Take Both Hands off the Wheel

Control has been my best friend and my worst enemy.

The notion, even when manufactured, that there is some way to walk in the puppeteer’s shoes and make the marionette dance is a great relief and an overwhelming burden.

A sense of control in an uncontrollable world has been the fresh carrot in front of this horse’s face for longer than I can remember.

When certain coding is imprinted onto a brain during development, the trajectory of a person is almost preordained. If the notion of safety and security is permanently removed, the eyes never stop scanning. The head is always on a swivel. Like stealing a chipset from a motherboard, this individual is left spinning in place, wary of what’s waiting in the shadows.

For those of us who have seen the dangerous and deadly aspects of this human experiment, there is little fun, excitement, or joy wrapped inside the concept of spontaneity. Reliable patterns, routines, and habits are the weighted wheels that keep the roller coaster cart from careening off the tracks.

So, when an unanticipated universal hand surprises me by ruffling my neatly combed metaphorical hair, a severely defective fight-or-flight response system gets quickly and easily overloaded.

Find flow and go with the grain. Learn to release, and accept the unexpected as variables are presented, even when bombshells detonate. Resist the need to dictate every part of the process.

Breathe.

This is a prescription more easily written than filled. But setting an intention is always the first step, and right now I’ve got some serious stairs to climb. Hopefully, the view is what I’d hoped. See you when I get to the top.

Adolescence Interrupted

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The Upsides of Downsides

I suppose it’s emblematic of the human condition that challenges and obstacles suddenly dropped on our path normally elicit the full range of reactions. As creatures of habit and ritual, we prefer to wrap ourselves in a blanket of familiarity and tend to avoid any variables that pose a threat to our safety or survival. I’m sure it’s somehow wired into our DNA, so we have Homo habilis to thank for the butterflies in our belfries.

But maybe there’s a hidden benefit to that knee-jerk panic response that sends the heart rate racing. Our bodies are being primed for evaluation, either internally or externally. We’re forced to take a moment of pause to assess and decide. So it might be wise to embrace those sweaty palms and shaky hands.

Zooming out, this can apply to individual situations or the “life map” as a whole. Rarely do we have the luxury of smooth sailing, and deviations from the game plan are more often a burden to bear and a maze to navigate. Change is a wool sweater on bare skin, and any progress takes some itching. There’s no such thing as painless growth, only growing pains.

Closing a chapter feels much different than writing it. I’m sprinting toward a checkered flag that was years in the making, and some big-picture evaluation has been monopolizing my sleepless nights.

Only time guards the answers. But right now, it’s hard to see if that rapidly approaching line is labeled “start” or “finish.”

Adolescence Interrupted

Mr. Oscar’s Last Stand

“I can understand perfectly how the report of my illness got about. I have even heard on good authority that I was dead…. The report of my death was an exaggeration.”  —Mark Twain

The lead-up to this year’s Oscars ceremony was plagued with absent hosts, plummeting ratings expectations, and a general sense that this seemingly unshakable institution was standing on wobbly legs. Most eyes were glued to the road, the onlookers poised for an inevitable crash.

In a time of rampant on-demand instant gratification, the notion of a live event that can both captivate the wider viewing audience and secure that coveted advertising demographic is starting to feel like a relic from a bygone era. Sports seems to be the only modern diversion still titillating enough to draw a crowd not willing to wait for the delay of the DVR.

So the Academy’s producers had their hands full. Grasping at straws by thrusting a pitchfork into the hay bale, there were recommendations to limit certain awards to commercial breaks, cut some of the musical performances, or reduce the number of montages that seem to exist solely to convince those sitting in the Dolby that they’re part of history’s most exceptional institution.

Most of these suggestions were almost instantly rolled back, and it looked as if that dreaded 4-hour running time was a very real possibility. But then something truly magical happened…all the puzzle pieces fell perfectly into place.

This was, by far, one of the smoothest and most engaging ceremonies in recent memory. Discounting the awkward, abrupt farewell by America’s favorite 90s sweetheart after the controversial Green Book win, the show never suffered from the lack of a host, the musical performances easily filled the spaces left by a lack of endless montages, and the show crossed the finish line in a trim and tidy 3.25 hours.

