All posts by blairpatrickschuyler

Writer, Editor, Proofreader, Memoirist, Actor, Poet

There Are Voices In My Apartment

dj2Having been raised by a single mother, with no siblings wrestling for attention or screaming to be noticed, I became quite accustomed to the sanctity of silence. I could sit on the floor, lost in isolated make believe, organizing my action figures and creating layered scenarios for their roles in my narrative. There was very little interruption, and as a result, I became fairly comfortable wearing my own skin.

These patterns continued for most of my life. I slid into the safety of a quiet, dark room, and I found I was most productive and clear when the rest of the world disappeared into sleep. All the static of the day seemed to melt beneath the sound of a steady hum. I found keyboards and computer screens, books and balance.

But, for the last decade, a new variety of brain food has worked its way onto my plate. I fear I have become addicted to podcasts.

Now, I’m not actively seeking an intervention. I don’t think it’s quite at that point. But the sounds of endless interviews, medical information, human interest stories, comedic discourse, public radio pieces, fitness advice, and pop culture references have permeated my living space to the point of lunacy.

This isn’t entirely harmful. I’ve got a hungry head, and it needs its snacks. But, floating on a comfort cloud of strangers’ voices can do a pretty great job of bamboozling you into thinking there’s more than one cook in the kitchen. It’s like a big, fat audio comfort blanket, and I’m swaddled like a preemie on the prairie.

So, I will continue to walk into that dark unknown, ears open and mind alert. But, be prepared for some lengthy conversations when our paths finally cross. I’ve logged a lot of listening hours, and I’ve got some things to share.

The Dishonest Mirror

mirror2Our personal, clouded perceptions of the truth can leave us feeling less worthy, attractive, or capable than our projected selves. This negativity sets wobbly wheels in motion, and the small spark of an idea quickly becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of inadequacy.

How many times have you looked at a picture or a video and found yourself almost unrecognizable? The energy and natural confidence we emanate during even the most casual settings has more power and influence than any static snapshot or passing reflection. There’s magnetism in the moment, and our trapped brains, locked behind bars of doubt and indecision, are no match for our instinctive willingness to shine.

This juxtaposition of worlds has been on my mind a lot lately. I’ve lost a tremendous amount of confidence in the last couple of years. Job insecurity, a difficult relationship, and a general sense of arriving late to catch the last train have all combined to take a healthy hack out of my spirit. So much time and energy have been spent taking a step outside of myself, evaluating my station, and plotting a strategy. Trading hope for survival, an easy smile lost its lease to a clenched jaw.

But, this last week provided more laughs and tears than a “Marley & Me” marathon, and I realized that I still had healthy reserves left to give to the people who make my world spin.

Sending our best friend to San Francisco was no easy task. Memories saturated every conversation, and accepting that someone who holds a crucial spot as a collective support beam is no longer going to be walking in to a birthday gathering, strumming his guitar at every opportunity, or staring at me across the net was a grain grinding realization.

But, these bonding days and nights not only reignited the fire of our inner circle, they lit the fuse inside of my dormant core. I think we all woke up to the fact that our sunsets are numbered and life’s trains can travel unexpected tracks.

I guess the hardest learned lessons have to follow some tough teaching.

Saying Goodbye

balloon1At this point, it’s probably pretty obvious that I’m not a big fan of saying goodbye to the constants in my world. Chasing an elusive dream of stasis has proved disappointing and disheartening, and this latest realization has added another slap to an already-bruised face.

I have built a core group of friends that I can say without hesitation is the most supportive, open, caring, and genuine collection of males you will ever find in our modern, self-obsessed, and apathetic society. These men have been in my life for the last 12-17 years, and we are a circle that has defied all male stereotypes, rejecting the notion of “bros,” eschewing emotional safeguarding, and almost always choosing hugs over handshakes.

We have been an intricate and intimate puzzle with interchangeable pieces, falling in and out of the picture when love, work, and commitments dictated our level of contact. We welcomed new members and did our best to embrace rookies into the fold. But, the foundation was constructed from memories and moments, and regardless of connections made later in life, there is a finite number of people who have genuine shared history.

I have been guilty of taking these relationships for granted, assuming they would always be waiting for me when needed. I wanted to believe the band would look and sound the same, regardless of time. The comfort of knowing my most valued friendships all resided in the same city was like a giant security blanket. Even when I wasn’t around it, I was still protected from the cold.

