Open Heart (Surgery)

10 01 2016
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I am trying to open my heart to the fact that this is a schmaltzy image.

My mother had open heart surgery this past week. Nothing snaps you out of the self pity associated with job uncertainty, divorce, financial instability and overall restlessness like sitting 175 miles away in your home while you know the person who gave birth to you is on a ventilator while someone rewires her heart.

My kids and I just returned from visiting her (and my dad) and there were some key takeaways (sorry – that was so disgustingly corporate) – there were some important messages (that’s better) that I felt compelled to write down and share:

  1. Sometimes you have to sweat the small stuff. When I was visiting my parents with my kids just after Christmas – my sister was also there with her family and for all the articles and morning talk shows that insist upon the importance of having those “difficult conversations with your aging parents”, it never happened. Certainly, with the knowledge that my mom’s surgery was essentially a week away, that was not the best time but it wasn’t going to happen anyway. Instead, we played board games, got annoyed by incessant calls to eat more junk food and dealt with familial familiarities, good and bad, that would be of inconsequence to most people (yes, apparently it does matter who takes what food home with them and how much). This is as small as it gets but you know what? It is exactly the type of diversion that helps get through times when the gravity of the situation just seems too great to bear. That’s why I think sometimes (and only sometimes), sweating the small stuff isn’t such a bad idea.
  2. We need doctors. I, for one, have had many dealings with arrogant, self-centered, “cry me a river/claim poverty” U.S. physicians who have lost both their empathy and their perspective but…there are many, many physicians who are saving lives, every single damn day. I don’t give a shit about a single doctor who is interested in making some 50 year-old rich, entitled socialite look 30, but for every single doctor helping with cardiovascular disease, the onslaught of neurological-based diseases and children, etc. – thank you, thank you, thank you.
  3. I am a series of computer programs in dire need of software upgrades. I have written before about the scripts we carry around with us and the self-talk that we do and impacts us, either for better or for worse. As I took a shower in my childhood home, it occurred to me after cleaning it out, that there are tons of rituals I do that have been embedded in me for decades that are in need of a little mindfulness. Let me explain briefly. Since I can remember, the last person who took a shower had to clean out the tub and walls. I have always followed the same pattern: faucet, shelf, top half sides, bottom half sides, little stool, left glass door, right glass door and the shower bottom – in that order – since I ever even had a reason to take long showers (which is code for “a long time ago”).  I did it again this morning (the cleaning, not the long shower) and realized that I have tons of these rituals – some physical, some mental, that I never change. How I react after taking a shower in my parents’ house is one thing but what about how I react after being dismissed in a social situation? My thoughts follow a similar pattern every time – and it’s not good.
  4. Friendship is the #1 most vital component to a sustainable marriage. My mother can give my father a hard time. My father can selectively hear and not hear what my mother has to say. But they are friends, tried and true. It was never more apparent than during our visit this weekend. They respect and love each other in a way that transcends (or is exclusive of) romantic love and at least, in older age, seems to be the vital ingredient to a meaningful marriage (or partnership).
  5. I am so thankful for my kids. We were in the hospital for 6 hours and they never complained once. Mind you – they are on the verge of being 15 and 13. 6 hours with their dad and grandparents – in a hospital – on a Saturday – can seem like an eternity. And they were great. There were cell phones and untied shoes but there was also a tremendous respect and love. I am a lucky dude.
  6. Trump, ISIS, my job situation, Kardashians, cat videos, who got a promotion, who is headlining – they will all go away. Every single second focused on the irrelevant and stupid is a second wasted on the relevant and important. Every damned, single second.

My mother has a ways to go in her recovery. The good news is that her cardiac vitals are very good and if she can take the long-term view, I really think everything will be for the better. It is hard to see your parents age, for both the knowledge of what no one wants to talk about and the acknowledgement of one’s own aging and mortality. But it makes one so thankful for the days that do exist where we have to bite our tongue, sweat the small stuff and think about opening our own hearts a little more, which is a lot tougher sometimes than a 6 hour operation.

