Courage is Not Just a Word

11 11 2015
Courage has nothing to do with sales.

Courage has nothing to do with sales.

Today is Veteran’s Day. My dad is a Veteran. My brother-in-law is a veteran. I am a college graduate with a gap in my perspective because I haven’t put in the time and sacrifice that so many men and women have. It’s the truth and I am not going to make an excuse about it.

It was never in my trajectory to join the armed services and I am not sure I would in hindsight. However, having grown up with a very strong sense of country, thanks to my parents, I have always felt as there was more I can do. 

There is an act-out (this is a comedy term for “acting out” part of a comedy set, for example) that I have been working on based on a true experience. Thanks to my incredible acting skills, I am hoping it will be hilarious (he says sarcastically) but it was based on a very unfunny experience, in my book.

Here is the short Cliff Notes version – I was at a pretty high-level training course a few years ago and one of the women presenting to those in attendance was talking about how “hard” it is to build the right type of sales and marketing teams. After a very pregnant and deliberate pause, she looked at all of us intently and said “it takes real courage” to do that.

It took every fiber of my body to bite my tongue or not get up out of my seat. While the majority of the room was complimenting her on what a great leader she was, I was very frustrated by her use of the word “courage”. Let me be perfectly clear – building sales and marketing teams doesn’t take courage; it takes doing your job. Period. I hear words like “courage”, “fearlessness” and “perseverance” thrown out in contexts that have nothing to do with the foundations of these concepts – all the time. I may be overthinking it but don’t we suffer from a society today that doesn’t really keep ourselves honest anymore? It seems like it.

There has been a lot of debate recently about this word, “courage”. The most recent example that comes to mind is with respect to Catlyn Jenner and awards for courage that she has received. We all have our own opinions on this. In my opinion, what she did did take courage. I am not saying she may not be “milking it” for her cause but let’s be real, you have to feel pretty tormented to make the decision to become who you truly think you are.

There are different types of courage but can we hold each other accountable so we don’t minimize the true courage and sacrifice that people make in the battlefield, in the cancer ward, in the living room trying to raise a special-needs child, and in identifying with a certain race, gender or creed, especially based on where you may happen to live?

We all have in us moments when it takes courage to live – the life we are meant to or the life we are given and didn’t plan to. Sometimes, it is the courage to live a combination of the both. To me, it is ignorant to throw that word around as if it is just any other word.

What do you think?

Until next time,

Marc





What Kind of Seeker are You?

31 10 2015
It's roomier than it appears.

It’s roomier than it appears.

Happy Halloween. This is not going to be even remotely related to Halloween in case you’re wondering…unless you can  make the connection between seeking for new sources of candy and seeking for a home.

As some of you who follow me or my blog may know, I have been in the incredibly relaxing and ever life-affirming process of selling my house. (I just read a Facebook post that Harvard says sarcasm is good for you so hold on lads and lasses.)

It’s a pain in the ass. I’m not a slob but I’m not a “my house is staged and ready for showing on a daily basis” guy either, particularly with two kids who feel compelled to leave a trail of everything they do everywhere.

In today’s over digital day and age, I have the benefit (read: misfortune) of getting almost “real-time” feedback every time some realtor shows my house. It is really interesting. I was under the impression that most people that look at homes look at the layout, the neighborhood, how recent some of the rooms are (kitchen, bathroom), whether they like it and then decide from there. Most people want to put their own imprimatur (fancy for “imprint”) on their home – often redecorating, repainting etc.

Apparently, there is a large contingent, (at least where I live), of people who, if they don’t immediately like every single thing the moment they walk in the house, they are not interested. That is fine by me. It’s your money. However, it made me think about the way in which we seek out those people, things and experiences that ultimately surround and define us.

There are two types and I have witnessed both of these at work, in friendships and as of late, during political debates.

The Visionary –  You look for potential. Does this person I am meeting have some backstory that may be interesting? Is there something there that is at least worth spending more than 30 seconds with before I pre-judge? Does this house seem to fit my basic needs and, given the right price, the right type of personal touch, I can see myself in this home? Do these jeans make my butt really look fat or am I looking in the wrong type of mirror? You get the point – that type of thing.

