Tag Archives: communication

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.

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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.

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.

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.

The Human Life of Progress

EvolutionA large part of my day is spent observing and asking questions. This isn’t necessarily the most carefree way to spend my time, but I shuffle the cards I’ve been dealt.

Lately, there has been one particular concept rattling around in this crowded cranium that I find interesting and, most likely, impossible to resolve. Is our species inherently made to feel like we are constantly evolving? Do we possess some programming imprint to make us believe we have learned from our past mistakes, and are now rigidly embracing the present?

I bring up this question because it seems like we are inundated with messages about the latest “thing” being the only important commodity to consider.

Musicians talk about their new sound and its grand departure from their previous efforts. Writers wax philosophical about inspiration crafting their work in a more powerful direction. Filmmakers preach about their past catalog helping to usher in a new landscape and motivation for their art. Painters eschew earlier efforts, claiming they can finally see the canvas with honest eyes.

But, the creatives aren’t the only guilty ones. How many times do you hear someone in his 30’s reminiscing about his wild 20’s? Just as often as someone in her 40’s lamenting the wistful wandering of her 30’s. The retired look back at youth with a detached disbelief, and the elderly study the middle-aged with a perplexing mix of envy and pity.

We always think we are precisely where we’re intended. Obviously, on a microcosm, this notion is brought into question on a daily basis. But, when we step outside the narrow focus of our lives, we rarely yearn for  experiences had or roads traveled. Moments exist in specific times, for specific reasons.

On a quest of self-evolution, there is a part of us that is content with the progress we’ve achieved and open for the possibilities of what lies in waiting.

We trust that the decisions we make today come from the learned lessons of yesterday’s stumbles. We try to smile at the past and not pine for it. We see the present as a culmination of errors and triumphs and dreams of what once was, sprinkled with aspirations of the future. We allow hope and resolve to fill our mornings and the pledge for a better purpose to usher in our nights.

We ask a lot of ourselves, and demand movement and growth. Believing we’re evolving is the easy part. The real challenge is floating in space at 1,000 miles an hour, trying to stay grounded.

Sharpened Perspective

Thank you for being a wonderful mother

It’s often too easy to get lost in the mundanity of daily life. The interval between turning a white noise sleep machine off and turning it on again can feel like a timeless loop of repetitive habits, vibrating on skipping needles, powered by hamster wheels.

My Groundhog Days are normally of little concern. I accept that baby steps lead to Olympian leaps, so I tackle my routine tasks and always sweat the small stuff. As a writer and proofreader, details are kind of a big deal. These are my cards, and I’m happy to play them.

But, sometimes—even when the marathon tennis sessions have beaten my body and emptied my energy reserves—I find myself squirming inside my skin for a change of pedestrian pace.

Normally, I ignore these impulses and continue punching computer keyboards in my never-ending attempt to accumulate tension headaches. But, two weeks ago, I was delivered a surprise fuel injector in the form of a fellow tennis aficionado from NY with the desert on her mind and a pro tournament in her sights.

Mom knows just when to rescue her overthinking, word wrestler of a son from his stationary bike, and exactly how to throw some excitement and a change of scenery into the mix.

It was just what the proverbial doctor ordered, and I was able to unplug and detach from the busy, serpentine track of LA life.

My chiropractor believes that the mountains in Palm Springs have a way of inexplicably extracting the stress from our bodies and, although I don’t normally subscribe to  teachings of the mystic variety, I’d have to agree with him.

So, now it’s back to work and back to that hamster wheel. But, like mainlining lemon-lime Gatorade, I feel refreshed and ready for the race ahead.

Thanks, Mom…for always knowing what I need, even when I don’t.

Searching for Sugar Mama

money-origami-dress-greenOn the eve of Hollywood’s most spectacularly star-studded night, I thought I would take a moment to reflect on a trend that is now so routine, it’s becoming boring. I’m referring to the sea of doe-eyed twenty-somethings securely fixed to the arms of men who are old enough to be their fathers.

With pretty hair and perfect teeth, they amble along red carpets and media lines, pandering to the city’s power players, and desperately trying to stay afloat in an ocean of ennui. They nod affably while listening to recycled stories about pranks on set, the triumph of the cast and crew, the challenges of the role, and how this particular film is going to alter the way people experience cinema. The mechanical Barbies are never acknowledged or introduced. They straighten their too-small dresses and take the hand of Mr. Hollywood as they’re ushered to the next press pit.

