My Eyes Are Up Here (Thank you very much)

2 01 2017

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I have had a bad habit when I meet someone and I am hoping to break it this year.

Often times, when I first see someone or meet somebody, my eyes divert to the finger on their hand closest to their pinky – you know the one, the “ring” finger. I’ll even check the right hand sometimes for those in Europe and other parts of the world that traditionally wear wedding bands on that hand.

This is the divorced person’s version of every teenage boy not making a first glance above the girl’s neck area. It’s an honest challenge. It’s embarrassing to admit this. No one sees me doing it but I know it and that’s enough.

Last month, after taking a mental inventory of almost every passenger on the C train in NYC, including adolescents who were legally not even old enough to be married, I visibly shook my head in disgust with myself and silently asked myself “why are you doing this”? These questions of self-investigation are not always for the faint of heart. I mean, in the grand scheme of things, big deal. Still, it’s a little mental if you ask me – and yes, I am being pretty judgmental of myself.

The answer is pretty simple. It’s me simply identifying what group these strangers belong to, as I once was a member myself. Of course, nothing about the wearing or non-wearing of a wedding band really tells all that much but I guess it’s like looking at a bunch of college kids and reminiscing that “yeah, I used to be in that group once.”

Marriage was the one thing (along with family) that was the “sine qua non” (an absolute necessary) in my growing up. Regardless of how much money, popularity, degrees or other more accepted measures of “success” one might have had, in my family, it didn’t seem to hold nearly as much weight as a solid family foundation. For me, the dissolution of my own marriage – something that simply cannot be swept under the proverbial rug – was both a moment of profound failure and ultimately, awakening.

There is something I heard a while ago that has helped me with this. Some of you may recall a song from a decade or so ago called “The Sunscreen Song”, the lyrics of which were taken from an essay written as a hypothetical commencement speech by Mary Schmich, a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Though I was married at the time, I never forgot the following passage, (interesting that this is the one that stuck out):

Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t

Maybe you’ll have children, maybe you won’t

Maybe you’ll divorce at 40,

maybe you’ll dance the “Funky Chicken” On your 75th wedding anniversary

Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much

Or berate yourself either

Your choices are half chance, so are everybody else’s

I’m definitely not celebrating a 75th wedding anniversary any time in this life but I feel there’s still a Funky Chicken or two (not to mention an endless supply of “Doing the Robot”) in the not so distant future – and I don’t have to audit a sea of ring fingers to do it, either. (But I will warn you – as someone who has “danced like no one is watching”, it’s pretty embarrassing when you look at the car next to you and realize someone was.)

Here’s to not over-congratulating ourselves for when things go great and not over-berating ourselves for when they don’t.

Until next time,

Marc

(The lyrics to the full essay/song are below if interested.)

 

The Sunscreen Song

Ladies and gentlemen of the class of 2007, wear sunscreen If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it The long term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists Whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable Than my own meandering experience, I will dispense this advice now

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth, oh, never mind You will never understand the power And the beauty of your youth until they’ve faded But trust me, in twenty years You will look back at photos of yourself

And recall in a way you can’t grasp now How much possibility lay before you And how fabulous you really looked You are not as fat as you imagine

Don’t worry about the future or worry that know that worrying Is as affective as trying to solve an algebra equation By chewing bubble gum The real troubles in your life are apt to be things That never crossed your worried mind The kind that blindsides you at 4 p.m. on some idle Tuesday

Do one thing every day that scares you, sing Don’t be reckless with other peoples’ hearts Don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours, floss Don’t waste your time on jealousy Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind The race is long and in the end, it’s only with yourself

Remember compliments you receive, forget the insults If you succeed in doing this, tell me how Keep your old love letters, throw away your old bank statements, stretch Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what to do with your life

The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t Get plenty of calcium Be kind to knees, you’ll miss them when they’re gone

Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t Maybe you’ll have children, maybe you won’t Maybe you’ll divorce at 40, maybe you’ll dance the “Funky Chicken” On your 75th wedding anniversary Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much Or berate yourself either Your choices are half chance, so are everybody else’s

Enjoy your body, use it every way you can Don’t be afraid of it or what other people think of it It’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own, dance Even if you have nowhere to do it but your own living room Read the directions even if you don’t follow them Do not read beauty magazines, they will only make you feel ugly

Brother and sister together will make it through Someday a spirit will take you and guide you there I know you’ve been hurting, but I’ve been waiting to be there for you And I’ll be there just helping you out, whenever I can

Get to know your parents, you never know when they’ll be gone for good Be nice to your siblings, they are your best link to your past And the people most likely to stick with you in the future Understand that friends come and go But a precious few, who should hold on

Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle For as the older you get, the more you need the people You knew when you were young Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard Live in northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft

Travel, accept certain inalienable truths Prices will rise, politicians will philander, you too will get old And when you do, you’ll fantasize that when you were young Prices were reasonable, politicians were noble And children respected their elders

Respect your elders, don’t expect anyone else to support you Maybe you have a trust fund, maybe you’ll have a wealthy spouse But you’ll never know when either one will run out Don’t mess too much with your hair or by the time you’re forty It will look eighty-five Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it

Advice is a form of nostalgia, dispensing it is a way of Wishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off Painting over the ugly parts and recycling for more than it’s worth But trust me on the sunscreen

Brother and sister together will make it through, oh yeah Someday a spirit will take you and guide you there I know you’ve been hurting, but I’ve been waiting to be there for you And I’ll be there just helping you out, whenever I can

Everybody’s free, oh yeah, everybody’s free, oh yeah, oh, to feel good

Songwriters NIGEL ANDREW SWANSTON, TIM COX

Published by Lyrics © Peermusic Publishing

Song Discussions is protected by U.S. Patent 9401941. Other patents pending.

Read more: Baz Luhrmann – Everybody’s Free (to Wear Sunscreen) Lyrics | MetroLyrics

 

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Uncertainty – the only certainty.

5 05 2016

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My daughter turned 13 today. Just like I did for her older brother, I posted a Happy Birthday picture of her when she was a toddler next to a recent photo. Sifting through those older photos transported me not back in time but almost as if I was witnessing someone else’s life. It’s hard to explain.

She had her concert tonight and after the concert, I waited for her to congratulate her and wish her a Happy Birthday again. Standing off to the side was her mother and as I passed her, I had that “who’s life is this?” feeling again. Her I was passing a woman I spent almost every single day with for almost 2 decades without an acknowledgement. Weird! (Preferred at this point, but still….weird.)

There is no greater proof that certainty is just something we come up with to help distract us from the realities of a groundless, uncontrollable life than divorce. It is living proof of the uncertainty of assumptions, life, friendships, relationships and those foundational precepts that help to keep us navigating an otherwise unpredictable world.

I think this is part of the reason it is so difficult for others to be around people who are visibly or otherwise publicly going through a rough time – it doesn’t fit neatly into this narrative that keeps us moving along. The only real safe story we can tell ourselves is that there must be something inherently acute to those suffering from failed marriages, chronic illnesses, job loss and other issues. When, in truth, no one know our stories – not even ourselves. As my father always said, the only certain things in life are death and taxes, and between you and me, I’m not even sure about that one depending on your particular economic bracket and propensity for tax-sheltered businesses or your view of what constitutes “life and death”.

My point is that as certain as I was that I had the perfect daughter, she did just turn 13 today. We know how that can go. And that’s as much reminder as I need that we are not meant to live in a certain world and rather than see that as suffering, it could be the most exciting realization yet.

Until next time,

Marc

 

 

 





Why are Marriage & Divorce So Separate?

2 04 2016
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Now only if there were a divorce registry, too.

That seems like an odd question, I know.

I read an interesting blog post that I somehow stumbled upon from a TED website written about divorce. It was challenging us regarding the way in which we think of divorce so differently than we do about marriage.

