Comedy is one of the few crafts where you have no choice but to fail — often miserably, cringe-inducingly — in front of an audience while you practice. For most sports, there are training camps to make you strong and exercises completed in solitude that enhance your skill. God only knows we don’t show our first drafts to our friends. And even acting can be experimented with in the safety of a class or private coaching session. But comedy? The only real way to sharpen your tool is in front of actual people on a random week night in some random club under a spotlight with nothing but scribbles on a notepad you fervently edited while you waited your turn. The first time, the second time, the third time, and so on... Is this thing on?Read More
I am not so arrogant as to think the universe has singled me out to teach me a lesson, but there are times when the plot twists are so perplexing that it would be arrogant not to search for one. In the last two months, four people close to me have left the world as I know it. Until now, I had been mostly fortunate to have avoided the harsh realities of mortality, but as the saying goes, when it rains, it dumps an ocean on your unsuspecting ass. I feel as if my very foundation has been swept away, flooded with new possibilities of finiteness, loss, compassion, regret. Stories in the news of someone dying are no longer abstract. The connection with someone who has also lost a parent is palpable, a calling card of uninvited, unrelenting wisdom. Petty concerns are infuriating, confusing, and altogether the perfect distraction when the pain and uncertainty is just too much. My reality is both more empty and more full. A paradox of better understanding the nature of the universe and coming to terms with the fact that it makes no sense.
I think most of us are born with, or adopt or are taught, the delusion of permanence. Our parents will always be there — we have to believe this because if not, we will die. Even if that’s not entirely true, it’s how we feel. They are the source of life, of security, of happiness, and coming to terms with their human-ness is hard enough, not to mention their mortality. I always knew intellectually that losing a parent was a rite of passage of sorts, something impossible to truly understand until it happens. The loss of a friend, particularly someone who showed no signs of sickness or even weakness, someone who loved life and loved his friends, is another puzzle that can only be solved once the pieces are in front of you, if at all. Even the passing of someone who fought in wars decades before you were born is a shock, because somehow once someone has lived to the ripe old age of 96, they appear eternal. I suppose it feels as if we will all live forever, until we don’t. Death is something impossible to grok until you face it, and by then it’s too late. And those of us who are left to witness the impermanence of our loved ones, our heroes, and even our enemies, can only honor that loss by questioning the very purpose of this absurd and beautiful opportunity called existence.
Even the youngest of Tibetan monks learn to meditate intensely on death and impermanence. Although they believe in an afterlife, the uncertainty of what form that will take gives added weight to the importance of the human experience and living a meaningful life. While it's impossible to know what comes next, I find it practical to hedge my bets. In other words, if there is an afterlife, I hope I will have done enough good in the world to have earned a good rebirth; and if there isn’t, well then I hope I did enough good in the world to have left the place a little better than how I found it. All I know is that my soul, or whatever “stuff” I’m made of, has the opportunity to experience life now — in all its confusing, complex, painful, and messy magnificence. I was sharing with a friend recently that I was feeling guilty that my dad might have waited for me before he finally passed, that I had participated in prolonging his pain. He fought so hard for every breath, just as he had fought so hard for everything in his life, and never, never complained. My friend replied, “life is pain.” And it’s true. Why would I want to take that away? We shouldn’t shun the pain. It’s how we know we’re alive. We simply have to learn to be with the pain, to not be afraid of it, and to embrace both the emotional pain of loss and the physical pain of pushing against our boundaries. Pain is training to live, comfort is… well… the opposite.
There came a tipping point for me, in the midst of a cycle of sorrow I thought I might never climb out of, when I realized the source of much of my suffering was the unwillingness to accept uncertainty. My whole life I’ve been trying to control, to predict, to keep myself safe — from harm, from making mistakes, from losing people I love — but it’s a rigged game. There is no possibility of controlling these things and there are no winners when you try. Getting what you want only reinforces the delusion that it’s possible to control and that our attachments are worth using all our energy to keep. Targets are good, don’t get me wrong, but in the end, it’s not hitting the targets that matter, it’s the number of arrows you've shot. If you spend too much time waiting, lining up your shot, worrying that you might miss, you will most certainly miss the most important thing of all — you. I’ve realized now that instead of hitting a bullseye, I’d much rather have the target, and everything surrounding it, covered in arrows, broken, backwards, buried. Who knows? I might hit a target I didn’t even see! Didn’t Schopenhauer call that genius? Whether it’s the wind that carries it astray, my own poor aim, or someone else’s arrow, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that we shoot. What matters is that we try. There is so little we can really control, perhaps nothing beyond our own experience, and even that would be debated by Pavlov.
