The Great Return

I’m generally a jolly guy so people will probably be surprised when they hear I think about being dead every once in a while. Not in a morbid way, if that’s possible, just as sort of an overreaction to difficult situations, sort of a quick way out of sudden pain or anxiety. Nothing intense like with a funeral and people crying. More like a quiet departure through an emergency exit, without the alarm.

And just as quickly as these thoughts come, they cycle out of me. The process looks something like this:

Aw man, this sucks. I’m never gonna get through this.
It would just be easier if I wasn’t here; then I wouldn’t have to deal with this shit (the death part)
Who really cares anyway?

(breath)

Well, if no one cares, I might as well do something.
Even a bad something is better than nothing.
I can surely do a bad something.
Maybe it won’t be so bad.

(some time later)

It’s good to be alive.

This little self-dialogue happens in a couple blinks of an eye. It’s not a daily thing, but it does come up every now and again. I’ve learned to laugh at it.

I’m pretty sure we all think about death, our own deaths that is. It doesn’t have to be grim. It doesn’t have to lead to depression or self-doubt. Like all experiences, it can be used for good, like when you go traveling somewhere foreign and it’s not as great a trip as you thought it would be, but then you get to have the experience of coming home for the first time in a while and that makes it worth it.

A few footsteps in the fountain. A walk in the dark to find the moon.

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A Contagious Glow

Ever run into someone who’s in love? When they talk about the one they love, they glow. It doesn’t matter what the subject is; you get a big smile and shining light, and it’s contagious that glow. You want to be around it.

You can use this experience in other situations, like first dates and business presentations. When you talk, tell stories about the people you like: speak of your friends, your colleagues, your favorite clients…

Without even trying, you’ll smile, you’ll relax, and you’ll light up. You’ll be great to be around.

And people will want to be part of that.

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Anxiety Has a Song

Moods are personified in babies. Babies don’t have filters. They don’t try to control their moods. We can learn something from this.

My youngest daughter freaked out after her mama hopped out of the car to go to a board meeting. She squealed as if someone had stabbed her with a pin. Oh, Dear Sadness! Anxiety! Mama! Mama! Mama!

My first thoughts were to console her to get her to stop so I could listen to my Jazz in the pouring rain. But then I realized, she is fine. She is safe. Let’s let the emotion play out.

I gave her a warm smile to throw some love at her and, perhaps, to cajole ANXIETY into showing up in all its fullness. C’mon out, ANXIETY, let’s see what you got!

My daughter’s squeals crescendoed instantly. My god, what a horrible sound! Tuning it out was impossible so I let the squeal ride over the Jazz like some atonal screeching lyricist sounding out her poetry. It worked. The squeal picked up and a cacophonous chorus showed itself: Waaaaahhhhh! Waaaaaahhhh! MA-ma! MA-ma!

Anxiety has a song! And it played for 5 full minutes — 5 ear-splitting, head-buzzing, headache-inducing, make-you-want-to-drive-off-the-side-of-the-road minutes.

And then it stopped.

Really?

In the rear-view, I could see my daughter’s head drooped down and bobbling with the bumps in the road. She’d crashed out.

The remaining 10 minutes in the car were a harmonious instrumental track, accompanied by the tap-tap of the perfect rain and the thump-scrape of the wipers. The gentle rhythm was back. The diva had left the building, seemingly satisfied to have had an audience and a space to sing her song.

It’s as if ANXIETY needed a witness, like a lost soul caught between worlds craving a sign that it’s time to move on.

Thump scrape, thump scrape.

She’ll be back.

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Me & Taylor Swift

I saw a Taylor Swift concert on TV the other night.

We didn’t mean to watch it; Amazon recommended it at the end of Mama Mia and then it just started playing. I’m not gonna lie. I loved it.

By the last song, my daughter was conked out, but I was wide awake, sitting in a bean bag chair 2 feet from the TV, clutching an oversized panda bear and singing the chorus to “All Too Well,” which I’d never heard before.

Ah, Taylor. Somehow, in a stadium of 10,000 screaming teenagers, you keep it real.

I went through a mix of emotions: nostalgic teenage loneliness, shameful parental concern, gushing love of life, tingly epiphanies popping up like goosebumps. It was wonderful.

As the credits rolled over footage of Taylor back stage drinking water bottles, I longed for the experience of all her sweaty, huggy fans — holding onto each other, discussing the best parts of the show with best friends, relishing the chill of the night air outside, and needing to touch someone the whole car ride home.

At 44, I had to settle for a bowl of pretzels, carbonated water, and staring at the streetlights. It was enough.

The exhilaration from a pop music concert was unexpected and undeniable, like a fortuitous message about the purpose of life delivered through a kid’s plastic 8-ball. I’m a fool not to follow it.

Inspiration, itself, is far more important than the source it comes from.

But in this case, the source was pretty damn cool, strutting down elevated runways over the people, flying across the arena in a giant cobra apparatus, speaking monosyllabic truths in between hits.

One by one the pretzels ran out and I had to put myself to bed, comforted by the promise of creating something honest the next day.

Thanks, Taylor.

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Escape Room

I went to an Escape Room the other day, which is essentially placing myself in a Heist Movie – a fantasy come true for me!

Upon going online to give this place 5 stars, I was disheartened by all the bad Yelp reviews: “Too easy, too hard, props need replacing, the layout is stupid, customer service is lacking, dumb storyline, bad location, lame special effects.

C’mon people. These are 2 guys who had a dream and who are pursuing their dream in earnest, with you and your delight in mind. Doesn’t that count for something?

These review sites and comment sections aren’t working. We’re collectively chipping away at our empathy, we’re underscoring the ‘us and them’ scenario, which isn’t good for us nor them. It doesn’t matter which side you think you’re on.