Beauty has been a valuable commodity for as long as humans have had eyes. That beauty is often rewarded with gifts and opportunities. This is nowhere more prevalent than Los Angeles. We are a city of young, meritless actresses tagging along with rich, old men. It’s modern prostitution with a Hollywood sheen, and my feminist sensibilities find it nauseating.

There is nothing more impressive or attractive than a strong, intelligent, and capable female. There are plenty of women who understand references without having them explained, who are in on the joke while it’s being constructed, and who can fight to support their stance on any topic. They appreciate music and art. They read books and remember specific lines. They laugh at themselves and knock you down to size when you deserve it. They think and they question and they seek information. They are interesting and thoughtful and open and honest. They can carry the weight of the world and never let you see the strain. They are intuitive and emotionally connected. There are levels of virtue and resilience in a woman that can easily trump those of a man.

Why anyone would choose a plastic robot in heels is beyond me. It shows how little that person is valued. She is simply a trophy, a prize to be flaunted in front of those who crave a similar emptiness. She has a very limited shelf life and will soon be exchanged for a later model. But, she blindly swallows the promises of auditions, meetings, and connections guaranteed to propel her career. The result is compounded rejection. She finds herself more alone than when she started, with an extra layer of judgment to shed at the therapist’s office.

But, maybe this is how the game is played. Perhaps I need to find a sugar mama who falsely encourages my talents and abilities, filling my head with assurances of book deals, media tours, New York Times Best Seller lists, and a life of security, lavish luxury, and endless happiness.

If you feel you fit the bill, please don’t hesitate to offer your pitch. I will be accepting applications immediately.

Beneath the Heft of Hourglass Sand

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“The sweet is never as sweet without the sour.”

A few days ago, I woke up with the unfortunate impulse to reach for my phone for some helpful advice. Still half-asleep, I found myself dropping into a familiar Google search sinkhole of facts and opinions, unsubstantiated claims, and broad generalizations. But, between the lines, I found pieces of heart-wrenching truth.

See, I live with an incessant worry about the future. Now, I’m not speaking about the glorious, hyper-technological, world-revolutionizing future. All notions of our impending singularity do nothing but paint a Jack Nicholson-sized joker smile across my mug.

What I’m referring to is a future of dwindling time, limited resources, and the daunting prospect of uncontrollable aging. I don’t sit, wrapped in a panic poncho, because of concerns about my own mortality. I never much feared or questioned death. I see it as a necessary component of the cycle of life and I will face it with as much bravery as my age and mental capacity can muster.

My fear and—more specifically—my sadness live under the weight of losing my partner.

It’s always been just Mom and me. I don’t have any siblings and I reside in a city 3,000 miles from any member of my family. I only get major holidays and my annual summer trip to connect through a means other than Skype, and her 30-year head start is beginning to feel like a lead I can’t catch.

So, I thought I would research the notion of caring for an aging parent as an only child. It took less than three results for me to realize I had bitten off a much bigger quandary cookie than I wanted to swallow. It was fear wrapped inside of speculative projection. This was no way to start a day and, contrary to popular belief, streaming tears don’t help lubricate a sun salutation.

The role-swapping will be one of the more difficult transitions. As I’ve mentioned before, I often feel like a young kid walking around playing pretend in a grownup world. To not only own the idea that I am an adult, but to take full responsibility for the physical and emotional well-being of the one person who wore those gloves so perfectly seems like some Copperfield-level form of deception. I’ve been awarded the job and I’m utterly unqualified.

But, I can’t say all the literature was discouraging. One story emphasized the sense of relief the author felt being able to control the care and health trajectory of his mother. He wasn’t lost in sibling bickering and he didn’t harbor the resentment that can arise from feeling like no one else is pitching in to help. He was able to direct every aspect of her treatment and could ensure her best interests were protected. Obviously, bearing the full brunt of responsibility isn’t easy, but knowing that each detail is carefully coordinated can help avoid a messy meal made from too many cooks in the kitchen.

Reading this information wasn’t a relief. I still walk toward the future like an ice skater checking the depth of a frozen lake. But to know that there are people out there grappling with the same doubts and fears made me feel less alone and momentarily quelled my trepidation.

This isn’t painless. It’s not supposed to be. When you care about someone else’s life more than your own, there is an inherent price tag on that love. If something is worth preserving, it has value. If that value is greater than the premium you place on yourself, all your cards are on the table. It is the very meaning of vulnerability, and it’s terrifying. But, attempting to control the uncontrollable is an exercise in futility.

Enjoy each and every shared moment, and savor the small stuff. The rest is just an illusion.

Now, it’s time to take my own advice.

