Put it out there

19 02 2015

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In Hamlet, Shakespeare writes: “…for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” There are a few different interpretations including Hamlet basically saying that ignorance is bliss or the other which is that we are, in essence, a product of our own thoughts. I guess both are true.

Being a realist sucks. Especially when you’re a dreamer, too. Somehow, the realist always seems to trump the dreamer. I am not sure why it can’t be the other way around, at least some of the time. The problem with the realist, though, at least in my case, is that it always seems to be overly cautious. Worse of all, when the worst case scenario really does happen, that inner voice that says: “hah! I told you this wasn’t going to work out” chimes in and the dreamer retreats.

I have been spending a lot of time, (too much time), thinking about why some people seem to be so content and others, restless. I think being a creative type does not help at all, or at least for me. The one thing I did realize, however, is that if you are going to do something, you really have to do it all the way. That doesn’t mean “quit your job and head out to L.A.” all the way.

Let me explain from something I can relate to – comedy. While it is far from completely gone, for a long time I was very embarrassed about the fact that this “responsible” adult that I was carrying around – husband, father, son, friend, employee – was so passionate about writing and learning the craft of comedy. I mean, turn on the TV and it is clear that there aren’t too many people in my age group doing comedy who haven’t been doing it since their 20s. As such, I talked myself through it convincing myself that it’s good enough for me to just try something and, therefore, i never went all out for a long time – never tried things that were really scary like being completely true on stage, being ok with having some people be uncomfortable or even doing on-the-spot improv.

That was a huge mistake. Here’s why. For someone like me (and maybe you are the same way), I am more disappointed in myself for not just “putting it out there” and trying something than playing it safe and wondering what would have happened if I had tried. Even on my worst “go all out” days, I felt proud that I tried.

The truth is that spending time wondering about why people seem so content is a waste of time. Perhaps they really aren’t. Perhaps they are not risk takers and don’t want to be. That’s fine, too. Perhaps they are, themselves, “putting it out there” and passionate about something that doesn’t involve mowing the lawn or watching the game. And if that’s their thing, more power to them.

What matters is that life really is short. Super, super short. But it can feel incredibly long sitting on the sidelines. I rather feel like time is passing me by while I try to fit it all in. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Until next time,

Marc

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Wake me when it’s over.

18 02 2015

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I may be aging myself here but what the hell.

I remember decades ago watching “30 Something”. One of the main characters, Nancy, was going through treatments for cancer. In once scene, I forget – she may have been speaking with a therapist – she was describing those first few hazy moments when she is transitioning from sleep to a waking state. She described those first few minutes when she is not aware of her present situation (basically forgets about having cancer) and then describes the feeling that comes forth when she comes to full consciousness and realizes that everything is not ok.

Don’t ask me why I remember this scene at all. I have no idea. I think I was still a teenager at that point. I just recall how poignant that was because it is something that I have definitely experienced and suspect most of us have, particularly when dealing with a long-term, stressful situation.

Going through something unpleasant can tear you down for good or it can build you back up stronger than before. It is cliche but it is true – read any great comeback story or novel. For me, I am working extra hard to build a stronger foundation than I had before – whether it is for my relationships, work, comedy or most importantly, the way in which I process thoughts.

Mornings are tough for me. I don’t know why but I have this weird and annoying thing where I run through all the things in my mind that have to get done and then hit the ground running, as if it is some sort of race, to get it all done before lunch time. When I am first waking up, it feels pretty good and for the most part, I can look forward to the day until reality sets in that with respect to that one stressful black cloud looming over me, the day can take a turn and twist in a direction that I have no control over. I know that it will end – some day and it will get better – some day, but the anxiety of not knowing when that day is is something that is difficult for me.

Even when I was going to graduate school part-time, while working, raising kids, finding money to pay for it, etc., at least I had an idea of how many years it would take so I had a goal to work toward. In contrast to that, however, with this “black cloud”, there is no end date and it just gets worse before it gets better (though I know it will).

