Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Home for the holidays


Sue went to her family’s Christmas dinner with a pit in her stomach. Mom is going criticize everything. She’s not going to like the pie I made.... I’m sure it won’t be flakey enough, Sue thought back to prior [failed] pie-making episodes in the past. She’s not going to like my outfit… oh…. and I have gained some weight since I last saw her, she’ll be sure to point out. Sue ticked off some more things that her mom would probably find unacceptable.

She found herself wishing for an angel who could instantly make her successful [and sweep her off her feet; just like in those Hallmark movies], if only so she wouldn’t have to hear the pitiful tone when asked, “Any special men in your life?”

“What, with my cooking and fat behind?” she always wanted to say with emphasis, but didn’t dare, for fear of creating an uncomfortable moment for the rest of the family.

Her grandmother would ask inappropriate personal questions that would be hard to dodge...So you and Rob broke up? Was it because you were too focused on your career, too busy trying to climb the corporate ladder instead of doing anything else?...and even when she did, it was already “out there,” for everyone to wonder about.

Each entirely plausible dreadful possibility created a sickness in Sue, which, in turn created resolve. I am NOT going to let my family bully me like this. I am NOT going to spend another uncomfortable moment with them, not if I can help it. So on the long drive from New York to Virginia, Sue came up with some ground rules, some boundaries, she prayed would work.

When Grandma Jones asked her if she got lucky with her latest crush, she would simply change the subject [trying her best to keep from cringing], and keep doing so until the “INAPPROPRIATE” signal was received. If Grandma kept prying, she would make it clear that this topic was off limits.

When mom criticizes the pie, she’d say something to the effect of “I guess the cooking talent in the family skipped me, maybe you could give me some pointers next time,” and move on to another topic.

She would be very general and generic about talking about her job, her church, her social life and she wouldn’t divulge any more details, least of which about her love life, than necessary.

When anyone aggravated her to her tipping point, she would have to separate herself from the situation, remembering that this was a family member, and they certainly weren’t being malicious, they were just trying to offer advice.

She would remember that this was their dysfunctional way of showing love to her…. and that her way wasn’t any more enlightened. And she would be grateful that she had people that loved her. And she would tell them so.

c. 2012

Sunday, December 2, 2012



“It's not happy people who are thankful -It's thankful people who are happy.”  Unknown

So many people go through lives doing the reverse. I know I did. I’ve written about thankfulness before, but it’s definitely worth repeating.

Going through life with a grateful attitude changes your perspective. It doesn’t mean you won’t still get cranky, but it will definitely soothe your ruffled feathers.

I am feeling very grateful this Thanksgiving. I actually have been thankful well before it. I have so many blessings. For anything that might be going wrong in my day, I have 10 more serendipitous things to counterbalance it.

Even though I know I am extremely blessed, dark clouds will sometimes appear, taking my focus off of my blessings. It did today, I allowed myself to be distracted by the things that make work, well, work.

Mary Chapin Carpenter says it well; “I don't want to get mad at the elderly driver in front of me. I don't want to go crazy when my Internet access is messed up. I don't want to be jealous of someone else's success. You could say that this litany of sins indicates that I don't want to be human. The learning curve of gratitude, however, is showing me exactly how human I am.”

But gratitude is a matter of focus…and it takes work. It’s much easier to focus on our annoyances than our blessings. Especially in this day and age in America. We have so much available, that blessings turn into entitlements, and we often don’t realize that we’re grateful, until we don’t have them. And then we’re mad because we don’t have what’s “due us.”

Gratitude has a way of repowering and regenerating. It will fuel you to do amazing things. It’s an act of focus. It’s a decision to make, every moment and I often forget.

“Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.” John Milton


Thursday, November 22, 2012

A news story to brighten your day

Saundra Adams and Chancellor

Amid all of the recent bad news, it was refreshing and unexpected to find some good news. This was especially touching for me because I remember exactly when this happened.

Thirteen years ago, the Carolina Panthers was a brand new team. I’m not a football fan, but it was hard not to get caught up in the excitement of our town’s first NFL team. Jerry Richardson, the owner of the team, frequented the coffee shop where I worked at the time.

I remember when the day I learned of Rae Carruth. He was all over the news because he had his pregnant ex-girlfriend, Cherika Adams, shot and killed. This was a top news story that captured the attention of everyone. I was particularly interested because the murders took place on the road I took home on every night from my boyfriend at the time’s apartment; right about the same time.

