On the flight home to Los Angeles from London, having had a wonderful, productive and heart-warming couple of weeks combining working with seeing family and friends, I was able to take pause and consider the stuff that, oftentimes, only the isolation of a long-haul flight allows. No texts, emails, telephone calls, or social media; it was bliss to read my book, write a little, and gently consider the quality of the experiences I’d encountered on this trip.
These days, more often than not, we see people on dates, family gatherings, or at business lunches, communicating with purpose. But very rarely do the participants not at some point pick up their phones, scroll social media, or engage in something happening elsewhere, and lose track of the present moment, of what or who sits in front of them. In the ‘old days’, this would be seen as a breach of polite etiquette — an incident that although tolerated, may elicit a whisper of slight judgement, or a raised eyebrow. But true quality time, fully engaged in listening and learning from whoever sits across the table, remains so important.
This got me thinking on the age-old parlor game: If you were to choose the dream dining guests, dead or alive, who would that consist of? To make it easier, more specific, I’d add that each guest would be invited on their individual merit and not on how they would interact with the bigger group. It’s an exercise that tends to give real insight as to your interests, passions and aspirations. So, as a way to get things rolling and to inspire you to do likewise, here are my dream dinner guests at a table for ten (with me as the tenth guest, listening intently, of course!) and the reasons for my choices.
Charles Bukowski: Writer, reveler and self-admitted drunk, Bukowski had a poet’s heart and a philosophical wisdom far beyond his time. At home with the seedy world of dive bars, hookers and debauchery, the late, great literary legend possessed a sage take on life that strips the human condition to it’s bare essence with the skill and precision of a neurosurgeon, his gems of advice piercing the heart with their potency. To listen to this man, to hear his stories audibly, first hand, through the veil of tobacco smoke and rotgut whisky would be, for me, to touch upon the magnificent.
Amelia Earhart: Aviator, writer, pioneer of flight, what remarkable courage, class and skills this lady had. Breaking gender norms with her determination to fly, she became the first female to complete a solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean, was a fervent supporter of commercial flight, and broke countless aviation records. To be able to fly solo, to encounter the bad weather conditions that eventually took her life, at a time when aviation was in its infancy, I’m sure she’d make a fascinating storyteller and guest.
Martin Luther King Jr: For me the greatest leader of the 20th Century, with his stalwart, consistent fight for Civil Rights, he made history on so many levels. He was a visionary, deeply committed to his cause, ahead of his time and believed rightfully that every man is born equal. At the eventual cost of his life, he fought relentlessly to bring dignity and opportunities to all African Americans, encouraged and preached non-violent protest and was also gifted as one of the great orators of all time, his speeches as relevant as ever.
Oscar Wilde: Irish poet and playwright, fierce, flamboyant, fabulous and possessing a whip sharp wit and an inimitable gift for observation and words, Mr Wilde’s life was equal in part to the dramas he penned. Living during the Victorian era, the industrial revolution, he witnessed many changes and was never shy to comment on the rich and societal stars of the day, for whose circles he was eagerly sought. Incarcerated in three separate London prisons for gross indecency, for consensual homosexual acts, he was front and center in one of the first celebrity trials. And refusing advice to forget his past, he instead drew strength writing in ‘De Profundis’, “To regret one’s own experiences is to arrest one’s own development. To deny one’s own experiences is to put a lie into the lips of one’s own life. It is no less than a denial of the soul.” What a magical, brilliant guest he would make.
Maya Angelou: To sit next to this consequential poet and author, warrior of civil rights, scholar, and behemoth of the written word would be a dream. To glean from her life, her experiences, her wisdom won through the possession of a startlingly bright mind and a lifelong passion for learning, activism and expression. To listen attentively and be taken into areas perhaps foreign to me at first. To learn from the best, to be informed accurately on history and place, the profundity of her experiences bound together and delivered with the sensitivity of a great poet’s talent. To take with me her sage advice, at times reduced to the simply pragmatic, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
Sir David Attenborough: This treasure to the world; biologist, broadcaster, natural historian, and author has been a staple influence on my entire life. His wildlife programs have entertained and informed since before I can remember. I saw through his eyes the immense beauty of our natural world, the breadth and majesty of the interconnectedness of species, the interdependent reliance on an endless myriad of systems of intelligence, all making up the whole. To ask questions of his greatest and most terrifying experiences, the nuances of organisms, his recommended course of action to ensure our survival is the stuff of boyhood dreams.
Paramahansa Yogananda: Yogi, guru, Indian Hindu monk, Paramahansa Yoganada is credited as being one of the very first to introduce the teachings of Kriya yoga and meditation to the Western world through his organization, Self Realization Fellowship. Bridging his beliefs and theology of the east with the west, his seminal book ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’ is both magical and mystical but also heaped in practical life advice. Accepting of all religions, he sought to lift our spirits and perceptions to a level not usual in a technologically obsessed industrial world. Read by many, including The Beatles, Muhammed Ali, Elvis Presley and more. Apple founder Steve Jobs apparently read ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’ every year from aged 21 until his death, and used it as the first book when introducing the iPad in 2010. I’d like to ask Paramahansa Yogananda exactly who and what God is to him?
Lauren Bacall: I was introduced to this lady, when a kid, in black and white movies on Saturday mornings, and was immediately taken by her beauty, her presence, her cool gravelly voice, and whichever convincing character she chose to inhabit. As an actress she could go toe-to-toe with the best and always exuded a mysteriousness that is rare in our current times. I loved how tough and independent she was, admired her self-assurance, no matter the changing times, and indeed was impressed that she never messed with her face but instead, owned every line that life continued to gift her. Seeing her perform the lead, in Tennessee Williams’ play ‘Sweet Bird of Youth’ was mesmerizing. Then in her mid-sixties, her energy was phenomenal and what remains with me is after several roaring curtain calls, I looked around and saw a mass of older men, remaining bespelled by her, perhaps as they have been all their lives. I’d love to think we’d laugh.
Albert Einstein: It’s probably obvious, but would be remiss of me not to include the great German-born theoretical physicist widely acknowledged to be one of the greatest minds of all time. Best-known for developing the theory of relativity, he also made important contributions to the development of the theory of quantum mechanics. How fascinating to be able to sit and ask questions, from a layman’s point of view. What’s always intrigued me about this Nobel Prize-winner was his sense of humor and his opinion on God. As he wrote in a letter to Joseph Dispentiere on March 24, 1924, “I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.” How wonderful to get an update on his thoughts today.
Compiling this list, so many more candidates came to mind… so many. People whose work and indeed character I hold in such high esteem. Artists, leaders, scientists, musicians, humanitarians, and the everyman and women who may not be famed but still have great stories to share. Those who have lived lives of great depths, many times defying severe odds, pushing forward to lay their own roads, propelled by the measure of their instincts and ambition, and their individual minds. Given our turbulent times, it is often easy to feel hopeless and cynical but we must remember that there have been seemingly intolerable times before and we have survived, we indeed thrived. New ideas have been born and age-old paradigms have been shifted, innovations and creative solutions have been found. Let’s acknowledge that there remains many positive stories out there, not necessarily flashy and new, but actions that form the bedrock of the good side of what it is to be human… virtues like kindness, community, humor and selflessness. The stuff that’s always been around, but is less likely to make the news. In the words of the writer Max Ehrmann, “With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.”
Please draw up your own dinner party dream dates and email to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. It’s fun and you’ll learn much about yourself. The older I get, the more I am acutely aware of the precious value and quality of time. This life is fleeting and it seems vital to fill it with those that inspire, encourage, and share their independent strengths authentically and with passion.
And have more dinner parties with people you like!