Life Hangs in the Balance

This morning R says she’s feeling “off”, as in “off her game.” Which is interesting, because yesterday was probably the first in a while in which I DIDN’T really feel off. Begets the question of whether or not we put each other off our respective games by being on our own games; put another way, does my being ‘on’ consequently make her feel ‘off’? OR does me being ‘off’ make her MORE LIKELY TO BE ‘on’? What, if anything, is the causal relationship between the balance we seem to be finding?

In the first case, of me being on making her feel off, I would go back to my post on social comparison: she’s observing me and her behavior or attitude is changed in some way by that observation, and that cause is rooted in the human fear of death. (Read here if you didn’t quite make that leap with me.)

In the second case, of one of us being ‘off’ causing the other to try a lot harder & therefore succeed at feeling or being on, I would say this is actually why we’re getting married: because we are already thinking of each other as a unit, as a family, as the same person. Individual as we may be, we have begun the inevitable process of merging our survival instincts. While I won’t speak for her, I can say that I feel I’m a better stronger version of myself when we’re both on the upswing or near the crest of the cycles (lunar, hormonal, or professional) that invariably describe our lives. Those shared peaks, while not frequent, are pretty awesome.

Whatever the cause of what appears to be a trading off between the two of us, the net effect of one of us being off, the other being on, or to stick with the cycle analogy, one of us in the trough and the other at the crest, is that we, as a unit, are balanced. That we as a unit are approaching a steady-state, that we can be secure as a unit in spite of being at opposite poles at any point in time. No matter how low or high one of us might be, we take comfort in knowing the other one is at the other side, and taken together as a unit, we’re balanced.

Imagine being on a roller-coaster that’s climbing steadily up its hill, chug-a-chug-a-chug-a, clack-clack-clack-clackclackclack-clack-clack… silence as you reach the peak and you know what’s coming next, sh-sh-sh-whoooooooooooooooooooooooooosh.

That shit is scary if you just don’t like rollercoasters or if you’re by yourself. But when you get to look in the seat next to you and see someone you know going through the EXACT same thing, that you can count on them being just as freaked as you are, there’s a sense of relief: if you die, they’re dying too & you’ll approach your respective after-lives at the same time; if you survive, you can wipe your eyes clear of tears & laugh & catch your breath together afterward and then tease about who screamed louder or who barfed first. Either way you’re not alone, but you’re part of a unit.

We’re not always choosing to wait in line for the same car, but I do feel like R and I are on the same ride, climbing the same hills, facing the same sh-whooooooooooooooooooosh, and no matter what happens, we’re both getting there together.

That’s a better feeling than surviving chug-a-chug-sh-sh-whooooooooooooooosh.

Also, competing analogies.

Learn anything yet?

NOTE: Today is National Talk Like A Pirate Day.

Business Socks

My dear friend Michelle turned me on to ‘Flight of the Conchords‘ from HBO’s latest season. Ever since, I’m a little obsessed. They’re from New Zealand, and they have a very dry simple obvious type of humor; understatement is their preferred method. UNLESS they’re singing. Their contrast works really well – they make these great dramatic songs out of the mundane parts of their scenes, and they play it awesomely, in the key of Awesome.

So last night, I subscribed to their iTunes podcast, and then bought the six songs they’ve got on iTunes. On a Tuesday morning commute, ‘Business Time’ totally rocked me. Here’s a little taste:

“I remove my clothes, very very clumsily… tripping sensuously over my pants. Now I’m naked, except for my socks. And you know when I’m down to just my socks, what time it is…

It’s Business / It’s Business Time / (Y’know when I’m down to my socks it’s time for business that’s why they’re called business socks)…”

Seriously. Business socks.

They’re a little bit on the order of Tenacious D, except they’re less intense. (C’mon, they’re kiwis.) So if you’re at all interested in musical comedy, highly recommend you check ‘em out.