Now, a vital member of the collective is leaving. The news was a mild surprise, having known the prospect was on the table. But, the sadness and nostalgia accompanying the announcement are more than I expected. Some of my earliest and most cherished LA memories and experiences are directly credited to the bond we built and the easy alliance born from the most unexpected common ground.

Those tennis days and music nights were some of my happiest. Even when I was barely working, struggling to navigate the financial hills and (mostly) valleys of this city, he was the one person who visited me each weekend. Breaking the loneliness and monotony of those stress-heavy weeks by hitting some forehands and sharing a quick lunch meant the world to me. I don’t know if he ever knew that. I hope he does now.

People grow and change and move. Life is lived out of a box, and there are adventures waiting for this wide-eyed explorer. But, in the interest of full disclosure, I have to honor the transparency of this blog and admit that dry eyes have not accompanied this post.

Losing some comfortable life consistency is nothing compared to losing a friend.

An Undisturbed Life

undisturbedLately I’ve been running a little cost-benefit analysis. Is the sanctity of an undisturbed life that seeks to iron out potential wrinkles worth the loss of occasional cage rattling, spawning growth inside of chaos?

It’s a quandary I’ve circled for a long time, and I’ve yet to find any definitive evidence pointing me in one particular direction.

Woven into my central fabric is an organized, detailed, contemplative pragmatist who pays close attention to dates and deadlines. That’s undeniable. I take great pleasure aligning my ducks and creating systems to prepare for unexpected speed bumps. I’m rarely blindsided or put in awkward situations, and I relish recording the minutiae of my surroundings.

But, on the occasions when I’ve been rudely ejected from this stainless sanctuary of a comfort zone, I have found that the lessons learned and the connections made have been exponentially rewarding. The experience was never as daunting or painful as I anticipated and I generally emerged from the other side relatively unscathed.

It is an internal battle that has been raging for as long as I care to discuss. My brain doesn’t process life in the same way as the majority of people in this world, so watching the wheels of daily behavior spin in the opposite direction has added significant weight to these already-rounded shoulders.

Ruffled feathers, detonated plans, and unexpected visitors are nerve-inducing, neuroses missiles. When I lived with roommates, I was in a state of perpetual panic, waiting for someone to walk in the door without notice. Living with a significant other was even worse. But, the hours of conversation you never thought you’d have, growing in the spur of the moment, are the treasures born from those pins and needles. There was often a yang waiting for its yin. I just couldn’t pull myself back far enough to see the big picture.

So, I’m sitting at square one, battling instinct and hardwired tendency to allow the possibility and space for the unforeseen. It is a dance I’ve learned to stumble through for most of my adult life, and it doesn’t sound like the music is stopping any time soon.

A tranquil, still pond is a peaceful, beautiful thing. But, every body of water needs a few waves.

Grass That’s Greener

courtHaving watched an inordinate amount of Wimbledon this year, I couldn’t help but draw some strong disparities between real life and “superstar life.” There seems to be a widening chasm between the haves and have nots, and that trend is harshly reflected in society. But, maybe this microcosm lends itself to some further investigation.

As I observed these incredibly gifted athletes achieving feats that I dreamed about as a boy, my mind drifted into a mode of nostalgic possibility. I thought about how different my path would have been if I had the means and discipline required to compete at that level. I contemplated the ceaseless mental stamina and physical training, and I wondered if I could have survived the harsh rigors of a perpetual world tour.

But, inside the bubble, the perfect painting has much less sheen. These professionals are subjected to a barrage of interviews, public appearances, press conferences, endorsement obligations, travel tribulations, and the balancing act of living each moment under a microscope.

Anyone who is able to attain the highest levels in a particular field is scrutinized, but it seems athletes’ and actors’ shoulders are saddled with the heaviest loads. There is a stiff price to pay for the privilege of standing in the spotlight, and many people don’t realize how hot that beam can burn.

So, far and away from the mountains of money and elite social gatherings, I am grateful to be able to preserve my anonymity. Yes, there are countless benefits to being hyper successful, personally fulfilled, and globally revered. But, those don’t come without a significant price tag.

It’s easy to sit in a current state of mind and gaze longingly at someone else’s world. The irony is that they may be staring right back.