Fatherless Figuring

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The only thing that I can even remotely relate to the notion of having a child is someone handing me a scalpel and asking me to perform a complex medical procedure. It’s wildly intimidating, I’m completely unqualified, and a human life is at risk.

For those of you with children, this concept probably seems absurd. You’d argue it’s the most natural, most biologically-hardwired thing in the world. You barely remember a single day before parenthood provided you with purpose, granting you a gift that made you feel alive and empowered. You were waiting, wandering without focus, until you were blessed with this tiny bundle of instant selflessness.

I get it. Well, I get the general drift. But, I just can’t seem to choke down all the Kool-Aid.

I imagine a number of factors are to blame. I’m an only child. I grew up without a father. I think the survival of the planet hinges on population reduction. Blah, blah, blah.

But, recently, I had a mini revelation. I’ve lived (for longer than I care to admit) with the general belief that serious life decisions and responsibilities are handled by adults. Grownups are experienced, knowledgable, and capable of tackling whatever unplanned catastrophes happen to surface. They can get married, buy houses, have children, organize barbecues, and generally have a damn fine time.

Well, now I’m considerably deep into this “adulthood” everyone keeps talking about, and I don’t feel I have even the simplest skill set required to navigate that world. So, since I live in a constant state of contemplation, I’ve arrived at a couple of conclusions.

1) It’s difficult to foster someone else’s childhood when you still want to revisit your own.

-Many thanks to Mom for this one. Ages 0-18 were a self-actualized dream come to life…full of wonder, hope, love, excitement, and security. Sure, there was one major bump on that perfectly-paved road, but that’s why George Hansburg made the pogo stick.

2) You can’t have a kid when you still ARE a kid.

-Obviously, this isn’t true. Every major city in America proves this thesis false on a daily basis. But, I’m referring to a state of mind. Undoubtedly, there are some who would argue I’m a 90-year-old man, living in the body of a weird, writing hermit. However, habitual handcuffs and erratic sleeping patterns aside, I watch the world with the same discerning eyes I had at 15. Maybe everyone feels like that. There’s a saying that we never realize we age until we catch a glimpse of ourselves in the mirror. Well, that may very well be the case. Regardless, these teenage peepers still see the news of impending fatherhood with the same, balanced mix of pity and terror. It’s not celebration. It’s sympathy.

But, I suppose there’s some future awakening or dormant life event waiting to flip those tables and make me one of the “normals.” Anything is possible.

For now, I’ll continue to stay in awe of these crazy youngsters and their fancy adult lives, living like an old man with a teenage heart.

Weightless and Waiting

hd-wallpaper-earth-from-space-104

Although I was fast to find every available screening seat for most of this year’s Oscar contenders,  I’ll admit I was a bit late to the “Gravity” party. My aversion to 3D technology, coupled with a reluctance to see a film that would almost definitely cause a violent case of vertigo, significantly delayed my time at the ticket window. But, last weekend I finally watched what I can only describe as a mind-bending, perspective-shifting cinematic experience.

Unfortunately, I had to travel deep into the Valley to find one of the only 2D presentations of this film. But it was worth the drive, and well worth the wait.

Lately, I’ve had a hard time shaking a feeling that has been lingering for a long time. It has been increasingly difficult to find solid ground. There’s an ever-present sense of floating, in both the figurative and literal sense. I’m continuously searching for the elusive sand beneath my toes.

A variety of factors are fueling my personal levitation, but adding the terrifying truth that we are literally suspended in the middle of infinite blackness, peppered between stars and solar systems, forced an instant pause and evaluation session.

A frame of reference is a powerful thing, and sometimes the picture we meticulously paint over a lifetime is merely a brush stroke on the canvas of eternity. Our insignificance in the universe should be a liberating, shackle-breaking sense of freedom, but somehow I feel caged by it. It would be so much easier to wander through the days with my head buried beneath the sand, but my wiring is not programmed for blind compliance.

I want to know more about the reason we’re weightless and waiting. I want to know why we’re left alone with thoughts that keep us awake, with spinning minds and nervous hands. These are impossible answers to impossible questions, I guess. We are an infant species with an endless chasm of uncertainties at our feet. But, the idea that everything around us exists in a bubble of questions is unsettling.

Maybe I’m just a maniac. Maybe it’s time to stop wondering why, and just find a way to be happy inside the microcosm. Maybe time will provide the solutions and justifications.

But, as Jodie Foster famously said, “The universe is a pretty big place. It’s bigger than anything anyone has ever dreamed of before. So, if it’s just us…seems like an awful waste of space. “