasive root in the Mid-Western heartland with the surprising election of Donald Trump. I can only imagine what millions of undocumented migrants must be feeling now about their uncertain future.

This land is your land, this land is my land

From California to the New York Island

From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters

This land was made for you and me. © (Woody Guthrie)

The folksy notion that “This land is your land, this land is my land,” may not be what millions of voters or even half the country believes in given the results of the 2016 elections. Rather, exit polls indicate that a majority of white Americans voted for Trump (52 percent of women, 63 percent of men) and those without a college education did so resoundingly (67 percent). Americans that feel most threatened by immigration and job loss were drawn to Trump’s tune to “Make America Great Again.” Tellingly, America may not be “made for you and me” as the cherised Woody Guthrie song goes, and did not fully embrace Hillary Clinton’s slogan of being “Stronger Together.”

“There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me.

The sign was painted, said ‘Private Property.’

But on the backside, it didn’t say nothing.

This land was made for you and me. © (Woody Guthrie)

Woody’s daughter Nora Guthrie has commented that some politically-motivated verses in the original version were removed due to the looming threat of McCarthyism in the 1950s towards expressions that could be perceived as un-American. So the lyrics about “a big high wall there that tried to stop me” and its sarcastic undertones about unity and private enterprise, never made it into the popular version. Perhaps as Guthrie foresaw, America is bent on building barriers to keep people apart – and possibly along the southern border with Mexico based on Trump’s heated campaign rhetoric.

America has been, and hopefully still can be a beacon of tolerance to the world, and by example, help bridge the many political challenges and cultural differences that divide us. We celebrated the election of our first African-American president with Barack Obama, who steered the nation towards economic recovery, ensured more equal rights and healthcare benefits to many citizens and advanced climate change and other progressive initiatives. But, prospects for expanding this legacy have hit a “big high wall.”

Hillary Clinton, the candidate I supported strongly in the 2016 elections, seemed a week ago to have gained enough support to become the nation’s first female president, with her broad coalition of young, educated, female and ethnic voters. On November 8, that coalition enabled Clinton to win the popular vote by nearly a million votes and growing, but not the electoral college which decides the election.  Clinton could not withstand the crumbling support in the Mid-Western “Blue Wall” as white, working-class voters connected with Trump’s outsider status and promises to improve their livelihood and “drain the swamp” of the political establishment.  These voters favored Trump despite his many flaws, or perhaps thought Clinton was more dishonest given the investigation into her private email server, which was arguably less equivalent a sin compared to Trump’s scandalous behavior and frequent disregard of the truth.

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In defiance of the statistical polls, media pundits and coastal elites, voters chose to erect a monolithic political wall as Trump will govern along with the dominance of Republicans in the House and Senate, and a likely majority in the Supreme Court. It has been a decade since one party had control over both chambers of Congress and the presidency, which allows it to purse laws and policies that have lasting impact.

I used to work in Washington DC for over a decade in international economic policy, and have witnessed how majority rule can undermine minority interests and overreach the people’s will when there are few checks and balances. Democracy gives politicians a mandate, and much can be enacted or blocked by the power of the executive and whoever controls the agenda and budgets in Congressional committees. Emboldened egos with political power can seriously undermine personal liberties at home and America’s standing abroad, which is the frightening scenario we may encounter over the next two to four years, or longer.

We are in uncharted territory, as a Trump regime seems less willing to engage abroad than since the end of U.S. isolationism during the second world war. We are at risk of reneging on trade agreements, environmental commitments and security treaties. The retreat of the world’s superpower is dangerous as 95 percent of the rest of the world’s population is affected by the leadership of the 5 percent in America. We benefit from their success and they from ours. Moreover, friends and adversaries are keen to fill the vacuum of American leadership, which would result in unpredictable and destabilizing consequences.

Closer to home, many U.S. residents including myself have faced discrimination before, and acts of hate seem to be on the rise whether targeting differences in race, gender, orientation or perspective. After this election, many feel more anxious than ever that the victors may impose an oppressive vision on the country that could permeate in American attitudes and values for generations to come.  We can’t help but think that up to half of the country is threatened by people who are not of their color or creed, or by a woman or LGBT person. This uncertainty and fear of each other’s intentions is a sad way for us to live.