The Defuser

photo (3)How many fires could be extinguished with the careful incorporation of a few reassuring words? How often do we choose to escalate an argument or disagreement, as opposed to neutralizing the issue with empathetic understanding? Why does it feel so good to win, and why does arriving at a mutually-beneficial compromise seem like defeat?

Those who have been engaged in a heated debate with me will surely disagree, but I have found that a keen understanding of what makes people tick will allow cooler heads to prevail.

I can credit my communication courses at Ithaca for building a foundation that has helped me navigate a world of blundering inefficiency and repetitive false expectations with relative ease.

Granted, there is generally more success found with strangers than loved ones, but the tools required for the job are the same. The implementation varies wildly, and that mostly has to do with the level of secession I’m willing to grant.

It’s not about sucking wind from sails or puncturing balloons. The beauty of disarming a bomb lies in the subtlety of the technique. People simply want to be heard. They like to feel that their words have weight.

It may be important to identify with another viewpoint or particular stance to establish common ground, and this is often the most difficult and most uncomfortable part. But, when two staunch debaters are face to face with opposing beliefs, there can be little accomplished in the way of progress or resolution. No one responds to shouting or antagonism.

Remaining even-keeled and not allowing yourself to get rattled will prevent the altercation from escalating, but playing into the other person’s hands will also pull some steam from the ship. No middle ground is found when two people are sprinting in opposite directions.

It’s also important to know your audience. Screaming at a customer service representative over some piece of miscommunication does very little to accomplish anything other than release tension through personal venting. These people don’t own the company and they have no great interest in the value of the stock. They’re simply doing a job and trying to pay the bills. Let’s not make their days miserable for no reason.

Open ears and an open mind can do wonders when it comes to a squabble. We need to give a little to get a lot. It’s not always pleasant, but it feels a lot better than the alternative.

Winning isn’t winning when someone’s left in tears.

Take Two

clapperboard1 2For more than a year, I have been burdened with the weight of lost opportunities, disappearing days, and a sense that I have made some very wrong turns on the road of life. I started to become acquainted with the lack of passion and the repetition of carbon copy weeks, but the last few months have brought some more pronounced realizations into focus.

I am not the person I wanted to be, the adult I envisioned, or the man fulfilling the dreams of my youth. I am merely existing, walking a line of straight, colorless paths with no discernible destination.

There is a buzz in my brain like the frequency of a guitar amp someone left humming in the corner of the room. That white noise has been there for years, but the murmur used to be a higher pitch, and it would fluctuate when life threw a curveball or offered a piece of good news. Now, it’s more of a drone,  whirring without variation in volume or tone. A flatline.

Luckily, I don’t get depressed, or this situation could get sticky. But, the fact that the current state of affairs is offering little in the way of options or progress is certainly a concern.

I am no longer a wily, wide-eyed teen with a long list of life’s adventures waiting to be checked. But I’m also not a twenty-something with ample time to make mistakes on the way to self-discovery. The blisters on my feet from spinning in circles on the road less traveled are starting to bleed through the socks.

Current technology doesn’t allow us to roll back the clock for another chance to do it right. I used to think that every situation and experience are specifically put on our plates to teach us lessons and make us who we are today. But, I have started wishing for another shot at living life the right way.

Like an adult do-over, I’ve been thinking about clean slates and going back to the starting line. I don’t mean this in a “if I knew then what I know now” kind of way. I’m talking about a true reboot. I want to begin the whole process again, without squandering my talent, wasting my time, and getting in my own way.

Reincarnation is probably my only viable shot at this plan, so I suppose I just have to cross my fingers and wait for round two.

I’m reminded of this quote from one of my favorite films, “Rounders,” and it hits home now more than ever:

“You don’t hear much about guys who take their shot and miss, but I’ll tell you what happens to ’em. They end up humping crappy jobs on graveyard shifts, trying to figure out how they came up short.”

Luckily, I’m not punching the graveyard card clock just yet, but I can certainly identify with the sentiment.

The future is not entirely bleak, and I’m taking the steps necessary to generate momentum. But, hitting a giant reset button doesn’t feel like the worst idea.

I suppose I’m stuck in this skin until it wrinkles and sags, so I may as well make the most of it.

Puppet Shows for All the People

photo (2)Is life an illusion?

Now, I’m not asking this in a Matrix-y, alien-controlled consciousness kind of way. But, the more I step back to observe modern society and the dance we all do for each other, the more I see the green screen.