Until next time,

Marc

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Reflections, the Serenity Prayer & 2016

4 01 2016

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2015 was about control. 2016 is about wisdom.

I have been attempting to write a blog post for the past week or so, thinking it is the right time for reflection as one year closes out and another begins. This is my third attempt and regardless of whether I feel it is worthy or not, I am going to post it, if for no other reason than to put me out of my (short-term) writing misery.

In trying to frame what I wanted to write about and what I thought might resonate with anyone reading it, I kept asking myself the question of “what have you learned this year that can be applied to not just the new year but also the way in which you structure, approach or otherwise navigate your life in general?” Pretty simple, right?

It finally occurred to me that the good old standby of the Serenity Prayer is probably the best way to organize my thoughts. You are more than likely familiar with this one. The basic gist is “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.” This is really the best advice I have ever come across.

So here it goes:

The things I cannot change (and am still learning to accept):

  1. People judge by appearances. They just do. This doesn’t mean that their perceptions can’t be modified, and even, in some cases, relatively quickly, but take it from me, when your hair is longer, people think of you differently than when it is shorter. When you’re at the airport with jeans and a t-shirt, security looks at you differently than when you’re wearing a suit jacket.  When you’re divorced, some people treat you differently. It just is.
  2. People will have preconceived notions about you and what your capabilities are based on nothing that has to do with reality. Whether at my day job or on the comedy circuit, I have come across people who either thought their work was too complex for me to understand, the comedy business was too messed up for me to have a place in, or personally, lawyers were too “in charge” for me to challenge them. These were based on nothing other than a) what was (or was not) on my resume or what they thought I actually did or knew, b) something someone “heard” about me or c) pure ignorance. Let me repeat – almost every single time this happened, it was relayed to me on behalf of someone who barely spent any time speaking with me. I cannot control this. Maybe it’s a function of our 140 character, twitterized society or maybe it’s human nature. I don’t know. I am also no longer angry about it. I can, however, control the way in which I respond which is best when it is in the “no response” category. The best way to prove who you are is to just do it. It won’t happen in time for someone to give you that work assignment, that gig or even acknowledge that you caught a huge mistake despite their law degree…but it happens.
  3. Time will not stop or slow down – ever. The idea of capturing every moment as time moves faster and faster will not stop the fact that kids and parents grow older, not to mention ourselves. You will look back and wonder where time went. You will see a picture of yourself and think “why was I so hard on myself?” You will reflect on something and wish you did it differently. You will think about your future and wonder if you have time to do something grand. And as you do this, another minute, 5 minutes, day or even year has passed. It’s great to be organized. It’s helpful to have lists. It’s good to have a plan. But it’s even better to just do something – anything.
  4. Some people do have an easier time of it than others. Maybe it’s because of their DNA, their upbringing, a better perspective or luck. It doesn’t matter. This is not in our control. We have no control over anyone nor their situation any more than they do over us; even our children – we are simply here to guide as best we can. We can start to control the degree to which “ease” can enter our lives. Do we react or respond? Do we do the hard work of exercising and watching what we eat, at least a couple times per week or do we put it off? Do we challenge our thoughts and how we judge ourselves or keep playing the same script over and over? This is a lot harder to do than looking at the relative ease to which others seem to navigate the world compared to ourselves. But it’s the only control we really have, not to mention a lot more realistic as we never really know what someone else is going through.

