Tiffany Haddish, the Buddha and Me

28 01 2019

haddish

You may have heard that the actress/comedian, Tiffany Haddish, had a not-so-great New Year’s Eve a few weeks ago. She bombed on stage. It happens to the best of us.

Not long after that happened, I decided to do a longer set at a comedy club largely based off of new material I worked on during the Christmas break at the end of December. This is never a good idea unless you’re maybe Jerry Seinfeld or Chris Rock where the audience can give you a lot of leeway if you are “working things out” because, well, you actually are Jerry Seinfeld or Chris Rock.

I get really eager to do new stuff. I write a lot and have enough new material to try out at an open mic every night for the next few months if I actually got to an open mic every night, which I don’t. For whatever reason, I had a “just go for it” attitude.

I didn’t bomb but I was definitely not happy with my performance. I just did not get the audience reaction consistently as much as I would have hoped. Nor should I have. This was pretty much all new stuff, after all. 

I had another gig the next night at the same venue and all day I was stressed out about it. I had a lost sense of confidence particularly since this whole comedy thing is so judgmental. You have a great set and finally a booker considers you. He or she hears or witnesses something that doesn’t feel right and you’re out of luck for the next year or longer.

While I felt some sympathy for Tiffany Haddish, I also saw the outpouring of people coming to her defense. She’s not going anywhere and people know she is not just that one bad performance. When you’re “a nobody”, the pressure to have that one performance represent whatever is needed for the person judging you (the right tone, the right material, the right look, the right amount of laughs) could be overwhelming.

All day that Saturday as I was preparing for that evening, I was wrapping myself in a cloak of doubt and uncertainty. Then I remembered something I read in “Why Buddhism is True” by Robert Wright. We have evolved to have feelings so we would be compelled to perceive things in a certain way to protect ourselves in order to pass on our genes (“it’s probably a stick but it could be a snake so best to feel anxious and fearful”). The problem is that these feelings do, in fact, lead to perceptions that drive thoughts that ultimately lead to behaviors.

This is something I keep reminding myself time and time and time again for years now. In this case, I had feelings of frustration and despair that made me perceive myself as an imposter of sorts which drove thoughts of unworthiness and a behavior that led me to first question whether I shouldn’t be giving my attention to some other endeavor. Once I took a pause to see a barrier between what I was feeling and what I was perceiving, I could start to separate it out a bit and get down to the business of watching my set, taking notes and preparing again.

And it worked. I kept three or four things from the previous night, tweaked them and weaved them into a set that went great. And the perception I had that I was not good enough to get booked again went away, too (and luckily was confirmed).

So, it seems that Tiffany Haddish might have been a lot more evolved than me because clearly she has been able to overcome a much more visible flop sooner than I did. She’s probably a closet Buddhist.

Until next time,

Marc





2019 & A GIFT RECEIPT TO RETURN MY THOUGHTS

27 12 2018

Image result for no more thinking

Every year around this time I have a moment where I think about the thoughts that I have going into the new year. And this time around, all I can say is that my main thought is to not have any.

Though completely unrealistic, let me try to explain.

I don’t know about you, but at the start of every new year, regardless of whether I want to admit it or not, I fall back into the same pattern – reflect on the past year, think about the next. These thoughts rarely help with depression and anxiety. I can certainly make a list of all that I have to be thankful for when looking back at 2018. Truth is, this should be a daily exercise rather than some annual reminder that “I’m still alive and hey, it ain’t so bad.”

I could also easily make a list of what I have to look forward to in 2019. Every year I do exactly that – some sort of goals list that never really gets accomplished and only really makes me feel bad when I use it for the reflective part of the exercise that awaits me twelve months later. This is what I like to call my “anxiety loop of despair” which is a pretty catchy name if I do say so myself.

I am not saying that reflection is bad. I’m not saying that goal setting is futile. I have no idea how to manage my own “journey” let alone begin to pretend to give advice for anyone else. What I do know – with a little, ok a lot, of help from reading, meditation, and therapy, is that thinking is not all it’s cracked up to be.

