Sweet Dreams Inviolate

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I had sweet dreams last night. Two of them. Happy dreams, that moved at an easy pace and traded in real possibility.

I can’t remember the last time that happened. Definitely that easy pace isn’t something I experience very often — whether asleep or waking. Even past “good dreams” — they often flash by, even in memory.

It felt good, having a couple dreams where I experienced real clarity, in a way I could appreciate. There was no rush — just that clarity. What I saw and felt, I understood.

I’m going to give this feeling one more moment — because why not.

It felt good.

Good can be enough, sometimes, without have to analyze anything, without having to break it down. So, let’s live by example, today, perhaps.

Have a good day.


profpic_squareMy name is Michael. I am a Writer and Filmmaker 
of hopeful stories for complex people. Lately, I have been sharing some reflections and stories every morning. Once per month, I send a special note to those on my email list. They get exclusive stories and advanced (sometimes free) access to my work. You can join this exclusive group here. Thanks for reading.

Daily Progress vs. The Perfection Method

ben

 

The sun’s rising. I’m drinking my tea. There’s a blanket over my legs and the dog is curled up beside me. For now, it’s quiet.

I was wondering what I would write about today, but that seems as good a start as any. I’m content.

Another week down. More words written, both here and in my new screenplay. Yesterday remained an up-and-down day for me. My brain was in a mood. That’s okay. I got through it. I took care of myself as best I could.

I talked to some friends, and to my wife. I asked for help. I asked for help — and my penis is still attached this morning, for anyone wondering.

As I suspect it might go for many, I have a tendency to collapse into the weekend. I think the main reason I found myself battling yesterday — was because I was tired. So I rested.

And I’m keeping a closer eye on the pattern. It’s no good to burn out early. I’m worried about that result, for myself. It’s happened before. I want better, now.

There are two main characteristics to being an independent artist. The first, obviously, is the independence.

Many of us gravitate towards unbeaten paths because we’re simply drawn there, must make our own trail, for any of a number of reasons. It’s important that we do this, for others as well as ourselves. I believe that.

But then there is also the complicated part of it. The necessity towards a sometimes unsparing utilitarianism, and towards sacrifice. Lacking context or proof of our reasons for going another way — we similarly lack the resources to give any one project as good as a go as we must, without trading in on our own body and spirit.

This breaks us down, I think, slowly, over time. It’s how many artists get swallowed up, become embittered. An embittered artist is perhaps as capable of committing as much damage, in their despair, as those that their work has or would have targeted in the past. Perhaps more.

One of the friends I spoke with last night brought up the idea of sustainability, a topic I’ve discussed here and on the podcast before.

The question we pondered was whether it was better to create a little bit, each day, refining and growing naturally over time — or to work exceedingly hard to perfect one big thing, perhaps over the same amount of time but in a way wherein we might be left understandably exhausted at the end.

Having tried on both methods, now, I tend to agree with my friend — that the first might be a better fit at present. There’s a great danger, when following the perfection method, to rationalize. It’s almost necessary.

I’m doing all this work to make this perfect, but once it’s perfect, then everything will fall into place.

Except that’s not a hard and fast rule. Further, we don’t get to decide what’s perfect.

That sunrise? This cup of tea. My dog and the chill quiet morning? Maybe that’s perfect.

If I were to make a little film for you, highlighting this same combination? Sure, perhaps it would come out “nice” — but it would might never capture the feeling I got, and perhaps was conjured in you, when we started off here.

Now, that’s a convenient example. My morning ritual isn’t inherently cinematic. But anything can be cinematic, with the right amount of work, the right talent applied. I could take up the challenge and direct and shoot and edit a short film about Morning Tea. 

But the amount of work it would take to do this flawlessly? The curse of filmmaking. Which by its nature depends very heavily on The Perfection Method.

I’m not setting up any grand revelation, to be clear. I don’t plan on quitting the game. I am exhausted by the game, though. I do have to admit that I find it much more soothing to make daily progress as a writer.

And yet, the highest spikes of traffic to this site (my hub as an artist) over the past three years, have been the releases of Multiverse, The Confession, and The Videoblogs. On its own, the separate site for The Videoblogs drew twice as many visitors in a few months than this site does in an average year.

So, maybe it’s about balance. And patience. Two characteristics that are quite new to my vocabulary. For most of my life, until now, I think I’ve confused perpetual frenzy with escape velocity. I felt that if I just worked a little harder, I’d be free and on my way.

But maybe it’s not a question of escape — of leaving the planet. Maybe it’s a long slow journey, to be savored even as certain legs take us up and along arduous peaks, and down into cold, rocky valleys.

It would make sense, this more earthbound analogy. It would explain the purer accessibility of the sun and the tea and the dog in the morning. It would place The Perfection Method into some approachable, quantifiable context. Such hard journeys aren’t usually taken alone — at least not by sane people — or in quick succession.

These two main characteristics of the independent artist — the freedom to work in new ways and towards new results, and the necessity of approaching this task with what’s available — they’re obviously closely related. But perhaps one can’t be leveraged in support of the other.

More likely, they’re two legs of a stool, with patience and balance making up the remaining two legs. Removing any one leg to buttress another won’t work. It will just throw off the effectiveness of the whole thing.

More to ponder.


profpic_squareMy name is Michael. I am a Writer and Filmmaker 
of hopeful stories for complex people. Lately, I have been sharing some reflections and stories every morning. Once per month, I send a special note to those on my email list. They get exclusive stories and advanced (sometimes free) access to my work. You can join this exclusive group here. Thanks for reading.

 

Drop The Phone, Drink Tea, Sling Words

Don't f*ck with Dottie.
Don’t fuck with Hildy.

I made a mistake this morning. I used my phone immediately upon waking up.

Sometimes I make this mistake, when I’m tired. Sometimes I make it on purpose, if it’s a Friday, and I don’t have the energy or the desire to fight the urge. And it is an urge, isn’t it?