I’ll try to explain it. Basically, in the U.S., the notion of marrying for anything other than love, or at least without love being the priority, is judged in a way that is typically viewed as unromantic and maybe even “wrong”. However, when people divorce for “falling out of love”, it is looked down upon. Essentially, is it not somewhat hypocritical to allow and even, expect, a false standard on one end (love being the foundation for marriage) but not on the other (divorcing when said love no longer exists)? We are telling ourselves that it is critical to marry for love but if you fall out of love, you should stick with it.

Here’s where things get tricky. I didn’t necessarily disagree with that notion because it’s not just about one person or even the marital couple, especially when children are involved. For me, this concept made me think about my actions to stay married. I don’t think love was the issue, at least not for me. As difficult as things got, I never considered them to be so bad as to destroy, separate and ultimately dissolve what grew out of it – a familial unit, a way of being, a path toward something. This was clearly not a two way street and as I am on the “tail end of the end” and approaching the very “beginning of the beginning”, I can see that I am already better off and my kids, thankfully, are thriving in this new world.

That being said, it has made me wonder about the constitution of marriage. Though liberal in so many ways, I held onto more traditional norms about “sticking” with it when it came to marriage. Perhaps this was more out of fear than anything. But let’s play this through. If, in fact, many people believe in the nobleness of trudging through the mud, sometimes many times and for long periods, in the name of marital commitment whereby marriage is more than just “finding your soul mate”, then why should it be looked down upon when there are those who may decide to have a more deliberate and practical approach to marriage in the first place? Sure, love and respect are foundational but let’s be honest, there are plenty who select partners based on parameters that have nothing to do with love. Anyone happen upon Rupert Murdoch’s latest wedding?

I am not anti-marriage – just for me. What it comes down to is having no judgement as to the decisions that people make to enter or not enter into marriage nor to stay or exit from marriage once that hard decision is made. I think that this mindset would do two things: 1. it would slowly evolve to where people truly marry for the right reasons and not out of any type of cultural norm, fear, expectation or fairy tale; and 2. it would de-stigmatize what happens when marriages end, for we would no longer so unrealistically separate the human condition which draws us into a commitment from that which may tell us it is finally time to move on.

Thanks for “listening”. I’d love your thoughts on the matter (or any matter).

Until next time,

Marc





Depression: the Reason vs the Lesson

29 03 2016

You-Are-Not-Powerless

When my kids aren’t with me, I try to stay as connected to them as possible. I find funny videos or stories and text them links. Or try to remember what type of fruit snacks my daughter likes and shoot her a quick message. (It’s Kellogs, by the way – talk about brand loyalty). These things help me, a little, but as I have told only a few people, I fall into a depression during extended periods of not seeing them.

It feels like I remember feeling as an adolescent – the irritable feeling that there is a heightened sensitivity of some chemical that is coursing through my blood stream. It feels like a low grade sunburn – but from the inside. That’s the only way I can describe it.

For a while, I thwarted ideas that this was depression because it seemed so episodic and also, I was sensitive to my tiny, insignificant plight being a potential affront to those who suffer, truly suffer, from this disposition. But after this past week, there could be no denying it. Last week, I spent a good 3 days just telling myself, at every opportunity I could get, to just “be with the feeling” and “just get through it”. As it stands, I am with my kids now and it is the first time that I have felt like writing anything down in a coherent fashion.

I had tried journaling over and over again the past few days. Everything I wrote just sent me into a further state of disgust. I couldn’t articulate anything in a way that I thought could possibly be understood, let alone revered as some desperate, pathetic diatribe that no one would give two craps about. (Yes, that is the American Psychological Association approved metric for level of depression – the amount of craps others may give to your cause.)

