Fight Your Way Through

26 01 2015

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A couple of days ago, I posted on Facebook that I found the next topic I was going to write about on this blog and here it is. In basically a minute and a half, Ira Glass, host of This American Life, had a lot to say about creative pursuits, patience and fortitude.

Basically, he explains that in beginning any creative endeavor, the fact that your first results are less than what you had hoped for does not take away from the fact that you still have good taste. The fact that you are aware of what you are trying to achieve but have yet not done so is proof enough that with a lot of work, patience and resilience, you will eventually get to a place where your “work is as good as your ambitions.” He ends by summarizing that “it takes a while…and you just have to fight your way through that.”

I made a spreadsheet at the end of last year of all the projects that I can potentially be involved with this year, that I know of. There is no way that I will be able to devote my time to all of them, but I prioritized according to those that I have more control over and I feel will help showcase my writing. When Ira Glass stalks about getting to a place where your taste matches your ambitions, he is talking about creating a “lot of work” – volumes of work so that you can hone in on your craft.

Interestingly, I happened to have a conversation similar to this theme with a very good friend and full time comedian just this week. I was explaining to him that my intention is to keep writing, writing, writing and not overthinking it. It might take years, and if it happens at all, most likely will take many, many years, but eventually something will stick. Something will lead to being able to look back at this time and realize that it was not a worthless pursuit. It may very well be that that something is not monetary in value nor recognition. It may be something as having a volume of work that my great grandchildren will look at decades from now the way we try to reconnect our ancestry to ask ourselves who we are and where we came from.

The point is, for me anyway, write articles, blogs, skits, scripts, do stand-up, blog, practice improv, participate and say “yes” more than you say “no” because if you have good taste, you owe it to yourself to quiet the restless voices that keep you awake and open yourself to where life might take you.

It’s a lesson for artists and “non-artists” alike.

You can watch and listen to the short explanation by Ira Glass here: http://omeleto.com/188186

Until next time,

Marc

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Searching for the Funny

22 01 2015

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Today started out pretty good. I even got to exercise.

It didn’t end so well.

I’ll spare you the details. It wasn’t an “Unbroken”, “Precious” or “Schindler’s List” bad day – I mean, I have some perspective.

But it hit me hard personally in a way that some of those moments do where you look out in the horizon and you can’t really see much further than your own face. I want so badly to be balanced and yet, when these things happen, despite my best efforts, I fail miserably.

As a comedian, I try to find the funny in moments that are anything but. You know the whole Mark Twain “comedy = tragedy + time” or something similar to that. It’s not so easy when it’s recent and raw. So, it made me think about what do comedians do when they have to “be on” but might not feel funny?

As it turns out, they do the same thing any professional does who has a task at hand and may not feel into it – they get the job done (at least the good ones do). For someone who has his own struggles with anxiety, it is interesting that I would even consider trying to do stand-up, that is until I learned that some of the most anxious people are best in crises, because it causes them to focus on the task at hand and immediately get out of their own head.

I think this is how I have dealt with comedy when I might not feel so funny. Rarely do I find myself just going through the motions – my mouth saying one thing while my head is someplace else – at least when doing comedy. In life? Well, that’s another story.

Fake it till you make it. Make yourself laugh. You can do it and you don’t need to be a comic. In fact, it’s easier if you aren’t. It’s the best form of cognitive behavior therapy, in my opinion (he says as if it is an actual form of CBT, which he doesn’t know). Here’s how: think of something funny or a funny thought/take on something or better yet, experience it by telling the story to a friend (or your imaginary blog friend). It works.

A rule of stage comedians  – don’t just tell your story or joke on stage; actually experience it. So, sometimes, rather than searching and waiting, you have to fake and make. It’s better than the alternative: coping and moping.

Until next time,

Marc





What if things DO work out for you?

21 01 2015

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As I mentioned in a recent blog post, I started meditating a few times a week (or trying, at least). One of the mediations I have chosen to do involves visualizing your perfect day and ultimately your ideal future.

This is a fairly new concept for me. I am not sure if it is conditioned via my upbringing, cultural, genetic or otherwise, but I have spent the better part of my life planning contingencies for what if things don’t work out – including finding a job, graduate school, saving money, trying to think of every possible objection to a work presentation, having a regular will, having a living will..you get the picture. Maybe this is why I think about death so much! (That’s a “call back” to an earlier blog post for those of you paying attention).

Anyway, I decided as my procrastination de jour today to google “what if things DO work out”. I got a lot of responses back about actual exercise work-outs and then the inevitable “what if things don’t work out”. Even google assumed that I made a spelling error.

Then I tried googling “what if you DO succeed”, “what if you ARE successful”…you get the point. Every time I got back the opposite or in some cases, the pitfalls of actually getting what you want – I guess like that supposed ancient proverb of “be careful what you wish for, you might get it.”