We had broken up the day before. It was a bit chilling to hear the news of that night, to say the least. Relief cut through my sadness; I was so glad I hadn’t been there.

Thirteen years passed, and I have given little thought to it, until today when I saw the headline, Inside story: What happened to the unborn son Rae Carruth tried to kill.

I had forgotten she had given birth to the baby, despite the 4 gunshot wounds. Curious, I read the article, not expecting what I found.

The bullets just missed the baby, but Chancellor Lee Adams was born with cerebral palsy. The doctors originally thought he would never walk or talk, but he is proving them wrong.

Sports Illustrated writer, Thomas Lake said,

On the surface, it's hard to imagine a set of life circumstances much worse than this. Which is why I was so astonished when I saw the boy. It's my job to put things into words, but I still can't find the right words to describe him. None of them say it strongly enough. He is the happiest person I've ever met. There's a light inside him that I've never seen anywhere else. I've talked to several other people about his effect on me, and they say it happened to them too. Wherever he goes -- to church, to physical therapy, to the Special Olympics -- he makes people feel better by his mere presence. When he looks into your eyes and says hello, the whole thing feels almost spiritual. And then, of course, you have to ask yourself: If a kid like this can be so happy, what right do I have to complain?

Read more:

I read how Saundra Adams, Chancellor’s grandmother, quit her job and raised him, taking the extra care needed to meet his special needs, including hand feeding him and taking him to his weekly therapy sessions. He learned to speak and is learning to walk. [At 10, the wheelchair bound, Chancellor could take 100 steps on his own.]

"I try to instill lots of positive affirmations, number one," said Saundra Adams, Cherica's mother. "I want Chancellor to know above everything else that he is loved. No matter who is in his life, who may not be in his life, but he is loved unconditionally."

"I believe he is going to overcome every challenge before him. It just takes time."
Adams said.

Pulling my heart a little more, she told News36’s Sonja Gantt that the only one she believes is truly remorseful is hired hit man, Van Brett Watkins. He pulled the trigger. and is serving 40 to 50 years. He's sent her several letters from prison, some even including $5 or $10 to try and help out with the care of Chancellor.

I just love stories like this of how beauty can come from just the depths of stress and ugliness.

c. 2012

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Meeting hate with humor

c. Yash Mori
I remember a few weeks ago when I heard that a Neo Nazi hate group was having some sort of shindig in my town.

Do these people really still exist? I thought. I had a passing thought to actually go, just to see what sorts of ridiculousness they talked about. But I was too scared. The convention came and went, and I didn’t think anything more about it.

That is until I saw this headline

The event was protested by about 100 clowns!

How perfect! How ingenious, I thought. Juxtaposition at its' finest. I was so proud of the people from my city. [I don't actually know that the protesters are from my city].

Many of the clown protesters were immigrants; the target of the neo nazi group. Though probably the last thing they felt like doing was laughing about their opponents’ hate, they crashed the rally in a lighthearted mood with horns, balloons and funny signs like “White Flour.”

It takes higher thinking to be able to upshift from hate to love. This group flexed  their creative muscles rather than clenching their fists. As a result, they made so much more of a statement!

The protest was organized by the Latin American Coalición, who are a group of Latin Americans, immigrants and allies.

c. Yash Mori
Their unique protest made more of an impact than any sort of violent or ‘disapproving” one would have. As Lacey Williams, the youth coordinator for Charlotte’s Latin American Coalición, told WCNC.

 “We’re dressed like clowns and you’re the ones that look funny."

When you meet hate with kindness things have a hope of working out. [or at least you expose the  jerks for who they are]. When you return hate for hate, everyone goes into defense mode and any hope of communication shuts down.

 All I can say is, “Thanks for showing us how it’s done."

I went to the neo nazi site to see a reaction from them. They actually THANKED the clowns for drawing attention to their rally. 

The clowns could not be reached for comment.

c. 2012

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Indifference is as important as passion
 In college, I wanted to be a graphic designer. I thought I was good at it. I had planned for it to be my life’s work. I loved the combination of art, psychology and marketing.

What I did not like was the sales, the business end of things. I preferred to be reclusive in my studio and have people come to me and tell me my stuff was awesome and pay me for it.

Of course that's not how it works. I had to go out and find clients; they rarely came to me. Many times we were on different wavelengths with different visions and they didn’t like the end product.