If I could simply reflect back on 2018 and say “hey, not so bad – you still had people that loved you, experiences that you could learn from, good or bad, and a bit of fun along the way”, I think that would be enough. If I could look toward 2019 and simply say “my goal is to keep on moving – I am literally just going to do my best – physically, spiritually and emotionally – then the personal and professional will fall where it is meant to, regardless of my “hopes and dreams”, then that would be great.

The problem is that this doesn’t happen. Not for me at least. Those thoughts are accompanied by a caravan (is that still an ok word to use?) of other thought passengers that insist on a ride along. Thoughts like “you’re getting too old to (fill in the blank)” and “what did you really accomplish last year” and “I think I’m being left behind in (another fill in the blank option for all those playing at home.)

This is why my thoughts for heading into the New Year are simple – to not have any, or rather, treat them as someone else’s thoughts.

Are we are thoughts? I don’t know – the verdict is out. What I have come to believe is that we are when we don’t see them for what they are clearly. Some people like to explain that the power of positive thinking can lead to amazing results. I agree that positive thinking has its place. However, this negates the fact that no one is just one type of thinker. Sure, your set point may be way more optimistic than mine – in fact, I almost guarantee it. That doesn’t necessarily make you immune to difficult thoughts and feelings.

So, again, my verdict is that you are your thoughts only to the extent you allow them to be. I have a lot of work to do here and my fear is that I’ll never be a black belt. I’d settle for orange at this point.

Our lives are not a series of Facebook posts and they are not a series of thoughts – unless we choose for them to be. So, if you’re with me, I wish for you a relatively thoughtless 2019 and then we can really see how far we’ve come when we look back in 2020 – if we want to that is.

Until next time,

Marc





Day 1

2 01 2017

Image result for day 1

Last night was a New Year’s Eve unlike any other.

I certainly have spent New Year’s eve before unencumbered by the fervor of loud music and flowing booze but never quite to the extent I did for a couple of hours at the Buddhist Sangha (community) to which I have been attending for about a year now.

Though I look forward to the Monday evening meditation and discussion, I was very hesitant to go there last night.

Firstly, I had envisioned a night with my kids including games, music and sarcastic commenting on whatever ridiculous late night New Year’s Eve coverage was going to be on the television.

Secondly, reflecting inward after what will surely go down as one of the most sobering years of my life, was not high on my list of options to ring in 2017.

However, with two teenagers who rather spend a night with friends their own age, I was left with me, my thoughts and a list of On Demand music videos from artists I hadn’t heard of nor could pronounce.

I decided to walk down to the Sangha, hoping it was not just me and two other people, as I was expecting.

There were a lot of cars in the parking lot. This surprised me and for a moment, I thought maybe there was some other event going on, as well. Then, I walked in to a community of 30-40 people with varying levels of experience and reasons for being there who had decided to take a breath, literally and metaphorically, to start this New Year in a much different way than in the past.

It was a humbling experience. This is not the stuff that unicorns and rainbows are made of. One of the things I appreciate the most is the true down-to-earth nature of this community – the ability to meet people who intuitively feel there is something beyond the surface we have been trained to grasp for.

This is a time to come together as a community and simply take a pause. I can’t tell you how important, (notice I didn’t say “easy”), this practice has been over the past year.

I heard a podcast today (replayed from 2009) that recounted a story of an older man who refused to quit smoking after decades, even following a stroke. He simply said it was who he was and that in this life, he was a smoker. Upon having a second stroke, however, that part of his brain that associated himself with smoking, was damaged and he never reached for a cigarette from there on in.

The biological science of craving aside, he just didn’t think of himself as a smoker anymore. We are so ready to confine ourselves to the thoughts that provide guardrails to what we think we can do and who we can be that we often have to experience something profound to challenge these notions.

