Tag Archives: 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

Dropping Shoes

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“Western man has tried for too many centuries to fool himself that he lives in a rational world. No. There’s a story about a man who, while walking along the street, was almost hit on the head and killed by an enormous falling beam. This was his moment of realization that he did not live in a rational world but a world in which men’s lives can be cut off by a random blow on the head, and the discovery shook him so deeply that he was impelled to leave his wife and children, who were the major part of his old, rational world. My own response to the wild unpredictability of the universe has been to write stories, to play the piano, to read, listen to music, look at paintings—not that the world may become explainable and reasonable but that I may rejoice in the freedom which unaccountability gives us.” ― Madeleine L’Engle

The headaches are back. They’re not the “bad” kind, so I guess they’re simply the “new” kind. Either way, a giant debilitating pause button has surfaced, and after far too much research and straw grasping, I’ve decided they are best classified as migraines.

Now I’ve always touted the fact that I never got migraines, and I even specifically mentioned it in my book. It seemed more than fair that after all the brain-based obstacles and excruciating pressure pain endured from the complications associated with hydrocephalus that I would be spared any additional suffering once those symptoms retreated. But that’s just not how life works.

We can plan and plot and cross our fingers that once we emerge from the flames, the fire can’t catch us. But whatever is burning behind is also burning ahead. Living is navigating, and no amount of precaution can halt the birth of unforeseeable variables. Duck and weave. Jump and slide.

There is no crystal ball, and no chance for a second take. The cards slid from the dealer are the result of universal randomness and haphazard order. We can play or fold, but the odds won’t transform with a fresh deck.

So instead of analyzing all the ways we might lose if the fates decide it’s not our day to soak in the sunshine, let’s just pull up a seat and roll the dice.

Adolescence Interrupted

Lost Ones

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“Life seems sometimes like nothing more than a series of losses, from beginning to end. That’s the given. How you respond to those losses, what you make of what’s left, that’s the part you have to make up as you go.”  -Katharine Weber

The impossible unpredictability of our daily existence is enough to rattle the most grounded of souls. Add to that the utter lack of control we wield over the trajectory of our loved ones, and we become nothing more than walking/talking test tubes trapped in a centrifuge, forced to endure a dizzying dance of expectations, invocations, and crossed fingers.

Yet we are told that hardship and grief define character, that we must embrace the dark days to appreciate the sunrises. Nothing worth its salt is easily procured. A silver lining sits on the back of every storm cloud.

But I don’t think I’m capable of swallowing the force-fed doses of wishful thinking.

There is a chasm left when people leave and a heaping helping of affirmative visualization or positive manifestation can’t change the fact that we are all sprinting on hamster wheels built with a finite number of rotations.

My mother and I both lost a parent when we were 25. We recently talked about this odd shared life experience, and I realized that the finality of some moments never fully vacate the consciousness. Her loss was far more devastating than mine, but seeing how emotionally affected someone could be more than forty years after an incident was proof that no amount of elaborate window dressing can hide the fact that your store is sometimes empty.

The moments missed and the absent days are tough pills to swallow. We all have clocks that are counting backward, and perhaps death and loss are the brightest beacons of that reality.

So until Kurzweil cracks the code to give us a little breathing room, we’re stuck in this particular place and time. I suppose we should try to make the most of it.

Adolescence Interrupted

The Last Gladiators

tennis1As another French Open peeks its head around a shadowy Parisian corner and into the sun, illuminating Roland Garros’ mythic red clay, I can’t help but reflect on the role this incredible sport has played in my evolution.

From the moment my uncle (“Just Steve”) gave me a junior Henri Leconte Head tennis racquet to gauge whether or not I had any inclination to explore this odd game of chase and retrieve, it was obvious I was hooked. There was something undeniably invigorating about sprinting and striking. Tennis was tailor-made for me, and I could feel its grip deep within my bones.

Now, with the love affair nearly 30 years old, I can appreciate much more than clean backhand winners and the satisfaction of straight-sets victories. This sport has taught me about perseverance, focus, concentration, and the simple beauty of a meditative activity to block out the daily chaos. The tennis court is the only place where I can center my full attention on one thing, and the deafening static from a world filled with toxins, distractions, and neuro-interrupters fades away.

This is the last non-violent vestige we have of the excitement and energy generated from two opponents put to the ultimate test of strength, stamina, and mental muscularity. For all the aficionados of that bouncing yellow ball, I don’t need to explain what superhuman abilities were necessary to complete that 6-hour Australian Open final in 2012. These are athletes at the apex of their incredibly fine-tuned abilities, and watching them work is nothing short of spectacular.

I am grateful every day for my exposure to this phenomenal outlet, for the consistent cardio thrashing, and that my knees, ankles, and shoulders are still willing to stand by me in the trenches. I have watched the evolution of equipment and technique, and I appreciate the skills of past champions as much as the potential of tomorrow’s trophy lifters. For me, this is not only a sport, but a lifestyle…and I couldn’t be happier to live it.

The Insecurity of Security

worried1There is no such thing as an unfettered path. When the cards are all placed neatly in stacks, ready for their integration on the tower, a gale blows in to splash them across the ground. We can’t rewind the clock or reset the decks. It was fate that they found the floor.

Acceptance of these uncontrollable universal slaps in the face is never easy. Regardless of conscientious strategies or meticulous safeguards, we remain at the whim of unknown, and unforeseen, variables. Life is a spinning roulette wheel, and we’re left playing a number and hoping for the best.

It is the reluctance of this acceptance that speaks to the core of our collective weakness. We want to fix the game. We want guarantees and assurances that the moves we make are the most prudent, considerate, and cautiously plotted. No one should be left holding an empty bucket and wondering where it all went wrong. But someone must…and someone will.

Those winds will continue to blow, and we’ll find ourselves on our knees, sweeping up the broken pieces of our plans. We’ll lament the fact that we’re tested and we’ll gnash our teeth and clench our fists. But a deep breath and the acknowledgment that road spikes aren’t laid to stop the race but merely puncture the tire, can help us bandage the bruises and find that finish line.

So, it’s imperative that we soak up every second of the good stuff before life decides we’ve had our fill. Best days are easily followed by bad, and vice versa. Allow the variables to exist without fighting their inevitability and all that extra energy can be spent on the people and moments that really matter.

Forcing the Hand

hand1We are all ships at the mercy of the sea.

Although our paths feel self-directed, typically we are left waiting for a signal generated from someone else’s control tower. It is the patience to allow a process to properly unfold that separates those with longevity from life’s one-hit wonders, brilliantly burning out after a temporary blaze.

So much of this has to do with restraint, and the acceptance that we cannot govern the motivations or inclinations of others. There is a level of cooperation that is absolutely essential to building a product, creating a concept, or arriving at a finished result. We are a collaborative species, and the checks and balances that exist are as crucial a part of the system as the lightning-in-a-bottle moments of inspiration.

When we grind against the grain, the friction causes a fire.

It’s one thing to understand this philosophy, and quite another to put it into practice. But the mounting stress and strain of pulling teeth offers little in the way of a reward, no matter how ardently we believe we can convince, persuade, and influence someone else’s thinking. The act becomes nothing more than heads knocking firmly into walls.

Life is learning, and those lessons sometimes come at a price, but the benefit of seeing the unnecessary roadblocks built by our own hands is worth more than the satisfaction of watching someone else crash into them.