I was passionate about graphic design, I had my whole career pretty much mapped out, because that’s just how I am, fully vested in my passion. It was hard to separate myself from my work. It was hard to not feel like a complete and utter failure when I didn’t succeed like I thought I should.

For my own sanity, I had to learn a new skill to make my next move…INDIFFERENCE. 

To Opinions
People are always going to give their opinions; they don’t mean any harm by it, they usually are trying to help. They will err on the safe side. Often those opinions are wrong and will dissuade us from pure awesomeness. Sometimes it’s wise to heed those opinions, but there are other times when it’s best to show indifference to them.

To Failures
Same thing with failures; Failures will happen. When you are passionate about everything, you can be almost incapacitated when you fail. That is a really brutal blow. And you will not succeed at everything, But you expect the best, while preparing for the worst and MOVE ON with your new knowledge.

To Bad Moods
People who are passionate are often hardest to work with. They get especially annoyed when they can’t define what they want. Try not to take it personally. It’s not usually about you.

Passion is important for sure. There is no successful businessperson without it; Think Steve Jobs or Howard Schultz. The thing that’s not preached in business classes is that indifference is just as important.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying be indifferent to the after-effects of recklessness. By all means, if you have done damage, clean up your messes. That is not something you want to be indifferent to.

“Nature, after all, is neither kind nor brutal: it just is.  There is such intense drama — the large cat taking down a gazelle, hungry polar bears bearing the burden of an infinite winter, flora fighting for survival. And yet nature is absolutely, mercilessly, indifferent.  We can hear this in the voice of the great nature documentaries we know so well thanks to PBS.”

I could have moped around about how unfair it was that I was an awesome designer that people just couldn’t appreciate, or that it was hard to find clients who would pay what my price. Actually I would have been happy to find a client who paid at all. Many charities and churches paid me in “valuable experiences,” which did help me change course.

So I transferred my focus to what had actually been my passion all along and invested time and energy in that. 

But I still have to show indifference.

No job pays enough if you’re not passionate about it. Passion will get you through all of the frustrations and hitches on the path to your dreams. Indifference will guard you from second best.

Life’s too short for second best.


Saturday, October 27, 2012

Oh, yes they call him the FREAK...

--> c. -->
I’m not a baseball fan. I don’t really even know how the game is played, but one day at a sports bar, I was entranced by the grace and precision of San Francisco Giants’ Tim Lincecum [who I actually thought was Derek Jeter for a long time]. I am admittedly ignorant.

As a former dancer, I saw a resemblance in his pitches to the attitude turns I used to do in ballet class. I never realized that baseball of all things could be a thing of grace and beauty.

So I became, not a Giants fan, but a Tim Lincecum fan. [My dreamy boyfriend is okay with this]. I found out that Tim is more than a graceful pitcher, he has an interesting story which can be applicable to everyone.

Tim has made his unassuming stature work for him. He is 5’10 and weighs 170 pounds. Ninety-eight mile-per-hour fastballs are unexpected from a figure so unimposing.

Tim is a Cy Young award winner.  He is nationally recognized as a big deal. And he won this prestigious award twice.

So you would think his career would stay rosy, right? Well….maybe not as he had hoped. 2012 was a bad season for the Giants, they lost 15 games. Tim was relegated to the bullpen, which means he was not a starting pitcher…and they weren’t calling on him to pitch at all.

The award-winning pitcher suddenly found himself basically sitting on the bench. What fans did not realize was that he was equally graceful off the field.

Tim could have been filled with jealousy and bitterness [Maybe he was, I don’t know; I’m a two time Cy Young award winner, bitches]. He certainly would have been entitled to it.
c. Andrew Weber-US PRESSWIRE

His response was very matter-of-fact, "I understand the way I've been going," he said. "My last two starts weren't very great, and other guys have had success coming into this series more than I have. I'm just trying to help my team, and if that means being in the bullpen, it means being in the bullpen."

Instead of reacting, Tim soaked up all of the lessons from the bullpen, along with a huge dose of humility, I would imagine.

Now he is finding himself in the spotlight again as relief pitcher where he gets to regularly save the day.

Lincecum was perfect, as he commanded his change-up and used his slider more freely, not worrying about the potential risk of getting tired from overuse of the pitch later in the game. He is now throwing everything he has at each batter, knowing that it's unlikely he'll face the same hitter twice in the same game.

Tim has kept a clear head through all of this. No doubt it sucked and was very disappointing.

