Groundlessness

30 06 2015

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I am fortunate enough to be involved with a start-up within a larger organization. I say “fortunate” because it suits me personally – entrepreneurial, a bit risky, a bit improvised but with the security of people way smarter and talented than myself…sort of like my whole approach to comedy, I guess.

One of the “mantras” that our team has been guided to embrace is the idea of “being comfortable with being uncomfortable.” When I first heard this, I said something like “you obviously don’t know me that well; I have been uncomfortable my whole life.” While there is probably some truth to this, it is really difficult to feel uncomfortable. My natural tendency is to do anything to help get through it and fight against it, some of which is good (listening to or playing music, exercise, writing, having a glass of wine) and some not so good (I will let you use your imagination here…let’s say multiple glasses of wine for arguments sake). What this mantra is really telling us to do is accept the discomfort. Similar to the messages being relayed in the popular Pixar flick “Inside Out” – sadness is a necessary emotion that should not be suppressed. It is the same thing with discomfort.

This notion resonates with the Buddhist teachings of Pema Chodrun that I have read recently. The idea around groundlessness, as I understand it from my very rudimentary perspective, is that rather than use things, even spirituality, to ground ourselves so that we feel secure and firm “under our feet”, true spirituality helps us understand that the ground is really just a perception of sorts and the nature of life is forever changing, unpredictable and not within our control – essentially “groundless”.

If you weren’t uncomfortable before, you ought to be now. It’s interesting to me because I have had a really difficult time explaining to a few people how I really feel right now and I have used the word “untethered” a lot, not even thinking or considering this concept of “groundlessness”.

It’s an interesting word – untethered. It adequately describes how I feel – not tied to any one thing at any particular time and trying to figure it out. However, what if instead of trying to solve something that is unsolvable, I accepted the fact that this is a natural feeling, despite my false notions and perceptions of how I perceive the world to be? Would I be comfortable ever with the notion that there is not clear plan, 401K, house, family, trajectory, etc and even if there was, that it really could be fluid in nature?

Well, for me, the “reality”, if there is one, lies somewhere in between. Most people who plan over time will reap some sort of outcome for their efforts. That doesn’t preclude the fact, however, that the feeling that one receives may not be one of security. That won’t stop the groundlessness…nor should it necessarily. These “security” barriers that we work so hard for are not necessarily  a guaranteed home run – perhaps in terms of the material but not in terms of happiness. I know this is starting to sound…well, not like me but I guess all I am saying (and learning for myself) is that the acceptance of groundlessness as part of our real experience may lead to a lot more happiness than another upgrade on our car lease or piece of furniture.

Until next time,

Marc

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My Grandpa’s 100th Birthday.

28 06 2015
Me and my grandpa.

Me and my grandpa.

