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Opportunities and Obstacles: Dana Farley, an OBHS Student, Makes the Most of Both

On a chilly overcast day in London, England 40 years ago, the world’s most popular band, the Beatles, performed as a group for the last time in public. What followed were years of court battles and bitter feelings pitting Paul McCartney against the other three Beatles. The public’s love for the Beatles never subsided in all those 40 years since. The borderline obsession with the Beatles is apparent today. Even after the deaths of George Harrison and John Lennon, the surviving Beatles are constantly being asked if there will ever be a Beatle reunion. It took a memorial concert for guitarist George Harrison to get Paul and Ringo to agree to perform on stage together. So, what could get the two remaining Beatles to perform together at Radio City Music Hall in New York City on April 4 of this year?

In the 1950s, the Maharishi Yogi introduced the world to a relaxation method called Transcendental Meditation (TM). The Beatles often felt trapped by their own success and popularity. The stress of fame was never more intense for the four musicians than in the summer of 1967 when their beloved manager, Brian Epstein, died suddenly. It was then that the Beatles discovered the healing power of TM from the Maharishi himself. In a recent statement posted on his website (http://www.paulmccartney.com), Paul McCartney said: “It was a great gift the Maharishi gave us. For me it came at a time when we were looking for some stability towards the end of the crazy ’60s. It’s a lifelong gift that we can call on anytime. Allowing children to experience something that they wouldn’t have been able to experience otherwise is a great thing.”

The famous Hollywood film director David Lynch has been nominated four times for an Oscar, three times in the best director category for his films, The Elephant Man, Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive and once for co-writing the screenplay to The Elephant Man.

Mr. Lynch has found TM to be a wonderful tool for dealing with stress and artist blocks. He feels so strongly about the beneficial effects of TM, that he has started a foundation (The David Lynch Foundation http://www.davidlynchfoundation.org/) to spread the word about TM. He was instrumental in bringing a TM program to an inner city high school in Detroit that was plagued by daily violence and poor grades. The program had remarkable results.

The Surgeon General of the United States is quoted as saying “Americans are swimming in a sea of stress. Children are drowning in it.”

With its mantra “change begins within,” Mr. Lynch and his foundation set the goal to introduce one million students to Transcendental Meditation. Many of the biggest names in show business from the world of stage, screen, television, and radio, all of whom owe a great deal of their success to the calm and focus that TM affords, participated in the event at Radio City Music Hall to raise awareness.

On the Friday before the concert a press conference was scheduled where Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, David Lynch, Mike Love of the Beach Boys, Donovan, Moby, Russell Simmons and others spoke about the value of TM. Forty years magically disappeared and Beatlemania was in full force as thousands of press people from around the world tried anything and everything to get access to one of the 75 seats available at the press conference.

Oyster Bay High School senior Dana Farley sat in the front row.

Ms. Farley is a fledgling filmmaker, learning her craft at the Long Island High School for the Arts, who won first place in the 2009 Long Island Film Festival 25th Edition for ‘Best Student Short’ for a film she co-directed called Feathers. Dana is being honored on May 8 by the Town of Oyster Bay Arts Council with a scholarship in recognition of her considerable talent. The road has not been easy for Dana who has had to deal with and overcome struggles on her path to gaining strength and wisdom well beyond her young years.

On the Tuesday after the Radio City Music Hall show, I spoke with Dana about the not so long, but winding road that led her past hundreds of seasoned professionals to sit in the front row of the press conference and then backstage and entry to the multimedia event that had sold out in minutes many weeks prior.

Tom Gould (TG): How did you wind up on the guest list at Radio City Music Hall?

Dana Farley (DF): “That’s the interesting thing. In March 2007, my mom, who works in real estate was trying to find a place for a TM group. The director of programs for the group, Harry Martinian, told her that David Lynch was going to be in the city to talk about TM. As a filmmaker, I thought it would be cool to meet a famous director. My mother and I went to this tiny room and he was there. At the time, I didn’t really know who he was. I had seen The Elephant Man, Blue Velvet and Dune. So I knew the movies but didn’t know anything about the director.

