I Made This About Bras

Comedy’s not really where my head’s at right now.

This is still hard for me to do regularly, as you can tell, but it feels good when it happens.  I let it all out in writing so much easier than I can do it in speech, or when I’m worried about comic intentions or being hilarious.  It’s nice to return to this format.

We’ve been thinking a lot.  And talking a lot.  About everything.  We still don’t KNOW anything… which seems to be particularly uncomfortable for us, as Type A humans, but we’re spending more time with that sort of feeling & trying to get comfortable with it.  In fairness we’re a lot more comfortable in that discomfort than we were 2, 3 or 5 years ago.  So the thinking and the talking is where it’s at.  And we’ve been doing so much of it together that my need to do it here, alone, is not nearly as chronic as in the past.

Now, though, I’m approaching the meta state.  So much talking & thinking is going on that I feel the need to think & write about all the talking & thinking.  Why?  Because, in all honesty, I think we’re really pretty frikking great at it, and no one else around us seems to have it buttoned up quite the way we do.  Yes, that sounds very braggardly… but honestly we may be the Kim & Kanye of Dealing With Ourselves in a relationship.  We’ll name our next kid Yeezus as a result.  Or at least Kate’s first dog.

There are some more experienced couples we know that are good at this – a few may even be better at it than we are – but we’re coming up on just our 7th anniversary, and I feel like we’ll never have something we can’t talk through.  Most of the professional counselor contacts we’ve talked to give us a lot of praise, in a surprised tone, for the way we handle our marriage at “such a young age”.  I put that in quotes because I don’t really feel it’s a justified classification.  We’re adults, and we’re only a decade away from being middle-aged adults… so how is that “such a young age”?  If they’re talking about the age of our marriage, I call statistical baloney – the median length of a marriage for men & women in the US is only eight years, per Wikipedia.  Even if you control for idiots that keep the Vegas altars in business (funny how none of the non-Vegas altars are viewed as participants in business, but for all the marketing religions have done), I sincerely doubt it doubles to 16 years, so we’re probably approaching at least the median age of a marriage.   So while I doubt you’d look at someone who’s uber happy by age 39, at half the average life expectancy in the 2010 census, and say they’ve figured out life at such a young age, alas, they applaud us for being so damn good at this, and are surprised when they meet us in person vs. hear our stories over the phone or in writing.  Apparently they picture Warren Beatty & Annette Bening without knowing any better.  (That is one side-by-side I can live with.)

Let me clarify for those of you who will wonder at what I have wrought:  we are fine.  We are great.  But many, MANY, of our friends & peers & Twitter followers seem to have challenges in this area.  So I wanted to create an on-demand resource, borne out of the conversations we have during which we try to give our advice on a piecemeal basis, that might save a few marriages around the interwebz.  That’s all.  No big whoop.

So in complete ignorance of the typical capitalist habit of somehow protecting a patent on a productive partnership, though I’m sure others have tried, let me break down how this shit works.  Below are the details of our… habit, I suppose, is the least controversial noun – less so than “practice” or “method”, which I feel are being usurped by advertisers & those schilling their wares.  A habit is still negative enough to be outside the sphere of copywriter opiates.  It’s a set of circumstances, which usually arise in something of a sequence/cause-effect chain, in which each step generates an action & each action therefore generates the next circumstance.  That, in fact, is all anything really is.  If you want to understand why your boss/spouse/child/vegan soy vegetable soufflé isn’t treating you the way you want/listening to you/rising in the oven like the damn paleo diet ebook said it would, sit down & understand these basic elements of circumstance, action & reaction.  Newton, Leibniz, Fermi, Fermat, Fibonacci… all the other F guys… the so-called “natural philosophers” knew what the hell they were doing.  Observe, Analyze, Report, Repeat.  You do that for your marriage, then you create a positive relationship & can keep it moving in a positive direction.