Is it possible that we are all conditioned to focus on the negative and wallow in self-help books, daily motivational quotes and affirmations wherever we can get them to manage the disappointment of simply being human? This seems to me counterproductive to the whole process of progress and innovation.

My whole point is not that it really ultimately matters one way or the other whether things “work out” or not. Some things will. Some things won’t – even when they appear to be skewed one way or the other for you or for others. We never really know what someone wants, needs or gets. We only see what we think they want, need or get.

What I think does matter, at least for me, is that the possibility of something working out really is as good as the possibility of it not working out. I have to remember that. It’s probably not a revelation to a lot of people but it’s not a bad surprise when it does happen.

In the meantime, I have to stop procrastinating and focus more on the other type of “work out”.

Until next time,

Marc





Oh Captain, My Captain!

20 01 2015

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“I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.” – Whitman

This is my favorite quote recited in Dead Poet’s Society. The way some women describe that they are addicted to Romcoms is the same way I am addicted to movies about guys who wear their passion on their sleeves, don’t give a crap about what people think and follow their heart – Dead Poet’s Society, Moonrise Kingdom, The Fighter, hell, even Tootsie.

My kids are close to 14 and 12 and are at the perfect age for me to introduce them to some of the movies that really made an impression on me. I try to be careful because these “old” movies take a little persuading but as I build up my credibility, they inherently know they might like them and give me less of a hassle.

Lately, we have been on a Robin Williams kick so this fits right in. I also like to do my Mike Brady thing and talk about the “message” or “lesson” afterward, which lasts about 90 seconds before they are back on their iPhones. But, hey, 90-120 iPhone free minutes watching a movie together – I’ll take it.

The best comedians are poets. Poets are people who, when done beautifully, have imaginative and powerful ways of expression and conveying a message. The poem and the comedy set both are the tip of the iceberg. They serve simply as the part you witness, see and experience. Underneath it all, it is darker and murkier and has taken time to craft and produce what most only get to see from the surface.

The DVD (from the library, of course) of Dead Poet’s Society was sitting on my counter for about a week. Maybe it was a subliminal message to “Carpe Diem” but I finally decided to sign up for a boxing lesson this morning. Coincidence? Maybe. I am not a fighter as anyone who knows me can attest to. I am not athletic either and have found moderate success in sticking only to those pursuits where no one has to depend on me in a team environment – running, swimming, piano. (Yes, piano playing does make me sweat sometimes so I’m counting it in as this is my blog.)

That being said, I was always intrigued by boxing – the strategy and sheer resilience that it takes to physically and mentally keep yourself going. I hear it’s an amazing workout, too, so I figure it can’t hurt.

More than anything, I want my kids to know that it is ok to keep growing and learning. It is ok to not have it all figured it out. It is ok to decide that you want something different or find your own path, even later than others may have. It is ok to seize the day.

Until next time,

Marc





The Humorous Side of Martin Luther King, Jr.

19 01 2015

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This may seem like a strange post to blog about on Martin Luther King day but I think it is actually important for a couple reasons – 1. We forget to humanize a lot of our heroes, particularly for the younger set which is important so they realize that very great things come from regular people like us; and 2. it’s a side of MLK we don’t often read or hear about. (Also, this is sort of a comedy blog so there’s that, too.)

I have been reading up on MLK lately, maybe because there has been so much press around the recent release of Selma, maybe because my kids are of the age we they are developing their social conscious or maybe because of a combination of both.

It was very interesting to read older interviews from MLK’s days in college where he was known to have a pretty goofy sense of play and humor and how he developed into one of the greatest orators and leaders of our time. It was as interesting, also, to read about the very private MLK that we don’t know about too much – the man who, behind closed doors, would share jokes with fellow preachers and use humor to deflect some of the gravity of what he saw, felt and lived on a daily basis.

This, by far, was a very inspirational thing for me to learn because just as MLK said he chooses to stick with love over hate because the burden of choosing hate was too great, he chose to use humor over blame or negativity to manage stress and the reality of dealing with deeply dark moments.

It occurred to me that, in my family, this was a similar path. My parents raised my sister and I so that family came first – for everything. Sometimes it was too much, to be honest. That being said, there was a healthy (and sometimes unhealthy) amount of sarcasm and humor to deal with intense situations and this served well in the most dire of times.

One time that sticks in my head was after my grandfather died. He was really a core focal point for our family. His death was a very difficult thing for my entire family, particularly  my mother. After his funeral, we all went back to my grandmother’s house for Shiva, a ceremonial period of mourning in the Jewish faith. Before we knew it, we were laughing about memories and silly things.

After 3 days, I had to leave to go back to where I lived. My car was in my grandparents’ driveway. I stood facing my parents, sister at my side. It occurred to all of us simultaneously that next time we were back there together, time will have changed. It was the end of the era.

My eyes welled up and then the flood gates opened for everyone. It was over almost as soon as it began and then we smiled each other, hugged and laughed – at the craziness of it all; this family who holds nothing in, restraining ourselves from crying at a loss. How funny. Truly, it was hilarious.

