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.

Midnight Flashes

midnightThe power of music to transport me back in time, across distances, or just out of my quicksand brain is something that has always been fascinating. But, with those carefully-crafted melodies come the inescapable memories.

With certain songs, the faint plucking of a chord progression in the first few seconds of a track is enough to rocket me out of my present pondering and into the skin of a younger—and often more wide-eyed—version of myself. I can take a break from being an almost-adult and find some peace of mind in the fascination of youth. It’s a welcome respite from the modern grind and it feels like a familiar visitor from a less complicated life.

Music and lyrics course through these veins with such potency, it’s impossible to listen superficially. When memories accompany striking harmonies, I’m defenseless. It’s like an elevator with a snapped cable dropping through a bottomless shaft. It’s futile to fight, so I acquiesce and enjoy the ride.

Maybe there’s an extra serving of nostalgia on my plate this week because I learned my high school girlfriend—and first love—is pregnant.

There are few musical memories more vividly distinct than the soundtrack to that all-encompassing, heart-exploding period of adolescence. I can still picture myself programming repetitive playlists of specific songs we listened to so incessantly, it’s a wonder the stereo didn’t reject our choices in a moment of sentient defiance.

We spent more nights than I could count, pulling the blankets over our heads, blocking out the burden of time, and living in a world of our own creation. To be a teenager in love is to feel the Earth spin on your finger like some colossal Harlem Globetrotter. Everything is waiting for you, and anything is possible.

I’m grateful for every second I was able to learn about hope and heartbreak, and I’ll never forget the artists and albums that held my hand through all the hills and valleys. I take comfort knowing I can travel back there whenever I choose—and whenever I need to be reminded of where I’ve been and where I’m going.

It only takes the push of a button. So…I guess I’ll hear you soon.

Coincidentally Cool

coolCoincidence is “the occurrence of events that happen at the same time by accident, but seem to have some connection.” But, how much of what we believe is accidental is simply an energetic or universal pull toward a specific outcome? Can we manifest results through the catalyst of our subconscious and its ability to focus so throughly on some predetermined consequence that we are fooled into believing we are the orchestrators of our own fate?

There are strong arguments on both sides of the debate because what we deem to be coincidental can be so unfathomably absurd that we’re left searching for explanations to justify the illogicality of anything that appears to dance in the space between hard-nosed facts and dreamlike fantasy.

Mystics will look to the Earth’s more magical properties, just as religious zealots  will point to their blind devotion and faith-driven divinity as justifications for anything that sits outside of conventional knowledge.

But, what if we all harnessed the ability to construct our destinies? What if, somewhere in the untapped territories of our brain, existed the tools necessary to write our own blueprints, and build individualized templates? Could we avoid a life of pitfalls, blunders, and misunderstandings?

Irony is a powerful concept and the bevy of impossibilities that consistently defy probability is part of what makes life worth exploring. If walking in the sand was only about following footprints, we’d likely feel the void of uncertainties and a desperate lack of adventure.

Until we resolve the dispute of whether or not we are merely mice on a maze, running tirelessly toward preordained cheese, let’s marvel in the coincidental nature of the human playground. Maybe we are assembled with safeguards to protect ourselves from excessive rates of evolution. Maybe we’re not meant to know anything more than how many monkey bar swings we have left in our limbs…at least for now.

Giving Doubt and Taking Back the Benefit

phoneThe regular ridicule I’ve gotten in my life for keeping records, taking notes, and tracking telephone interactions is all just extra paint on the big colorful canvas I call an organized existence. Jab me about my checklists and poke fun about my calendars, but the self-satisfaction I’ve gotten the last few months from flawless follow-ups to customer service representatives makes all that fun-making fade into the distance.

It’s easy to call it compulsive. Marking down the dates a letter is received or when an initial phone call is placed might seem excessive or unnecessary. But, it’s pretty effortless and it saves a mountain of frustration in the end.

My “key theory” falls into the same category. How often do people run around the house at the last minute, searching for their elusive keys, with each tick of the clock exacerbating their tardiness? If they were kept in a designated key area, there would be no reason to alert the bloodhounds to join you in the hunt or create false scenarios about bad traffic and road closures when you walk past disapproving scowls, stumbling into the morning meeting 20 minutes after donut distribution.

Preparation and order rewards those who allow them in their lives. To be reliable and informed—as opposed to a scatterbrained flake—is something to be praised, not punished.

So, back to my telephone tag/faulty case number/taciturn supervisor juggling routine. The universe happened to unload multiple situations requiring boundless patience for bottomless hold times and the kind of diligent record-keeping rarely seen outside of IRS offices. If I were Johnny Casual, I would take those people at their word, thank them for all their helpful information, and wait for those guaranteed returned phone calls and speedy case resolutions.

But, we live in a world where almost no one does what they’re supposed to do—or even makes an attempt at punctuality. These are simply the realities of our modern society, as we make the sluggish transition from humans to computers. We are wrought with growing pains and this spreading plague of unrestrained apathy isn’t making things any easier. I can’t even begin to talk about the post office. I don’t have the strength.

The best we can do is take a stand. We can strive to be as efficient and organized as a machine, thus elevating ourselves above the sluggish drones and into a space where the air is fresh and the flickering fluorescent lights aren’t melting our brains.

But, I have to admit, rattling off the names of each supervisor, the dates I called, each digit of my assigned case numbers, and the particulars of the discussions not only ironed the wrinkles of what should have been unbearable transactions, it felt damn good.

You can retain your unintelligible reminders, unwieldy paper trails, and shoebox receipt shenanigans. I’ll be here with my alphabetized file folders and a bold, almost laughable level of record-keeping confidence.

The Beauty of Authenticity

MASKMost of us walk through the world craving truth and validity, wearing masks to hide our intentions and insecurities. We post pictures capturing flashes of how we’d like to be perceived, and delete anything that might prove contradictory. We manufacture images built from aspirational notions, and hope no one notices the holes in our Swiss cheese.

It’s a high-wire routine, and many times we’re left swaying on a safety net—feeling anything but safe—and wondering how we fell. But, what if we removed the mirage and abandoned the ruse? What if we stopped filtering our words and screening our thoughts?

The consequences would be disastrous, right? How would we manipulate one another, gaining what we want by leaving a trail of unsuspecting victims in our path? How else could we construct perfect alibis and hide honest opinions inside of false compliments?

I’m not claiming this transition would succeed without bruises, and I don’t know if it’s even feasible in a technologically translucent society. But, beating the bedrock to expose a fallacious foundation may not be the worst use of our united efforts.

Games are fun, and they serve their purpose at birthday parties, baby showers, and wine-guzzling get-togethers. But, an existence safeguarding every word and action is a life spent toiling against the grain. Leave the fantasy on stage, and say what’s in your heart. It’s a dose of fresh air in a crammed elevator, and it feels fantastic.

Old habits die hard, but allowing even a modicum of legitimacy to creep into your vocalized notions will give the those tiny roots permission to sprout. Before long, we’ll all be standing atop a tree of transparency…or not.