So maybe it’s not so much a lesson I’m looking for as it is a new way of moving through the world. Paying attention to the details but not getting lost in them. Caring about what people feel, not what they think. Doing things today that can be done tomorrow. Striving for the things that matter to me, not what’s written in my programming. Having the self-awareness to question even my strongest beliefs as well as the humility to change them. Facing adversity with vulnerability and compassion, for I am not alone in my fear, but if I run away, I will be. Death, I guess you could say, has planted the seeds to understanding the nature of aliveness. All I can do is water them with my tears and hope that from the darkest shade will grow the most beautiful garden, which one day too will die, making it all the more precious and alive.
Today I flew home from being home. I know, it’s confusing sometimes. Home is where the heart is. Make yourself at home. Home, Sweet, Home. Home is whenever I’m with you. Such a simple, benign, yet loaded word. When I was young, it was common sense that home was the house where I lived—it was the place where my mom tucked me in at night, where I spent sick days watching tv on the couch, where my friends would come over to play, and where there was an infinite supply of toilet paper and Alpha-Bits cereal. Now, it’s not so simple. On nights when I explain where I’m going after a movie, it may mean the place I sleep and keep my stuff, but when I’m asked if I’m going home for Christmas, or “Where’s home?” it’s not so black or white. Today I walked through the Chicago airport, my flight delayed and running on empty, and felt this strange feeling, the kind that occurs when you mix black and white together, turning it into an unidentifiable shade of grey. I felt sad to be leaving home, but at the same time excited to be going home. My awareness sparked another color to enter the mix, a bright and joyful color. I realized that whether I’m in one city or another, one house or another, with family or not, the only consistent thing is me. If it’s familiarity that matters, then certainly the Chicago airport should feel more like home than some of the places I’ve lived, but I really don’t think “home” is a place in the traditional sense. It’s a state of being. It’s a feeling of comfort, of presence, and a complete acceptance of where you are in that moment in time—literally and figuratively.
In the end, it’s much less work to focus on building your internal home than trying to control everything outside, travel long distances, or buy lots of material things, just to get that feeling. Certainly places can inspire nostalgia or make living more comfortable, but if we practice being present and excited about where we are, then why can’t the whole world feel like home? Instead of setting a resolution that’s based on getting a result this year, I’m going to start building the biggest home in the world—so big it encompasses the entire planet (and maybe beyond!), yet is entirely invisible. A home where every person on Earth is welcome, and no room is off limits. A home where the only keys I need are an open mind and an open heart, and an open-door policy for new experiences. That way I’ll never have to worry about whether I’m leaving home or coming home, but simply being.
I was feeling inexplicably joyful as I walked to my seat down my first flight’s narrow aisle, trying to make eye contact with as many people as possible. Call it a habit, a good deed, an impulse, when I’m in a good mood, I like to share it. But before I reached my seat, something caught my attention. There was a person a few rows ahead pulling at her cuffs, fixing her bracelet, shrugging her sweater into place and brushing her hair back just like my friend Esther. Her yellow hair was so similar, and yet I had said goodbye to her the night before with full knowledge that she was leaving on an early flight the next morning and I wouldn’t see her again until the middle of next week. Yet the resemblance was uncanny. I waited. Hoped. And when she looked up and I saw it was her, a rush of excitement charged through my body. An EEG machine probably would have registered Christmas I was so excited! I felt like I had the funniest joke to tell and lacked the patience or self-control to spit it out in any articulate manner. I yelled her name and awaited her shock and excitement. It was there, but nowhere near mine. But then, I actually said, out loud, in front of a plane full of bored and indifferent passengers, “This is the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me!” As the words formed and eventually made their way through my vocal chords and out my mouth, even before I uttered the first sound, I was well aware that this was not, in fact, the best thing that had ever happened to me. Not really even close. But I decided to go with it because, quite honestly, who’s counting? In that moment, in a crowded airplane aisle full of strangers and reluctant travellers anticipating an uneventful and lonely journey, seeing the smiling face of one of my favorite people was the best!
