A Most Significant February

13 02 2016

staircase

I don’t even know where to start. This is the shortest month of the year and it’s not even over and it has been one for the books.

This has been quite the month – divorce final on the 3rd, confirmed my job will be ending this year on the 11th and very possibly selling  my house (for a loss) somewhere in the remaining 16 days.

At the same time, my mother is doing great after having had heart surgery, my dad is doing equally well, the kids are well and I have had terrific feedback with both comedy and my songwriting. Perhaps the internal forces that were waiting to finally be listened to could not be heard in light of the life that had to be left behind. It’s the yin and yang, the pleasure and pain, I guess.

There’s no grand plan to leave it all behind and start over – finally enter that creative universe that I long for. Two kids, college savings and a now badly dented retirement savings requires the practicalities of a “real job” and I am just grateful for those who may be able to help me in that capacity, as well.

What has surprised me, however, is just the wave of almost eery calm that seems to accompany what might be considered “bad news.” The fact is, for me, and I suppose many others, I am much better off with knowing than not knowing, even if the knowing is not good. The in-between stage of waiting, wondering, hoping, fearing, surmising and assuming is a purgatory that is not relegated for the faint of heart. At least with knowing, there can be action – or, in my case, more definitive action.

The same day that I learned about my work situation, I also viewed both my kids’ report cards – straight A’s with the exception of high Bs in honors math for both of them. They are doing amazingly – both academically and socially. I have nothing to complain about. I am convinced that, however difficult this period is for them (and for me), it is where we are all supposed to be in this journey. If I never receive a promotion, check off the items on the bucket list or “make it”, it is of no consequence because I am sure that my purpose in life was to make sure that these two kids were here at this time. I don’t know why….yet. But I am sure.

It makes me happy to finally get toward some resolution. By the summer, I will be in a new place with a new job (hopefully) and a new tax filing status. On a recent TED Talk podcast, the subject was about resiliency from people who had to exhibit tremendous fortitude – much greater than I had to. It was mentioned, as it often is, that we don’t really know what we are made of until we are put in situations that really test us. I agree with this fully. I also think that we don’t know why we are here sometimes until we are put in these situations. The truth is that the steps that continue to forward my path to wherever it is meant to go are the exact ones that I may never have ever followed were it not for some very, very tough times, decisions and truths.

I hope that we all have the resiliency we need to call upon the strongest parts of our being when we are called to do so and that we are supported along the way.

Until next time,

Marc

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Lessons from a Soup Kitchen

12 02 2016

soupkitchen

It’s like chicken soup (kitchen) for the soul.

This week, I took my son and a friend to an area soup kitchen to do some volunteer work after school. It is important to me to expose my kids to not only the “have-nots” but also somehow reinforce the notion of service to others. In doing so, it becomes clear who really are the “have-nots” sometimes – and it’s not always on the side of the serving counter you might expect.

In our custom-tailored world of playlists, Instagram accounts and celebration of all things “unique”, we can easily lose sight of community. It is, after all, easier and quicker to connect with someone 3,000 miles away through the Internet, than a minute walk next door.

Volunteering at the soup kitchen was as much a lesson for me as it was for the kids, probably more.

  1. Don’t pity someone because of their circumstances . So, here we were, with a group of about 10 other volunteers, serving meals to people who came in, sat down at cafeteria style tables and patiently waited for a solid meal. Some were entire families, some were alone and others seemed to be familiar with each other. Like any other meal you might be used to, some tables were infused with laughter, smiles and banter. Others, not so much. I had to challenge my own notions and accept the fact that the tenor of one’s disposition does not lie within their wallet but within their soul.
  2. This generation is not any more selfish than any one before it, and perhaps no more altruistic, either. They are just like any other. If you believed everything you read on Facebook, heard on CNN and worried about with other adults, you may be convinced that the opportunity for our civilization to emerge as one in which we look out for each other, embrace a sense of community with pride and put our short-term goals aside for future generations (at least sometimes) is all but lost. However, in witnessing my son, his friend and the other younger set at the soup kitchen, this simply isn’t true. In fact, I don’t know that their participation – with each other or toward the constituency that was being served – was really any different than it would have been for me during high school or my parents before me. Our struggle is not always borne out of the convention that the past generation screwed it all up and the next must fix it. Let’s be honest – as we age, the real struggles of every day take precedent front and center over more collective based pursuits and goals. It’s just the way it is. It is us, the adults, that have to make a change. If our kids (the collective “our”) witness adults exhibiting the types of behaviors and commitments to those other than within our limited comfort zone, it will catch on. 
  3. People make mistakes. It’s not intentional and it’s always good to have a sense of humor. When it was time to leave the soup kitchen, the kids were cleaning up while I headed to the front of the soup kitchen to wait for them. One of the guys who worked there saw me and directed me to leave through the side door. I obliged, not completely understanding why. As I headed there, where others were leaving, my son and his friend headed over to me. Seeing this, the guy who worked there, looked at me and said “oh…sorry…you can go out the front.” In other words, he thought I was a soup kitchen patron and not a volunteer. Mind you, my hair is longer, I have a beard, my wholly jeans are from like 1996. I get it. It’s pretty funny. We both looked each other and without saying anything, we both knew exactly what happened. It may be the first time my son actually thought I was cool!

