The Keys to the Kingdom Can’t Open All the Locks

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Being born a white, middle class American male undoubtedly comes with a limitless bounty of benefits. The struggles that most modern human beings have to face on a daily basis make the insignificance of any routine discontent seem laughable. On a macroscopic scale, this dichotomy is even more ridiculous.

As Eddie Vedder so aptly chanted, “He won the lottery by being born. Big hand slapped a white male American.”

But the only reality we know is our own, and perception can be a wily thing. I look at the daggers I’ve dodged, the nearly-impossible summits I’ve reached, and the countless pitfalls I’ve leapt, and I wonder exactly what that lottery ticket looks like. As I find myself standing back at the starting line for the umpteenth time, I can only imagine what this fight would feel like wearing a different color skin, in a different city, or without the love and support of friends and family to provide emotional safety nets along the line.

Surviving in today’s world is like walking through an infinite corridor, following a flash of light somewhere in the distance. Unfortunately, without warning, random pieces of the floor can disappear beneath your feet and occasionally massive boulders chase behind you in some theme park-replicated Indiana Jones living nightmare. It’s a wonder any of us make it through life…alive.

Questions and concerns, worries and wonder. There’s a lot taking up valuable brain real estate. We have self-constructed familial and social circles, and we spin inside those centrifuges, hoping that the sediment will settle. But being dizzy is a big part of those passage rites, regardless of race, gender, or socioeconomic position.

We’re all just doing our best not to wobble and fall, one shaky and carefully-planted step at a time.

Adolescence Interrupted

Do Not Pass Go

stop1“Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success.”  —Pablo Picasso

Well, I have found a familiar friend in the rubble of my recent implosion. That sidekick is resilience.

I have been challenged, stomped on, and set off course more times in this life than I can begin to count. But there is one constant, and that is my bionic ability to rebound and strategize. With eyes wide, I find a way to see beyond the flames to find some piece of solace and security on the other side.

Being a hopeful thinker is certainly helpful, but something starts in the gut and propels me past the chaos of the sandstorm and into placid pastures. I am more than grateful for this gift, and I can thank the ruthless brain surgeries for building my armor. Drilling a sense of possibility and perspective into a head that would rather obey instincts by cowering in the corner, adversity has ultimately become an asset.

Now, I can’t for a second say that I relish the consistent destruction of my plans, but I can take pride in the way those broken pieces are observed, analyzed, gathered, and disposed of in an almost-mechanical manner. I waste no time on tears when the next chapter is waiting to be written.

Flexibility and perseverance have become fine bedfellows, and I eagerly anticipate the day those red lights finally flash green.

Adolescence Interrupted

Turning Tables

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Find me a streak of consistency and I’ll show you how quickly presumption becomes disbelief. As I’ve stated many times in this collection of musings, the only constant is change. When we feel like we’re clutching the frayed end of a rope with our last knuckle, that same line is used to pull us from the pit. Dark days are followed by sunny opportunities and the ever-evolving journey of human existence continues on its path, pushed only by a vague sense of purpose, happenstance, and luck. But hold on for that final loop because it just might be the ride that reveals what you needed to see.

A combination of opportunity and rewards from past behavior have united to alter the landscape of what I previously thought was a smooth passageway beneath the mountains, through the valley. I like my roads traversed—the brush beaten—to offer an unobstructed view and the absence of pitfalls. But without risk, there is no reward, and the flatline life, in all its predictability, neither challenges the mind nor nurtures the soul. So a lot of stress and a little shaking of the Yahtzee dice flipped my table on its top. I stepped to the edge of the unknown and jumped.

What the future has in store is heavy with potential and the hope of a portrait painted with fresh colors is no longer conjecture, but fact. I’ve saddled my steed and strapped in for the long haul. Through collaborative effort and a discerning view of the map at my feet, I’m finally able to grip the reigns of my future and steer.

Adolescence Interrupted

Disappearing in Plain Sight

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A shadow of a shell of the soul that once felt electric and alive, has now become a petulant stepchild, unruly and unpredictable. Fickle and feisty, it seems to march defiantly to its own beat, with little respect for the rhythm of the collective or the rules that govern the occasion. Turning its back on the gardener who helped it to grow, this rascal spits in the face of convention and sinks into a state of isolation better reserved for prisoners on punishment.

Motivation through coaxing or logic falls on deaf ears, while the routine ruts of a foundation built on quicksand continue to pull. Finding the route to the roots would take an effort of Herculean proportions, so the casing’s commander is forced to abide by behavior that drives a wedge between aspiration and reality, often losing the battle to humdrum habit.

After accepting any port in the storm, seas eventually settle. But the uncertainty wrapped within erratic shifts in energy does little to mollify a constant stream of projection, even when abundant support, reassurance, and logic are at play.