Some players may not like the idea of surrendering the spotlight on baseball’s biggest stage. However, players such as Lincecum who are willing to take a backseat for the greater good of the team usually are rewarded greatly. The fans of San Francisco will never forget how Lincecum performed on and off the field during the 2012 postseason.

I know I haven’t always been as graceful as Tim, in much less important circumstances. I think we are all very prone to thinking with our lower brains in such instances.  It seems so strange to be looking to a professional sports figure for etiquette in that respect, but Tim LIncecum is such a great example of how bad things can happen to good people, but the good people come out on top.

 c. 2012

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Election Stress


 “Man, we can’t let Romney win,” I overheard someone say at one end of the coffeeshop, “This country will go to hell faster than a coon can scamper up a tree.”

I moved over to the other side of the shop, where I basically heard the same discussion.

“If Obama wins, I’m moving to Canada. He’s a socialist.”

With less than a month until the election, many people are finding themselves very stressed out. The thought that their guy might not win is sending many into a frenzy. I can’t even imagine what the candidates are going through.

The stakes are high, the polls are close.

For those who are panicking, it is sometimes helpful to read history’s account of tight elections in the past. This is nothing new. I’ve been reading a lot of WW2 history, and am realizing that nothing really changes. Political discord has always been a part of what makes America great. It makes for great art.

• Give your information flow a rest. Turn off the cable news, or talk radio. An update is okay; constant bombardment, however, will quite possibly drive you crazy.

• We’ve all lived through a “bad” presidency. We’ve all lived through a time when our president of choice was not in office, and we survived it. Maybe grudgingly, but we survived it. We will do so this time as well. It will make SNL much funnier to us.

• It will rouse the other side. The team who didn’t win will work harder on solutions. It can often be just the kick in the pants they need to really get their plans in high gear.

• And if you really, really don’t like the turnout, there’s always Canada….


Monday, October 8, 2012

School Days

My dreamy boyfriend and I are going back to school! We’ve discovered Coursera. We are both taking REAL classes online, for free! [I swear this isn’t an ad, at least not a paid one, anyway].

He’s taking Logic and Calculus, from Stanford, because he’s a genius. I am taking a Modern Poetry class from University of Pennsylvania, and LOVING it!! If only I had been as excited about school when it counted.

I go back and forth between sheer exhilaration and nervous insecurity. I turned in my first assignment. What a rush, but I’ve had a pit in my stomach ever since. The familiar feelings of OMG, is it good? But more than that, is it RIGHT? Did I grasp it or did I completely miss the point? Did I include everything? What did I overlook?

I have to tell myself that it’s OK to be wrong [I actually have a lot of practice, I just don’t like it]. I have to give myself permission to be completely wrong. I’m there to learn, right? And constructive criticism is a good thing.

I’m finding that life is not much different than the classroom. Some things I am reminding myself of are to:

Make sure you read all of the directions. I was doing a comparison of William Carlos William’s two versions of Young Woman at a Window, in which I mused, “It is curious why Williams wrote two very similar versions of the poem.” It wasn’t until after I turned it in that I read [in the directions, no less] that only one was published during his lifetime.

Make sure you’re getting enough sleep. Save your work until you are well-rested. Incorporate a nap into your schedule. You’ll be glad you did. I work so much better when I am well-rested. The difference is amazing, yet I always underestimate it.

Block distractions. My mind is constantly carrying on a narrative of what I could or should be doing. I need to go to the bank, grocery store, etc. Right now I’m dwelling on the fact that I keep forgetting to call my friend to tell her I’m taking this class. I should do it now while I’m remembering. No, I should actually go to the class.

Get organized. Tools are no good if you can’t access them. Have a “filing system” for class documents on the computer. This is funny, I haven’t actually done this yet.

Create effective habits. I have to consciously incorporate studying into my schedule.

Don’t ruminate. Stressing about exams, assignments, projects is the worst thing you can do. If you are stressing because you are unprepared, then make the necessary changes. Breathe through it. It’s not the end of the world if you do poorly on them.

Keep an open mind while learning. Go to lectures with an open mind. Let go of any preconceived notions, opinions, biases during the lecture, they will block learning. You will often find that what you thought was wrong.

c. 2012

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Brain, within its Groove 


The Brain, within its Groove
Runs evenly—and true—
But let a Splinter swerve—
'Twere easier for You—

To put a Current back—
When Floods have slit the Hills—
And scooped a Turnpike for Themselves—
And trodden out the Mills—

Emily Dickinson

Thursday, September 27, 2012


c. Steinbeck

It is said that, during times of economic depression, people read Steinback; during prosperity they read Ayn Rand. It’s true. I read the Fountainhead and Anthem several years ago, during a much better economy. I started reading Grapes of Wrath this weekend.