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Although post-election protests can emphasize the need to preserve rights and create sanctuaries from abuse and discrimination, they are unlikely to overturn election results and the daunting power of the parties in charge. Still, we must hold President-elect Trump and the politicians in Washington accountable by any legal and peaceful means, lest they try to unravel the American fabric of multiculturalism, which are essential fibers in our efforts to form a “more perfect union.”

When the sun came shining, and I was strolling

And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling

A voice was chanting, As the fog was lifting,

This land was made for you and me. © (Woody Guthrie)

Guthrie’s song may provide some comfort and remind us of America’s harmonious spirit. We can only hope that leading voices will chant with dignity and help lift the bitter fog that hovers over us. If so, then the graceful light of America’s star may shine for all residents who believe “this land was made for you and me.” If not, then we are facing a long, dark winter and many divisive days ahead.

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When Worlds Align: 2015 Year-End Reflections and New Year Greetings

1 January 2016, Los Angeles, California

“When Worlds Align:  2015 Year-End Reflections and New Year Greetings”

“Make sure they call you Professor Nguyen!” My friend Nhutrang said jokingly when I announced I would start teaching an International Business Management course in January 2016 at California State University in Fullerton.

My dear friends Phong and Nhutrang were hosting a holiday brunch at their home in the Washington DC area where long-time friends joined, some whom I had met during my first time in DC in 1993 when I started an internship on my 21st birthday at the Department of State.  Earlier that week, I had lunch with Ambassador Tomseth and his family, who was the Chief of Mission on my first trip abroad as an intern at the American Embassy in Vientiane, Laos in the Summer of 1994.  Over two decades later, it seems timely and appropriate for me to impart some of that knowledge gained from international and entrepreneurial pursuits to a group of millennial students and global citizens.

Sometimes and in distant lands, worlds align… as was the case on my first trip to Colombia in November to visit my long-time musical collaborator Juan and his family. Since we met in UCLA Extension’s music program in 2009, we have been writing songs together and released our last album “The Universe in Me” in 2012 (also when I closed the full-time operations of Planet LA Records).   After a three-year impasse, we are about to launch our defining effort and musical called “Lovers and Angels” about the City of Los Angeles on January 4, 2016 (click image below for a preview).

L&A-RockOpera-site

It was also an opportunity to visit my Fletcher School classmate Jeroen who is now the Belgian ambassador to Colombia. The worlds of music and international diplomacy crossed in Bogota… leaving me feeling a bit nostalgic about a diplomatic career that could have been, and the hope of a creative legacy that has yet to be.

2015 also took me to other new countries including Sweden in April following an aviation conference in Germany and a visit to manufacturing facilities in Italy, as part of my work with global sourcing company Wessco.  While in Milan, I caught up with my MBA classmate Daniele who suggested hosting a reunion in Italy next summer. I also returned to Asia in July with my mother on a trip to Japan, Singapore and Vietnam, and to attend the graduation ceremony for the dual-MBA program between UCLA Anderson and the National University of Singapore.  During that journey while in my birthplace of the beach town of Da Nang, I woke up to the news that I was appointed to serve as vice president of the UCLA Anderson alumni network for a three-year term.

DaNang-Beach2

My father wasn’t able to join us in Asia, though fortunately his health has stabilized since his major surgery.   His uncertain condition has been a constant reminder to appreciate and take every moment in stride.  In the Spring, my family traveled together to Seattle for the funeral of his brother, my uncle Ky who passed away in March.   We had a large reunion among my cousins, all of whom had children of their own – in contrast to my brother and I who have none.

As in previous years with Planet LA, I continued to facilitate synergies between artists, brands and causes by supporting partners including Whole Foods Market and their charity Whole Planet Foundation with an annual Pre-Grammy party and Summer Music Series.  The third annual party set records by raising more than $20,000 for global micro-lending programs and was attended by over a thousand industry guests.  Planet LA also showcased emerging and global artists during the SXSW festival, the Gibson Guitar showroom and with other partners.