I said the same thing in Lesson #2, but I can only reiterate how awesome these guys are & hope that you’ll all take my word for it. If you do, I’ll see Brett & Jermaine’s fame take off & they’ll start getting more a$$ than a toilet seat. Or at least get another season on HBO.

Now, it’s time to get a kebab with the most beautiful girl I have ever seen with a kebab. (From “The Most Beautiful Girl in the Room.” SERIOUSLY! CHECK THESE GUYS OUT!)

Am I On To Something?

To borrow lyrics from Jason “Geek in the Pink” Mraz, let me be lugubrious witchoo. (Editor’s note: lugubrious means sad, but I think Mr. AZ intended it to mean something like loquacious. In spite of his intentions, that’s how I intend that lyric to be read. Ahem.) WARNING: this is heavier than usual. Buckle up.

Sitting on the bus today, listening to my iPod. I was near the back, facing the rear of the bus, and was sitting in that pod of 8 seats that’s just before the back row. I’m one of 11 people in that area, the other 10 of which I can see directly, thus they constituted my reality during the trip to the Embarcadero. Of the other 10 people, 6 of them were also listening to iPods. Two others were both reading this week’s issue of The Economist. The remaining two? Glued to a Blackberry or some such heroin-like device of connectivity. Not a single person looking around the bus, looking outside the bus paying attention to the slice of meatspace we’re weaving through, sleeping a few more winks on a coffee-fueled Monday.

This is not new to me. In fact, I perpetrate this attitude on a regular basis. But the following interaction (which barely qualifies as such) is what set me off this morning: Dude #3 (iPodder) that sat directly across from me gets up for his stop, and Dude #2 (connected man) looks up at him as he gets up, sizes up his shirt, his pants, then his shoes, and goes directly back to the emails he’s receiving from other addicts. As I see this, I realize that Dude #3 has just judged Dude #2. At the very least, #3 has compared his own fashion sense to the soon-to-depart #2’s, and has drawn some conclusion.

When I asked myself “Why does #3 feel compelled to do that?” I realized that it was not due to some primal survival instinct. When I say ‘primal’, I’m getting at the fact that at no point did #2 do anything to threaten #3 or cause #3 to raise hackles. Yet this act of comparing/judging happens all over the place. I even realized, after observing THIS interaction, that I myself had committed the exact same type of evaluation when I got on the bus. (This is a lower-minded activity than observing the isolating activities in which my fellow busizens were engaged, yet they share an ilk.)

Then my world blew up.

I realized that, while not physically threatened by #2, #3 was in fact suffering from an insecurity about himself that caused him to evaluate #2.

Wait, before I get into this, let me just put it out there that I believe that we all suffer from insecurity. Disagree if you must, but consider it as you continue to peruse.

Where was I… ah yes. #3 insecure about #2. While my initial reaction took more of an “Americans as consumers” angle, the more I thought about it, the more I realized it goes back to something very primal indeed. #3, as most of us are, is afraid of death. Not in the sense that he feels compelled to avoid all danger (he certainly wouldn’t get on the number 1 bus were he a germaphobe or agoraphobe or a claustrophobe), but in the sense that he knows, deep down, he will someday die and his life will be summarily judged by those that knew him/loved him/hated him. Leaving the questions of afterlife aside, I consider this a universal truth: we will all die, and we will all be judged by the size, shape, color, taste, smell, depth, significance and solidity of the hole we create in the fabric of life when it happens.

Some cultures accept/deal with that better than others. My conjecture is that #3, facing that judgment, wishes it to come out as positive, as touching, as polished as possible. He is concerned that his judgment need be better than that of #2. This, for lack of a better label, is an American way of thinking. Keep up with the Joneses, bigger better faster stronger, duty honor country… whatever your banner, the vast majority of us (myself included) are nearly obsessed with having, being, providing the BEST that we can, ALL that we can. These maxims are, by definition, comparative. Hence our propensity to compare.