I can’t help but think that in the end, all moments can be this awesome. Why judge and compare, or create hierarchies of awesomeness? All we have and all we know is what is happening right now, so why not let this very moment be the greatest thing that’s ever happened? Seriously, reading this, right now, is the greatest! Don’t worry, I won’t tell. Just enjoy it, no one else cares. So go high-five yourself and have an awesome day!Editor's note: my friend slept the entire way and we barely talked on the other end, but I'm still smiling about it.
Today I decided to squeeze in a yoga class after having lunch with a friend across town. I’d only been to this particular place once before, so I wasn’t really familiar with the facilities, the sign-in process, where you put your shoes ’n shit. I was a little disoriented to find all the rooms empty, but I was still a little early, so decided to get changed and await further instruction. While I was changing, I heard someone else come in who seemed to be greeted by a voice with a hint of authority. I felt reassured, but when I came out, there was no responsible party to be found. The woman who had just arrived, also there for her second class, kindly showed me the ropes as she had just learned them, and I continued to wait around awkwardly reading the bulletins on the walls. Five minutes after the class was supposed to start, there was still only one other woman there, which made three of us. By ten after, I went and knocked on the door at the very end of the hall. Apparently there was some sort of teacher training going on. My knock was received with an abrupt, “WHAT!” Then a laughter-infused, “Come in.” They glare-smiled at me as I opened the door, jokingly upset about the interruption. I’m never quite sure how to take gestures like this because it feels more like a weak attempt to cover up real pissed off-edness with lame sarcasm than any sort of actual joke, but—I digress. A woman came out to help, but only succeeded in confirming the uncertainty of the situation by checking the website (why didn't we think of that? oh wait, we did. thanks) and calling the owner (who had no knowledge of a cancellation).
Fifteen minutes after the class was supposed to start, one woman decided to call it a Sunday, but the other lady and I looked down at our bare feet and figured, when in tights, stretch! So we plopped down our mats and proceeded to breathe deeply and crack our bones. I told her about this cool yoga website I’d been using to practice at home. Quicker than I could say downward facing dog, she had pulled up a video and placed her iPhone between us saying, “Do you mind?” By this point, there was really no decision to be made. I had untied the ropes, placed my foot firmly on the dock and set the boat in motion. Besides, the experience was worth far more than any story of somewhere more productive I could be. Not to mention the pattern completion of actually squeezing in some yoga.
So that’s what we did. In a big empty room with shiny hardwood floors, Indian fabrics lining the walls and statues of goddesses as our audience, we did our yoga practice bowing to a leopard print iPhone (we kicked it over for the standing poses). We also got to know each other a bit and even came up with the genius premise for a comedy where two women get locked in a yoga studio overnight with nothing but yoga props and an iPhone to pass the time. Actually, now that I say that out loud, it sounds a bit different, but I’ll leave that to your own conscience.
I wanted to share because I love little experiences like this. Ones that can so easily be overlooked or passed by, like throwing out an important letter in a pile of bills. I could have decided to go home when the teacher didn’t show without hesitation, but when I came to that fork in the road, for some reason I chose the uncertain path over the familiar one. You never know what’s going to happen, but that’s the beauty of it. You might solve a problem, you may even create a new one; you might make a new friend, or quite possibly an enemy; but in the very least, you will likely end up with a funny story to tell. And that's always worth it.
***I wrote this a while ago and just re-discovered it. It brings up questions I'm always curious about, so I thought I'd share and hear what you think*** One of the first blog posts I ever wrote was around the time when there were all sorts of scandalous reports challenging the accuracy of James Frey’s memoirs, A Million Little Pieces and his follow up, My Friend Leonard. Jt Leroy, the troubled, young, writing wunderkind, had also just been outed as a creative scheme with a middle-aged San Francisco woman at the helm. In all honesty, despite my intellectual musings about how all our stories are ultimately fiction, I felt sad and disappointed, and a bit of a fool. I had devoured James Frey’s A Milion Little Pieces. I cried when his words sang into the hollows of my own despair; I sighed when his imagery echoed the experiences of my own father’s struggle with substance abuse; I laughed when his self-conscious inner monologues sounded all too familiar. Needless to say, I was moved. Just as I was moved reading JT Leroy’s far more raw and provocative works. Evidently, I’d read all his books before he became a counter-culture icon; Asia Argento directing and starring in the film version of one of his books. I was a fan. I had friends who were “friends” with him. I’d even met him at a film festival party in Toronto. I was too shy to introduce myself or share how much I’d enjoyed his work. As was typical, he was wearing massive sunglasses, a hat and I think even a wig. He had a whole persona. He was brilliant, shy, tortured and innocent all at once. That’s what made him so appealing.