These opposing forces should find some agreeable common ground, not duel to the death for a seat in the front row. But cooperation doesn’t seem to be a priority on the agenda.

The brain is a twisted, torturous playground, delighting in the chaos it creates and laughing at the architect bent over his drafting table, desperately designing blueprints to slow the ascent of lava lurching toward the lip of the volcano.

But every sunrise brings another opportunity to attain that elusive balance, and the pursuit to catch a piece of the past continues.

Adolescence Interrupted

In Fits and Starts

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Momentum is a dynamic thing. Valleys frequently follow hilltops, and there’s little we can do but ride the coaster. Positivity, focus, and motivation are excellent emotional catalysts, but the globe spins to its own drum beat, regardless of how many laws of attraction are added to our daily to-do lists. We can angst and fret and project and stress, or we can release what is beyond our control and wait to catch the next wave. The universal laws of balance have a way of working themselves out.

This is a classic “practice what you preach” cautionary tale, and it’s one I should shoot into my earholes post-haste. Who are these people who think about impending events the day before they occur, instead of months in advance? How are these unicorns bred to simply and casually adapt to unforeseen circumstances, as opposed to methodically planning every conceivable attack plan, should a situation arise that upsets the setup? Where is this flow that everyone is going with, and how can my brain get excited about taking a tube ride into river rapids? It all feels wildly precarious, yet many people seem to find the firmest ground when their feet aren’t planted.

Smooth roads are an illusion as tangible as total control. A burst of good news is routinely trailing behind discouragement and vice versa. Perhaps tunnel vision, eyes-on-the-prize thinking is the safest means of travel. An ostrich with its head in the sand never feels the rain fall.

But it never sees the sun rise.

Adolescence Interrupted

Finding the Muse in Musical Theater

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From the moment my eight-year-old eyes were blown open by the technicolor roller skating wonder of “Starlight Express,” I knew the seeds of a lifelong love affair were planted. Buzzing with anticipation, I sat next to my best friend in a section—specifically carved out by the theater—which allowed the actors to skate directly next to and around us for the entirety of the play. It was a powerfully immersive experience, and Jamie and I were quick to relive the magic by donning our official, matching show t-shirts when we got home that night. I have a picture of us (somewhere…in an album/in a box/in an attic), sitting on a pull-out bed with beaming smiles and overstimulated brains.

I was fortunate to grow up an hour north of Manhattan, so trips to the city frequently included a play, and for me, the word “play” meant “musical.” I took the scenic route through all the requisite classics, before honing in on the few shows that spoke to my soul. There were fan favorites (“Cats,” “Miss Saigon,” and “Les Miserables”). Then, there were a few shots in the dark that missed their targets (“Contact,” “Xanadu,” and “Mamma Mia”). But when I realized that I intensely identified with inventive instrumentation, unorthodox orchestration, and slightly darker themes and subject matter, I vowed never to return to the world of “Guys & Dolls.” Instead, I dove headfirst into “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Spring Awakening,” “American Idiot,” “Next to Normal,” and a show that spawned over a decade of obsession…”RENT.”

It’s difficult to describe exactly what it is about this art form that speaks so audibly to a part of me that normally lies dormant and waiting, but when the perfect chord progression collides with soaring vocals, I’m left a puddle of my former solid state. It’s in the genes and it’s in the blood, and there was a time I would have given my left arm for Pascal’s pipes.

But now I am the happy victim of the the single most brilliant and addictive piece of musical theater ever produced. I can say, without hesitation that this is not only the best show ever written, it may be the strongest lyrical album ever created. Obviously, I’m talking about “Hamilton.”

Now that I’m in LA, I generally have to wait for casts to land on the left coast, and with the unimaginable fervor surrounding this phenomenon, I’ll be waiting more than a while to see a stage production. But the soundtrack has been on a constant, repetitive loop, and I’m uncovering another morsel of genius with every listen.

I’m floored by Lin-Manuel Miranda, and I’m thrilled that audiences and critics have embraced the fact that Broadway needed to be painted with a fresh coat.

We were just waiting for the ideal hand to grab the brush.

Adolescence Interrupted

Isolated Incidents

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“To thine own self be true.” -William Shakespeare

Framing an existence through the filter of personal perception is a simple task for an introvert. We walk through the world as observers, internally commenting on the people and events that paint the landscape of our journeys. At times, we question the motivations of the masses and shake our heads at the absurdity of society’s accepted rituals, wondering how we could be so far from average.

This self-imposed exile can both comfort and corrode, but the impetus to peel away the security blanket is often the needle in a hay silo. Our feet aren’t shaped to walk on the same path as yours, so we, quite literally, are late to arrive at the party.

My only respite from the streaming onslaught of thoughts, analyses, and a babbling internal dialogue is the studied focus on a bouncing yellow tennis ball or the two-hour “braincation” achieved by sitting in a theater, staring at a screen or stage depicting someone else’s adventures.