WPF-EventFlyer-Feb5-2015

As I look back upon 2015, it was the first year in awhile where my diverse worlds came into balance, both personally and professionally.  My family was intact and distant friends still close. I was gainfully employed and could better serve my professional and creative communities, and alumni network.  For the first time in three years, I was able to write music again and will soon share this labor of artistic passion.  And, after selling my homes in DC followed by years of transitory living between family and friends, I found my own place again.

My footing has been restored after a prolonged journey defined by relocation, repositioning and reinvention.  Now, I am in a good position to share some of these lessons in a classroom and beyond.  Often times, it takes focus and perseverance to set worlds that collided back into harmony and alignment.

So thank you to my dear family, friends and believers for their unconditional support and faith in my hopes and potential.  Best wishes to all for a promising 2016!

* * *

Summer Solstice & Birthday Celebrations

June 20, 2015, Santa Monica, California

“Maybe one of the birthday boys would like to join me for my final song,” Joseph Eid said in feigned surprised as he gestured me to join him on stage.   Moments before his set, we had quickly rehearsed a song together in the parking garage of Studio Maesto in Santa Monica.

I had reached out to him the day before as I was very impressed by his acoustic rendition of Pink’s song, “Try” and suggested we try “Try” at the joint birthday celebration I was hosting with good friends Christian and Javon which also supported an arts program for at-risk kids.

StudioMaesto-June20-Final

“It’s been years since I’ve sang in public, so bare with us…” I told the full audience of friends, family and brand partners gathered in the courtyard of the studio.

It was three summers ago at the start of the Summer Solstice on my 40th birthday when I last appeared on stage with a group of artists friends to release an album I co-wrote with my musical collaborator from Colombia, Juan Andres Lizarazo. That was for “The Universe in Me” from our band When Planets Align which we started in 2009, and was the reason for the launch of Planet LA Records, our self-made label.

In June 2012, we released our last album just as we were closing the office of Planet LA as my former business partner Ben and I struggled to find a sustainable business model to support emerging and global artists.  Since then, Planet LA has evolved into a marketing entity focused on brand relationships with Gibson Guitar, Whole Foods Market and its charitable arm Whole Planet Foundation, among a diverse mix of partners from City National Bank, Teas’ Tea, Original Penguin and Uber.

“When there is desire, there is gonna be a flame

Where there is a flame, someone’s bound to get burned…

I joined Joseph in the chorus of “Try” as most of the audience had never seen me perform live. Though, there were several steadfast friends including co-birthday boys Christian Rodrigo a talented actor from Spain and Javon Frazier a marketing guru previously at Marvel/Disney – who were there on that pivotal evening three years ago, when I wasn’t sure what I was “trying” to accomplish in the creative space or going to do from there.

Birthday2015-1Back then, artist friends Rebecca Sullivan and Nadine Ellman had also performed as they did three years later – and continued to stay engaged as Planet LA survived and evolved with a different focus after closing its label operations.

“But just because it burns, doesn’t mean you’re gonna die

You’ve gotta get up, and try try try…”

I sang the chorus several times with Joseph and percussionist Lucas, as the beat drove on, amplifying the professional and personal implications of the song.

Later that evening, as a surprise to our guests – several artists and our long-time producer Cartier Cutsinger and I announced a new project called “Lovers and Angels” a rock opera about L.A. Our composer Juan had returned to L.A. earlier in the year after a three-year absence to work on the project, just as I was getting settled again in a new place after years of being transient and “trying” to regain my sense of direction and balance.

The first song called “Summer Came Too Soon” is sung by Connie Lim, a talented solo artist. Juan wrote the catchy melody while I wrote the nostalgic lyrics, which is the trademark of our musical chemistry. I actually finished the song on February 14 upon writing to Juan’s melody, so decided it would be about love, of course.