“I found him to be a cool guy, very laid back. He started talking about TM and how it helped him in making his films. Artists sometimes get blocks. He explained that since he has been doing TM, he hasn’t had a block. He explained how TM helped him in life in general. When you hear something like that, it makes you wonder. I had just done the Challenge (Challenge Day) at Oyster Bay High School, which promotes understanding, love, and respect between students. David Lynch talking about TM sounded similar to the message of Challenge Day.

“At the end of the presentation, Mr. Lynch asked if anyone had comments or questions. After some people had asked questions, I raised my hand and said, ‘I think what you are doing is really cool. I think that people, especially in schools, are dealing with a lot of stress and sometimes aren’t very nice to one another. I’ve never really done meditation before, but whatever it is you are trying to do is helpful. Like with the Challenge at my school, I think that anything at all that can help would be useful.’

“He smiled and said ‘thank you very much.’ Afterwards, Mr. Lynch and I talked a little. After we talked, people wanted to talk with me. I was kind of nervous because I hate public speaking with a passion. People from the Huntington Cinema Arts Centre, including filmmaker Kevin Sean Michaels, came over and talked to me. We brought up the idea of doing a documentary about TM. They asked if I wanted to pursue the idea. I didn’t know much about TM, but was interested as a filmmaker to get involved in the creative process. I started to learn a lot more about TM, David Lynch’s whole mission, and the good it could do for people. I started working on the documentary that way.

“On May 2, 2008, David Lynch did a lecture and book promotion at the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington. I followed him around with a camera and was basically his shadow all evening. We talked to each other throughout the night and I got to interview him on camera for about 20 minutes. He was really cool. I sat right next to him at the book signing. I was shocked by how famous he was because I just thought of him as a really nice guy. People would hand him their scripts, screenplays, movies, and books they had written about him.”

TG: As you worked on this documentary about TM, you began practicing it yourself. What did you find?

DF: “People mistakenly think that Transcendental Meditation is a religion. It’s not a religion. You get all these diverse people doing it and it has nothing to do with religion. It has to do with keeping your mind at peace and relaxing. When I first started, I had bad dyslexia and ADD (attention deficit disorder) and I went back and forth with depression because of something that happened at the time. I started to do TM last summer.

“I was getting a lot of interest from colleges as early as last spring in my junior year at Oyster Bay High School because of my rowing. I talked to Bucknell. They really liked me and I said, why? They said because I was really down to earth and honest. I had told them ahead of time that I wasn’t sure if I was the right fit for their school. Their Crew is D1, but it is a nice D1. In the fall they want you to do other things and then in the spring it is a killer season with six practices a week. It is four in the fall. They offered me a lot of money. At first I was hesitant because they didn’t have a film program, but they made it a major this year. So, I’ll be going in and will be one of the first Bucknell students to have film as a major.”

TG: Where do you get an opportunity to row around here?

DF: “The Sagamore Rowing Association at the boathouse in Roosevelt Park just five minutes away. People from all over go there. My head coach is Troy Smith. He is very dedicated and a great guy. I think it’s really cool that kids from different schools can meet each other. It opens up a new outlet. I started in eighth grade. I’m very competitive. It is the hardest sport I have ever done. I think it helped me in every aspect because it gave me an opening to make great friends and tremendous opportunities for the future. While other kids were partying, I was working out. It shows that when you work really really hard at something, the end result is great. I forever became in love with crew although it can be painful at times.”

TG: Before last summer and your discovery of TM, you experienced difficulty coping with the stress of juggling everything you were doing?

DF: “The reason film came so easily was because it was visual. I can read, but when books have no visuals I struggle a lot because of my dyslexia. When taking tests, I would study for hours the night before and still get bad grades. With crew I would stress out about races. I don’t think that is healthy. I would hold it in for a week before a race. It is a lot of pressure when you are out on the water. Your oar can get stuck and you will let down your team. You have to push really hard and give it all you’ve got. I would get obsessive about the racing and how fast I could go. I was so busy worrying about all this that I couldn’t enjoy anything. TM took me a while to get into because I am obsessive and thought I could be doing so many other things.

