Be Real Always: A Conversation with Ken Baker
Spirituality and Hollywood are two words not often found in the same sentence but in his newest book, The Ken Commandments, journalist and author Ken Baker explores the various practices of the rich and famous while redefining his own beliefs. This book finds the senior correspondent for E! news attending Bible studies, meditating, visiting celebrity psychics and mediums, and taking a class at the Church of Scientology among many other things.
On Saturday October 14, 2017, he appeared at Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville, Illinois to discuss his new book and sign copies. The conversation was led by Baker’s colleague Giuliana Rancic, E! red carpet host.
Around a dozen people attended the event which made the event intimate and allowed for deep discussion with the audience. Earlier in the week PL Online caught up with Baker to talk about his journey and his career in Hollywood. Baker spoke to Raymond Garcia via phone on October 12th, 2017.
In the book, you explore various religious and spiritual practices including psychics, mediums, a class from the Church of Scientology. Was it hard to be open to trying all these new things?
I think being a journalist kind of gives you license and almost an excuse to try things that you otherwise might be too afraid to do. I went into journalism to have an adventure. I wanted to learn about life and other people and just have curiosity and use the world as this opportunity to learn and grow. Journalism has always been a great adventure so I think this (book) is the most significant, most important adventure and quest that I have ever gone on in my journalism career.
For me, I had just reached a point where being closed off to different practices or things that I might be uncomfortable to try, wasn’t really working for me. I was feeling spiritually malnourished. I wanted to nourish myself in a way and that meant dropping my fears and dropping my ego and just diving in and giving things a shot with an open mind and an open heart, and that’s when beautiful transformative things happen. Beautiful transformative change doesn’t happen in your life by being afraid to go outside of your comfort zone it happens when you push yourself and go out on to the edge and you challenge yourself and your assumptions and your fears and your preconceived notions of what a religion is, that’s when you can really change and evolve.
What were the challenging parts about writing this book and going on this journey?
First of all when you are doing autobiographical writing, particularly in today’s day and age, you have to be willing to be really honest. You have to be willing to as I say, “Crack open your head and let everyone see the crazy inside.” Like My first memoir “Man Made” the first draft was a disaster, it was superficial and my editor would keep writing in the margins, “Go deeper, go deeper,” and I needed someone to give me license to say, “Yeah go to that uncomfortable place,” so I really learned that was important.
In any good story you need to show conflict because conflict is what drives narrative, it defines character. From a literary perspective, I had to really reveal the personal conflict inside of me and I think that’s always a challenge and I’m lucky that I’m in a place in my life and my career where I’m not too concerned with what people think about me. I just want to tell an honest story and a real one. I think that comes with difficulty and I think that’s the biggest challenge when writing a book like this.
Has working in Hollywood help you become more open, especially in today’s day and age where many stars are more raw and open than ever before?
I think that Oprah in the late 80s really started to push and promote and encourage what we are seeing now, which is the confessional media culture where people go on and confess deep things about themselves and share. We see it in reality shows, we’re seeing it in literature, and we’re seeing it in celebrity journalism. So I blame Oprah for that matter. If you don’t like it you can blame her if you like it you can credit her.
My thing is I don’t want to be a hypocrite, I don’t want to sit here and say, “Oh celebrities are so fake, they just want you to know certain things about them and they are so manipulative.” If I’m going to be that person I have to walk the talk and I want to be accessible and relatable and real to my own audience and I think it’s important to be that way. I think it’s important to be like that in life, to be like that in your personal life and in your professional life. Be real always. I signed a book recently to a reader and I just wrote, “Be real always.” And I had never written that but I really think it summed up one of the things I learned from this book which is be real to yourself, to your spirit, to others, just try to be as real as possible. I think being authentic is important. We certainly live in a celebrity pop culture where “authenticity” is really the buzzword so if you’re trying to sell a product it’s got to be authentic and organic. We’re in the middle of that, and I think overall it’s a good thing as long as its done constructively with a purpose. As a writer and journalist, I also aspire to be authentic and not only is it personally healthy, its commercially where the audience is right now.