On this MLK day, when his “I have a dream” is his most famous speech, let’s celebrate the humility that it takes to be a great leader, to show vulnerability, to wade through difficult waters and to never give up.

Until next time,

Marc





Fear of Flying

18 01 2015

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I’m big on metaphors – to the dismay a lot of times of my kids, colleagues and generally anyone with a pulse. I think it’s because it is one of the ways in which I can process things that are meaningful to me objectively. If the metaphor literally has nothing to do with my topic but the meaning does, (hence the purpose of a metaphor), it’s just more clear cut to me. I don’t know; I’m weird.

I was listening to an NPR Fresh Air Podcast with Terri Gross with author Jessica Lamb-Shapiro, daughter of  self-help author who, herself, is a skeptic of self help. She happened to talk about her own personal fear of flying, which luckily is not something I have. As she was describing her fear and those of others in a “self-help” class she took, I kept thinking: “why am I not more afraid of flying”? It’s simple. I came to the conclusion a long time ago that things, more than likely, will work out. The plane will take off and it will land and everything including and between those two moments are completely out of my control (even if I get to sit in the exit row). Basically, I allowed my rationale thoughts to take on a bit more importance than my irrational thoughts.

It just so happens that I was listening to this podcast this morning on my way home from NYC on the train. Every single moment from last night through getting back to my house was a potential cause of anxiety: trying new material out at the comedy show, figuring out the subway from Brooklyn to Union to Penn to NJ Transit while slipping on Montrose to the subway station and navigating driving on roads from the train station back home that were to be icy.

As I listened to this podcast and thought about flying, it just hit me that if I could learn to apply the same mental state I have to flying to my life, that would probably not be a bad thing. It is really the same. For the most part, there is very little we really have control over.

This concept has served me well every time I have applied it – every single time. I just have not applied it very often. It is not something that comes naturally to me at all.

A friend and well known comedian gave me some great advice late last year as I am always looking to get better. He said what is holding me back is just myself and that if I could trust the process once I am doing stand-up, it will free me up and take me to the next level. It has. I had to (and still have to) give up the fear, relinquish control and trust that things will, one way or the other, work out.  I tried this again last night and it was great and freeing. Some stuff hit, some didn’t. Most of it was awkward and a bit uncomfortable but 100% true and liberating.

And it wasn’t all about the performance either. But more on that in a future blog.

If you’re “afraid to fly”, remember there are a lot more people in place to catch you than you might have thought.

Until next time,

Marc





Comedy Confessions

17 01 2015

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I am sitting at home Friday night working on some new comedy for a last minute gig I got in NYC tomorrow night. I am excited for it because regardless of how it goes, when I am in NY, I always feel so alive. It is, without exception, my favorite city.

It has occurred to me that this blog has been sort of heavy as of late – very cathartic for me – but perhaps it was time to get back to the reason I started it in the first place – getting my comedy mojo going. And, I promise, I won’t use the word “mojo” again.

When I first did stand-up it was on a dare – actually with myself – I had given myself 1 year from a birthday to try it and I was less than 10 days away from the next birthday. I took my kids roller skating and next door was a sign for an open mic…10 days before my birthday. So, that was it.

The main reason I considered it is because I had been writing for such a long time and was frustrated that I just didn’t know how to get “It out there”. After reading a lot of blogs and a few books, they all seemed to agree that the stand-up thing was a necessary evil, at least starting out, to network and also learn how to frame dialogue. I think there is something to that.

Now, I still am at it but grapple with if I really am funny or not. It’s hard to admit that because I envy so many of the comics I work with and get the crowd going every time. They are amazing to me. It is so difficult. I love the feeling of getting people to laugh and my best laughs have been in social situations or at work but that is a very different thing than being on stage. Perhaps, I’m not stand-up material and I am really more of a writer. That is fine, too.

That being said, I know I have improved and have had moments that feel really good. This is something every comedian goes through and I am still a newbie, relatively speaking. There are a lot of things I am still figuring out: the balance between pleasing the crowd and trying new stuff out; the balance between things that work and being edgy (my preference); how to trust my instincts and not plan as much; how to let go; how to find my natural stage presence and most importantly, how to stop making excuses to myself and others about why I am doing this.

I don’t think a lot of people understand the craft of comedy and writing. Just like any other profession, there are those who take their craft seriously and work really hard and there are…well, you get the point. I am taking it as seriously as any other comic, with the caveat that I will not usurp my responsibility to my family, which means comedy comes after family and my job that provides for said family.

For a long time, I was told to “hide” the fact that I am not a “full time” comedian. Who cares? It is not a coincidence that the people who have the least amount of time are usually the ones to take on more responsibility. Life is not an all or nothing game and I enjoy it (usually).

I am grateful for the opportunity to do something that has opened me up to a whole new world and regardless if it ever takes off or not, there still remains a push from within to not give up.

Comedy is pretty serious.

Until next time,

Marc








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