The Checklister – You look for all the things that are wrong. Does this person just reiterate all the things I have always said about people “like them”? Does this house have too many things that aren’t the way I would do them? Do these jeans come from a store that I wouldn’t get caught dead in even though if you put them in Nordstrom’s rack and jacked up the price three fold, I would buy them? I think you get the point with this one, too.

You can see where I am leaning here. I can’t help but feel that in today’s over “twitterized” environment where opinions are formed in less time than it takes to make a bowel movement (you’re welcome for the analogy) and judgements are made even faster, we fail to see the true potential of places, experiences, and most importantly, people. It’s just not good.

You don’t have to buy my house. You don’t have to like working with me or even be my friend. But, in the future, when you keep complaining that it’s hard to find just the right place to live, work always sucks or it’s always hard to connect with people like you, you may want to think about potential rather than things to be fixed – and that includes ourselves, too. Be a visionary. It’s a lot more fun – for everyone.

So, be honest – what type of seeker are you?

Until next time,

Marc





Recalibrate, Don’t Reinvent

18 10 2015

Tiny adjustments. Big effects.

Tiny adjustments. Big effects.

It is not unusual to find ourselves intrigued by metamorphosis. Think “before and after” photos of weight loss, home make-overs or stories of “transforming” one’s life to a place never imagined.

These are the stories that movies are made of. However, in reality, I think the less sexy version has a lot more sticking power. How many times have we read that “diets do not work” – that there is no quick fix, but rather it’s about smaller, incremental steps that you have to weave into your daily routine? 

To me, this makes a lot more sense and applies to much more than whether I’m going to be able to fit into the same bathing suit next year as the one a year before. When someone goes through a pretty big life event, particularly if it is not the most positive (ie. job loss, health diagnosis or, hypothetically speaking, a divorce (he says in jest for anyone who has been reading this blog)) – there is a lot of talk about taking advantage and an opportunity to “reinvent” oneself.

That’s a whole lot of pressure. If you believe, like me, that we are fundamentally who we are with the ability to tweak, learn, and grow but NOT in the business of radically changing our true nature, then this concept of “reinvention” seems like a recipe for failure. 

In looking back over the past year or so, when I ponder those things that have made me really happy, they all come back to the same things that maybe I had lost or had compromised during my marriage. It doesn’t matter what that is and it was my decision all along. However, the one good thing about reflecting on all of this is that is has allowed me to adjust the knobs of my personal “studio sound board” to where the mix is just right…or at least getting there. It’s about recalibration.

I gave a very short blessing to my daughter yesterday during her Bat Mitzvah and referenced a quote that always stuck with me from my English class during my junior year of high school. It was from Ralph Waldo Emerson and you may be familiar with it:

“Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. 

Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind. A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages… In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.

The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried”

Our contentment ultimately lies within us – not around anyone else. This is a hard lesson because it puts the onus on us to look at our internal portfolio of where we spend our time, with whom, how and for what purpose. And when we do so, we may find some serious adjustments that need to be made – but they are worth it.

Is it time for you to recalibrate?

Until next time,

Marc

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In this corner, Anxiety. In this corner, Fear.

29 08 2015

Man, this fight sucks.

Man, this fight sucks.

I have written about fear enough times in this blog in the past but when something occurs that reminds me of how powerful this really is, I feel compelled to write about it again.

Just to reiterate what I may have alluded to in the past, I am not speaking of fear associated with flight or fight – the fear of walking down a dark alley in the city at 2 am or being diagnosed with something horrible. I am talking about the fears that we wear as a coat ourselves – either real or imagined – that become part of us without even knowing it and ultimately mold us into who we think we need to be rather than who we are.

I have to admit, that even after seeing that scientific pinnacle of the psychological community “Inside Out” with my kids, I wasn’t sure if fear was truly an emotion. According to Wikipedia (which is not scientific but I trust more than, say, Donald Trump), fear “occurs as the result of threats that are perceived to be uncontrollable or unavoidable” and is related to but “should be distinguished from” the emotion of anxiety.