Maybe projections and suppositions are better left to elections and investments. When it comes to Hollywood’s biggest night, focusing on the achievements of those honored by reducing the static and filler surrounding the proceedings proved to be a savvy strategy.

Let’s just hope 2020 doesn’t take two steps back.

Adolescence Interrupted

Health Is Wealth

“To enjoy good health, to bring true happiness to one’s family, to bring peace to all, one must first discipline and control one’s own mind. If a man can control his mind he can find the way to Enlightenment, and all wisdom and virtue will naturally come to him.”                      —Buddha

Balancing our mental, physical, and emotional well-being is a lot like Rocky chasing the chicken. As soon as we think we’ve grabbed it, we get pecked in the hand and feel like fools for ever believing we could master the untrainable. It often feels like an exercise in futility, and the spoils never seem to match the energy output. But we return to the coop, again and again, hoping this time will be different than the last.

But the “fowl” in pursuit may look less like a tangible target and more like an albatross necklace.

We are regularly trying to outrun, track down, and redraft our inherent nature, hardwired DNA, or natural predisposition. It’s tough to ditch an adversary attached at the cellular level. But we do our very best to challenge Mother Nature at every turn, confident that determination can trump reality.

This elusive attempt at leveling the mogul-strewn mountain is as comfortable as a marathon run in quicksand or climbing a rungless ladder. Being picked up and dragged back to the starting line after every failed attempt to finish is deflating and disheartening.

However, there are steps that can be taken and chessboard strategies that can be implemented to put us in the most favorable possible position. Compromise and a sense of grounded realism are comfortable bedfellows, especially when our knuckles are beaten and bruised from a constant battle with the beak.

Adolescence Interrupted

A Macrocosmic Perspective

I started this blog five years ago on the foundation of a simple concept. I wanted to explore the minutiae of modern life and culture by boiling down broad ideas into digestible pieces of reflection. There was the hope of starting a dialogue among those who were interested in diving into the deep stuff. I wasn’t presumptuous enough to believe I could advance any permanent, sustained change or rewire the minds of the masses, but I hoped that I could simply set a table and people would find their way to the plate.

The feedback has been both affirming and motivating. Challenging preconceptions, reframing accepted ideologies, or simply questioning the status quo has given readers a moment of pause to take a second pass at some of their unconsciously accepted viewpoints. We often don’t look at something from another angle, especially when the edges seem to neatly align with our convictions. So it’s been a pleasure to open up this incessant sandstorm of contemplation that I call my daily existence and invite you all inside for a visit.

But as of late, I have realized that exploring what hits closest to home is just as important as obsessing about what affects us on a national or global level. The bonds we have built and the connections we have made are the iron stakes that prevent our circus tents from blowing away. When all the static and distractions are silenced, we’re left standing with what truly holds weight.

Perspective is everything. Time should certainly be spent analyzing the big picture, but please don’t forget the importance of a myopic focus…especially when it comes to those who mean the most.

Wishing you all a happy and healthy new year.

Adolescence Interrupted

Dropping a Rope Ladder into the Dark

Sometimes the loudest cries don’t make a sound.

Sometimes a helping hand gets slapped away.

Sometimes the reluctance to engage should be ignored.

Sometimes people just need to feel heard.

Sometimes it gets dark…very dark.

These days I have found myself at the base of a conundrum. There are a few vitally important individuals in my life who appear to be struggling with weighted shoulders and bleak prospects, whether concrete or concocted, and I’m not exactly sure how to be of service.

Everyone possesses a unique web of mental wiring, and this is certainly not a “one-size-fits-all” situation. Whatever has caused the drop—situational/lifestyle circumstances, chemical shifts, etc.—is something specific to the individual and should be approached with care, concern, and respect.

It is difficult to see the light when you’re drowning in the dark, and no amount of positivity or forced perspective about future prospects does much to impact the present. There’s no value in describing the colors of a sunset to someone wearing a blindfold. The goal must be to meet them where they’re stuck, grab some shovels, and start digging. Eventually, a few rays of sunlight will penetrate the cracks.