I really appreciate the idea of our thoughts being tools that are available to us, rather than our specific identity. This is something that meditation has helped me work toward – the ability to see my thoughts, acknowledge them, investigate further and then, maybe just then, let them slip away so that I can be in the moment with no expectation and no identity. Can you imagine what could happen then?

Wishing you a year of discovery.

Until next time,

Marc





Acceptance AKA “What If…”

29 09 2016

whatif

There is a school of thought or belief that the individual journey we are on is exactly the one we are supposed to be on.

It is phrased in many different ways. Perhaps you have heard things such as “it was meant to be” or “it happened for a reason”. I don’t personally subscribe to either of these but do believe, as difficult as it may seem, wherever I find myself (physically and metaphorically) is really where I am supposed to be at that moment. It took me many, many, many difficult moments, however, to finally get here.

To me, I have spent more time than I care to admit thinking about life’s more challenging moments in terms of “why is this happening?” and “what is the lesson I am to take away from it?” However, it hit me today that I have never asked myself why certain things are not happening, as well.

I am incredibly grateful for the thousands of things that don’t happen to me and people I care about every day – illness, grief, pain, loss – particularly when these very things afflict so many innocent people all the time.

But what about all the good things that are not happening and seem to be so far out of reach and why stew on this today? Well, I am traveling for a few days and always feel doubly melancholy when I’m away from my kids and not within a 5 mile radius. Luckily, I’m on the same time zone, so it could be worse. With each time zone, it gets exponentially worse, in fact.

This made me realize that so many of the “dreams” that I have for myself – which all revolve around creative pursuits – would be pretty difficult to activate fully without a significant amount of travel, which would invariably take me away from my children a lot more and given the fact that homes schooling isn’t an option, probably for the best. So, what if, and I hesitate to even suggest this at the risk of sounding too “airy fairy”, but what if the universe was holding back knowing that it’s simply not the right time for this?

What if we had the knowledge that what we are going through and experiencing, both good and bad, is all purposeful because, believe it or not, this is the exact right time to experience it – as long as we did not miss the opportunity to take from it the lesson of its intent to move us forward on our journey? Similarly, what if we also knew that those things we long for so achingly may not present themselves just yet because it is simply not the right time? What if we had patience and faith and ignored all those self-help books that give us 10 steps to achieving all our goals in the next year?

I’m going to have to keep thinking about this one but I think there’s something there. Glorious, painful and mysterious all at once – just like life.

Until next time,

Marc





Emotional Storage

12 12 2015
Messy_storage_room_with_boxes

Scientists have finally revealed what the inside of my brain looks like.

I have been working slowly – actually, I think I’ve given new definition to the word “slow” – let’s say, “slothily”- through the various rooms and closets in my house in preparation for ultimately moving at some unforeseen time between now and the next sighting of Haley’s Comet, scheduled for sometime in 2062.

Over the years, I have realized that having lots of things and clutter around me does nothing to help with anxiety. Or, actually, it helps anxiety a lot – which is the problem. I need help ridding of anxiety, as the case may be. Always thinking ahead, my prominent thought is “how the hell are my kids going to get rid of all this crap after I die?” No one can accuse me of not planning ahead.

There are so many things that have been boxed up and set aside in storage for years and years. I am not sure when exactly I am planning to re-look at all of this stuff. Perhaps it is this fear that one day, if I am lucky enough to become elderly, I will be all alone; just me, a practical cup of tea, my new “iCollar” for the elderly implanted in my wrist and a handkerchief surrounded by nothing but photographs and illegible artwork and a slew of elementary school report cards to remind me of a life long past. How freaking depressing! And don’t get me started on the compendium of marriage related photos, albums, letters, cards, and wedding paraphernalia that were left behind for me. There is a whole section of my attic that looked like a marriage threw up in there.

No thank you!

Always one to look for the meaning in anything, (as is the tendency of “Sags” as I recently learned), it occurred to me that I have been carrying quite a load in my emotional storage locker, as well.

You are probably familiar with the idea of “carrying baggage” around – those experiences and feelings that can become obstacles to us moving forward in life. But what about storage?