I also realized that I took for granted that I thought I understood exactly what an emotion was. It is defined as:”an affective state of consciousness in which joy, sorrow, fear, hate, or the like, is experienced.”

This is starting to gel now. If my effective state of consciousness is an anxious one, then the resulting experience is fear. If, on the opposite side of the spectrum, my effective state of consciousness is one of contentment, joy is the resulting experience. Makes sense. (Interesting to me how, out of all the experiences referenced in the definition, 75% of them are not so great – necessary but not necessarily great to feel. Had to be written by a Jew – just saying. It’s how we’re wired.)

For many reasons, I had socialized myself to live in a state of anxiety about comedy or anything creative for that matter. I had always done music and that seemed more acceptable but admitting to stand-up always gave me an uncomfortable sqeamish feeling that was hard to ignore. 

Today, my kids and I met long time friends (past neighbors of ours) for brunch and it was just terrific. They have known my family before my kids were even born and I had lost touch with them as I did with many others during this weird 2 year hiatus when I was just trying to get through without anyone knowing what the hell was going on.

In any event, toward the end of our breakfast, they asked me if I was still doing comedy and after replying that I am basically squeezing it whenever I can as long as it doesn’t disrupt the kids etc. – they said something to the affect of “but you’re not giving it up” – almost like holding me to not quitting. It was subtle. Perhaps I read into it. But it was sort of what I needed.

Here’s why. I lived with real and perceived threats around this comedy thing for so long that it became a self-fulfilling prophecy and I became more anxious leading to more fear. It was a cycle of craziness. I had real threats – it was a threat to my marriage in some ways because I just never was able to articulate why it was important and not some sort of low class “hanging out” proposition. It was a perceived threat because I was too worried about what people would think – friends, family, work colleagues. Hell, even to this day, most of my work colleagues don’t have any idea though I am not deliberately hiding it but I’m not going out of my way to advertise it either.

Fear. It can really be crippling.

The one great thing about divorce is that eventually, you can’t hide from it no matter how much you try. Someone has moved out. Someone doesn’t show up to a family function. Some one leaves a ton of crap on your front lawn. It gets noticeable and quick. It’s a good thing. Once that happens, there’s no more anxiety. No more wondering “what if”. There is only the present, and hopefully, the future.

It’s been a great lesson for me for comedy. Some people say comedy ruins people’s lives. I have to say it has only helped mine. I know other comics probably feel the same way. Anxiety may lead to fear but action can lead to contentment. And the circle is complete. Hakuna matata.

Until next time,

Marc

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My Comedy Uniform

28 08 2015
No live bananas were harmed in the taking of this photo.

No live bananas were harmed in the taking of this photo.

When I was a kid, I used to stay away from my mom when she had no make-up on and a rag in her hand. I knew that in her “cleaning uniform” there was probably a good chance she wasn’t going to be in the best of moods. And after spending a lot of time cleaning my own place in preparation for selling, I definitely understand why.

On the corollary, she had her “going out uniform”. That meant hair, make-up, nice clothes – it meant we were probably going shopping but out of the house anywhere where there wasn’t a laundry list of things yet to be done was a good thing.

I often categorized myself in the same way and for me, it was just normal, but I realized that it was a big reason when I went from “work uniform”, (clean shaven, decent outfit, quaffed hair to the best of my ability) to “home uniform”, (jeans, t-shirt, unshaven and unruly hair). This latter was what was to become my “comedy uniform” for better or for worse.

As much as I read about comics who stand apart with their wardrobes (Jerry Seinfeld, Sinbad, Amy Schumer), I haven’t exactly gotten to any other separate uniform for comedy yet.

Yesterday, I did an outdoor show in New Jersey. It was great. I had a great time despite being relegated again to the spot of going on first. I still don’t know if this is a compliment or a nice way of saying “we still think you’re funny but just in case…”. Anyway, it was great.