That’s where meditation has really helped. As I mentioned before in previous blog posts, I am not even sure if I am truly meditating, but I have been doing a 6 phase mediation from an app called “Omvana” and I really do feel much better in the morning to take on the day. It also really helps me focus the anxiety away from the unknown future to the aspirational future that I can work toward.

There is a lot of talk about being happier. It’s strange. I just got my latest edition of “Outdoor” magazine today and what is the cover article about? You guessed it – how to be happier. I am finding out the hard way, that happiness really does start within and it’s all a state of mind. I really do hope I have a half of a life yet to live because something tells me it’s going to take me at least that long to get where I’m trying to go.

Until next time,

Marc





Are you at the right bus stop?

17 02 2015

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We moved in 2006, only a couple of miles away, but to what felt like a completely different neighborhood. My son was in kindergarten and I remember waiting at the bus stop with him and a bevy of other kids and their parents or caretakers.

No one said hello to me or my wife. It was weird, so I waited. October. November. Nothing. It wasn’t done out of malice but it just seemed weird – no one in our neighborhood really hung out and after hearing from our new neighbors how amazing the people were who had previously lived in our house, well, i guess you can say it was a let down.

It got to the point when I would joke with my wife that I was going to take out my phone and pretend to have conversations to see if I could get their attention with things that would never even come close to who were were: “yeah, babe…the wife went to work, why don’t you pop over in 10 and wear that red piece you know I like so much.” or “I told you where to put the body! Do I stutter!”. For the sake of my family, I refrained and kept my thoughts as just that – thoughts.

Then, i started showing up to my son’s school events. I was the only dad and the well made-up mothers just pretended I wasn’t there. I tried not to take the whole thing personally. I had this nagging feeling of not belonging, of just walking into a room and automatically knowing I didn’t fit in. This is something I hadn’t had for the most part up until my kids started to go to school. It felt uncomfortably familiar…but from where?

Oh, that’s right! High school.

Simply put, there are some people that naturally fit in and there are others who, well, let’s just say we maneuver our way through the awkwardness as best as possible. It was interesting because in other situations, I did not feel this way at all. Obviously, being with good friends or family where I could just be me was a no brainer. It occurred to me that I just wasn’t at the right “bus stop”.

The truth of the matter is that people congregate in areas with like-minded people. I am not a suburbs sort of guy. Don’t get me wrong, I like the suburbs. I am incredibly grateful for the few good friends I have made over the many years here, not to mention the great education – you know, you get the picture…basically all the stuff the realtors describe to you when explaining why your taxes are 20-30% higher than the house 3 miles away from you. But that being said, it can get pretty homogenous.

Perhaps it was just that I was now living in a sea of other parents in my age group and fitting in meant finding common ground. That’s not fair to everyone else. The truth is this is how I have always been – my interests are different and weirder than the norm and that’s ok. No one cares and I shouldn’t either. But to be happy, I did need to “change my bus stop” or in this case, create a new “bus stop”, which is why I started producing a local comedy show and getting the word out and not being ashamed.

It doesn’t shock me anymore but I still am surprised when people come up to me and not only say “I had no idea you were a comedian” but then I get that comment where it was the last thing they think I would do. We are all multidimensional people. Some of us just have the common sense to save a few dimensions for the privacy of our own 4 walls. Unfortunately, I’m not one of those people.

So, if you feel like your “bus stop” may not be a good fit, find one that will or try and create your own. You may be surprised  – you may even get to sit in the back of the bus with the cool kids!

Until next time,

Marc





The Happiness Equation

14 02 2015

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What if there was a simple equation you could apply to your life to make sure you were maximizing your happiness potential?

Seems silly, I know, but according to Jonathan Haidt of “The Happiness Hypothesis”, there is.

Let me say right up front that I am no fan of the self-help movement. I think, like most things, there are probably a few gems out there but most of it is just a way to try to make money off of the fact that everyone has something they would like to improve.

“The Happiness Hypothesis” is not a self help book. It takes a neuro-scientific, cultural, historical and philosophical view of happiness and tries to break down the learnings into what actually leads to happiness and surprise, surprise, it’s no one thing.