Storage, to me, is even worse. With baggage, you can compartmentalize or hopefully, discard all together, but storage? You’re in for the long-term, brothers and sisters! With storage, you are just taking all your crap and placing it somewhere else where it never goes away. Sure, in the short-term, it’s great to be rid of it for a while, but it’s there…looming, waiting, and eventually, reminding you of, wait for it – your baggage.

I write a lot about thoughts and the impact that this has had on me, both in a positive and negative manner. Many of my thoughts are all about storage because I don’t necessarily carry them with me front and center but they are nestled deep in some cerebral storage locker just waiting to be uncovered, unpacked and let loose. The hell with that.

I am committing myself to trashing, donating or selling most of everything I have stored up – physically and mentally. So, if you are interested in some thoughts, perceptions and feelings that aren’t of any use to me anymore, hit me up – I am very reasonable.

What are you storing that it’s time to discard?

Until next time,

Marc





Bullying, Looking in the Mirror & Changing Leaves

30 10 2015

Another lesson from one of my kids..

Another lesson from one of my kids..

I had a conference with my daughter’s Gifted Teacher today to review her progress in the program and so far in her 7th grade school year. The project they have to work on this year is in developing a Public Service Announcement (PSA). My son did one two years ago against smoking and my daughter has chosen bullying as her topic – writing, directing and acting in the final product.

In discussing this, her teachers said that, whereas at other times my daughter might take her time to figure out a topic or strategy, this time, she knew what she was going to do for her PSA as soon as she was asked. Her teacher asked her how she knew so quickly. Apparently, my daughter explained to her that she had witnessed someone getting bullied in the hall and felt bad for not intervening. She wants to finish her PSA and then show it to that student.

My daughter has a high level of empathy and this moved me a lot. Who hasn’t been in a situation before where you should have spoken up but didn’t for whatever reason? This is a 12 year old girl and she was able to both acknowledge this and do something about it.

I can’t say I blame her. My mouth has gotten me into trouble in the past. Over the past decade or so, as I have let wisdom take a front seat instead of back seat, I have been much better about letting things go or just trying to measure my words, though I have a long way to go – as my soon-to-be-ex (or her mother) will attest to, I am sure.

I understand where my daughter is coming from. She’s a little thing. She doesn’t bother anyone. She’s a good student. She is not Rizzo from Grease. I am not a non-confrontational person by nature but it made me think about what types of bullying we deal with as adults and how do we stand up for ourselves or others, especially when there are big things at stake like jobs, marriages or other types of relationships?

Not all bullying is as direct as having your books knocked out of your hand at your locker in the middle school hall. Sometimes it is being told that you are not good enough or don’t know enough or don’t fit in – either directly or through a veil of arrogance. Sometimes we bully ourselves with our thoughts and actions (or lack thereof). So, how do we combat these?

The first thing is to be able to say to ourselves that not only is bullying happening but we don’t have to accept it. Then, you have to speak up. In some fashion. You have to politely interrupt the discussion – at the conference table, at the dinner table or in your own head – and state your opinion, correct the misperception and then move on. This “move on” part is the most difficult because this is where we confront our fears and ultimately, bullying is all about intimidation and fear.

Move on. Understand that you don’t want to be surrounded by people who are there to bully you – subtly or directly. Understand that you are not a sum of what others see or perceive but the thoughts you allow to enter and grow. This means you may need work toward a better job, better relationship or better self-awareness (or all three).

I took a walk after work yesterday and the color of the leaves in the Northeast this year are beautiful. I am not sure that a leaf gets to choose it’s color or vibrancy any more than we can choose our true nature but I do know that there are many factors that are influential – the amount of rainfall, soil moisture, summer and autumn weather, as examples. We have a lot of influential factors, as well, but it is not easy. It is up to us to manage our thoughts, assumptions and, for me, response to fear in a way that lets us show our true colors and vibrancy. That’s the best response to bullying – from others or ourselves – that I know of.

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







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