Here’s the thing about what I did — it drives my brain off in a bad direction, to start the day. When I grab my phone, I’m turning to an artificial source of temporary distraction, when what I really need is to accept the reality of where I am in the moment — whether I like that place or not.

Artificial just doesn’t cut it, most of the time.

I know that my day goes better when I don’t touch my phone for hours, except to start playing some music (new Kaiser Chiefs!) or a podcast (MDWAP is all). I feel better, I avoid the poison of FOMO, and I get a fuck of a lot more done in the morning.

I’m not saying all this to beat myself up. I realized what I was doing this morning, and I stopped. I returned to what’s important — drinking tea and slinging words.

No, I’m sharing my “failure” as a gentle and affirming reminder — I’m better when I move.

A lot of good can come from our ability to connect at any moment. I know this. I spent years making a film about it. But, often, it’s the important work we do in those interstitial moments, between virtual connections, that make life worthwhile.

The irony isn’t lost on me, that I’m sharing this on a blog, and that a plurality of those reading are likely to be on their phones right now. Still, that doesn’t mean we can’t reflect upon the idea and try out a reset — less distraction and yearning, more focus and being.

So, on we go.


profpic_squareMy name is Michael. I am a Writer and Filmmaker 
of hopeful stories for complex people. Lately, I have been sharing some reflections and stories every morning. Once per month, I send a special note to those on my email list. They get exclusive stories and advanced (sometimes free) access to my work. You can join this exclusive group here. Thanks for reading.

Sex-Bleating and Cat Vomit

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I’ve been sleeping deeply.

I dreamed again last night, but I’ve lost the memory. This used to bother me — I’m typically so sure I’ve lost something crucial, the moment that the recollection of a dream slipped finally away — but now I don’t mind it so much when it happens.

Generally, I’ve come to believe that my subconscious knows what it’s doing, so long as I keep up the (sometimes uneasy) truce by feeding it the stuff it needs, like meditative breaks, general self-care, extended stretches of time spent with friends, rather than alone and in solution mode.

I wonder if I’ve also been sleeping deeply because I’ve been keeping longer days. While I’ve been waking up earlier, to write here, I’ve generally been going to bed at the same early time — as close to 9PM as possible. It still shocks me that I now do this regularly.

But it’s nice. I’m not missing anything, in turning the lights out —

Okay. I am going to get real with you right now. I can’t pretend like I’m able to continue focusing on the prior discussion.

I have neighbors who have sex at odd times during the day. When they do, the man sort of bleat-moans, as if a breathless sheep were doing an impression of a person moaning during sex. I have gotten used to this.

But it just started happening– at the exact same time that my cat began a morning vomit-fest.

It’s like she had finally had enough.

Now, nobody (including me) cares about some boring story about how I go to bed early and read myself to sleep. There is only the dark symphony of bleating and puking.

Let’s just sum it up by stating that I am both an adult and a child. I don’t think this is bad. Have a nice day!

This is part fifteen of a thirty day trial, during which I am writing and publishing a post every day. No refunds. Comments welcome and encouraged!

Day 01: Struggles and Wonders and Dying in  Chair

Day 02: Fear, Panic, Identity and Anti-Focus

Day 03: Purple Sky of Towering Clouds Over a Far-off City

Day 04: Circle Up and Laugh

Day 05: On The Future of Labor

Day 06: Appreciating Difficulty, Harnessing its Momentum

Day 07: The Word for World is Earth

Day 08: It’s About The Dreaming, Not The Dream

Day 09: Moments of Presence: CWC Interview (Writer Laura Goode)

Day 10: Simmering Little Wrath of The Annoyed Man

Day 11: Tragedy, Remembrance and Wonder

Day 12: A New Light Borrowed or Discovered

Day 13: Productivity Tips for Anyone Prone to Overwhelm (Like Me)

Day 14: Legitimately Va-goo

Struggles and Wonders, and Dying in a Chair (Day 1 of 30)

This is part one of a thirty day trial, during which I am going to write and publish a post every day. No refunds.

Thirty posts in thirty days. I can do this.
Thirty posts in thirty days. I can do this. YOU can do this.

Yesterday, I floated the idea of running an experiment here, wherein I would post to the site for thirty straight days. Just to see what happens. So, here we are.

Perhaps it’s not mad science but, then again, I’m writing this at 5:30AM — which if you know me is in fact a minor miracle.

Which thus leads me to an interesting topic of discussion. Let’s talk about time, and sacrifice.

Clearly, I am proceeding with the experiment. We’ll see how it goes. But the decision wasn’t completely uncomplicated.

I couldn’t see where to fit it in, between the every day responsibilities of keeping up with my screenwriting, of working to pay the rent, of running the podcast, and of taking care of myself and of being a social human being and a good husband.

On the other hand, it wasn’t that complicated. I simply decided I was going to do it. I decided to make it work, and to keep it manageable — because it felt like a good idea.

There’s a part of me that’s surprised I got out of bed this morning, to write this. But there’s another part that isn’t. If anything is going to get me out of bed, it’s the prospect of not only writing, but of writing and being read.

I’ve been working on an essay lately, about the deeper motivations behind the decision to make The Videoblogs. I’ve also been asked about these same motivations in interviews. To sum them up — it’s always about feeling less alone, or more together in my loneliness. More connected to others (like you) who are also going about life, trying to make sense of its struggles and wonders.

So, here we are. Me, a writer, writing. You, a reader, maybe reading. I don’t know how this is going to go. I’m sure I’ll want to quit along the way. Don’t let me. Because this is what it’s all about, I think.

This is not an impossible task. By the end of it, perhaps we’ll both be glad we tried it out. I wasn’t sure I was going to find the spiritual capital to start in on this. It sounds relatively simple and doable, in theory, but already it’s requiring a bit more from me. I believe, in today’s increasingly busy and noisy environment, we really need to think about when and whether to make that extra investment in time and money.

Or, rather, perhaps, we need to not think. Perhaps it’s more useful to feel an idea out. And that’s why I’m here, writing early, and trading some snooze for the opportunity to commiserate with you. It took me a full minute to remember the word “commiserate”. Still on my first cup of tea.