We arranged for two dancers to interpret the song as part of the sneak-peek premiere. They swayed, and swept around the dance floor rhythmically in step with the opening verses:

“When Mercury is in retrograde, it’s time to appreciate and contemplate

As Venus glows, the moon slowly fades, the stars can guide the will of fate

When plump green jade begins to bloom, my luck accelerates maybe too soon

As seasons turn, perceptions can undo, as spring gushed forth, I met you…

Birthday2015-2

Then parted with the closing stanza:

Summer Solstice left me high and dry, like the receding Lunar tides

You came and went like constellations foretold

I learned from loss, you touched my soul…”

Here’s a preview:

 

I’ve always appreciated having a birthday at the start of the Summer Solstice, partly because of my fondness for the warm season and more so, for the bountiful possibilities of the longest day into night.

For me, life has always been about being able to savor every moment and realizing the potential of what actions may bring. Whether through professional ambition, creative drive or personal passion, I have been rewarded and humbled in my pursuits as “trying” in life or love can be wonderful, challenging and usually unpredictable.

But, “trying” and getting burned or learning from loss is often better than the “not trying” and missing out on the wonder of life’s upstarts, fits and flukes… whether on a long summer night celebrating birthdays and surprises, or throughout our impermanent and mercurial time on earth.

Birthday2015-3

* * *

A Good Fortune in New Orleans and 2014 Year-End Greetings

French Quarter, New Orleans, 19 November 2014

New Orleans 2014

“… Long life, much travel and creativity… you have found your balance — except for love.  That will come later as you make money again… and be less analytical!”  Gina the Gypsy told me as she closed my palms, after a brief reading in Jackson Square.

I’ve traveled here several times before — with a love, to witness marriage in this historic square — and on the verge of a new career at a crossroads. 

Now, here on behalf of a new job — I’m starting to regain my footing again.”

* * *

December 26, 2014, Southern California

In 2008 on my previous trip to New Orleans, I met with a potential employer from Switzerland which would have kept me in a global career – but instead, pursued a passion and started working for myself the following year.  A global financial crisis hit, and I managed to survive out West, barely, in support of creative artists.

Just as I was about to catch a flight back to L.A., I walked passed Gina in Jackson Square, who casually insisted that I could benefit from a quick reading at a reasonable price:

“Your family is overcoming cancer, and some other ailments that will pass. And you, you have a strong aura. Long life, much travel and creativity… you have found your balance…” she explained.  That sums up the year.

Tokyo Dinner 2014Hawaii Dinner 2014

Paris Dinner 2014February began with a trip to Tokyo en route to an MBA session in India.  In April, I returned to Geneva and Paris which brought back fond memories while en route to a conference in Hamburg. The studies continued in Singapore in May, followed by a visit to Vietnam for a conference and to visit family and friends, and a layover in Hawaii.  It was nice to reconnect with distant and longtime friends, after recent years of being more grounded in L.A.

The studies concluded at the end of summer with my graduation from the UCLA Anderson-National University of Singapore global executive MBA program (“GEMBA”). My event organization skills came in handy as I was recruited to help with the GEMBA program’s 10th anniversary celebration, and also was elected class president and party planner in chief by my peers.

Anderson Graduation 2014Fortunately, my family and father in particular were able to attend the graduation. He had been fighting pancreatic cancer since last year, and was strong enough to overcome a serious surgical procedure and chemotherapy treatments.

In recent months, I returned to the corporate world in a marketing role supporting a global sourcing company. The new role drew from my creative network as I helped re-brand the company with American Idol finalist Pia Toscano and the talented Jared Lee. Meanwhile, I continued to support brand partners and causes at an annual Grammy week event, during the SXSW festival and in a summer music series at Whole Foods Market locations to benefit the Whole Planet Foundation.

GEMBA Celebration Pia Jared

The year ended with a celebration involving my MBA alumni friends, creative artists and brand partners. Corporate types mingled with musical composers, in a spectacular private home and studio in Malibu on a perfect December day.