Today would have been the 100th birthday of my grandfather.
He passed away almost 21 years ago but I can say that I still think about him almost every day.
This is a man who never went to school beyond the 8th grade, having been pulled away from school to work on the farm and then, himself, worked harder than anyone I probably ever had known.
He was a great grandfather. He wasn’t a 21st century grandfather like you would see today, perhaps, but in his own quiet way, you knew he loved you. He was no nonsense but not in a self-righteous way. He was simple but not dumb in any respect. He was old-world and strict and yet open minded for someone of his generation.
I have been thinking about him a lot today. The world that exists today is greatly different politically, environmentally, socially and financially than the one he left in 1994 and how would he make sense of it – this man who cranked up his first automobile and drove a school bus after retiring from the farm?
While I would not want him to endure his grandson going through a divorce, as I know it would pain him greatly, I would be willing to have him live through that if it meant the opportunity to meet his grandchildren, one of whom he is named for. That would be a real hoot. I can see his wide, dentured smile now laughing at some of the shit that comes out my 14 year old and the rosiness of his cheeks that was prominent around pretty ladies, like my daughter. I picture him reaching for a plastic bag full of Brach candies to offer them to my kids. (It’s funny what you remember.)
It is easy to lose your way on the journey to and during adulthood. I can’t figure it out. I am really struggling right now – but I am ok with it. It is exactly where I need to be and there are lessons that still await me. My grandfather was never affected by what did not concern him. He was a family man through and through – not necessary easy, not necessarily “enlightened”, not necessarily progressive but reliable, true, honest and forthright. These qualities are sorely missing in our ego driven world where it is as much around perception as it is around authenticity. I don’t know that I can live up to that standard myself but am willing to try.
He was not without his struggles, of which I will never really know as there are walls that remain between child and adult either for the sake of the child or the sake of the adult. However, I can tune into those frequencies better now of what they may be as many might be my own today.
100 years old. That would be something.
I remember his funeral on October 6 in New York state. It was the most beautiful, peaceful autumn day. The light from the sun was crisp – the type of yellow hue that is captured in a painting and was accentuated by the calmest winds and it smelled like fresh autumn leaves. I knew that for all his illness, he was at peace.
He came to me a few days later in what was more than a dream. For those of you who have had dreams that were beyond “seeming so real” but yet unexplainable, you will know what I mean.
I never told too many people about it but it was so vivid that I knew it was not just a dream.
I was looking into a mirror that he and my grandmother had in their hallway when I saw my grandfather walk up behind me. But he was not the grandfather who had grown so frail over the past few years. Rather, it was the heavier, mafioso looking guy with salt and pepper mustache and wavy thick hair, shirt with pocket that always held his eyeglasses case, big belt and slacks.
I was incredibly startled to see him, having just buried him.
He was standing behind me and had a wide grin laughing at me as if had just pulled off the best episode of “Punked” that ever existed.
And then, he was gone and I woke up in my bed.
There was a hazy transition from sleep to wake state and I stared at the top of my bureau with my alarm clock.
I knew he was ok.
Happy Birthday Grandpa. Until next time….
Love, Marc
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A Tribute to Fathers who “Work It”

21 06 2015

You don’t have to be a father (or even a male) to be that “go-to” person for someone in your life – a special someone, a friend, relative, co-worker – even a stranger. This Father’s Day – acknowledge and celebrate that part of you and feel proud!

As a tribute to my own father and others like him, I am re-posting an article I wrote for Working Mother magazine 2 years ago. Happy Father’s Day to all those dads who are really working it! – Marc

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Picture courtesy of my favorite daughter.

WORKING FATHERS

By Marc Kaye (as written for Working Mother – June 2013)

This Father’s Day, I’d like to pay tribute to Working Fathers – those men who help many a working mother. In particular, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank my very own working dad – let’s call him Bernie (which is coincidentally his name).

Now, Bernie is no Mike Brady. He’s no Ed Bundy, either. Bernie is just “Bernie” and as such, he’s good at imparting valuable lessons to his kids by just being himself (Lesson #1).

In all transparency, this is not a man without his flaws. His propensity for dismissing expiration dates on everything from barbeque sauce to antibiotics as simply “a suggestion” coupled with his ability to nestle within each other different size plastic containers into what can only be described as a cheap man’s version of Ukrainian nesting dolls leave something to be desired. However, beyond that, if you were going to design the perfect dad, you may say my sister and I hit the jackpot.

Let’s not beat around the bush (lesson #2) – when we hear “working mother”, working is often an adjective, referring to as “having paid employment.” When I refer to “working dad”, working is the noun as in “the inner workings of being an engaged dad.” In the former, the focus is on the mother who also works. For the latter, stereotypes often assume the reverse – the worker who also parents. Not so with my dad.

It is interesting to read so much over the past few years about the increasing roles of dads when it comes to raising kids, helping with homework, managing the household and generally being an equal partner with the mother of his children. It seems that society, though still with a ways to go, is catching up to my dad and others like him who have been doing this for the past 40 years. Yes, indeed, these men exist and they are no less “breadwinners”. They, like many women are faced to do today, have also made deliberate choices that were hard, gut wrenching, mature and necessary at the time. These men are unassuming, quiet, reserved and focused on their families. It’s about keeping things simple (lesson #3) and as balanced as possible (lesson #4).