How To Create & Maintain Positive Momentum In Your Marriage

(Like how I’m expressing that in copywriter opiates?  Blech.  Practically screams SEO Google AdWords.  I’ll bet it asks you to click it later, after that third drink.)

STEP 1.  Be honest about what you’re actually thinking / feeling / doing.

STEP 2.  Communicate that clearly & then stop talking.  I read recently that you should spend 3/4 of the conversation listening to the other person, and 1/4 of the conversation talking.  Mathematically, when you both stick to this rule, it can’t possibly be a one-sided conversation, because you’ll both shut up before you feel like you’re getting to 50% of the talk time.  I am summarily disgusted by things that don’t make mathematical sense, such as fad diets, skinny jeans, and Fox News, but the numbers here would lead to a satisfactory outcome, so I won’t quibble.

STEP 3.  Listen to what the other person is saying, in an active way.  Meaning try to ignore the voice in your head that is talking while they are talking.  You’re not in a rush here… unless of course you are in a rush, in which case you invoke The Emergency Rule, below.  You need to hear the words and then think about them – they are talking about their feelings & what you should DO about the circumstances, so if you want them to do what you asked them to do in step 2, you have to listen the fuck up & figure out what you’re going to do about THEIR concerns & circumstances.  Our own nature works against us here – instead of listening to their side & figuring out what we can do to help them, we listen to their side & never stop thinking about how we feel about it, so that when s/he is done we can talk more about our feelings to get what we want.  However, if you both want the conversation to take you to a place that is better than the one wherein you started the conversation, you will have to do both actions: a) Listen & Decide What To Do In Regards To Their Needs; b) Listen & Decide What Else To Ask For In Regards To Your Needs.  (The Capital Letters Are Important.  No They’re Not.)  This takes more time than the current socially-acceptable normal conversation with most people – i.e. you don’t have this amount of time when you’re telling the barista how many pumps of mocha it tastes like vs. how many pumps of mocha you really want it to taste like – but unless you’re Oprah you’re probably not in a deep life-altering partnership with your barista.

STEP 4.  Repeat the above steps until all your shit is aired out, WITHOUT EXCEPTION, unless invoking The Emergency Rule.

THE EMERGENCY RULE:  If you aren’t in a place, physically or mentally, where you can make every honest attempt at engaging in each step repeatedly until your conversation is over, this is how you handle it:  “{Personal Moniker}, I want to continue to keep moving through this discussion to get to a better place that meets both our needs, but the circumstances we need  are not what we have right now, so let’s come back to it at {Set A Specific Time, Preferably Before The Next Sunrise}.”  Make sure the Personal Moniker isn’t a loaded term – i.e. it shouldn’t be overly saccharine, nor should it be placating & of course not demeaning, and, if you ever want to have oral pleasures again, avoid anything sexually playful, i.e. Sugar Tits, Mr. Big, Lena Dunham, etc.

That’s it.  That’s the big damn secret.  Notice that nowhere am I explicitly saying any of them are easy.  Much like other lofty goals such as maintaining good nutrition, raising a child to be an upstanding citizen, and unhooking modern-day bras, knowing what the steps are, and understanding how to follow them in a sequence, is the easy part; actually doing it is where the magic is.  (Seriously with the bra thing:  show me one other piece of clothing that has that many impossibly tiny & implausibly strong hooks, and I’ll bet its intentions are much less innocent than simply keeping the girls covered up.  Talk about over-engineering safety for one guy’s mistake… can you imagine being the guy responsible for the bra?  Like, because of you, all of the remaining boobs, all of them, forever, all of them had to be covered up?  And by such a medieval device?  I want to know what he did to two boobs that was so bad we had to lock up all the other ones with tiny metal locks and elastic fabric that stretches unnaturally.)

HOW’S THAT FOR A CHANGE IN TONE AT THE END OF AN ESSAY??!??  Take that, Comp Lit Majors!  Enjoy your no job & weird spices & braless girlfriends!


That is all.

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.