So what does it mean when our illusions are shattered? When what we think is real—people, stories, events—turns out to be fiction? Does it matter? Yes, it matters. Of course it matters. If we don’t have truth, then what are we left with? Well, I think that’s the most important question of all, because in the end, there is no truth. The past doesn’t exist in the way we think it does, or want to believe it does. There’s no magical history book that documents life’s events, ensuring an accurate record we can reference at will. No, the past only exists in our experience, in the present. And since time is always moving forward (presumably), and the present is always changing, so are we—along with our thoughts and memories. So when I ask again, does it matter if our stories are fact or fiction? Does it make our tears any less real if we discover a tale to be tall? My answer is no. It shouldn’t. Or at least I don’t think it should, but that doesn’t mean I don’t feel compelled to protest against false advertising (which is really the underlying moral issue). No, I have those feelings because I’m a human being and I want to feel like I know what’s real and what’s not. It even makes me more survivable to know the difference between a real tiger and an Imax 3D one. The only real danger is when I’m so afraid of the feeling of unpredictability that I think the tiger isn’t real when it is.
I feel like I’m sort of shooting fish in a barrel here, since I was fortunate enough to play a character on tv who was faced with this exact struggle. Très apropos. Everything she knew to be true was dismantled right before her eyes. I mean, we’ve all had experiences when the truth stung, when the cold, dismal reality of someone not being who we thought left us shattered and untrusting, but you have to admit Cally met a particularly unfortunate fate. Not only was her husband not who he said *spoiler alert* (she was torn up at the idea of him having a measly affair), but he turned out to be the epitome of everything she feared and had fought against her entire life. He wasn’t just not human, he was the enemy. And he wasn’t just her husband, he was the father of her child and the only person she ever truly trusted. So yeah, pretty harsh. Needless to say, she didn’t handle it very well, and who can blame her? But it’s unsettling to recognize how much our identity is wrapped up in what we think we know. Not to get too spiritual or anything, but I have a hard time believing we’re solely made up of atoms and energy that ferments into some sort of “consciousness.” I believe we are more than just our bodies, more than our minds even. And if we knew this, maybe we wouldn’t disintegrate if we discovered something we thought was true to be false. We would simply be “ourselves” with a new perspective. Is that really so bad? It certainly feels like it at times, but perhaps that’s the beauty of being human—discovering the truth beyond “knowledge.”
So I just finished watching the movie Catfish. *spoiler alert - watch it!* Let me just start by saying I thought it was brilliant. Intentional or not, the fact it pissed people off and caused speculation as to its “authenticity” is win/win. I was so uncomfortable through the whole thing. I was uncomfortable with what was happening in the film, enthralled with its characters and their unlikely story, and I was uncomfortable with what was happening in my living room, frustrated with my own inability categorize what I was seeing and make sense of my own emotions. I fell into this recursive loop of existential uncertainty, only to be sucked in by scenes where I thought to myself, “You couldn’t make this shit up!” Only to be violently pulled in the other direction, thinking, "There's no way this is real!" I’m not going to give an opinion as to whether I think the film is real or fake because, quite honestly, I don’t care, and it doesn't matter. That’s the best part! It was so well done and the questions it raised are questions we should all be asking regardless; whether it’s by projecting on people having experiences in a documentary, or whether it’s through our own experience watching a “documentary” and speculating its legitimacy. Like a chinese finger trap, hating on it only distracts you from the truth, wrapping you tighter in your own limiting and warped delusions. And yet, I am only human after all, and I would just sleep a little sounder if I knew, like, was that shit for real or what?!?!
I've noticed a bunch of my friends sharing this video today. Atlas Shrugged is one of my favorite books. Check out this cool video made by a fellow fan...