Before I continue, let me also put it out there that I believe in fewer universal truths than Ben Franklin. I’m the first guy to agree with someone that what I value, what I hold as RIGHT and WRONG, as TRUE and FALSE, is quite probably the exact OPPOSITE of what someone else holds; my Rights equal their Wrongs. (If Newton were more of a philosopher, or better yet if I knew a Newtonian philosopher’s work that applied Newton’s third law of motion to the karmic cosmos, I would quote that person here… alas, I am in need of education.) So even when I say something is Right for me, Wrong for me, Bad, Good, Evil, Sexy, whatever… I by no means superimpose them on you for any longer than you’re reading about them. Live and let live, no?

Now, the point (finally, eh?): we are comparing ourselves to death. Literally, figuratively, seriously. What matter be it that #3 had nicer shoes or better hair than #2? In fact, I sort of believe as I mentioned above that there really is no ‘universal’ nicer, better. #3, had he concluded that he was less than #2 in fashion sense, might have winced. Might have felt bad about himself. Might even have changed his behavior/wardrobe/significant other because of this particular instance of the evaluation ritual. And for what? Because he believes that, when he dies, I will show up to eulogize that, without question, his fashion sense was greater than that of #2? How could #3 know whether his funeral-goers will agree? What’s better fashion sense to one person is quite probably much much worse fashion sense to another. To the extent that it’s possible for those two opposite-believing individuals to be at #3’s funeral, #3 has placed a value on ‘better’ that he quite possible cannot achieve.

We (again including myself) tend to compare each other to ourselves, to one another, to some ideal or standard, and one could cite the above logic to argue that it’s a complete waste of time because you’ll never know (save for the example of being the only person doing the judging or comparing). To the extent you can be self-disciplined, self-aware, self-valued, and likely fairly less afraid of death than the rest of society, your logic would hold (at least to you) and you could be declared “right.”

So why do we do it? If it’s all useless, worthless, valueless, how did it come about to be so apparently a universal (at least American) tendency? Because, if we didn’t, we wouldn’t know if we were doing well, if we were making progress, if we were getting better, if we were successful. We wouldn’t know because we rarely place value in our own sense of worth – we find it hard to believe that whatever clothes I choose to put on (or not to put on) are the “right” clothes. It’s hard to believe that whatever career, whatever car, whatever zipcode, whatever life we select, that is the “right” one.

Though I would argue that I’m CRAZY for not knowing that, because I’ve just convinced myself that I can’t know what ANYONE ELSE THINKS IS RIGHT, therefore the only standard left to compare myself to is myself!* And if that’s all there is to compare against, they are in fact one in the same! =. = = = = =. They are EQUAL. I would never be wrong. I would never be insecure. I would not fear my own funeral, because the only opinion of my life that I can know is my own, and that opinion is defined by my life itself. They are singular.

Okay, I’m down from the soapbox. I’m not a logician. I’m not even a lawyer (a.k.a. poor man’s philosopher). Poke the holes in my theory, start a thread of invectives against this semi-Nihilist attitude, send me white powdered donuts. And know that if I were really a student of this school of thought, I won’t care, and society would call me crazy. But is my hypothesis here (or my adoption of it as a moral guiding my reality) really any crazier than #3 going through his day and changing his behavior to meet some standard he can’t possibly know? It may be slightly more socially acceptable, and certainly something that’s easier for him to justify to his funeral-goers, and if you place value in those things, #3 beats me. If you don’t, however, then maybe, just maybe, #3 and I are equally off our rockers. Except I’m right, and he’s chasing phantoms.

Don’t be surprised to read that I got this from Improv class. Because, in improv, whatever you pick up off the table is exactly what the rest of the world saw you pick up off the table; you can’t be wrong. It may not be funny, but it is powerful. Improv, on occasion, is both.

*Note: an obvious exception to this is if you aspire to be someone else. However, this is self-defeating. You will never be someone else. You are who you are, and someone else is who someone else is. You can look like them, talk like them, dress like them, go totally Tyler Durden about it… but physics dictate you can’t be the same person.