I have learned, as a dad myself, that this is truly hard work. The “father” in “working father” never goes away and that makes the “working” part so important because it’s not a job, it’s a life.

It’s hard to live up to Bernie. This is a guy who does everything on his own. He had a full time job, had a family, was a true son to his in-laws next door, not to mention his own parents, cut the grass, helped build our house, and can seriously fix almost anything. I mean, please…can I catch a break? (After all, this is about me, right?). I can barely get my son’s Lego Star Wars Commander ship to stay together. I know I shouldn’t compare myself to anyone (lesson #5) but I mean, really – c’mon!

As good as a dad as this guy was, he is an awesome grandparent (along with my mom, his partner in crime – and by crime, I do mean the crime of slowly killing me as I watch my kids get away with everything, and I do mean everything, that was punishable by death to me and my sister as kids). My kids really looks up to him – particularly with respect to his corny sense of humor that only the Catskills set could truly appreciate. This is a guy who says what he does and does what he says (lesson #6).

So, on this Father’s Day, let’s take a moment to celebrate Working Dads – whether in the office, at home, driving the bus or taking time to write a silly blog post – these are the guys that are “working it” hard and taking the “Father” part of “Working Fathers” as seriously as the “working” part. (That could have been better worded – Lesson #7).

We love you Dad and to all the Father’s out there – Happy Father’s Day! With that, I’m going to get out of here before I overstay my welcome (lesson #8).





Youth is (not) Wasted on the Young

20 06 2015
Youth is (Not) Wasted on the Young.

Youth is (Not) Wasted on the Young.

You have probably heard the saying that “Youth is wasted on the young.” The idea is that younger people don’t know how good they have it or may take their youth for granted. I used to buy into that. Not any more.
I had an epiphany recently. I went to see a dueling piano band at Howl at the Moon in Philadelphia. They were fantastic. I love live music and the energy and talent was palatable.
When I first was there, it was not even 8 PM yet. I enjoyed listening to them play and the room was yet to be filled but represented people of different age groups – from 20s through much older. By 10 PM, the demographic noticeably changed where the room was packed with college aged kids. I have to say, that by the time they celebrated another person’s 21st birthday, I decided I did not have enough beer in me to deal anymore…that and the music selection noticeably changed.
It is important to know when to leave and by 10:30, it was time. I am not 21 and there is a difference. That being said, watching so many young people raising arms in the air while spilling drinks on each other, smiling, dancing – you get the picture – did make me reflect. When does this type of fun stop for the rest of us? Why does acting stupid and enjoying friends with song, dance and an adult beverage every now and then often get relegated to the wedding or Bar Mitzvah ceremony?
I don’t think youth is wasted on the young at all. I think those guys know exactly how good they have it. That’s why they are celebrating so much. Inherently, all they have to do is look around at their parents, their bosses, teachers – basically anyone born before 1990 and see how their lives are most likely to turn out. Carpe Diem is their mantra. Youth is not wasted on the young – it is ignored by the rest of us.
I say “it” and not “they” because I am really referring to the state of youthfulness. To me, the distinction between being youthful and “acting your age” is the same distinction between being confident but “not being arrogant or cocky”. It is subtle but distinct nuance.
I am not convinced that people really get that, particularly in our good vs. evil society that is referenced on Facebook, Fox News, CNN, etc. Admittedly, I think I struggled with this distinction for a long time. It was why I kept my hair short, my comedy relegated to a notebook never to leave my pocket, my music hidden in an iPhone app and my voice suppressed with the exception of a few friends.
Youthfulness is about expression and exploration and there is no reason at all that this needs to stop once someone enters “the real world.”. How does someone even experience the real world without expression or exploration? I think these two things are part and parcel of innovation, learning valuable lessons and living. It is really about ignoring fear. Exploring new things and expressing oneself are very vulnerable things to do. They often lead to embarrassment, failure and things that are not as acceptable as you grow older. But it is incredibly exciting at the same time. Maybe that is why some people say “life is a roller coaster” – it is scary but a thrill.
It is not a coincidence that so many successful artists and entrepreneurs are so damn young. They’re not smarter than people twice their age. They are just more fearless. They have chosen not to make excuses for their passions or their approach regardless of what people think.
We could do so much more if we didn’t think of youth as an age demographic and rather as a state of mind. I am hopeful. Now if we can get the rest of society to catch up, we could really do something.
Until next time,
Marc
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The “Comedy” Divorce