Christmas shopping is pretty low on the totem pole of priorities for me, but this year I had a hilarious experience as I attempted to avoid complete Scrooge status. It unfolded like an after-school-special: too good, and too absurd, to be true. It started when I heard some guy talking on the radio about the Stanley Cup. I just happened on it after all the usual channels were playing garbage (and I don’t mean the band). The guy was the author of a new book detailing the adventures and exploits of hockey’s coveted prize, along with its faithful handlers. Apparently every player of the winning team gets to spend twenty-four hours with the cup, no matter where they are in the world, and no matter what they want to do with it. All I can say is, if that thing could talk... But anyway, I immediately thought of a good friend of mine who I would endearingly label a “sports junkie.” I met up with him at a sports bar once and when we left, we got into his car only to listen to the game on the radio all the way home... Where he proceeded to turn on the television... Well, you get the idea. So naturally, I thought the book would be perfect! And it was just a few days before Christmas! Score! Needless to say, I was disheartened to learn it was completely sold out at both Barnes & Noble AND Borders--it was even out of stock on Amazon! I didn’t know that was even possible! Cut to December 23rd, I was driving past a little local bookstore. On a whim, I decided to go in and check. You never know, right? Stranger things have happened. So I ran in. It was five minutes before they closed. They didn’t have the book. The guy informed me that even the distributors were out, so he didn’t know when they’d be getting them in. Then he asked if I’d tried their other store. I told him I hadn’t. So he gave them a call and, to my joy and disbelief, they had it! To be more specific, they had one copy. So I gave him my name and went on my merry way. I had it all planned out. The next day was Christmas Eve and I would stop by a couple stores to get some goodies for friends, pick up some food for dinner that night, then get to the bookstore before it closed and pick up the holy grail of gifts. I got to the store in plenty of time. I gave the guy behind the counter my name and he dipped under the counter to grab the book. It was to good to be true. Everything was working out perfectly. I proceeded to tell the guy how hard it was to find and how I couldn’t believe my luck. He shrugged a little and raised his eye-brows in rapport. I told him I would just grab it because I wanted to look around for a bit. He said they had a special place behind the counter and I could just pick it up when I was ready. Seemed logical enough, so I looked around for about ten minutes. Nothing jumped out at me, so I headed to the counter and asked for my book. That’s when the slow motion kicked in. He looked on the counter then under, his eyes getting wider with each glance, until his eyes finally met mine. He didn’t know where it was. He looked horrified, like a kid who came home from the playground, only to find his mom saying, “Where’s your little sister?” It was pretty entertaining actually. I don’t even think there was one moment where I felt angry or upset, I was laughing too hard on the inside. Murphy’s law was at it again. He went all over the place looking for it, but ultimately gave up and deduced he had mixed it with another pile of books and put it in the previous customer’s bag-which only sweetens the story really. It’s not like someone came along and bought it. Someone was going to open their bag and find a book they didn’t buy and didn’t even want. I tried to convince myself they might see the mistake and bring it back to the store, but no such luck. So to that customer: Merry Christmas!!! As for my friend the sports fan, he got a hilarious story instead. Oh, and an empty amazon box containing a picture of the book.
Please note, the clerk was incredibly apologetic and kind. He gave me a gift certificate and phoned me as soon as the book came in. And my friend says it’s a great read! Highly recommended!!!
if you woke up tomorrow and found out you had 24 hours to live, what would you do? who would you see? what would you eat? where would you go?
i sometimes wonder if we even so much as asked ourselves these questions, how our lives might be different; how we might make different choices or use our resources differently. to say that it's a lack of awareness that plagues our technologically advanced society seems somewhat irresponsible. we live in a world where we can communicate to people across the world in seconds. we are aware more than ever of the troubles and travails of the modern world and yet we hide behind the luxuries of convenience and comfort. for the most part, it appears people are motivated by the fear of not having what they want, as if they would somehow be less without their belongings, their status, or their illusion of control. it is my belief that it is not a lack of resources that is at the root cause of problems we face in the world today, but a lack of integrity and critical thought. even so called 'causes' that so righteously espouse a better way of life are focusing on effects and not causes. you've heard the old adage about teaching a man to fish. well nevermind fishing, people need to learn how to think! it's unfortunate that possessing a brain does not seem to assume its use. nor does possessing life seem to assume valuing it. if this were true, do you think we would be killing each other over land, money, power, convenience, jealousy, petty thievery or any other myriad reasons people are dying every day? i can think of no civilized justification for violence, yet nor do i pretend to not participate in the system that supports it. i think that to assume that because you've never held a weapon, that you are not responsible for the violence and injustice that occurs in our world, in our society and in our thoughts, is a confusion. a very dangerous and destructive confusion. because then who is responsible? who is at the helm if you will? if each of us as individuals turns a blind eye on our participation in the whole, there is no integrity and there is no humanity.
Albert Einstein said it beautifully when he said:
"A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty."
i think it is essential, in order for human evolution to continue, that the citizens of this global community begin to evaluate what's really important in life and in living. what do you value and why? and are these values being expressed in everything that you do?