Studio Malibu Holiday 2014Being an entrepreneur, then returning to school taught me one thing: how to throw good parties!  On a more serious note, it allowed me to connect the dots by leveraging networks and opportunities in ways that made sense and offered value to those involved. Memorable experiences can be precious products.

“You are now in a good place… Love will come later as you make money again… and be less analytical!” Gina said as she finished our brief but surprisingly prescient session, then collected $20.

In what seemed like years of being lost at sea, followed by steadfast determination to right the ship… I feel I am on the right path. 2014 was a good year. The years ahead should be even better with a more sturdy vessel, newfound navigation skills and a stronger sense of direction – to realize personal and professional goals.  In any event and notwithstanding the detours, the journey looks more promising than ever.

*  *  *

Too Close to Home, Still Far To Roam…

October 10, 1998, Da Nang, Vietnam

Da Nang 1998

… family and friendships can be most endearing, and often enduring, despite the strained years.  On my second visit back to Saigon, and now of my birthplace in Da Nang, or “China Beach” — I am touched, and by no means surprised of how quickly — and intimately those emotions are evoked.

Yes, I shared shots of Johnnie Walker with my father’s best friend — and of course, my family keeps commenting that I am too thin — it worked, and I ate my fill.  The nurturing reminds me of just how close we are in spirt — yet so very distant.  MDN”

DaNang-1998-back

October 26, 2013, Los Angeles, CA

“Those are among the strongest chemotherapy drugs,” my oncologist friend explained to our family.

“Let’s hope he will pull through the treatment.”

We also reviewed the Advanced Health Care Directive, which my father signed to indicate his wishes in the event of medical emergencies.  We had to take every precaution as he is about to start chemotherapy this week to treat a tumor in a sensitive region at the intersection of his pancreas and vital organs.

My father has always been a solid pillar of our family… strong-willed, stubborn and bullet-proof (literally, after fighting in and surving the Vietnam War).  Now, he and we, are facing the toughest challenge to his well being and our family’s foundation.  In a matter of months, the cancer arose unexpectedly and has hit so close to home.

Meanwhile, my brother and I are poised to venture abroad again soon — after several years of being more domestic in our careers and travels since we moved back to Southern California.  He is leaving for Afghanistan for several months, while I am about to start the next session of my global M.B.A. studies in Shanghai, and a return trip to Vietnam.

“You need to go.  Do what you need to do,”  my father told us.

He has never discouraged us from blazing our own paths… whether my brother’s work assignments to conflict-prone areas in the Middle East and South Asia, or as I filled up four passorts on a jet-set career for over a decade.  We have always pursued the American dream, whether it took us to far-flung and dangerous locales, or navigating professional twists and personal transitions as we returned to our roots.

After we settled in our new home in the States in 1975, he and my mother have worked hard all their lives until their retirement this year.   We would often take our annual vacations in the national parks… Yosemite, Yellowstone, Bryce, Zion and the Grand Canyon and across the Pacific Northwest.  These road trips involved a lot of bouncing in the back of a Toyota camper truck across the Western states.  Our wanderlust was incubated, and has never been cured as my brother and I lived and studied abroad, eager to roam the world and explore the boundaries of our passions.

“If anything happens, take me to Yosemite.”  he said.   Yosemite National Park is among his favorite places, and where we went on many camping trips.  We would often give him poster prints from Ansel Adams and annual Sierra Club calendars… scenes of plunging waterfalls, snow-flocked trees and the rock solid Half Dome… reflecting upon moonlit valleys and Nature’s unpredictable intentions.

Dad in Yosemite

Olympic Glory and Transformation: Beijing to London and L.A.

20 March 2001, Beijing, China

“… 2008 and the Olympic rings.  China is intent upon this sky high ambition.

A successful Olympic bid would crown the country’s integration into the world.

Of course, in the immediate term China has plans to join the WTO — which is one of the reasons for my first trip to Beijing.

With the dawn of Spring — the Temple of Heaven is a beacon in a sea of tranquility in the city which is no longer forbidden.

Though, I missed the opportunity to see the Forbidden City confines. 