The truth is that I’ve been feeling a bit…depleted…since wrapping up the majority of the work on the film. I think that’s normal. But I’m less sure that it’s a good idea to continue to hang back from public work while I continue to work on some “next level” projects. I did need a break. I’ve taken one. I’ll continue to take my time in terms of taking on a new film production — maybe.

But I want to keep up the connection.

So, this morning, I woke up to my alarm. I remembered why it was set so early. Despite this, I immediately decided to “do it later”. I reset the alarm.

But I was already awake. I peed and drank some water and got back into bed and tried to snooze but it was already over.

The mind was already turning. I had a vision of an old man, dying peacefully in his sleep, seated in a chair. Probably it was a lingering vision from my dreams.

It wasn’t a scary vision. For me, who has feared worse, it was actually quite nice. I thought it would be perfect, to go that way. Perhaps not surrounded, but in the midst of loved ones. To go quietly, with a smile — because I had done justice to the privilege of being alive, for the duration of my heres and nows.

See you tomorrow. Let’s make the time for it. It doesn’t cost so much.

When The Panic Goes

Me, in The Shadow World.
Me, in The Shadow World. Waving “Hello”.

I’ve been reflecting a bit, lately, on where I’ve ended up — in my life and creative career. In many ways, things feel good. The Videoblogs is in post. I’m still proud of Multiverse. I have a new script in the works that I’m very happy with even if I’m also, as usual, terrified of finishing it.

Dreams are beginning to materialize into goals. This is good, because goals can be whittled down, aimed and launched.

Multiverse has launched and landed. The Videoblogs is in the air, even if its riding a slowed-down trajectory warped by limits of time, budget, scope, intention. This new project feels especially sharp in certain terms, but it’s shaped differently than anything I’ve ever done before and I don’t honestly know how or if it’s going to fly. Beyond that, it’s been a fun project to develop.

But, sometimes, I still struggle. Freeze up. I lose faith, or clarity, and I’m left feeling like nothing is going to work out. I feel stuck. I get depressed.

I know that this is normal, by now, when you’re pursuing a path through the arts, and so I don’t (usually) obsess over things at such times. Yet these reflections, I think, have also revealed something new, recently, that I hadn’t noticed before.

Even when things get tough, now — I don’t stop working.

In fact, I’ve arguably felt more dedicated, more focused. I feel a presence within myself that is both new and old, gently pushing me to at least get a little done each day. The old part of me approaches the task with innocence, reminds me that creativity feels good. The new part reinforces the idea that any progress is good progress, and kindly reminds me to appreciate my own work.

One recent night, this combined presence made me stop on the way home from work and put an hour in on revisions of the aforementioned new script.

That hour calmed my shit. And I moved the script forward.

It used to go differently. Historically, I would have tortured myself with excuses, and/or imagined difficulties. I would have lasso’d or found my way into the middle of any drama within radius, so as to have a reason…to run. I would run until a sense of separation from myself (which is what happens when I don’t write in particular) grew too unbearable, whereupon I’d finally capitulate to the intense need to keep creating.

Then there would be a writing binge. Accompanied by other binges.

Things are different now, and I wanted to share these thoughts because I’ve had to remind myself of why and how I’ve felt different, lately.

I have come to treasure a new, simpler relationship with myself, and my craft as it relates to that self. As a result of the last several years of trying and failing and learning, both in career terms and personal terms, I’ve come to feel protective of this new perspective and process. It’s not perfect but it’s less complicated.

I still feel anxious. The dread still comes, in waves. But, increasingly, I don’t panic.

Just a few days ago, someone was panicking (and directing his panic at me) and…I just didn’t want anything to do with it. He was worried about something, which was his choice. He asked if I understood why he was concerned. I said that I did but that I just didn’t feel like panicking about it. The conversation ended when he literally walked away.

I’ve felt that brand of anxiety before — still do, sometimes — and I sympathize with anyone who feels he or she can only proceed that way in order to get things “done” or “fixed”. But I’m learning there are other ways — asking for help, and/or expressing our fears major among them.

Panic used to be the only path I knew to take on my way to work. Now I’ve embraced other paths, like routine and patience.

I don’t miss the panic. I embrace, instead, the steady, daily urgency. But this is not to suggest that it’s always easy.

Say what you will about panic, but it does get people moving. I don’t judge myself for the years of fuse-lit stress. I had a lot of pages to burn through that just needed to be burned. Similarly, I think I needed to live fast for a while…maybe…just to keep on living. The way that it’s gone was probably always the way it was going to go, for me.

And even now, when the panic goes, it can become disorienting. After all, if all we ever know of forward motion comes from being driven by panic, how are we supposed to know how to achieve the same effect, once calm begins to assert itself in our lives? Won’t the whole system come crumbling down? Won’t a steady pace feel unnatural, slow, wrong — when we’re used to speeding, dead-ahead, towards The Goal?

Well, yes. Though, in my experience, the process of destruction and re-creation isn’t always so dramatic as it feels it’s going to be when we theorize about it at times of anxiety. This is mostly because, as I established above — we aren’t actually speeding in a straight line, when we’re panicked, are we? We’re speeding, then screeching to a halt, then pivoting and changing directions, or turning around, or attempting an impossible back-flip, or any combination (or repetition) of all these things.

In this way, panic’s false promise reveals itself. Panic isn’t the tonic it purports to be. It offers unspecific, largely unfocused perpetual motion in the guise of A Way Out. The insidiousness of the compact is that, while panic has you launching and twisting and starting and stopping — there’s no way to tell for sure whether or not you are in fact heading in the wrong direction. It wasn’t until I accepted that I had been “moving” too long without arriving anywhere, until I began learning to subsequently pause and look and listen and inquire — about myself, as I would any other external influence in my life — that I began to realize my “error”.

When the panic goes, we can take advantage of the resulting calm to begin building something more permanent, something that couldn’t have structurally withstood the sharp redirects or the sudden snapping halts that used to characterize our panicked state.

The change isn’t painless. Some days, I feel like I’ve lost a friend.