The fix is easy. Instead of delivering an impersonal critique to the masses, always give direct feedback to the maker. That way, the dreamers can improve upon their dreams, instead of having another sleepless night.

Oh, what great things we could create if people built each other up, instead of knocking each other down, if customers viewed themselves as co-architects and readers acted as sleuthing sidekicks committed to solving the same mystery as their oh-so-generous writer.

So many doors to discover, so many riddles to reveal, yet we choose to keep standing in the dark, back to back, taking turns criticizing the room we’re trapped in.

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People and Organizations

Comedian George Carlin said, “I love individuals. I hate groups of people.”

Hate is a strong word, George, but I get the sentiment.

The things individuals value most about each other – Compassion. Empathy, Accountability, Love, Vulnerability, Acceptance – ironically, tend to get lost in organized groups. Even if they’re written into the mission statement or posted on the wall in the break room, it’s hard to maintain these values once a group grows and commits.

Why?

The collective goal becomes more important than the individual ones. We begin to get rewarded for moving the organization forward – whatever we agree that means. As an organization expands, our responsibilities get greater, so we have to prioritize and we begin to internalize the notion that we don’t get as many points for making our colleagues feel loved as we do for making the group experience progress.

This is when the ‘difficult conversations’ begin to happen, how alliances form, and where politics bloom.

Love and all its derivatives take a back seat, even though the organization was originally planted in its soil.

It’s an inevitable paradox of nature, like the wind and the waves breaking down rocks to make a beach. Although no new matter is created and no one is to blame, something is lost and something is gained.

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Weekday Drinking

I’ve always loved drinking, so it was hard to give up my scotch on the rocks in the evening. No more beer with dinner. Now, it’s tea with honey and water water water. As the decades go by and death’s become more like a relative than a cartoon character, I’ve come to treasure consciousness more than anything else in the world, even more than a good buzz or a long, luscious nap.

The older we get, the sharper our senses in finding and living in these moments of consciousness. I see my dad living in them almost minute to minute, savoring each bite of dinner, looking at my daughter plugged into her iPhone, blinking less and holding gazes longer, saying things like “Here we are,” with a big silly smile on his face. I’m understanding it more and more each day. That kind of wisdom isn’t in the books. It’s an ancient elixir you’ll only find deep in the mountains, on the other side of the ocean, across a large expanse of desert.

It’s the gift of aging: an ever-deepening and well-earned appreciation for life, the unlocking of an alchemy that allows you to squeeze juice from the smallest of fruits, to rest comfortably and consciously in tiny units of time.

Here we are.

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Wearing Ties to Work

I work alone. That is, I have a talented team of editors and administrative staff but they work remotely which means it’s just me sitting here, at this desk, in this office.

I can wear boxer shorts, go barefoot, even have a little scotch on Friday afternoon while I tackle technical issues. No one’s watching. Carte blanche, baby!

So why do I sometimes wear a tie to work?

It’s not what you think…

It started with my daughter. She saw a tie in my closet so I threw it on to show her how it works. Then, I forgot to take it off and all of a sudden… I’m wearing a tie at work.

It’s not so bad. There are benefits.

Ties are great to fidget with while talking with clients and they get me respect points at lunch hour. But the best thing about ties as far as I’m concerned is back at the office, that moment after coming out of the work trance, when my eyes adjust from staring at the screen and I start to see what’s around me and I begin to remember I’m sitting in a little room in Oakland that no one knows about working on a resume that will be completely unnecessary in 6 months… It’s at that moment that I look down and see my tie flat on my chest, perfect and ridiculous, impressing the hell out of absolutely no one.

It never fails me. No matter what came before, I laugh every time.

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The Great Partisan Divide

One thing we can learn from The Great Partisan Divide is that we are all easily manipulated. But the puppeteers, we must realize, are not the media, rather our own emotions.

It’s gotten to the point that when we see a new headline or image, we try to figure out the perspective of the writer first and foremost, instead of focusing on what’s being written. We value the lens over the specimen.

This is why we often consume content from the same source: because we eliminate the need to deconstruct the angle. We already know the angle, and agree with the angle, so we can focus on that scrumptious absorption of the familiar.

Ironically, as we gobble up information, we’re not necessarily opening our minds, but instead closing them in, wrapping our sculls with another hardening layer of the same plaster so our sacred facts remain intact, no pieces lost, our map to our tried and true values always safe and never challenged.

It feels good to know we’re right, so good, indeed, that the feeling becomes more important than our own growth.

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Pedicures for the People

My wife’s favorite story about me, the one where she can’t help but laugh as she tells the punchline, is that day I was getting a pedicure in the salon. In noticing all the empty chairs around me, I innocently asked my esthetician:

“Why is it so dead in here?

To which she replied, “It’s Superbowl Sunday.” And then went back to my cuticles.

“Oh.”

Don’t get me wrong. I like watching sports, including football. In spite of the evidence revealed in Molly’s favorite story, I rarely miss a Superbowl. It’s practically a holiday in the states. We all have our reasons for watching: rooting for our favorite team, rooting against the Patriots, drinking beer, eating nachos, celebrating the best teams (or advertisements) of the year…

My reason for watching and attending is the same reason I paint my toenails, the same reason I became a recruiter, a career counselor, a dad, and an activist (in that order). The reason I get up at 5 am and write my thoughts down and then send them away in a bottle.

It’s for the PEOPLE, man.

The nacho dippers and beer drinkers, the jersey wearers, and play-by-players, the ad-watchers and the TV haters… I love ’em all. Every chance I get. Every interaction I have.

Superbowls, like protests and pedicures, get me pumped. But when I cheer, it’s not only for the athletes and advertisers; it’s for fans and the people on the same side of the screen as me.

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