Some things take time… MDN”

*  *  *

The Olympics like the upcoming tournaments in London starting July 27, 2012, provide prominent cities like Beijing — the host of the previous games in 2008, and elite athletes the opportunity to make huge strides and sacrifices in pursuit of glory.

For a brief two weeks, these places, people and experiences can leave lasting records, impressions and legacies.

My visit to Beijing in Spring 2001 was on the eve of the ancient imperial capital being awarded the 2008 Games on July 14, 2001, and also its imminent membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO).  There was great anticipation in the air as many observers felt that momentum was in the city’s favor with the Olympics as well as China’s WTO membership (concluded on December 11, 2001) — would coincide with and were critical to China’s greater openness to the world.

Seven years later, Beijing and China rose to the occasion and staged a spectacular and memorable series of Olympic events.  Moreover, China has continued down the path towards greater economic liberalization as an active WTO Member.  Despite the persistent challenges, China has no doubt become a more prosperous, open and innovative country in the past decade.  London also won its Olympic bid on the premise that the Games would help transform and reinvigorate the fortunes of the city’s impoverished Eastern territory.

There is something about the feeling of “change in the air” — as will and vision are critical to realizing results and progress — whether as individual athletes and performers, collaborative teams and communities, or dynamic and forward-thinking cities and nations from Beijing to London.

*  *  *

June 23, 2012, Los Angeles, California

“Today is a celebration of our common pursuit of a dream,” I said to the artists, family, friends and strangers gathered at Planet Dailies restaurant as I turned 40.

“Thank you for allowing me to share a part of the American dream over the past 37 years.  I came here with just this picture, my clothes and the hope that comes with new roots.”

I held up a signed poster — a reprint of a black and white picture of me which was one of the only items that my mother brought with us from Vietnam as we fled upon the fall of Saigon in  April 1975.

My mother was at the party along with my brother and sister-in-law, and it was actually her first time seeing me perform with my band.  My father couldn’t make it as he had to work on Saturday evenings, the same long and labor-intensive schedule six days a week.

“And thank you Mark for creating opportunities for artists,” Brent Michelle said as she introduced me and the ad hoc When Planets Align band (since my original band members Juan Lizarazo and David Lopez couldn’t make it from Bogota and New York City for the festivities).

The evening featured a lot of talented artists including Brent Michelle, who I met when she was Michelle Brent and was the most impressive performer among about two dozen at the first open mic evening where I played — at the Un-Urban Cafe in Santa Monica in December 2008, just as I was about to leave my corporate job and dive headlong in pursuit of a passion.

An array of other performers took the stage in the shadow of Hollywood as the California summer sun set on one of the longest days of the year.  Singer-songwriters Rebecca Sullivan, Julia Lucafo, Bryan Titus and Gianna Nguyen shared stories from their soulful hearts; duo performances came from global artists including Nadine Ellman and Jeremy Ferrick, and Maria Aceves and Martial Chaput; and leading songs from frontman Gabe Watson of Planet LA Records band Native June and frontwoman Julia Dettwiler of rock band Lunar Rogue, Elyse Haren of the self-titled group Elyse + The Aftermath, among others.

My “band” (being me and others who I’ve never performed with publicly before) was the last to go on as the evening also marked the release of our latest and possibly final album “The Universe in Me.”

Julia Dettwiler filled in for my original bandmate Jacqueline Van Bierk (who was in Nashville that weekend) and performed “Life’s Too Short” — one of the first songs I ever wrote, and probably the most inspirational of them all.

I played guitar and sang back-up vocals, including the rideout lyrics of “Life’s Too Short””

“The Universe is guiding me… Just let me be what I want to be… Yeah yeah yeah yeah!”

Then, took the microphone to sing two of our newly-released songs starting with “L.A. (I’ll Be Back Someday)”:

“City of Angels do I have a chance, for fame or fortune?

Shine my way, for just a passing glance, for a minute a moment…

Please remember me!”