Panic drove my survival for so long — arguably drove me to write and to create in the first place. Sometimes I even give panic a call on the old land line and we end up hanging out, because few things ends perfectly — and then I wake up with a hangover or a foreboding sense of disappointment and I remember why it’s better for me to make the decisions about what to do and for how long.

The tricky things about panic is that it doesn’t come from a bad place. It comes from an understandably human place — a place of fear. But then, because of fear, panic leads us to a place that at its worst is assuredly bad, and at its best assuredly not good.

And, finally, panic has a charge to it — doesn’t it? There’s a bit of a high that comes with the sense that The Situation is Desperate.

But the reality is that it’s usually not. And the high gives way to a crash, and maybe, yeah, in the end you have a stack of paper or some other Piece of Art — but at what cost? And is it possibly as good as it could be if our truest, most focused self wasn’t completely engaged in its making?

I don’t buy the “necessary suffering” line of thought. Especially not anymore. I get that a hard life, that hard times — they often bring dynamism to the lives of people who subsequently (if they’re lucky) end up feeling compelled to expunge what they’ve experienced, absorbed and processed via some form of art. Having been through this myself, I get that panic is often going to be the first car to pick you up on the road.

Still, as I get further from a place of panic, I am coming to appreciate other, purer, more natural ways of proceeding through life, as I follow what compels me.

I try to write every morning, now, six days a week. Sometimes, it’s still hard, and I end a day without having gotten much done. But every page that gets written, every minute spent on a film, is one more than nothing, which is more than I was able to get done on a daily basis during previous years of my life that were ruled mostly by panic.

When the panic goes, I remain. That can be scary. But it’s real.

I like that it’s real. It makes me happy, much of the time. Even when it doesn’t — there’s at least no regret. And a bonus to all this is that panic finds it increasingly difficult to find new footholds the further I get from the belief that I need it.

I’ve been worried, over the course of these last few weeks, about not feeling panicked. I questioned my dedication, the righteousness of my projects, my points of view. I returned to constantly-revisited patterns of wondering who or what I was, in the broadest terms, because, despite all of the above, the distorted lens of panic has warped my vision after all these years. I struggled to understand how I could say that I cared — if I wan’t panicked.

And then, slowly, one routine at a time, I began rededicating myself to pause. I’m still struggling with it a bit. I probably always will. The whole process has and will continue to take patience.

At the moment, I understand this. I’ll probably forget it next week.

But that’s okay, too. I’m going to continue to worry, I’m going to continue to get anxious. Dread may come and go.

But I don’t have to panic.

602066_10100681300095942_1773576913_n (2)Like my style? Subscribe to my list for advanced/exclusive (and free!) access to new (creative) content produced by yours truly. I send one email per month.

Preparation and Control

We battle chaos.

That’s what it feels like, much of the time, right? Whether we’re (seemingly) safe and comfortable, or (seemingly) dangling over a precipice between survival and some (perceived) point of no return — it can feel that way, right? Us against chaos. We’re biologically conditioned to expect it.

For me, I’m learning that this natural reaction can be tempered, that there are perhaps different types of instinct, other than the one that’s always prepared for chaos. A conscious voice and an unconscious one, at minimum. I don’t pretend to always know which should be listened to at any given moment. I think probably it depends on circumstance and on how far each of us is willing to go in the direction of either abandonment or control.

PA Puppy can't get a Grip.
PA Puppy can’t get a Grip.

This most recent non-committal point reminds me of the filmmaking process. If filmmaking is anything, in my opinion, it is a dance between abandonment and control.

In crafting recorded narratives, and even in viewing and consuming them, we play god. This is a point that perhaps gets lost among the race to “produce content” — which almost anyone can join at this point, in certain terms. We pretend another world, usually one that’s like ours in at least some accessible way, is real. Depending on what side of the narrative we are on, we then either pretend to be able to capture and populate a world — and lives within it — or we accept it’s reality as a witness to these built worlds.

Personally, as I’ve already discussed, I believe we’ve drifted, on the whole, a little too far from our actual reality, while as a population we participate perhaps too frequently in patterns of “world hopping”, in the preceding terms. But I have already discussed that. I’ve also made it clear what I believe needs to be done, here and now, in terms of what kind of narratives we would create and absorb. If I were running the world. Which, luckily, I’m not.

But. For real.

In so many words, I think The Moment that is coming — for us, here in America at least — is one of reflection. And, hopefully, increasingly, discussion as well.

As a filmmaker, this becomes a complicated proposition for me. In today’s environment, it’s actually very easy to enter discussion. In a way, we’re discussing ideas right now. It’s been a great positive change in my life, having this site to turn to regularly, and having you here reading and, sometimes, reflecting back at me. Now that I’m almost a year and a half into this endeavor, whatever it is, I can’t see not having this space — and you — in my life.

I’ve been overwhelmed for the past several days, and not exactly in a bad way. For a few hours last night, for example, I became overwhelmed emotionally by the small flood of interest in our recent call for collaborators. But I’ve also felt exhausted. Already.

I’m working hard on something. I don’t know how much of a secret that is by now. This project feels important and I know working on it is going to continue to be hard. Thus, we arrive, finally, at the title of this post. I’m having incremental trouble focusing on the line between preparation and control.

As I said, it’s a dance, this filmmaking game. At low budgets — and even at high ones, I suspect — it’s also a test of endurance and the ability of a person to practice self-care. You can’t make films if you can’t stand up. Although I did once “direct” a scene while crumpled in a sitting position in a corner of a room. Won’t forget that day.

So, I was thinking about all this, recently, and I actually started to feel better. Just by reflecting. And for that, I feel grateful. It’s taken years to be able to (sometimes) relax about this stuff.

I have this space to turn to, and you to talk with. I know a fair percentage of readers here are artists. I suspect you understand what I’m talking about. I bet everyone else does, too. Everyone has their own dance.

We battle chaos. But we’re together in this battle. Further, while the real world is certainly not so neat and perfect as it sometimes appears to be from our screens, it also contains it’s fair share of grace.