Like everything else, the chasm between chatty party guy and weirdo on the wall has widened with age. I have a hard time remembering the high fives and toothy grins, the eagerness to meet someone new, or the desire to play any role other than whatever feels authentic in the moment. I’m far too occupied swinging on the monkey bars of my own intellectual jungle gym to take a break and explore the rest of the playground.

Maybe this changes. Maybe not. I have lived a life of streaks and patterns, so I never rule out the possibility of 180s. But being a stranger in a strange land, surrounded by friends and familiarity, is a bizarre phenomenon.

Adolescence Interrupted

Sweet Spot

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Over the last two years, I have painted a picture of a life in constant flux. Towering highs danced with terrifying lows, and clenched jaws were often more familiar than easy grins. Riding roller coaster waves has become something steady and expected. But every once in a while, the universe grants us that perfect succession of events, and we become surfers on a glassy tube. These moments may be fleeting, but they serve as fuel for the empty stretches on that desert road in the distance.

I’m happy to report that this past week provided windows with unobstructed views on two different days, and those instances certainly satisfied the requirements for a healthy reserve uptake. I’ve learned to embrace that alignment of energetic forces—refusing to question how or why they are presented—and inhale the fresh air of perspective for as long as the oxygen is available.

As tennis players, we are taught to strike the ball cleanly at a section of the racquet where the strings specifically intersect to provide the optimum “slingshot effect,” utilizing the full capability of the frame to generate the maximum return from the effort dedicated to the practice. This same principal can be applied to every undertaking.

Set your focus, track the target, steady your feet, take a deep breath, position the sweet spot…and pounce.

Adolescence Interrupted

The Power of Peaceful Thought

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Methods for quieting the chaos raging inside our heads are everywhere, but removing chemical deterrents to find some sense of tranquility through natural means is often seen as ineffective or less useful. It’s easy to slap the label of “hippie” on anything that feels unfamiliar because it happens to be rooted in something more than giant ad campaigns and pharmaceutical propaganda. But channeling the energy that’s pulsing through us is a path of least resistance that the overmedicated masses would be wise to try.

The noise and static are deafening, and the hyperactive state of modern society is no muzzle. To cut through that fog of interference, it takes discipline and focus. Steadying the breath and clearing the mind to lighten the heft of doubt, frustration, or anxiety from our shoulders is faster and far less toxic than diving into an artificial concoction of side effect-inducing sludge.

The untapped potential of the mind is a mystery we’ve been slow to unravel, but studies are showing how crucial thought can be on influencing biological assignments. From cancer treatments to regenerative tissue growth after injury, focused concentration can do wonders for the healing process. The brain is the motherboard controlling our mental and physical functions. We simply need to learn how to be better programmers.

There are certainly situations and circumstances when medication is a necessity. A meditative practice does have its limits, and a good friend of mine often comments that I believe “any malady can be cured with garlic, lemon, and sea salt.” But a move toward openness about the power of peaceful thought might slow the speed in which a doctor reaches for the prescription pad.

Adolescence Interrupted

Brain Pain

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The pressure is mounting. My skull’s nerve endings are a direct gauge of what’s happening inside, but the psychological sludge is far meaner a foe. I never imagined I would have been so thoroughly thrust back into the guessing game after all these years, but apparently there is no such thing as healed.

Anger has taken occupancy where tears used to reside, and my naked defiance has been a strange bedfellow. As I’ve gotten older and further away from the hospital sheets and question marks, I’ve also become less tolerant of a body that refuses to play nice.

I live in a constant state of mild pain. Tennis, car crashes, too many years spent sliding around on skateboards…who knows? I’m fine accepting the fact that an aging body put through the rigors of extensive activity will show some signs of wear and tear. That’s normal and acceptable.

But after what I had to go through to be free of the daily shackles that kept me clutching CT scans and neurosurgeon phone numbers, this universal slap in the self-esteem seems unwarranted and cruel.

I feel like I’m karmically aligned. I try to treat other people well, give to those less fortunate, and walk a path of positivity and integrity. But there is a devil on this shoulder, and I can’t help but wonder if I’m making up for past transgressions.

I believe we have a series of lives and experiences built into the core of our foundation, and this particular lap may simply be penance for sins from an old story. I suspect I’m supposed to learn some universal lesson as I clutch a head of such unbearable compression that I’m waiting for it to explode in my palms, but it’s hard to make peace with a timeline of souls that I can’t even see.

Some wackadoo massage therapist once said that the tension and strain I carry around my neck and shoulders are from hangings I was subjected to in past lives. She told me all about the villagers who gathered to burn me in the square and detailed the number of times I suffered a fractured spine at the hands of these irate mobs.

I left that day thinking she was quite possibly the most insane person ever to work at a spa. Now I’m starting to believe she was onto something.

Adolescence Interrupted