It brought to mind all of the other books and stories I’ve read about people who are poor, yet don’t live like it; don’t let it define them. They have very full lives, and don’t lack anything they need. Granted, they didn’t have iphones… but they survived.

I started thinking how much our society has changed. Our generation has always known abundance. Just listen to any conversation amongst especially young people today. There is definitely an emphasis on money: having… getting… wanting. The current economic recession has rendered many people technically poor. People, who have no idea what it’s like to be without have felt themselves getting financially leaner.

I wondered how would our lavishly high-tech generation handle a depression? One where we would really have to do without?

Our richness or poorness has more to do with our mindset than the contents of our wallets. I have been miserable with a lot, and completely fulfilled with very little. It all has to with where we are putting our focus.

Sure, we need money for stuff. Our happiness doesn’t have to depend on how much expendable income we have. People have been content with both. Being financially rich pales in comparison to other areas we can be rich in.

Of course, I always thought it would be better to be financially rich, and just learn to develop the other areas, but if often doesn’t work that way. I’m not sure I would have learned to appreciate and work on enriching the other areas if I hadn’t needed to.

We can be rich in
• Lack of worry, peace of mind
• Creativity
• Family ties, friendships
• Mobility – the ability to do what you want, go where you want, live on your terms.
• Good health
• An uncluttered mind

If given a choice, I would most definitely choose richness in any of these areas before money.  So whenever you start to feel “poor,” try to think of areas you are abundant in. You may start to feel rich.

Can’t imagine a life without money? Heidemarie Schwermer, 
is a 70 year-old woman from Germany who wanted to test her beliefs that the homeless didn’t need money to be accepted into society, but rather a chance to empower themselves, to feel useful. What started as a 12 month experiment to go completely without money has ended up turning into a lifestyle for 15 years now.

c. 2012

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Change your mind


The day didn’t start out well. I hadn’t gotten enough sleep. I was groggy and a little dim witted. It seemed as though customers were vying in a contest for the most ridiculous requests. One by one, they topped each other.

First there was the lady who came in by herself with orders for her whole office, of which there were 5 Jennifers. [It made writing names on the cup interesting]. Each was minutely detailed. Oh, and she didn’t have a cart or anyone to help her carry.

There was the man who truly couldn’t comprehend the fact that we don’t have an oven to heat his scone in, that I seriously began to wonder if it was I, who was being unreasonable.

Having to explain the new policy to disappointed and a few disgruntled customers throughout the entire morning did little to add to the overall positive morale. 

I’ve always thought that the power of positive thinking was wishful thinking at best, and crap at worst. I thought that if a situation is bad, there is nothing wrong with saying so. It’s the only way I knew of to trouble-shoot.

As it turns out, my opinion of positive thinking was steeped in biology. Our brains are hard-wired to focus on the problems. Looking for the bright spot in the middle of negativity is counter-intuitive. It’s not natural.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that positive thinking actually strengthens the brain, as exercise stretches and strengthens my other muscles. It’s a way to build brain muscle! As with any exercise, you have to train it. By practicing gratitude, the brain produces neurotransmitters that brighten the mind.

So what are some ways we can flex the mind? By practicing gratitude. Next time you are In the middle of a problem, stop. [don’t worry, you have time], and be grateful for the things that ARE going right. Be thankful that it’s not 100 times worse.  By changing our focus to positive things, we can change our outlook drastically.

Neuroscientist, Rick Hanson, says “Research suggests that when people practice gratitude, they experience a general alerting and brightening of the mind, and that’s probably correlated with more of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine.”

He cites an interesting study to support his findings.  
“When college students deeply in love are shown a picture of their sweetheart, their brains become more active in the caudate nucleus, a reward center of the brain. As the mind changes—that rush of love, that deep feeling of happiness and reward—correlates with activation of a particular part of the brain. When they stop looking at that picture of their sweetheart, the reward center goes back to sleep.”

It works the other way as well. By fretting and worrying, our brain produces unhealthy levels of the hormone cortisol, which only makes a stressful situation worse.