And ending with a dedication to the late author Ray Bradbury — a champion of space exploration and pursuit of the grandest dreams — with the final song “Crush The Stars”:

“I had drifted across the globe, a grain of sand lifted by the sea

Escaping history in pursuit of hope, no roots bind or limit me…

Life sometimes moves in reverse, when we see beyond this earth

Across the ocean blue, futures can come true!”

*  *  *

July 9, 2012, Los Angeles, California

“I’m glad I can help you complete this project,” my former UCLA Extension music production instructor Jeff Lewis said, “And great to hear you finished the program!”

“For you, the student rate is $90.  Maybe someday I’ll be able to afford health insurance… but we do what we love!” he said with a laugh.

Jeff had spent nearly three hours mastering the final songs on the album “The Universe in Me” as it wasn’t finished in time for the release party two weeks ago.  One of our producers Joshua “Cartier” Cutsinger who has received a Grammy nomination for his prior work, finalized the mixes on the remaining three songs in early July, which I then took with me to Moonlight Studios that sunny afternoon.

As Jeff finished what had involved nearly three years of production and producers, more than a dozen musicians, tens of thousands of dollars in costs and over three decades of life experiences — his words struck me.

“No health insurance.” — ditto.  “We do what we love.”  — check.

For most my life, going from an immigrant with just rags to a successful career as a globetrotter with near riches… I’ve created safety nets, pursued stable careers and built nest eggs.  Now, most of those securities are gone including health insurance, retirement funds and a steady job.

But, as an entrepreneur, creator and dreamer for over the past three years… I have done what I love, and held in my hand a simple, shiny disk of ten audio files that could well be my swan song to this pursuit of a musical legacy.

“Thanks Jeff!  It’s nice to be done… now we’ll see where this, or I go from here,” I said as I wrote him a check for $100 — which was a very reasonable amount for his effort, though felt much more precious in 2012 than it did when I started throwing money around in 2008.  I then ran off to meet a CD manufacturer to place a rush order in time for an important industry event this week.

As I left the studio, I checked my email and noticed a comment on my blog Mark39.com (which was now a misnomer given I was no longer thirty-something) — the first since my last posting and 40th chapter over two weeks ago on June 23.  Someone was still reading in cyberspace and from a far-flung place.

From “StephGlaser” (July 9, 2012):

“Mark, I love the concept of your blog and it is so inspirational to read. (I’m sad it’s ending…I hope there’s a sequel or new incarnation.) We dreamers need to support each other and I thank you for being the first person to like one of my posts (“Drinking Poop Coffee in Bali”).”

*  *  *

“You aren’t that young anymore… and have worked so hard and very late these days,” my mother said, as I returned to writing this blog after a two-week absence.

“Don’t let your future slip away,” she cautioned as she went to bed.

My mother worries a lot, like most loving and mildly doting mothers.  She has been very concerned about my financial health and well being (though is not aware of the lack of health insurance otherwise would really fret), and seems to lament the fact that I may or may not be around much longer, at least in the same household.

In the past two weeks, momentum has been building for one of those “critical juncture” moments… which I can feel in the air, and is getting closer each day.

On the one hand, Planet LA Records has closed its office as of June 30, but our business relationships are stronger than ever after three intense years of activity.  In fact, I recently initiated several meetings with senior and executive vice presidents at a major TV network and leading brands — to launch an innovative media platform to support artists.  It took three years of toil to build this kind of network and credibility, and these discussions are leading up to a make-or-break private event on July 12 at the Gibson Guitar showroom in Beverly Hills.  Many among our industry network plan to attend and will learn more about our future plans, and whether we have a future.

On the other hand, I have begun to reach out to my global affairs and corporate circles about possible new roles — whether they involve going back to my roots in Vietnam and Asia, familiar professional worlds in Washington D.C. or Geneva, or other places in or beyond L.A.  It would be ideal to utilize skill sets gained in both diplomacy and branded entertainment, but if I must return to the nuances and regulations of international trade law, then I am ready and willing.

Whatever the outcome, I have been inspired to write again… as this story and life as I know it didn’t end on June 23, 2012 with the expiration of Mark39.com.

Stay tuned and let the (Olympic) games begin!

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