I think that’s a fair point to make. Filmmaking, with its fictional worlds made up of parts of our own, even the real world, as seen through so many different lenses — the processes of it not about control. Not ultimately.

It’s about preparation. And then collaboration. Creativity.

How to F*cking Rest (In 10 Not-Always-Easy Steps)

Zelda has no trouble resting.
Zelda has no trouble resting.

Let’s be clear from the start: I have very little idea of what I’m talking about in regards to this subject. But I’m learning. So, consider the following more of a report on a work-in-progress, than a presentation of any definitive framework.

Only someone like me would view the ability to rest as a work-in-progress — but I know there are some of you out there who have the same problem. Maybe more than a few.

It’s better than failing spectacularly at it, I suppose.

As I have mentioned on various social media channels, I’ve been sick. Again. For over a week. Again.

It could be worse, and I understand that. But it still sucks.

I’ve been making a concerted effort to learn from past mistakes. And, as has been well-documented — on the scale of moderate to severe — there have been plenty of those.

Anyway, for better or worse, as obvious as some of these may be, here’s what I’ve learned about what works — when I follow through. Maybe all of this is obvious to a sane person, but that’s not always me.

1. Accept it.

We all know how this works. The interior monologue:

“Something doesn’t feel right.”
“You’re okay.”
“Probably. But…”
“You need to do X, Y, Z. You’ll be fine.”
“Yeah. But…”

They key is to listen to the “but”. Ears between the cheeks.

“But I’m really not feeling well.”

This (hopefully) allows one to have compassion for oneself. Even begrudged compassion will do.

“Okay. Fine. I guess X,Y,Z will have to wait.”
“OMG!”
“Shut up.”
“It will be okay. I promise.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“You don’t have to — you just have to trust me.”

2. Stay in bed (and/or stick to couch).

I’m historically bad at this. But it’s important. This week I’ve been much better about it than I have been in the past.

I’ve (luckily) been able to establish boundaries with myself in regards to my bed. I don’t work in bed. I do very little web surfing in bed. I really only sleep and read and watch TV and snore in bed.

But I’ve found that even moving from bed to couch has a debilitating effect on my levels of relaxation. It opens the floodgates of distraction. Once I’m out of bed I tend to sit and not lay down. Or I stand, battle myself about standing, and then sit again. I’m also able, from my couch, to view most of an apartment’s worth of “stuff that needs to get done” rather than just one room. So, my solution this time around?

At night, I’ve stacked my bedside table with the basics of what I’d need in the morning to stay in bed for at least a few hours after I wake up. Lately, this has been a stack of comics/graphic novels (fun reads), a bag of cough drops, water, tissues, etc. It’s worked.

After a certain point, though — and as I’ll discuss this more in a moment — it helps to move around. That’s why after a few hours I do a few minor things (with a focus on rest or healing related tasks, such as the brewing of miracle teas) and then I move to the couch.

3. Read.

It gets you out of your head. Sickness can magnify feelings of isolation, loneliness, worthlessness (a good American produces and consumes and does not rest in between) — to a spectacular (not so spectacular) degree.

Reading also passes time and dulls pain by distracting us in an immersive way that’s a bit different than when you watch movies (next on the list) or talk to people (farther down on the list). Reading fiction in particular, when the stories are doing their job well, can be like wrapping your mind in a blanket. That’s not the say the below methods have less value. It’s just different.

4. Watch movies.

If reading is a warm blanket, a good movie is a hearty bowl of chicken soup. What?

It’s strange, and I don’t know how to explain it, but, for me, the magic of cinema is that, even when you’re watching something alone in your apartment on your TV — the experience is comfortingly communal. Some people might argue that point. They’d be wrong.

There’s something about watching characters struggle/explore the worlds they inhabit on screen — which, again, if the story is well told — that gives you something you can’t get anywhere else. Fiction may warm me but film reminds me, and all of us, I think, that we’re not never alone in our loneliness. And it does this in a more direct, and more immediately observable way, than books can. You can turn away from text, or avoid it. It’s less easy to turn away from even recorded images of human beings, with humanity shining through their eyes.

The benefit to the sick is similar. Loneliness is temporarily assuaged, time passes, pain can be momentarily forgotten. All this together — and the same can be said of books — can also help contribute to a belief that the problem of the illness will eventually resolve. At the very least, some temporary relief can be easily won.

5. Move — a little.

For me, this mostly took the form of short walks down the main drag in my neighborhood. If and when it’s possible, even when you’re sick, it helps to get fresh air. Sometimes, it can’t be done. I wasn’t contagious and a few open windows weren’t cutting it for me, so on most days (but not all) I rested up for a few hours after sleeping a long sleep — and then ambled to the pharmacy or a bodega for supplies.

This helped the loneliness, too. Just fifteen minutes outside, after a day (or days) of riding the couch — it can also (obviously) provide a reminder that you’re not alone, even in your illness. Further, especially in a crowded, punishing city like New York — you also may see people whose current or long-term plight is much worse than yours. Unfortunately true, but this is also an opportunity to take hold of a little gratefulness and/or exercise a little humility.

6. Ask for help.

Ugh. I know. Right?!

I’m not great at it. Getting better. And I have been lucky (more gratefulness on the way).

My wife took over some of my household responsibilities while I was laid up. Sometimes, as I would have had to do with anyone else, I had to ask for this help. No one knows what you can or can’t handle, for the most part, unless you tell them.

Sometimes, our nearest and dearest know us better than we know ourselves — and we don’t have to ask. Still, I’ve found it helpful not to make too many assumptions in regards to this point. This is particularly true when it comes to work.

For the most part, even for those of us whose jobs technically overlap with others in terms of responsibilities — we all specialize in some way. If not, we at least still own responsibilities that are ours only, in terms of workload. Work life, as it should be, is more officious (duh) than home life, at least in such terms. It can be easy to convince ourselves to push through with work while ill because the process of explaining how to do what we do, exactly how we do it, seems daunting.