One of the best moments of the night, though, was talking with the comics after the show. I met a new comedian who, like me, has had a corporate career (and I still do) and got her MBA, as well. We were talking about how much more comfortable we are with other comics, how these are “our people”. It was so amazing hearing my thoughts come out of someone else’s mouth – from the perspectives that we have about being around people who claim to be self-aware but are anything but to living within the mental confines of suburbia. It was so refreshing.

It occurred to me on the ride home that I never really had a comedy uniform. My “comedy uniform” is really the authentic me. I have been wearing other uniforms – dad at the baseball game, dad at the school play, dad at the bus stop, husband, employee – you get the picture that were different than my real one.

The more and more I “do comedy”, the more I realize that this isn’t about an end game at all. It’s about wearing the uniform that fits me best. And it feels right. What’s your natural uniform?

Until next time,

Marc





Independence Day (from my) Thoughts

6 07 2015

I think therefore I am (anxious).

I think therefore I am (anxious).

In honor of this past Independence Day Holiday, I am writing about me – again.

I spent this past weekend back at my parents home with my kids and my sister and her family. As luck would have it, my neighbors growing up were also all home and it turned into this fantastic ad hoc reunion with lots of kids and fun and no timelines. It was fantastic and just what I needed. It was a physical and mental independence day from myself.

It was at the exact right time for me. In my last blog, I wrote a little bit about “downsizing” my life right now. At this stage, I expected some sort of security that is now eluding me big time – financially, socially and even culturally. Most, if not all of that, is just based on a false pretense of what reality really is. But it feels that way nonetheless.
Everyone that I was with this weekend – from my sister and her husband to my neighbors growing up through a very good friend of my sister and her husband who stopped by were 100% unpretentious. These are all good people. Smart people. Down-to-earth real people. I miss that and I need that so much.
Where I now live, waiting at the bus stop or sitting at the baseball game or theater production, it’s hard to remember that we probably all have our struggles. I think once people get a little bling on their fingers and change in their pocket, they start to give themselves perhaps more credit for their lot in life than they should. Sure, careful planning, responsibility and hard work have a lot to say for a strong condition in life. A little luck doesn’t help either.
This is where comedy (and meditation come in). Meditation teaches us to sit with our feelings without labels and without stories: feel them and recognize how they manifest in your body. (“I am angry and that feels like tension in my shoulders.”) It teaches us not to try and hide from our feelings and this is what I love about good comedy, as well. It says “hey – I know it looks like I might have it together but I found a stink bug in my hair today that was probably there the whole day, my son told me that he can’t wait to leave the house and my ex decided I need to give her more money…but no worries, still living the dream!” It calls life what it is and I love it! I love people who can laugh about this, too. It is too difficult otherwise and wasted energy to try and be comfortable all the time.
I met a guy at a bar last week who just seems to have it all. He’s good looking with an amazing looking wife. Two fantastic careers, great sense of humor, smart – you name it. This dude even played with Springsteen. I mean c’mon! I was joking with him that I want to come back as him in my next life. (Well, maybe it wasn’t all a joke.) The point is that we got to talking over a few beers/shots and got to know each other and there was no pretending about anything. We even touched on meditation a little. It was an honest, real conversation and it was fantastic. I wasn’t there sitting trying to keep up with him and he wasn’t trying to be something he was not (though why would he – I mean, c’mon!).
I think when we face our insecurities and can laugh about them is when we really can connect with people. Why can’t CEOs and star baseball pitchers also be honest about their flaws while those of us who stumble a bit more through life pick one or two things to be confident about.? It can go both ways. It doesn’t compromise who we are or what we do. It just makes us more human.
I don’t know if you have ever been at the very tail end of a rain storm. I have. I was driving down south (if I recall it correctly) and it was pouring and then, all of a sudden, it just stopped and it was as if you could see the line where the storm ended. It was weird and cool at the same time. It has occurred to me that life is a lot like that. When there is something to get through, there is a definitive end and though sometimes it will come to you, more often than not, you have to try drive in a lot of directions to get to the end yourself… but it is there. Storms don’t last forever and neither do struggles in life, though it certainly can feel that way.
Are you waiting for the end of the storm to pass over you or are you willing to try and find the end on your own?
Until next time,
Marc




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








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