Life is a journey for all of us but we have to be willing to open up the entire map (or scroll down the GPS to keep it relevant). If we keep it rolled up (or don’t scroll down) so we can only see one part of the trip, we may stay comfortable but boy, do we ever miss out. Embrace the messiness, the discomfort, the embarrassment, the ugliness and the fear and there is so much more to enjoy.

Until next time,

Marc





The Mindful Comedian

3 02 2016

sense-of-humor-comedy-mindfulness

It could happen.

Every comic I know that has been at it for a while and that I respect has told me that if you are not bombing once in a while, you really aren’t pushing yourself. Well, if that’s the case then I may be pushing myself right off a cliff.

I have had two experiences this year alone where I was “eating” it from the start. The good news is that I was able to recover but no matter how much I tell myself that this is “supposed to happen”, it feels like absolute shit. It’s horrible and it makes me question not only my comedy but my ability to make life decisions, also. 

Last Wednesday, I had a performance in Philadelphia that started out painfully for me. I couldn’t seem to connect and I just wasn’t able to find the right vibe with the audience from the get go. In addition, it reinforced another recent performance where I had a similar experience.

It got better a few minutes in but 180 seconds of “finding your way” on stage can feel excruciating. What made it worse was that, unlike most shows I do, I had people in the audience that were friends. That’s the worst. That’s like missing the free throw in front of your entire family and friends and them telling you that “you did your best – it was a tough game.”

I noticed a difference that evening, however. My usual negative self-talk was quieted to just a murmur. Don’t get me wrong – it was there. However, I was allowing myself to change the narrative a little and reinforce to myself that I just had an off night and that it happens to the best of us. It’s not as if the feeling of disappointment wasn’t there, but this time, it wasn’t the only overwhelming feeling available to me for hours on end.

I think, for me, the practice of mindfulness meditation, has helped just from the standpoint of understanding what it is that seems to be guiding us in terms of our thoughts. It does two things: 1. it helps me recognize the thought as being there and not place any judgement on it (ie. “I feel really, really shitty right now” vs. “I feel really, really shitty right now and suck at everything and don’t belong here and will never get asked back to this club”.  2. It helps me put things into perspective (ie. “I am doing something that is off the track, risky and makes me feel alive and sometimes it’s going to suck but as long as the important people in my life are ok, what else matters?”).

Perhaps this is a natural set point for a lot of people. These are the ones that seem to, more than not, wade calmly through the waters of life regardless of how rapidly or intensely the flow may be at any given time. I am not one of these people. It is interesting how many times people have commented on my “calmness” or similar trait only to learn that I am the duck who is constantly paddling under water to make sure I can at least appear to stay afloat.

Being a comedian is one of the most humbling experiences I have ever had, next to being a parent (and in the past, a spouse). There is no escaping the reality of the moment, whether good or bad, with an immediate feedback that can change week to week, day to day and moment to moment. 

Think about situations in your life that may be similar – such as relationships, a tenuous work environment, a physical activity or managing the unpredictability of living with some sort of illness. It is extremely difficult to be “in the moment” without having those feelings fester and grow sometimes. Maybe 5 to 10 minutes of focusing on our breath and qualifying our thoughts as nothing more than just that – thoughts – without meaning, is the best friend a comedian, or anyone, ever had.

Until next time,

Marc





Enough With Passion Already

1 02 2016

feed-your-soul

Vegan, low carb and completely organic….just saying.

If I never hear the phrase “follow your passion” one more time, it won’t be soon enough. 

First of all, depending on what your passion is (or who it may be), this can end you up in a legal situation and no one one needs that.

Secondly, if every single one of us followed our passion, I suspect we wouldn’t have working sewage treatment plants, clean highways or confidently diagnosed proctology exams (not that proctology can’t be someone’s passion, I guess.)

My point is that, what, who and why we “follow” in our lives can have some pretty significant consequences. As someone who is constantly at angst with himself over how to blend in those things that I love (music, comedy, writing) with those things that I can actually make a living at (right now) to serve those I love (my children), this choice to follow my passion could be great for me but for those I care about, not so much.

However, what if we focused on feeding our souls instead? Feeding is not some ritualistic, ethereal cult-like foray into dissolving everything else in the name of all that is passionate! Instead, healthy feeding is about nourishment and just like the right amount of protein, fiber and fat (and in my case, resveratrol), we need the right amount of experience that builds up our soul. This is a physical thing. You know what it feels like to be excited about doing something.

You know that feeling when you have it – that moment when you are just in the moment, maybe alone reading or listening to something, or with friends or family and simply feeling glad to be alive at the moment, regardless of what you may be going through otherwise.

I cannot imagine not spending time with my parents, friends, pursuing comedy and music or watching bad TV with my kids – regardless of how easy or not those may be at any given time (which is a nice way of reminding everyone how painful comedy really is).

My point is that we have enough pressure on us already without having to buy into this notion that there is some amazing life that awaits us if we only find, follow and pursue at any cost our one passion. Do yourself a favor, and find a couple of things that nourish your soul and you may just realize that your passion is something entirely different in the first place.

Until next time,

Marc








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