There’s an inherent irony in the fact that we crave reality and authenticity, but seem to do everything in our power to present ourselves in a wholly contrived and artificial light. This goes beyond stiffly posed selfies and the artifice of our various social networks. There are examples everywhere.

I spend a lot of time on sets, so I get to see the wizard behind the curtain on a regular basis. Still, each time I watch an actor or product in extreme closeup, only to see an army of disinterested crew members sleepily checking their phones or watching the clock, it’s hard to invest in the emotional stock of an actress with tears streaming down her face.

It’s all about framing, but I suppose we crave this type of art forgery because we keep buying. Audiences at live tapings coaxed to holler and scream at the most mundane jokes, the epilepsy-inducing graphics at sporting events, or “reality” shows cut and edited to the point of absurdity have all become so commonplace that any version of something substantial is merely a filtered illusion.

We are hyper engaged and video crazed, and real life moves way too slowly. Instant gratification at breakneck broadband speeds and temporary comprehension are the trends of the day.

Now, I admit I’m the first to jump on a technological bandwagon, but this is only the roller coaster climb. We’re not slowing down and we’re not asking for a return to accuracy or purity. We hunger for the fireworks and we like to believe people can be superheroes. But if the gimmicks get us through the day, who am I to argue? Life is tough enough.

I guess it’s time to go live vicariously through more of the French Open.

Stealing Minutes

burglarSometimes I have to remind myself to live in the moment. Because my chosen lifestyle and profession make me think I’m stuck on a treadmill without any definable destination, there’s an inclination to believe that life will always be full of possibilities. The road will always be open and the friendships and established relationships will always exist in the same form and manner to which I’m accustomed.

This notion is utterly false.

Although I have been lucky enough to physically feel the same for the last 10 years, the clock has not remained static. The people in my life have floated in and out, teaching me lessons or satisfying some temporary void. The few, concrete alliances have grown at much the same rate and in similar fashions, further blurring the hands of time. So, a general sense of limitless deadlines has remained intact.

I’m reminded of the Billy Joel lyrics, “This is the time to remember, cause it will not last forever. These are the days to hold on to, ‘cause we won’t, although we’ll want to. This is the time. But, time is gonna change. I know we’ve got to move somehow. But I don’t want to lose you now.”

Taking a second to fully embrace the events around me—knowing that everything can change in an instant—is going to be my mission. I see most of my memories with crimson-colored spectacles, but I have the bad habit of observing the present, as opposed to living in it.

Although I’d like to think of life as a boundless stretch of open road, the reality is that the opportunities to accomplish my dreams or savor shared experiences do not live in a vacuum. People will ultimately settle into whatever existence they’ve created for themselves, and that plan may or may not include me.

Everything happens for a reason…whether to teach us lessons or push us into particular directions. I don’t worry about a dismal future, but I know that an uncharted tomorrow will take a very different shape than the familiarity of today. That’s all part of the puzzle. The challenge is finding a better way to solve it.

Razor Sharp

RAZORIn the absence of empirical evidence, the most logical explanation is most often correct.

This principle seems like common sense, but it is rarely used in a modern world built on assumptions. We have a tendency to arrive at wild conclusions based on complicated speculation, as opposed to shaving away unnecessary levels of conjecture to uncover the truth. It’s easier to presuppose something because of our own biases and prejudices than it is to take a rational, more simplified slant.

Gut reactions, intuition, blink responses. These are tools given to us to better navigate the jungle of ambiguity we wrestle with on a daily basis. We are trained to rely on instinct. We channel our most animal impulses, avoiding potential dangers by listening to that little voice inside. Screaming at us to run or suggesting we buckle down for the fight, this angel in our stomach is the best gauge of good and evil, truth and deceit.

Removing the greatest number of variables illuminates a path toward the most rational bottom line. This can be incredibly helpful for predicting the future actions of people based on past behavior, but it can also cut through the fog of flawed hypotheses and exaggerated forecasting. It’s a way of twisting the rabbit ear antennas to clear away the static.

Assumptions are dangerous things, but studied prognostication may just be the sharpest dart we can throw at a carnival panel of question mark-shaped balloons. When we learn to see the world behind the wall and the souls beneath the surface, we’ll find a paradise of peace and transparency that’s severely lacking in today’s dogmatic society.

Take aim, but remember your target.