16 06 2015

marriage-divorce-ecard

It’s been almost a year since I officially started my journey of single “fatherdom”. To be honest, it hasn’t been easy but my kids are incredibly resilient and that was and will always be my first priority.

This seemed like as good a time as any to reflect on this “momentous” anniversary of sorts and I wanted to put something to rest. There have been some that, upon finding out that my wife asked for a divorce, have assumed that it was “comedy-related”. The rationale goes something like this: “well, it’s hard being a comic and being with someone unless they really understand it and are supportive. Comedy can be like a drug and it can tear families apart….blah, blah, blah.”

WHOA!!!

The idea that myself or anyone would do anything to jeopardize their family because of a love for stand-up seems a little far-fetched. Comedy is my golf. It never took the place of family activities or priorities. It is one of my personal passions but never once have I thought of compromising relationships for comedy. Comedy may have highlighted already existing issues but they were always there. For those who insinuate otherwise tend to be both over-simplistic and quite frankly, insulting.

For sure, there were parts of my routine that did not sit well with my wife, which I modified and then after vigorous debate, withdrew completely. At one point, I was directed to NOT talk about being a husband or a father at all because it could reflect negatively on the family. So, for a time, I spoke only about being Jewish and other stuff. I wasn’t about to talk about dating, college or my fast food job because it wasn’t authentic. It wasn’t me.

I don’t understand how comedy gets such a bad rap. I have met some of the most real people ever doing stand-up and writing. I have played in bands and been to plenty of “professional” events and let me tell you, people are people and any one who thinks that income, social status or vocabulary is a measure of how trustworthy or authentic a person is- well, you’re dead wrong. I could never get this message across to my wife because she simply refused to believe it and then I got too upset that she would not listen. That is what contributed – a fundamental lack of respect for who I was – not comedy, itself. I was willing to “quit” comedy. I still would if it meant being able to have my family in tact. That is not the issue.

I am now trying to turn this pivotal event in my life into some good material – not an easy thing. Every time i bring it up on stage, I can hear a hallowed gasp among some in the audience. I am not quitting though. I know that talking about what is really happening in a way that is truthful (and hopefully funny) is really who I am.

The one thing I have learned in all of this is that whatever image I was trying to hold onto was just a fallacy. My “secret” is out and it has given me incredible freedom to just be me – like it or not. I really do not care.

There are plenty of people who politely say hello while judging and they will always be there. I will continue to say hello to them. Believe me, nobody knows what really happens among two people other than those two people…unless one of them happens to be a comic…that’s when the fun begins and believe me, I’m working on it….stay tuned!

Until next time,

Marc





The Truth about Caitlyn, Transitions & Comedy

10 06 2015

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There’s been a ton of press about Bruce Jenner’s transition to Caitlyn Jenner. Too much press.

I don’t really care which side of this you might reside on. I can’t understand it the same way I can’t understand what it’s like to be a reality TV star or an Olympian. To me, it’s not part of my experience. For me to make fun of it sort of just reflects back on me the way I see it. Making fun of something and finding humor are two different things.