It hurts my heart to know that my friends are suffering. We live in a world where it’s easy to feel bombarded by expectations or to sink in the mud of unrealized aspirations. We are shown a picture-perfect, Photoshopped world of flawless smiling faces and successful peers knocking one feat or adventure after another off their carefully curated bucket lists while we look at old photos and wonder where the last decade disappeared. But when feeling bummed becomes feeling lost, it’s time to intervene.

There is not a manual for this sort of thing, and it may take stubbing some toes into bedposts before we find the clearest path. But our loved ones who have drawn the curtains and pulled the shades are not being subtle…even if they think they’re wearing a good disguise. We see through the slits on the side of that molded mask and we know it’s not your face.

I’ll bring the shovels. Please let me help you dig.

Adolescence Interrupted

I Believe in You

I’m a big fan…of everyone else.

For some reason, I can see limitless potential and promise in the work and dreams of others. It’s easy to be a support system, offering encouragement and positive feedback, without an ounce of back-scratching reciprocity in mind. I love to celebrate people’s successes and revel in their triumphs—giant wins or tiny victories.

Even though I have generally found myself in fairly competitive fields and dog-eat-dog cities, there was never jealousy, envy, or any desire to trade positions with those who seemed to be riding a golden chariot to bigger and brighter futures. I simply saluted them as they passed through the clouds.

It’s exciting to witness a friend or loved one harnessing some hidden potential or exploring a particular passion. A sense of admiration and pride fill the space where bitterness or resentment could easily reside. I’ve always thought it was just lucky wiring to be free of that kind of burden—comparing my station or level of self-actualization to my peers. But I think it’s a bit more complex.

First, an interesting dichotomy is at play since I’m wildly competitive in so many areas of my life (tennis, board games, etc.), but feel absolutely no need to find rivals or adversaries in the work world. I hold fervent beliefs and opinions about almost everything, and I have zero reservations engaging in heated debates about endless topics. I will go to ridiculous lengths to defend a stance or point of view, but when it comes to status, career, or social standing, I gladly and regularly relinquish my spot in line. Why?

By maintaining an “army of one” existence and basic life philosophy, there is plenty of satisfaction found from the simple act of meeting minimal core needs. A solid sense of security and a healthy inner circle are almost all that’s on my list. I’m sure a depleted self-esteem reserve and a backlog of darts that stuck just left of the bullseye haven’t helped my cause. But the core code was written long before the swings and misses, and I’m grateful for the ability to be a cheerleader for those around me.

Some shoot for the stars, and some look for the best soil to bury the stake. Comfortably in the camp of the latter, I prefer a foundation that remains right where I left it.

Adolescence Interrupted

Just Stop

Enough.

Enough whispered comments about her body.

Enough unwelcome invasions of physical space.

Enough condescension.

Enough leering between the blouse buttons.

Enough backhanded compliments.

Enough creepy shoulder massages.

Enough talk about sex.

Enough uninvited visits.

Enough intimidation.

Enough posturing.

Enough disrespect.

Enough taking advantage of a compromising position.

Enough lies.

Enough power plays.

Enough misinterpretations.

Enough boasting.

Enough heartache.

Enough trauma.

Enough fear.

Enough tears.

Enough abuse.

Enough bad decisions.

Enough excuses.

Enough threats.

Enough regrets.

Enough coercion.

Enough slander.

Enough character assassinations.

Enough bullying.

Enough mistreatment.

Enough assault.

Enough toxicity.

Enough is enough.

Wake up. Grow up. Just stop.

Adolescence Interrupted

The Past Is Writing Letters to the Present

Lately, I have had a growing interest in the exploration of my roots, my past, and the road that has been walked by those whose faces I’ve never seen. It started as simple genetic curiosity, wondering where my family had been…and where it was most likely going. But it evolved into a headfirst obituary deep dive. Who were these people? How did they live? What pieces of the past were they passing down through the generations?