This is understandable. But temporarily letting go of responsibility can also be treated as an experiment in trust and in leadership. These are two aspects of life where daunting is often the word of the day, but which also can deliver rich rewards to those willing to confront fear and hesitation.

Sometimes asking for help means that someone else has to cover for you — and that you, in turn, need to cover for them, now (in terms of communication and guidance) and/or in the future (in terms of fairness). This all takes a little bit of acceptance and some patience. I’ve found that it can help to have a plan, as well.

Anyone can take the time, when they are healthy, to summarize (on paper or through conversation) the basic and/or most important day-to-day responsibilities that they own — especially when it comes to actionable tasks. Not only does this leave you with a manual to help people help you, it can also serve as an informal self-assessment for judging your own efficiency, and/or finding areas of responsibility that can be streamlined, and/or work flows that can be updated.

7. Talk to people.

This is another hard one for me, because, basically, it’s another form of asking for help. More than a couple of days in bed will leave anyone feeling lonely and miserable. So, sometimes, we need cheering up. Again, I’m lucky to have a spouse I can talk to, and who continually asks me to talk to her (ugh). Still, it helped when people checked in. And even though I sometimes didn’t feel like talking — or reaching out — I did. A little. I know I can still be better about this.

No one gets worse by communicating. Even brief, random discussions with neighbors, on my short walks, made a difference to me. When we feel we are at our worst, sometimes it takes the reflection of another’s impression of us to realize that it’s not as bad as all that.

8. Look on the bright side.

I know.

But there always is one. For me, this time…

I had been trying all month to rest. Even before I got sick. I was doing an only-okay job of it. Now I’m being forced to rest, and, honestly, despite all of the above — it hasn’t been that bad.

Drugs help!

But, seriously.

I’m not saying my body hit the shut down button just because my brain wasn’t playing ball. It’s a possibility, but it doesn’t matter. I’m sick and it sucks. But I also got to read some books and watch some movies that I probably would have found a reason not to watch under “normal” circumstances. And part (or most) of what’s ailing me has been a sore and swollen throat. Enter excuse for copious amounts of sorbet and ice cream.

Yes, I have gotten a little fat. But I’ll handle that.

This time off my feet has also allowed me to do some healthy thinking. It’s always a pleasant surprise, and an interesting development, to find myself sick of body and then, suddenly, simultaneously, mentally thriving. It’s almost as if my brain relents in terms of self-flagellation, temporarily, out of respect for some amorphously defined threshold of pain and uneasiness that it feels it should back away from when my body is picking up more of the slack.

The thoughts slow down and they get less dark. This is more of a recent development, now that I think of it. Sickness used to make me very angry. But I question most of my initial impulses towards anger, most days, now.

There’s probably a lesson in there somewhere. Right?!

Moving on…

9. Complain.

Yes. Do it.

I’m telling you. Let it all out.

You have a right. Don’t go crazy. Don’t assume you also have a right to be public and unrelenting about it — but complain.

Someone will listen to you. You may exhaust them. This is understandable. Move on to someone else, if you aren’t done. Someday, very soon, someone will complain to you. Maybe as soon as tomorrow. Maybe its me, right now.

Oh, but don’t listen too much to other complainers if you’re still sick. Wait until you’re better.

And one last, important note. Don’t listen to people who complain about complainers.

You know who I’m talking about. That one or two (or more) folks who troll Facebook or other social media channels griping about how annoyed they are at other people who are simple expressing their emotions.

Can it get to be too much? Yes. Anything can. Everything within moderation. There are lines.

But, sometimes, if you’re sick, or if something shitty happened, or if your life sucks…it can feel good to just cast your despair into the world. No one has to do anything about it who doesn’t feel so compelled. Contrarily, they can also tell you to shut up — and then it’s up to you to decide if this is okay or not.

All of it, though, is better than bottling up that despair. Despair is real and it’s tangible and it’s got to eat somehow. Don’t let it eat you. Send it out in small doses to your friends!

For real. We’re hard-wired to sympathize, even if these days we need to click a link to some inspiring video to be reminded of the fact. Getting the complaints out starts killing them before they even reach your friends. Despair doesn’t fare well in the air.

So, there. Claire.

10. Adapt.

This final step is more of a catch-all of all the others.

Rest isn’t doing nothing. It’s doing something non-stressful, something other than working. And I say that using a loose definition of the word “work” — because even thinking can be a lot of work. In fact, as I hinted above, it often is.

Taking time to rest requires us to do something that has become dangerously taboo in contemporary America, and that is to acknowledge our humanity. Our frailty.

We’re surrounded and infected by so many rules. Some of us, people like me, even have some rules — some unhelpful and corrosive rules that make no actual sense and only cause more damage — twisted into our DNA.

But the thing is, as we all know very well — life does not follow rules. Sometimes we get sick. Sometimes, people die. At other moments, everything in the world appears to come to us easily, and it feels like we’re riding a wild unicorn on a beam of white light (or some other metaphor).

The point is that we can never know exactly what to do, and how, or when. We can only listen to our bodies and our minds and our hearts, and do our best.

In between, we rest.

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Me and my better half.

8 Major Life Lessons I Learned In My Twenties

Last weekend, I said goodbye and good riddance to my twenties. Officially.

In truth, I’ve felt thirty for a few years now. I still feel legitimately different today, now that it’s actually true, but what I mean to say is that I’ve already spent a fair amount of time, heading into this touchstone point in adulthood, reflecting upon what I’ve learned about life over the past ten year or so.

Still, I thought it would be a good idea to put some of these lessons in writing. I’ve lately been noticing the advantages of return reflection. It never occurred to me in the past that there are benefits to doubling back and revisiting certain thoughts, feelings, memories — and the conclusions I formed about myself based on them.

In retrospect, it appears I was too busied by the “imperative” to keep moving, during my twenties — often for the express purposes of providing myself with an excuse for not being able to stand still — to really get a full picture of what was going on in my life. But also, well, I was still young and stupid. And by that I mean that I thought I knew everything, when in reality I just know most things.