There is an actual equation that is proposed that makes a lot of sense to me and I hope it does for you, too. What I like most about this multi-dimensional approach is that it is a reminder that simply saying “I just want to be more happy” is like saying “I just want to be rich or thin or successful.’ Just?

In the U.S., our Declaration of Independence references “the PURSUIT of happiness”. It is a journey and it takes work, and above all, there is no GUARANTEE of happiness.

However, there is a formula and I’m going to “Marc-ify” it which is a tacky way of saying “dumb it down for me.”

H=S+C+V

H= Happiness (I’m guessing you probably figured that one out)

S= Set point: each of us is born with a certain “set point”, basically the fact that someone’s natural state of happiness may be higher or lower than someone else. The book goes through great lengths to identify how one can impact this set point, particularly for the better, through meditation, CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) and/or SSRIs (Prozac etc), all of which impact seratonin and dopamine, important in regulation.

C=Conditions, both those that are unchangeable (your race, gender, etc.) and those that are changeable (living conditions, marital status, economic) and can have an impact on stress levels and level of happiness.

V=Voluntary Activities, of which there are two types: 1) those that give pleasure (sex, food) and are sensory in nature but are short-lived and if overdone (insert sex jokes here), can be the opposite of pleasurable, and 2) those that give gratification or activities that make you feel good about yourself and are aligned with learning new skills, building new connections and relationships.

It is the gratification part of the equation that I think so many of us neglect. It gets harder to change our conditions (even those that are “changeable”) but small, incremental steps toward things and people that provide growing and lasting gratification can have enormous impact – that first run, a music lesson, lunch with a friend, learning a new language or in my case, writing, music and comedy.

The equation makes sense and if nothing else, it is a good temperature check to see where I am. So, to be perfectly transparent, this is what my happiness equation looks like:
S = meditation 4 to 5 times/week helps me try to remain focus on what really matters and clear my head. I give myself a B- as I have a long way to go.

C=white, healthy, male with a good job and place to live and parents who encouraged me to get an education. I think I won in that respect, no thanks to anything other than luck. (And when I say “I won”, I just mean that I still think society subtly or not-so-subtlly provides advantages for white males, at least in this country, which is, thankfully, changing.)

On the conditions in which I could change, well, let’s just say some of those are changing in “real time”. So an A for the first, a C for the second…that’s an average of a B.

V= Let’s start with pleasure. Well, there is food. Let’s give me a C on that one for now (how’s that for optimism?). As for gratification, A all the way. I love my kids, friends and really enjoy both the work and “extra” activities I try to squeeze in. So, I guess that averages a B, as well.

Overall, my happiness seems to be better than I would have guessed. It’s not “Honor Society” happiness but it’s not “remedial school”, either.

How about you?

Until next time,
Marc





Starting from Scratch

13 02 2015

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This is, by far, the most challenging time of my life.

It feels like starting from scratch, though, truly starting from the beginning means that I would not have the benefit of experience, which I do.

I never imagined myself to be in the position I am in but here I am. A book that was referred to me called “The Happiness Hypothesis” talks about “post-traumatic growth” – the type of personal growth that comes after a significant negative event occurs. I like the idea of this because it finds the positive side of “not wasting a crisis.”

Divorce is not necessarily a crisis nor a traumatic event, particularly when considering disease, war, abuse or as recent news would tell you, any number of near-death experiences that Brian Williams apparently encountered.

In all seriousness, however, there is a lot of growth that comes out of tragedy, particularly reframing the way in which we see the world. I have lost more money than it has taken me 2 years to save and I’m not even done. And I say “lose” and not “spent” because I am really getting nothing in the way of any value for what I am spending, but that’s another conversation (or rant) about the realities of our legal system that I will save for another day.

This is difficult for me, in particular, because money has always been about security, not things. It has been about the ability to provide for my family and then stock it away so that we can have experiences, the type that build connections that things never can nor never will be able to do. I will get back there some day and if a serious loss of savings is the worst outcome, then I can handle it. My kids are amazing – really – and for that, there is no price too steep.