Need some ideas of things to focus on in the middle of trying situations?
• Make a gratitude list
• Think of ways you can help someone out
• Sing Nothing’s Gonna Stop us Now, by Starship

You’re bound to be in a better mood in no time.

c. 2012

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

History always repeats

I found myself stressing about the economy and the general political state of affairs the other day. Knowing that history seems to repeat itself, I did some research and found that the same economic worries we are fretting about today are not new. I was reading about the Panic of 1837. 

Martin Van Buren, the 8th President of the United States inherited a mess. Well, it might not have been perceived as a mess. What started as economic boom under Andrew Jackson, ended up in ruins. New industries such as railroads, canals, and public real estate were accelerating the economy.

Jackson saw such a time of prosperity,  that not only was he able to pay off the national debt, there was a surplus that was distributed to the states to be invested in more railroads and canals.

Martin Van Buren
Many nervous people, as well as states, hoarded their gold and silver. They paid their debts with paper bank notes. This bothered Jackson so much that towards the end of his presidency he ordered the treasury not to accept bank notes, and only accept gold and silver.

The banks restricted credit and called in loans.

Panic ensued just 5 weeks after Van Buren began his presidency, though. The panic was caused by speculative fever, or cheap land sales. The government was selling land cheaply, producing mass inflation. What followed was a five-year depression with high unemployment and failed banks.

He was blamed for it. They called him “Martin Van Ruin,” partly because he wouldn’t let the government interfere with the economy. [He was also called “the little magician;” some say because of his small stature, others say because of his ability to “magically” win all of his debates.]

Many blamed the banks' irresponsibility. Funding these land purchases as well as mass-producing paper money lead to mass inflation.

"Out of 850 banks in the United States, 343 closed entirely, 62 failed partially, and the system of State banks received a shock from which it never fully recovered.".[4]

A four-year depression followed, with record high unemployment. Upon leaving office, he is quoted as saying, "As to the presidency, the two happiest days of my life were those of my entrance upon the office and my surrender of it."

 c. 2012

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A royal lesson in handling awkward situations


How would you handle a very public faux pas? In a day of gadgets that can record your every gaffe, blunder, and lack of judgment, it’s safe to say that many have been in jeopardy of some. er, compromising photos and statements taken out of context. This can be true whether you’re guilty or not.

Even before our most horrifying moments could be captured and aired to millions in a few seconds, we need only to look to our most primitive of brains to find out how we would react defending ourselves in awkward situations. We would fight it, escape from it, or ignore it and hope it goes away [freeze]; possibly all of the above.

In a freeze mode, the Royal Palace has apparently attempted to block the photos. You know, as if the incident never happened. While sites like TMZ are having a heyday with it.

The Palace is used to scrambling to cover [they’ve employed all three, fight flight and freeze], for Prince Harry’s escapades. What under ordinary circumstances might be seen as just a young lad sowing his wild oats, are completely different under royal circumstances.

There was the time when he admitted experimenting with marijuana. There was another time when he showed up at a party in a Nazi uniform, and more recently, when nude photos appeared to the public, showing Harry playing pool.

Daily Telegraph columnist Harry Mount said. "I don't imagine the pictures will do his public image much harm," he wrote. "His bad boy naughtiness is his charm. He's the naughty playboy Prince Hal, while his quiet brother does all the boring, ruling stuff."

According to the Daily Mail, Prince Harry "wagged his finger" and laughed at a little boy who wanted to ask him about his naked night in his VIP penthouse suite, but lost the nerve.

"You keep looking at your mum," Harry said to the little one. "It looks like you're dying to say something but you're worried she'll tell you off."

So what’s the best way to handle an awkward situation? While Prince Harry seems to be risking not taking it too seriously, I think he is going about it the right way. By not taking himself too seriously, and making light of it.

• Own up to your foible. Don't cover it up, people aren't stupid.

• Apologize. Make amends, if necessary.

• Don’t take yourself, or the situation too seriously.

A sure fire way to bury it in the sand is to do something even more outrageously offensive that will make them forget all about your present faux pas.

c. 2012

Friday, August 31, 2012

Do me a kindness


When we are stressed it is very easy to be internally focused. Why wouldn’t we be? When I am aggravated and annoyed, it is all about MY needs, after all, isn’t it? If I want to be productive, I’d better rid myself of all hindrances in my way, including pesky people.

Why in the world would I want to interrupt my important project to do something for someone else, when clearly, I am the one in need?