Toward the end of the book, you were reflecting about whether you can continue your work while being “loving, peaceful, and mindfully aware.” How has the journey changed the way you work as a reporter in Hollywood?
I think the sum total of all my experiences of having highs and lows, traumas and triumphs, of writing a confessional, contributes to my perspective and the perspective that I have is that I have more sensitivity. Even a guy like Harvey Weinstein, who I think pretty much everyone can agree was exhibiting monstrous behavior, I have learned, that even for someone like that, to have compassion and I think that’s something really important. It’s hard to articulate, because what I find is if I start exhibiting compassion for someone like that in what I do, I notice that the mass audiences will be like, “Oh he deserves nothing.” There’s so much vitriol. If we react to a monster in a monstrous way are we better? Or are we just on their level? Are we just exhibiting a similar pattern which is not being compassionate or loving toward people? As you read the book you’ll see that I become very attached to Buddhist principles. The number one thing is to act non-violently toward yourself and toward others. I think its hard in what I do because I have to take a position and have an opinion and a voice, I can’t be all wishy-washy because that’s not what the audience is looking for from me. So can I do that in a way that is nonviolent? It’s hard, it’s a minefield.
The context and the format of where I am expressing myself is a very heightened, opinionated one so it’s difficult, it’s a challenging place to be. You know should I just run away to my cabin and just close off from society, and just be nonviolent with nature? Yeah I can do that, I can live the monk life there’s something to be said for that. I think what I’d rather do is engage with the culture and with people and with issues and that’s my calling I think is to share, I think that’s my dharma. That’s my purpose, it’s not everyone’s. In society, I think we all have to do our best.
After the self-reflection at the Lake Shrine Temple did you feel your journey was complete or do you feel like you’re still on it?
When I agreed to work on this project with Convergent Books, they really put me at ease and my editor said, “Don’t worry about having to come to some grand conclusion and reach the destination of your spiritual journey, just bring us along for the ride and tell us where you’re at right now, and if it ends with you becoming an atheist then fine follow your heart. If it ends with you smoking peyote on a mountain top with some celebrity, great. But just give us where you’re at at that moment.”
This book is really a snapshot of where I was at that time working on it and I’ve evolved and continue to work on myself. I was just meditating on the way in on the train, everyday poses different challenges but I think that that conversation that I am having with myself with God, whatever you want to call it, is meant to be vague because I think it’s all one in the same. I feel as though that conversation by the lake is really a cumulation of me turning over a lot of stones, kicking up a lot of dust, and it was all starting to settle. I was trying to figure out how to organize everything and that came from working on it and addressing it, and mediating, and contemplating, there was a real contemplative moment that I shared. I think that what I am dealing with, is what a lot of people deal with which is doubt. The Ken Commandments is a book about spiritual doubt. How can I believe this when I kind of believe that too? And I think that what I have come away with is more of a unifying theory, almost polytheistic. I am really reluctant to put a label on it because it is something that is ever-changing and evolving. I think I have a lot more sensitivity and appreciation for all religions and spiritual practices. I’m not saying they are all great or for me. Yoga, mediation, Islamic prayer, Christianity, bible study, whatever it is we are trying to communicate with that spirit that unifies and connects us all and that’s what I’m learning. I’m trying to tap into it, in between talking about Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, and Kim Kardashian. It’s a juggle, it’s a dance, it’s a challenge but its life and I’m super grateful for every bit of it.
The trip you took with your son to Iowa was a beautiful moment in the book. You visited the baseball field in “Field of Dreams.”