I was in NYC for a couple days last week and at one point, went to a bar, alone, to sit down with my laptop, have a pint and try to describe how I was feeling, hoping that somehow I would not feel like crawling out of my skin. My goal was to write some amazing blog post about what depression feel likes, smells like, tastes like, etc. Oh, it was going to be both artsy and profound and garner me with a million likes and even a guest spot on Huff Po. Instead, I couldn’t make it through the first sentence and after getting a text message from a friend about going to an open mic, downed what was left of my Brooklyn Lager and got on the closest subway I could find to downtown.

The thing is that I have this thing where I am always “trying to keep myself honest” – you know, waiting for someone I respect to tell me I belong on the comedy circuit or a peer I respect to tell me I am a good marketer or writer or a psychologist to tell me that I do “have anxiety or depression”, whatever that is. I don’t need any of those. What I really need to do is just listen to myself. I don’t have to keep myself honest if I am honest…with myself. Having someone validate that I am having a tough time is like asking someone at the Hair Cuttery to officially designate my hair as “curly and unruly”. It just is.

I am anxious because I can tell that something has shifted and not necessarily for the better. I can tell that I am about to enter into a period that will not be easy but can be transformative if I am willing to take it day by day, hour by hour and breath by breath. I have a whole different (and growing) skill set to cope now that I did not have before and really, what other choice is there? I have to believe that I am here and at this point in this journey not necessarily for a reason but at least for a lesson. The two can be very different things. I can be passive about reason but with a lesson? Not so much. It’s up to me now.

Until next time,

Marc





Losing Custody of My Doodle

22 03 2016

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Is it me or does he look like Eric Roberts the younger years?

Of all the things that was the strangest over the past three years of living through the hell of divorce and separation, it was the cessation of something I have done for as long as I can remember that has struck me the most. I stopped doing it when, now I realize, it probably would have helped me a lot. No, it’s not that. (Yes, I know what you’re thinking.)

I stopped doodling.

For as long as I can remember, I have always been a doodler. It started out with me doodling tattoos and other bad reconstructive surgery on the pages of my mother’s TV Guide. Then, I doodled people a lot (especially women with big hair) and then, to keep it somewhat more innocuous, various 3-D shaded blocks with tunnels and elaborate Dali-like totem poles on the side margins of my notebooks. There has been plenty written about the neuroscience of doodling on focus and attention. For me, I think this is very true. 

I doodled so much that in a work-related deposition in front of a judge and court room, when my work documents were put up on a large screen, page after page featured memos with my wide eyed cartoon characters and brick walls for everyone to see. It was embarrassing, but I hope at least it was memorable.

I remember losing myself in a black ink doodle during a meeting at work only to be called on it in front of my colleagues. I was able to recall the exact conversation and even provide some input. The act of putting pen to paper in this way helped me concentrate and listen better. I was able to process what was going on in my head and around me.

And yet, barely one doodle between Spring of 2013 and now. Why? What could the correlation possibly be? 

For me, I think it has to do with the same thought process as my initial reluctance to try meditation. The idea of doing something that would focus me during a period of such extreme chaos was both foreign and missing the point (or so I thought) because when the ship is sinking, the last thing one should do is focus on one thing. However, this is exactly what is needed. For the Titanic, it was getting off the freaking ship! For the guy watching his family unfold in front of him, it’s getting off his mental sinking ship.

Instead of focusing myself in a 10 minute doodle to reframe my thoughts or a 10 minute meditation to try and bring myself to a single breath, I went into crisis control “to do” mode and it wasn’t good. These small moments of distracted focus (how’s that for a term) are critical, particularly when the world seems to be falling apart.

Now, it seems the world may be catching on with the onslaught of elaborate “adult color books”. I get it, though. We are moving further and further away from doing anything for extended periods of time. Maybe a coloring book or a doodling session is the thing to get us back on track, one stroke at a time.

Until next time,

Marc

Thanks for reading. If you would like to subscribe to my blog, I’d be most appreciative! You can also follow me on twitter @MarcKaye1. Thank you.





A Most Significant February

13 02 2016

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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





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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