For me, it has made me really get off the fence about the two sides that so many of us feel necessary to carry around with us – 1. the real, authentic us who we show to just a few close friends and/or family and 2. the us that is ready for public consumption, as to not make us or anyone else “too uncomfortable.” More and more I am shedding #2 in favor for #1. This is not to say that every authentic thought or feeling that I have becomes a part of daily conversation with anyone who happens to be in my path. To me, it does mean, however, that I am not going to pretend that life is perfect and that things aren’t messy. They are.

Maybe this is why I continue to be so attracted to comedy – those stripped down, raw people who have nothing but a microphone between them and complete strangers. There is nothing that can hide them from the truth because they will be called on it (by people called “hecklers”). There is no wrapping that can even obfiscate who the comic really is. Unlike the musician who can at least divert some attention through her music, the comedian has nothing but his truth – even if he uses unconventional means to get at it. This is the beauty of reveling in the messiness of life.

The thing about messes is that they can always be cleaned up. It’s never that bad.

Until next time,

Marc

By the way, I would be grateful for subscribing to this blog, following me on Twitter (@MarcKaye1) or just shooting me an email if you have a question or suggestion (marckaye91@gmail.com).





The Virtue of a Made Bed

12 02 2015

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Until recently, I rarely ever made my bed. It wasn’t for the reasons you may imagine: “what’s the point, it’s just going to get unmade at the end of the day?.”

It was pretty simple, actually. There were a ton of blankets and pillows and it took a long, long time. And I was the only one who would make it. That, and I, too, admittedly, didn’t really see the point. My wife had 3 or 4 blankets, an assortment of pillows and lots of other stuff. That is typical, I realize but it was a lot to get through.

Then my wife filed for divorce and everything came to a grinding halt. I mean – serious halt – like the one where everything goes into slow motion and you can actually hear screeching sounds from thousands of miles away. What little control I ever thought I had quickly was removed and through these almost 2 years of, let’s call it ‘hell’, just for lack of a name at this point, it became clear that I needed to surround myself with people and things that were positive more than ever.

Don’t worry, I’m not about to get all “self help” on you. I wouldn’t even know where to begin with myself let alone you. So, here’s the point. I write – all the time. I read a lot, too. I do both of these activities for work, comedy writing, scripts – you get the picture and I found myself sitting at my desk completely cluttered. Millions of thoughts floated simultaneously and a list of items to do and the order in which to do them (categories, actions, timelines, sub actions) would not help my cause.

Then it occurred to me – I need a decluttered environment to declutter my mind. There has been plenty written about this but I chose to ignore it, pretty much like everything else. It is true. I make my bed and organized my desk almost every morning (after the kids go to school because before – what’s the point, right?). It makes a difference. This is sort of my physical meditation. Clear mind, clear room and I can think. It works.

I have been thinking about why and I can only tell you why it works for me.

I am not a neat freak by any stretch of the imagination. (There are a few things, though, that if I could get my kids to agree to, would inspire me to write poetry: answering the phone, closing a drawer, putting a glass in the sink and pushing down the garbage. Four things. That’s it. Not too much to ask, right?)

Though I’m not OCD, I realized that the more clutter around me, the more a subtle (or maybe not-so subtle) reminder of how out of control things seem in my life. When I am working in a decluttered zone, I visually see calm and that sets my  mind in the right state to focus on other things like writing. That’s it – all I have to offer.

I will say this. I feel so good about my comedy right now. Not “wow – I’m going to make it” good but “yeah, ok, I can do this” good. There are two things that have changed: 1) I have been very honest about my personal situation in a funny way (or I hope a funny way) without worrying if people think it is appropriate or not, and  2) I have been more focused in my writing. For that, I have to thank the simplicity of a fitted sheet, a top sheet, two pillows and a barely fitting blanket. My bed looks like a bare bones lasagna but it is orderly and now, so are my thoughts.

Try it.

Until next time,

Marc








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