Yeah that was a really beautiful thing, it wasn’t really planned. It was a father/son bonding trip and we happened to watch “Field of Dreams” together and I was like “It’s really close, let’s go.” We had this really magical moment and the fact that I could share with my kids this journey, I just want my kids to look and say, “Dad is just real.” There’s a lot that they take away from seeing me because at some point they’re going to have spiritual questions and things are going to come up and I want them to have a good role model, someone who is open and seeking. I think we should all be seekers, on some level. I think when we stop seeking, we stop learning, when we stop learning, we stop growing, and when we stop growing, we really stop living.
After that trip you seemed much more at peace compared to the plane ride at the beginning of the book where you were anxious and having a panic attack. It came full circle.
I hope that people who read the book, realize that no matter where you are right now, you might feel spiritually bankrupt, you might feel psychologically and emotionally traumatized, you might have confusion; when you really put your heart out there in an open and honest way and start to engage in self-care on a spiritual level, you are capable of great things and great healing can take place. This book is a healing journey really, it’s like healing myself through exploration, spiritual exploration. The healing continues and I think we’re all trying to heal and we want to heal.
One of the big things that I learned is that I’m prone, maybe like a lot of people, to becoming overly attached and attempting to be controlling of things that are uncontrollable and it creates anxiety. And ultimately that’s death, we can’t control it, its happening. Coming to peace with your mortality and your death, I think for me is the key to really celebrating and enjoying life itself. I don’t see it as a morbid pursuit, I think when we deny it is happening and kind of run away from it. I think a lot of drugs, addictions, and other behaviors come up because we’re trying to escape the inevitable fleeting nature of our physical lives.
I feel as though I needed to get to a place where I had to treat my spirit. Why do I have so much anxiety? Why am I feeling depressed? I’m so uncomfortable with each passing moment. I’m feeling panicky because I can’t catch up to it. We all feel that way, we over-burden ourselves, fill our to-do lists. We are always in a rush to get from one place to another instead of just being present right now and enjoying the beauty. Its so hard to do but when you can capture it, and get into practice of it, it’s actually easy. I’m the number one guy who will be the ultimate hypocrite sometimes like, “Oh man I didn’t mediate yesterday damn, I didn’t have time.” I know my day would have gone a lot better if I just took the time to be present mindful, reflective, and reconnect with myself. I would love to see more people be that way and I think we’d all be better off.
One thing that has transformed me about my job is that I now will look at stories I am covering from a spiritual perspective. I look at the Harvey Weinstein thing from a spiritual perspective and think, wherever you see depravity, diabolical, and/or predatorial behavior, you’re typically going to see some one who is spiritually bereft, you’re going to see a void in a person — where they don’t realize how interconnected we all are and that harming others is harming ourselves, harming the planet is harming ourselves. And when we do connect we all become more peaceful, nonviolent toward ourselves and others and I see a lot of that in the world.
I feel as though a lot of the stereotypes of Hollywood are there because they’re true, of superficiality, narcissism, exploitation, and a lot of the ugly side that we see but one thing that is really heartening to me is that in my book, in writing this book and researching it, there’s a lot of people out there trying to change that and trying to change it on an individual level. I’m seeing it happen and if my book gives light to that then I think that’s a great thing because sometimes you can come into to work at E! and you’re talking about celebrities and it can sometimes seem really dark because you’re dealing with the dark side a lot.
What’s been the reaction to the book?
I had so many people say, “Oh my God this is like me! I feel the same way, I just want to understand my spiritual self and I feel like I don’t know enough — I need to explore more.” So I hope I can be inspiring in that way to other people. The best way to inspire others is to pursue things in a pure way and I think people ultimately want to be good and they want to be better people and I think that it takes the individual to make that choice. The celebrity reaction has been really positive.
I believe we’re in a time where people want their beliefs reinforced. My book is counterintuitive. When you think of spirituality you don’t think Hollywood. It’s important to challenge people’s assumptions and provide an alternative view because there’s a narrative out there that Hollywood is void of spirituality and while I found that there is some of that, a lot of it isn’t — let me show you what I found.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Tags: author event, author interviews, book signing, Giuliana Rancic, Hollywood, Ken Baker, The Ken Commandments