Drs. Poopstehn, Farts & Dingleberry

Excerpt from recent email to Shorty, which I’ve bogarted and am passing off (dastardly, but legal) as a new blog entry. DEAL.

I’m feeling more & more in line with my creative self between Improv class #2 and reading Keith Johnstone’s book. Know you have plenty on your plate, but if you get the chance to give that a one-two, I think you’ll dig it. The way that he looks at things like teaching & theater are pretty awesome. (For instance, why do people go to the theater? To see something happen that they would never willingly make happen themselves – to see routines broken, barriers broken down, expectations foiled, social norms upset. Why does that matter to artists? Because it means it does NOT fucking matter what you’re creating in the context of good and bad, because just by creating it you have fulfilled the purpose of an artist/actor. Just get in the circle and make a stupid pose and watch with fascination at the audience’s response.

Feeling LESS & LESS in line with the professional bent though. Really think I might go back to school for teaching/psych/acting. Business – I mean, I understand someone somewhere wouldn’t get ice cream if there weren’t 8,000 Dreyer’s people all around the US devoted to making it happen, but SO FAR REMOVED am I from impacting that result, I just don’t frikkin’ care. Do I care about disappointing my boss? Yes. What does he expect of me? Come to work, do the work, do some more work, ask some questions, learn the business. I can probably do all of those without caring, except the last one, because “the business” just doesn’t matter to me. Who the f cares what price is on ice cream in the Southeast and that it matters whether it went to a Warehouse or straight to the store? Just get the shit in a freezer, man! Not that I cared more about the stuff at J&J, though it was slightly easier to justify. I used the following sentence more than once: “my journal entry may not have saved lives… but… well… y’know.”

*sigh* So once again I’m in a place I can’t be in for very long. And I’ve said this to R, and she knows the feeling – we’re only 26 and we just DON’T have to have all this sh!t figured out yet. Soon, but not yet. What’s the worst that could happen? We spend ANOTHER year doing crap we don’t care about, and trying to spend as much fun time in the city as we can. She’s starting up her professional organizing business (very successful first outing, she’s way happy), and I’m doing Improv stuff to keep lively. Does it matter that we don’t like our 9-to-5s? No. Will it matter if mine turns into more of an 8-to-8? Yes. But I think I’ll be okay for a while.

I got a haircut today. Hair ALL OVER the back of my neck, back of my shirt (the red shirt, no less). @#$&ing Supercuts. B!tch didn’t even towel off my head; just let the clippings sit up there to get blown away by the next headwind. Don’t say headwind.

{sic} Going to an A’s game Fri. night, then ‘Rebel without a cause’ in Union Square on Sat. night. One month ’til the wedding. ONE MONTH.

Life is FINE. But if you put a graph of my moods over the last month, happy/grumpy on the y-axis, it would look like the teeth of a sprung bear-trap. Today is on the ascent from a recent trough. I’d bet that I was a lunar personality… except I have no fucking clue what that means.

That is all.

Mistakes Get Made

Improv comedy, more than anything else in my life, is teaching me that it’s okay if you fail. It’s a woohoo kind of moment when you can throw your hands up in the air & let out the fact that you failed. Much like when a gymnast tumbles off the pommel horse, you’ve got to keep your composure, demonstrate that composure no matter how jacked up your leotard may have gotten, and move on to the next event. (Leotards are common to both sports. At least for me.)

Based on the new ideas and the new learning from improv, today was the first day at my new job when I honestly said to myself, “This may have been a mistake.” I can’t really say much more than that now, as I’m still HERE at work (note the timestamp), but I did need to post this. Two reasons this fell in the urgent/important first quadrant: a) it gets me BACK to this blog thing, finally; and b) it sets up a beautiful opportunity to use my blog to plan just how the hell I’m going to (eventually) get out of the business world. You, friends, get to help me.

More later – promise.