“The hardest part of TM is sitting down and taking the time. TM itself is not hard. When I started doing it, I noticed a lot of changes and so did my parents. For example, right before a race I wouldn’t feel scared. My parents noticed that I was calm. I would still have periods of sadness because everyone goes through that, but it would end a lot quicker and it wouldn’t be as intense as it was before. Before, stress used to make it difficult to sleep. Since I have been practicing TM, I sleep a lot better and I wake up energized. Every time I do TM, my mind vibrates in a good way. Your body likes it when it doesn’t have to think and can just relax.

“With my schoolwork, sometimes I get so busy. I’ll have so many things to do that I won’t know where to start and I’ll just not do anything. With TM, I get things done piece by piece and find that afterwards I’ll have extra time to do other things. It’s weird, but a real good experience. As I did more research for the film, I found that a lot of doctors say it is the best form of meditation. It helps with your heart and breathing. It cuts down on your appetite so you don’t want to eat all the time; only when you need to. It really calms you down and helps you focus more. It makes you happier and helps you to experience what life is truly about. You appreciate the quality of life instead of just having to go through it.”

TG: This experience surely will shape the rest of your life.

DF: “I took so much interest in this because I love helping people and I’m probably going to follow some sort of career path either in film or something else. I work at the Boys and Girls Club and I am with kids all day. I love being a kid and I think it is important not to lose your childlike joy. Life should be fun!”

TG: Did you have a camera in hand this weekend?

DF: On Friday at the press conference, in order to sit in the front row, I wasn’t allowed to have a camera. I had borrowed a great camera from my friend Max Glider. My mom got some really good shots from the back of the room. It was fun to see all those people with such prestige so close. My mom and I picked an Indian outfit to wear so that I would stand out. It was hot pink and gold. Kevin from the Cinema Arts Centre prompted me to go into the back. I waited a little bit and as soon as I got in the back, Ringo and Paul McCartney were heading down the stairs. I didn’t get to talk with them. I talked to (legendary soul singer) Bettye LaVette and (’60s icon) Donovan. Donovan was really funny. I waited for David Lynch to say hi, but I didn’t know if he would remember me. I went over to him and he instantly smiled and talked with me for a little bit.

“The next night, Saturday April 4, was the actual event. It was great. I was not expecting it to be so good. Sheryl Crow and Eddie Vedder sang. Russell Simons and Howard Stern spoke about how TM has helped them. Jerry Seinfeld did stand up comedy. He said he has done TM for over 30 years. Ben Harper and his wife, actress Laura Dern were there. Laura Dern is one of David Lynch’s best friends. The whole night was designed from a director’s eye with movie clips, comedy, famous speakers and music.”

TG: Are they going to make a DVD of the event?

DF: I think David Lynch is doing his own documentary about it, but mine is different because it is about him. Afterwards, we went to the VIP party. We saw Mike Love of the Beach Boys and talked to Moby, who recognized me from the press conference. It will be fun to interview him. Moby was my favorite one who spoke at the press conference because he was so funny.”

TG: Let’s talk about the future. You are interviewing Moby April 10?

DF: “Yes.”

TG: Where is the documentary at this point?

DF: “Right now, I am in the editing process which is the most hectic process for most people, but when I edit I like to get done as quickly as possible, so I am sleep deprived. I should have it done in three or four weeks. Then Kevin (Michaels) and other people I am working with will have to see it and further edit it. A few of my friends are composing music for me. It’s a long process, but once the ball gets rolling, it moves along pretty quickly.”

TG: I guess we can anticipate it being shown at the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington?

DF: “Yes. I just hope it’s good.”

TG: It sounds fascinating.

DF: “Thank you.”