When we first started dating, my boyfriend was leaving my apartment one night. Upon arriving at his car, he saw that my neighbor, Mark, was passed out on it. [I really don’t live in the ghetto].

“Uh, can I help you?” he asked.

“I’ve got the gout,” was the unexpected reply. He mumbled something about, “They say it’s the drinking, but it ain’t the drinking, it’s the gout.”

Knowing that he wasn’t going anywhere with Mark on his car and he wouldn’t feel right just leaving him in the parking lot, he started to guide him back to his place. Except he ended up carrying his dead weight back to his apartment, and he didn’t realize that Mark lives on the second floor.

That is perhaps an extreme case. I don’t know that he felt any better after he helped out. Though, Mark thinks the world of him. Hopefully, you won’t get shanghaied into carrying a 200 lb man to his home, but there are plenty of opportunities to help people out. Most don’t even take that long, and you’ll get that great feeling that comes from knowing you really helped someone.

There was a Friends’ episode, where Joey claimed that there are no unselfish acts, because, in so doing, you end up feeling really good. He was right. It’s a win/win situation.

c. 2012 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Living Your Dream: Interview with stand-up comedian, Sid Bridge

Sid Bridge doing his act
c. sid bridge
First of all, I saw you had a big evening at the Funnybone the other night.
How was it?

It was amazing! The event was “A Geek’s Night of Comedy: Episode III,” the third
in a series of geek-themed comedy shows put together by me and two of my best friends in comedy, Tim Loulies (AKA the Big 44) and Derek Williams. We caught ourselves discussing geeky topics and joke premises after a show one evening. The next morning, I messaged the both of them on Facebook proposing we put a geek-themed show together and it snowballed from there. 

The first two shows were successful thanks to Tim’s tireless marketing efforts, me using my PR skills to help get the word out and all of the wonderful talent who joined us on stage. Episode III was the best yet. It was one of those shows that just seemed to fly by – we definitely left everyone wanting more. What made it so special was the audience. Often, comedy audiences can be hostile or uninterested. The audience at the Geek show was definitely full of appreciative geeks. The deeper the geek reference, the more they laughed. The energy in the room was high, and the comedians put on excellent performances with lots of new material they wrote specifically for the show.

We also continued our wonderful relationship with our area’s chapter of the 501st Legion, a group of Star Wars enthusiasts who wear movie-quality costumes to raise money for charity. They were outside the Funny Bone before the show taking pictures with people in exchange for donations to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and we raffled off prizes to support the cause as well.

The venue was (and will continue to be) the Virginia Beach Funny Bone, the largest comedy club in the area, and they have been incredibly supportive of our efforts – our show is a lot different than the comedians you typically see there.

In short, it was awesome. One of the comedians continues to tell us he wishes he could perform for an audience of geeks exclusively. They were appreciative, friendly, and laughed/clapped at all the right times.

Most comedians find that they have to be raunchy or at the very least, use foul language. Is that necessary?

I try to avoid foul language and suggestive material. It does limit your ability to connect with certain
audience, especially at bars or smaller clubs, but it also broadens your appeal to most comedy venues and other types of events where they don’t want their audience offended. I also personally believe that it’s not necessary. A talented comedian shouldn’t need the F-bomb to be funny and if that crutch is all you have to rely on, you need to reconsider wanting to be a comic. I have an added consideration – as an orthodox Jew who wears a yarmulke on stage (casually, not as a joke), anything I say will be
construed as representative of other Jews. I try to keep that in mind. Most of my material is just amplification and exaggeration of things I encounter in my personal life, and I’m a pretty normal guy, so I don’t get filthy.

You do have a "grown-up job." You are a writer by day, and a comedian by night. Talk some about how the two play off of each other. Do the two converge?

During the day, I’m the Manager of Corporate Communications for a real estate investment company with a $3.4 billion portfolio of investment properties. I love my job – it ranges from setting high-level PR strategy, all the way down to designing and printing presentations. I’m good at what I do and I take pride in my work. That being said, real estate is a pretty conservative industry. A wild sense of creativity really needs to be somewhat restrained in the workplace (don’t get me wrong – it requires creativity, but I wouldn’t suggest including Star Wars references in an investor memorandum). I came back to this position after a 5 year hiatus where I worked in more creative and varied industries. During those 5 years, I learned how much I really belonged in a corporate setting and that those stifled feelings of creativity could be released elsewhere – like on stage at a comedy club. Comedy is a wonderful release and it keeps my creative side sharp as a tack.