Kidding. Sort of. It’s actually an important distinction, the difference between genera knowledge and specific certainty. We can get far in life by knowing most of what there is to know about any one thing. However, worlds can also collapse in the space between knowing something completely and almost knowing it completely. Just ask your nearest brain surgeon.

Of course, there are even levels between these two admittedly high-aspiration examples. So enough with the jokes and preamble.

Here is a sampling of some of the larger lessons I learned on my way to thirty. Some may seem familiar, because there are other posts out there, written by other people who also turned thirty and felt a similar need to get public about it. I’m sharing anyway to prove there’s some universality here, and also because there’s always something different that we as individuals can add to a story to make it partially ours even in its widespread sameness. And that, in turn, can lead to all of us feeling more connected. What? Yes.

1. Love trumps all.

If you know me even a little bit, and/or if you’ve read more than a couple of posts here (such as this one), it shouldn’t be a surprise that this is the first and biggest lesson I felt moved to share. It unfortunately seems to get easier to forget, as we get older and thus closer towards death (which seems a lonely solo act), that love is the reason why we do everything that we do. Especially in an America where work and commerce continue to reign supreme, we seem on average to give up more and more of what we love — and to increasingly accept conditions that take us away from who we love — much more often than we’d like. That is, if we thought about this often enough.

Me and my better half.
Me and my better half.

Well, I’ve thought about it. I work on honoring this truth, every day, nowadays. Love withers without attention and care, and some essential part of us withers with it when we fail to give both these things as a primary imperative. And, to be clear, I’m not just talking about romance. It does no good to force romance or to substitute something or someone else in it’s name when patience or self-actualization is actually the thing that is called for. Love, obviously, can and is also about family, friends, and how we treat our own selves.

Not everyone grows up with a healthy or full relationship with love. And it’s too big a thing to handle fully before adulthood, in a way. So, I’m glad I spent much more of my twenties loving and learning to love myself. It’s helped formed a foundation for an overall happiness in my life that I’m able to grip now but during those earlier years didn’t know I could build and then stand upon.

2. I’m not perfect (or invincible).

It’s been well established, for a long time now, that men and women in their twenties usually carry with them an aura of invincibility. They have enough of youth’s plasticity left in them for this presumption to appear warranted, most of the time. A twenty-year-old simply bounces back, physically and energetically, from injury and duress (emotions are a different story, in my experience).

But a byproduct of this attitude is that people in their twenties tend to think they can do no wrong. Perhaps this is also a generational thing, more aptly ascribed to today’s twenty-somethings, but I’m not sure complete responsibility for that can be placed on generational characteristics.

Mario is about to grow up and nothing will be able to touch him — for the time being.

Either way, I don’t mean to suggest that there isn’t value in feeling invincible and perfect, or perfectly right. The primary advantages to these qualities is that they engender action, which is sorely needed in the world at all times but particularly right now and particularly from the young.

As I’ll argue soon, though, action alone is often not enough, when it comes down to it, in terms of how it affects our lives as well as our surrounding societies. A twenty year old who can’t understand why his or her actions are not getting the deserved results — or why everything isn’t going perfectly — jeopardizes future growth and very good (if not perfect) results by failing to acknowledge the reality of such a situation. The sense of rightness and of unending possibility is normal and healthy and can be harnessed. But it’s not the end of the game if and when results don’t match expectations.

It took me a fair while to truly understand this. To a degree, I’m still struggling to believe it. But we have to fail to gain access to growth and progress, in all aspects of life.

3. Failure is very important

Failure is life’s way of forcing us to reconcile with the reality of our imperfections and the results of our imperfect actions and reactions. In a way, nothing we ever do will end in anything but failure.

What? Hear me out.

If you’re anything like me — and if you’re reading this you must be at least a little like me — you spend at least some of your time, from day to day, forming expectations. You probably started reading this post with some expectation of what you were going to or wanted to read. Perhaps I’ve already failed you. Or, more likely, perhaps I’ve failed you but at the same time gave you something else — which you weren’t expecting.

My dog fails to lay down on her bed, which is drying atop her crate.
My dog fails to lay down.

I’ve noticed that reality has a way of reckoning with everyone, no matter who they are and/or what they’ve done in life. Deny or explain away the existence of failure in your life for too long, and at some point some other part of that life will fail on you completely, perhaps to your surprise. In choosing to deny that we’ve failed we are consequently choosing to deny reality. This causes a drift farther away from potential positive change. It also lengthens the process for achieving whatever opposite defines success.

I have seen people of all ages become unhinged by this truth. However, I think, if we’re talking what is reasonably healthy, it’s around this time in life where I am…when we should be beginning to acknowledge how we have failed, what we have learned from these failures, and what we want to do next to take advantage of these lessons and start again with a further emphasis on intention and with the benefit of experience to lean on.

It could be argued that our twenties are for failing our way to a place wherein we can begin to pursue true success. Whether this is true or not depends on the attitude we take in the face of failure, and what we do from there and how we do it.

4. There’s time. Nothing is set is stone.

I spent too much time in my twenties worrying about what I “needed to do” before I turned thirty. I spent so much time worrying about it, that I almost failed to realize just how much I have accomplished up to this point, and how much I have grown as a person, despite these fears and anxieties. I don’t think I’m alone in this.

It’s still difficult to remember, some days. It can become especially difficult to remember if you’ve experienced the sort of trauma I experienced several years ago. My light brush with death in the early years of my twenties had a doubly poisonous effect on most of the rest of them. Having to acknowledge the fragility of life, when I was “supposed” to be feeling invincible, left me feeling constantly scared that I was going to die before I experienced or accomplished anything that I wanted for myself in life. This fear, ironically, led me to grip life more tightly than is probably healthy, while I was at the same time I tried to prove to myself that I wasn’t scared by continuously going out and getting drunk and engaging in self-destructive behavior.

It took some failure and some pain and some therapy and a lot of time, but I’ve learned to let go — a little bit. Sometimes. I’m most likely not going to die today, or tomorrow — and, statistically speaking, neither are you. Does this mean the fear isn’t real, or shouldn’t be respected? Not at all. It’s just the truth.  Another truth? Even if we do perish, there most likely will not have been a damn thing we could have done to prevent it.