The things I can change (and am finding courage to do):

  1. Relationships – with others and with myself. Disappointment is a difficult prospect for me. I enjoy helping people, being part of a team and generally, seeing people succeed. However, I have come to learn that, regardless of whether it is deliberate or not (and it usually is not), being around people who cannot keep their word is a source of profound disappointment for me. This goes for me, as well. I feel especially bummed when I have made a pact with myself to complete something, respond in a certain way or manage something positively that did not go the way I had intended. I am finding the courage to be more vocal with those that I may not have been vocal with in the past and respectfully articulate my feelings while taking responsibility for the fact that they do belong to me. This is hard for me because it may compromise friendships or prospects, but it is required. I also am trying to find the courage to both hold myself more accountable for learning when things do not go the way I had planned as well as being kinder to myself for failing, or perceiving to have failed.
  2. Moving toward minimalism. I am not joining a cult or about to embark on a process to cull my belongings down to whatever I can carry in a backpack but I am purging like never before. Throwing things out doesn’t necessarily take courage but throwing out associated feelings of the past does. This is a delicate balance in acknowledging those parts of you that maybe you are not as proud of or wish were not there but were and then saying, “it’s ok.” I have a quote that was sent to me hanging on my bathroom mirror that represents this perfectly. It is from Eric Roth, who wrote the screenplay for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. It is as follows: “For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.”
    3. FOMO – You may be familiar with this. It means “Fear Of Missing Out.” For me, I realize that social media has played into this fear a lot. I have written about my love/hate relationship with Facebook (actually, just hate) and over the past 2 weeks, I have significantly reduced my time on Facebook to maybe twice a day and for just a couple of minutes to see if I got any messages. I can absolutely control the amount of time I spend on social media AND the FOMO attitude that kept drawing me there in the first place.
    4. Where I live, at least metaphorically. I am tied to where I am living right now until my daughter graduates, which will be here sooner than it may seem. I am eager to move geographically, for many reasons, and spent a lot of time in 2015 lamenting about how if I could only move physically, I might get the fresh (or fresher) start I was longing for. I realized last year that where I reside had very little to do with where I spent my time, with family, friends or alone. Without sounding too “new agey”, there are people who live in big cities and never leave their apartments and people who live in small towns and have networks with global reaches. I know I can change the scope of my network and my capabilities by focusing less on where I live and more on what (and where) lives within me.

    Now…as for the wisdom to know the difference…that’s a big part of 2016.

    As an aside, since I keep long lists on my cell phone of books, movies, articles, music, etc. that I want to get to, I thought I’d start a “Recommendation of the Blog” section at the end of each blog that you might want to check out, also.

    So, here is the first one.
    Recommendation of the Blog – If you haven’t seen it, check out the documentary “Inside Job” about the 2008 financial crisis – by far the most clear, organized and thorough explanation of the players, dynamics and history that led up to the crisis and how it was all connected.

    I wish for you a serene 2016 and until next time,
    Marc

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Birthdays, Astrology & Perspective

5 12 2015

sagittarius-zodiac-compatibility-02-2

(I get to picture myself this way – if only for a day.)

My birthday is coming up. It is not something I advertise, especially as I find myself aging at a rate that seems to defy the natural laws of the universe. As I have said to many of my friends – it’s not my age that concerns me, it is simply how quickly time goes and the feeling that it goes faster with each passing year. I just have so much I want to do before I get to the end of this phase of my journey.

I was recently at a house concert with Francis Dunnery, a singer songwriter, who also happens to be very embedded in astrology. He was very interactive with the forty or so of us in attendance and went through each of the astrological signs, mine being Sagittarius. I have never been one for this sort of thing, but it was entertaining, if nothing else.

 Apparently those of us who find ourselves in this same astrological neighborhood are in a never-ending search for meaning. Yes, this definitely resonated with me but I imagine it does for many, Sagittarius and non-“Sag’s” alike.

I think what struck me the most about this experience was that out of all the time he spent speaking to the astrological signs, the least amount of time was spent on this one. He couldn’t seem to pin us down as he did in great detail with other star signs. It was very notable to me that he just kept coming back to this idea of always searching for meaning – in relationships, in work, in leisure – you get the picture. To me, this felt like restlessness, which is something that I definitely relate to. This restlessness, for me at least, is all about meaning – the meaning behind why I am on this Earth in this form at this particular time. As I have written about before, I do not believe in coincidences.