To go to those lengths that people like Caitlyn must really reflect an internal struggle that could no longer be sustained. To me, that represents severe pain and who am I, or anyone, for that matter to get all self righteous about it? Something tells me though, that even Caitlyn has found some of the humor in it. I only say that after watching his interview with Diane Sawyer, which seems to me a painful exercise in and of itself.

It’s been enlightening, to say the least, to read the very predictable comments that people have to say. What is interesting, however, is the slew of positive support that has been pointed in Caitlyn’s direction. Anyone who has come out – for anything – gay, lesbian, transexual, agnostic, divorced – faces a fear that they will not be accepted and then….miraculously feels freed.

There have been plenty of graduation speeches and essays written about living your true, authentic self. I don’t think most of us really do this. I know I don’t. I am trying more and more each day. This is what has drawn me so much to comedy. There are very few “pretender” comedians. In fact, some comics take upon themselves to be so “authentic” that it can fall in the category of “TMI”.

Getting to a place of no fear and true authenticity – that is the greatest transition of all.

I don’t know Caitlyn Jenner. I don’t have the right to comment on her struggle one way or the other. I do know, though, that if she could kill at an open mic night – that’s all that would really matter to me.

What’s your transition?
Until next time,
Marc

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Say Yes…but not to everything and everyone!

1 06 2015

stay-focused-and-amaze-yourself

I was always one of those kids who was never quite satisfied. I wasn’t much of a watcher and always wanted to be doing the things that looked interesting to me – music, travel, drawing. Then, as I got older, the list just grew longer and wider – learning to play the violin, scuba diving, mountain climbing, cooking, on and on and on.

I’d see a show on underwater sea excavation and I’d think “man, what would that be like – I wish I could try it” and then read about someone who overcame a major adversity and think “what is my purpose in life? I need to learn to speak Spanish way better.”

I am restless by nature and every time I would have one of these epiphanies, my wife would say “I’ll add it to the list”. Who can really blame her, I guess. It’s hard to be around someone who seems so unfocused.

Truth is that I am very focused which is where the restlessness comes in. I don’t just want to try new things but learn to master them. It’s just not possible.

The two things I have always done – writing and music – took a back seat during my marriage, and for the most part, for a good reason – my kids were young and between being a husband, father, employee, homeowner and at one point, returning student – it just wasn’t feasible. But there were other reasons, too, and as my marriage was, shall we say, “expiring it’s contract”, I started to more passionately return to those things that made me not only feel good about myself but were inherently a part of who I am. I took it to another level when I convinced myself to open up to new experiences and start by saying “yes” rather than finding reasons why it might not be a good idea.

I still do that today and if it were not for that, I would not have had some of the amazing experiences and friends that I do today. For that, I am eternally grateful. However, and in my comedy world, in particular, I have said “yes” perhaps to too many things. The truth is when you say “yes” to something, you are usually saying “yes” to someone (at least one person) and that is not to be taken lightly because, at some point, you will be dependent on that person or vice versa.

With limited time, limited energy and unlimited ambition, it has occurred to me that I have to find the balance between who I became as married person – just a reflection of who I was – and being a “renaissance man” of sorts who can dabble in may different endeavors at once.

It’s a difficult thing to do for someone like me because, if I am going to be honest, I always had this fear of “missing out”. This is crazy making. If you’re living – really living and not always planning – you are not missing out. Good or bad, you are experiencing life in all its messiness. These past two years have been messy, too. They have also been transformational – or are in the process of being transformational. But, to be valuable, I have to start to really identify not only who I want to be but also what I am willing to put my efforts behind because being all things to all people and putting your all into everything – it’s both not possible and it is also a shortchanging to you and others.

Some people have the opposite problem – committing. I try to keep my word when I say something. However, given time constraints and just life in general, there is only so much that one can expect to squeeze in to a day without succumbing to the inevitable letdown.

There’s probably a reason the famous Nike phrase is “Just Do It” and not “Just Do Them”.

Until next time,

Marc

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