Based on a Yahtzee cup shake and toss, I was given a randomized mix of cells on a blank sheet of source code. A hand with tightly crossed fingers let the dice fly, and with that action, a tiny carbon being with multiple lifetimes’ worth of history behind him was let loose on the planet.

But how much of our journey is dictated by these former lives, specific hardwiring, and our core composition? Will the decisions we make and the path we think we have the power to choose ever be able to supersede a wet-inked blueprint just waiting for us to finish our scripted sentences while monitoring that straight-line slide from point A to point B?

I can’t remember my father’s face.

I keep trying to visualize what he looked like, especially at my age, but there’s a dark spot in my mind and I can’t complete the picture. I think that’s probably what pushed me onto this tangent. Then, as always, that small spark ignited an obsessive interest in exceptionally complex scientific information that led me down rabbit hole after rabbit hole. Ultimately, all I learned was that I probably need someone on standby with a mental lasso to save me from myself and pull me back into focus.

Still, the notion that we are all just pieces of the present delivering messages from the past is a fascinating and baffling concept. It goes beyond simply having your “grandpa’s eyes.” When you frame your entire existence in the context of human beings as living, breathing time capsules, it brings a greater sense of purpose and responsibility into focus.

So honor the past by making the most of the present…especially if you’re the last of your line.

Adolescence Interrupted

A Beautiful, Baffling Brain


Because of a shoulder I recklessly and relentlessly abused for the last 30 years, I’ve been forced to add another doctor to my Santa’s-length scroll. I tried to be affable, give it plenty of ice, practically cut the mph out of the heart of my serve, and even took additional rest days between matches.

Yet, there it stood, defiantly sulking in the corner like a toddler told he couldn’t have dessert. It wasn’t interested in what I wanted or how much I required constant, intense exercise to keep me sane. The decision was made to remain a dysfunctional nest of tears and impingements that screamed at me whenever I pushed it beyond its threshold. It was obvious I was going to need reinforcements.

I found a physical therapist who specialized in athletes and was fresh off a stint working with the Chinese Olympic team. He took a holistic approach and followed the theory that the interconnectedness of our anatomy makes isolating a specific injury area nothing more than a fool’s errand.

Fascia, which is the connective tissue throughout our bodies, functions as a kind of supportive wrapping for nerves and blood vessels as they pass through and between muscles. If the fascia is disrupted by surgery or injury (or loses its stiffness), a variety of issues can develop.

Since this shoulder has been a nagging problem I’ve had for years, I was more than willing to hear his suggestions, however unorthodox they seemed.

So we got to work, trying to reestablish broken or compromised connections in unanticipated places. For example, even though the right shoulder is sore, the problem could be originating in the left knee or hip.

But early on, some very basic exercises started to paint a wholly unexpected picture. There were certain movements that were effortless to perform on one side of my body and absolutely impossible on the other. He remarked that he primarily used these activities to help retrain stroke victims. The more we dug, the more we discovered.

Because I stroll around this life with a brain that has been poked, prodded, sliced, beaten, and traumatized more than most, there are fundamental connections and channels that have been severed.

I play tennis like a maniac, I routinely go on marathon walks and hikes, I practice daily yoga, and I generally feel like a highly functional intellect. I assumed I emerged from the wildfire of my neurological nightmare more or less intact. But apparently, the smoke at my back was more of a smoke screen.

It looks like my habitual athletic movements established a type of overcompensation for some very fundamental disconnections. Because I’ve hit millions of forehands, the brain has learned to ignore the fact that there isn’t a normal relationship between my left leg and right arm, and the repetition of the activity allows that mask to remain.

I unearthed even more about a body and brain that I’ve been exhaustingly studying and researching for decades—but lying on a yoga mat with zero ability to move my arm and knee in the exact same way I’d done just a minute earlier was a frightening wake-up call that there’s still so much left to learn.

We possess some incredibly complex and mysterious cranial mainframes. Sometimes even the slightest disruption can rattle that cage in ways we may not ever realize.

So take care of that body, protect that brain, and nurture that mind. You won’t know what you’re missing until it’s gone.

Adolescence Interrupted