I am spending this weekend with my children and my parents – the two people that have known me since birth (and before) and the two people who will know me until my death. I cannot ask for anything more, for in this knowing is the inescapable truth. We cannot hide from those who have seen us evolve from newborn nor start our journey to life’s destined finale. If I can keep this ecosystem around me for as long as possible, I am a lucky man.

The problematic house, uncertain job, impending divorce, sporadic creative career and undefined life – it’s all ok when there are people around you who can remind you from where you came and be there for you wherever you may go. And that – that is meaningful, not to mention the best birthday gift a guy like me can ask for.

Here’s to having a meaningful birthday in your future. 

Until next time,

Marc





While We’re Young

26 10 2015
Here I go again with hokey metaphors.

Here I go again with hokey metaphors.

I have been battling a cold all weekend. It was officially a cold on Friday in between two amazing comedy shows at Butch Bradley’s Comedy Hideaway in Atlantic City, NJ that I got to perform in which will go down as one of the most memorable days thus far in my comedy career. Not only were the shows and the comics so much fun, but also, I even got to hang with two of the finalists & the winner from Last Comic Standing (Dominique, Ian Bagg and Clayton English) who were so great. I watched every episode and to just talk to them like comics do, was fantastic. This cold was was totally worth it!

However, by this afternoon, after sitting through both my son’s baseball game and my daughter’s play, I was ready to just sit down and watch a movie, a feel-good, comedy. So, I rented “While We’re Young” with Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts. They play a 40’s something, married couple who befriend a couple in their 20s and bring up issues of time lost, regaining youthful moments, dealing with aging and accepting harsh realities.

I enjoyed it but it did not leave me with the “ease of mind” feeling I was hoping for, especially in the midst of just trying to forget about this cold. I think it was the character that Ben Stiller played. I have never met Stiller but there is something about him and the way he portrays his vulnerabilities in movies that makes me very uncomfortable – mainly because I feel like I am watching myself.

His portrayal brought up an insecurity that I have about myself and my age. I don’t feel any differently in my 40s than I did in my 20s. I feel a little bit wiser, calmer, more reflective and in some cases, more anxious to do and see things, but not different with respect to my level of restlessness or discovery. I think discovery is crucial and keeps people feeling young. 

Comedy, more than any other part of my life, has afforded me to forge some great friendships with people regardless of age, many of whom are definitely younger than myself. I never feel an age gap (nor do I with friends who are older) other than the occasional references to 70s or 80s shows or things that are more generational in nature. 

My insecurities about aging are mine. They are not thrust upon me by anyone other than myself. After the movie, I sat and really tried to understand what I was feeling and where it was coming from. The first thought that came to mind was that I didn’t want anyone to think of me as one of those people who were “trying to be or act young”. That’s not me and I am not even sure what that means anymore. I do know that part of the reason I am attracted to more urban environments is because the more traditional lines of age, class – almost anything, are blurred much more and I feel more comfortable and less judgmental about myself.

In the movie, like many, what seems as one thing really turns out to not be that way and stereotypes and assumptions get challenged. There’s a line in there by the young female character played by Amanda Seyfried. In referring to conversation she had with her young husband, she comments that would often wonder how they were going to get old and it turns out – just like everyone else.

To me, that was the key takeaway. The process of aging is so much more than a physical one. If that’s all it is than we have truly wasted this amazing opportunity to learn, evolve, regenerate and learn again. It’s pretty amazing. It reminded me of a conversation I had with Dominique, one of the Last Comic Standing finalists, just this weekend. I was talking to her about how hard it is for me to do comedy in some of the rooms that are just hip 25-30 year olds. She said to keep doing my thing and gave me some great advice. Basically, she told me why it’s great to be doing comedy at my age and that, really, it doesn’t matter. I have to keep doing it. She was right.

I guess I have to start to think of myself like a tree. My trunk ages every year – that’s the physical core of who I am. At the same time, though, I grow new branches and leaves so I get the benefit of a more developed core – nutrients, stability and security while also creating new growth.

It sounds hokey – blame it on the cold. But that’s what I’m going with.

Until next time,

Marc

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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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