We can only do what we can do, today, and we can’t extend our influence into the past or quite that far into the future. So why try? Why obsess?

5. Things are simpler than we’d like to admit or believe.

Complication is the “best friend” I used to hang out with in order to prevent myself from beginning down the path of creating the life I truly wanted (the path that I feel I am now on, for the most part). Anything can be made complicated, with time, if there’s fear in you. And there’s fear in all of us.

The formation of “perfect” expectations goes both ways — towards nightmares as well as dreams. Much in life is actually simpler than we make it.

Hungry? Eat. Don’t want to ingest too many calories, or too much fat or sugar? Eat something healthy. Worried about eating too close to dinner? How could putting healthy food in your body ruin anything?

This could actually go either way.

More likely, if you don’t eat when you’re randomly hungry, abstinence will backfire. Maybe the hunger takes over at the grocery store on the way home from work, and you spend too much money on more food than you need. Or maybe something stressful occurs, and you end up eating anyway — but you choose something that’s not healthy. Or you meet with the same result because you end up meeting that hunger again hours after dinner, also known as the time when the cookie vampire comes out to hunt.

The above is a very mundane example but that’s part of my point. Add a day’s worth of mundane examples of simple problems that were addressed with a series of complicated anti-solutions (excuses) and what do you get? Unhappiness.

Dissatisfaction. That could have been avoided.

Inaction. That is leaving you exactly where you were the day before, perhaps in a place you don’t want to be.

Contrarily, to keep the example going — sometimes a problem is as simple as saying: “Fuck it. I’m eating a Snickers.”

Or, to double back to positive action, while at the same time increasing the scope: “Fuck it. I’m completely unhappy. I need to change my life. After I eat this Snickers.”

6. Broken things can be fixed.

I can’t speak for everyone, here. What I will say is that I think many of us enter and drift (or barrel) through our twenties in continuous combat with a not-so-sneaking suspicion that something is wrong with us. Why can’t I succeed? Why aren’t I happy? Why do I feel this way?

Coping mechanism’s vary, as does the timeline during which we can be gripped by such thoughts and feelings, which will never quite go away (as far as I know and have been told) but can be better managed as we get older and more honest and more willing to deal with the reality of what, say, a sense of brokenness signifies in the grand scheme of our lives — as well as how it might affect us.

One of the things I did to help heal was to make Multiverse.
One of the things I did to help heal was to make Multiverse.

The honesty part of it was big for me. I knew for a long time that I was a little damaged. The symptoms were readily apparent, even if I hadn’t addressed the causes. I was too angry and too quick to run from anything that might hurt me or expose my pain. In my ignorance, I even got very creative with how I managed to hold on desperately to brokenness in spite of my sincere, deep desire to be fixed. When you know you’re broken, at least you know something, with certainty. There is comfort in having reasons for all that you don’t like about your life. Salvation can be scary. It’s an unknown. It can seem impossible, or appear as an inevitable disappointment, when you’re looking up at it from the depths of hopelessness.

Acknowledging a need for help has to come first. Then, there’s the asking. Finally, as much as might perhaps wish to avoid it, there’s the action that can only come from the broken individual.

I’m just glad I ended up spending a fair portion of my twenties gathering the courage to face this lesson and embrace its possibilities. It’s an ongoing process, but even as I write this I can’t imagine where I would be if I didn’t show some faith in both the real possibility of redemption and in myself as a man possible of changing.

7. Character is king.

This isn’t a reference to writing or filmmaking, although there’s definitely some overlap. What I mean to say is that, in line with the above, I’ve learned that it’s more important to have and exhibit true character than it is to succeed in terms of monetary gain or socially-approved and accepted positions of power and influence.

It’s never been clearer in our society that all it takes to become wealthy is a deficiency of character and a willingness to hurt and/or take advantage of other people. This is not the only way to become wealthy — just the fastest and the most assured. And in an increasingly hyper-connected and globalized world, it’s never been easier to run away from the repercussions of such a decision, which can be pushed to a distance by various levels of remote-responsibility, accomplished via the “normal” evolution of growth bureaucracy.

What does this have to do with character? Everything.

As has been partially discussed already, the compromises we make in life invariably demand their day. We all do what we feel we have to do to survive, or thrive, or stay safe. I’m not here to judge anyone — not even those who have “succeeded” in the above terms. Yes, hurting others is wrong. But there’s also an argument to be made that it’s also wrong to allow yourself to be continually hurt. Also, I deliberately chose a generalized, extreme example. As with anything, there are shades of gray.

Basically, what I am saying is that we become what we do. This made it important for me, over the past several years, to take my time finding out what works for me and what doesn’t. It was a fuck of a bumpy road at times but I’m glad I took it. And in some ways I think I’m still on it and always will be.

8. Character is solidified by action.

I’m repeating myself but this is important: We become what we do. Which can just as easily be redefined as “nothing”.

Life is delicate, as we’ve established. It can be easy to play by the rules and go along with what everyone else is doing, and I would encourage anyone who’s actually okay with that, at bottom, to seize the opportunity to live a relatively serene life. Just try not to hurt too many people and be sure you’re being honest with yourself and don’t forget to love — if I may be so bold as to make these demands.

Contrarily, it can be hard to break rank and pursue something that’s mysterious even to you, despite a gravitation towards whatever that thing might be.

For me, it was storytelling. Writing. Filmmaking. Lately, some other forms of expression as well. The road to actualization began for me, years ago, in pursuing this twin dreams.

But I was infrequently happy before I was frequently “working”. I add the scare quotes because, now, on good days it doesn’t feel like work. This never would have happened, though, if I didn’t risk myself, repeatedly and more fully over time. The journey, as they say, is and will continue to be the destination.

Much of what’s in these most recent paragraphs is inspired in part by my favorite film, The Hustler. By this clip, in particular. I leave you with it. Thanks for reading.

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