How do you handle nerves?
I have never had any issues with stage fright. Since I was a kid, I’ve always wanted to be in the spotlight, but was just never popular to get there in school, or emotive enough to become an actor. In the rare occasions that I do feel a bit nervous, I’ve tried two ways of dealing with it  

1) Be nervous. The energy actually speeds up your delivery which can be a good thing in a comedy club if you stay articulate. It helps you squeeze in more punchlines.

2) Have a beer. Disclaimer: Don’t be an alcoholic and NEVER step on stage drunk (Ever notice Ron White doesn’t drink much of that scotch?) One beer can help take the edge off of nerves, but if you’re not careful, the alcohol can also throw off your rhythm and make you a little too relaxed. The crowd feeds off your energy and if you have none, they will tune out.

I’ve heard it said that comedians wouldn’t be comedians if they weren’t “messed up.” Could you talk some about the catharsis effect?

Very true. Most comedians had some kind of difficult childhood or some level of awkwardness. The sharp wit and sense of humor often develop as a defense mechanism for those of us who spent our
formative years being bullied or picked on (or worse). Combine that with a lack of stage fright or a willingness to overcome stage fright, and you have the recipe for a great comic. The underdog is always the hero and the bullied kid is one of the most relatable figures in the world. Most of my comedian friends have some insecurity or foible that they have overcome (or are in the process of overcoming). A great mainstream example of this is Christopher Titus. Google him and see how screwed up his family is. His material rings true and his ability to make such a horrible family situation funny is magical. People want to relate to the comedian as a folk hero – the guy who did something creative to deal with a problem that everyone has to deal with. Often our punchlines serve as a catharsis for a big issue. I have great respect for any comedian who can take a person tragedy, bear it to the world on stage, and make it funny. I have a friend on the local comedy scene (here in southeastern
Virginia) who is a breast cancer survivor. Her comedy career grew out of surviving that ordeal and she can joke about it with the best of ‘em. This type of comedy has the power to help audience members deal with their own personal tragedies, even if that wasn’t the comedian’s intent.

Where do you get your inspiration?
Most of my material comes from my everyday life, just amplified and exaggerated. I have five kids – four girls and a boy, so funny material presents itself daily. I also am a bit of a geek, so I do have fun telling jokes that mock my obsession with Star Wars, Transformers, Voltron or any of the other
geeky things I grew up with in the 80’s. I’ve been a bass guitar player since I was 17, and since I started doing standup I haven’t had time to join a band. Last summer, I started integrating my bass playing into my act, and I now have a few songs and bass-related jokes that I work in, too. This is pretty helpful whenever I’m called upon to perform in a bar – even though I don’t drop F-bombs, the music gives people a reason to pay attention and laugh.

You wear a yarmulke during your shows, do you ever poke fun at religion?
Not much. I will admit that I wear a more noticeable yarmulke when I’m on stage (off-stage, I have my black knit “stealth” yarmulke), but on stage I don’t want to hide who I am. I enjoy wearing it because it reminds people that I’m different and actually helps connect me to the audience – everybody’s different in some shape or form. It’s also a neat way to throw people off a bit. I wear it, but I don’t talk much about being Jewish. It kind of messes up their preconceived ideas about orthodox Jews. Occasionally, I have done short sets about that very topic, but I don’t tend to do that often. On the flip side, I will say that the yarmulke is a bullseye for other comedians. They often take the easy way out and pepper my with Jew jokes to get that cheap laugh. I go into shows expecting that and do my best to laugh and let the world know that we can take as many jokes as we dish out.

What sorts of stressors do you encounter as a comedian?
There are lots – none of it kills my love of the stage, but I’ll try to name the top few:

a. Inattentive/Uninterested audience: Sometimes they just don’t want to hear your jokes and no matter what you do, they aren’t going to laugh. It happens and when it does, you learn from it, but that doesn’t make it less stressful. Sometimes you just need to understand that even your best stuff doesn’t make
everyone laugh – humor is very subjective. Finish the set, sit down, watch the other comics on the show and see who does get laughs, then figure out why.

b. Approval from the important comics: Every town has that clatch of comedians and/or bookers who decide who gets to be on what show and how much time they get. Some of these guys are lifelong comics who have lost their wives, families and just about everything else to comedy as they sacrifice everything to travel from city to city and earn $100-$300 for a feature or headline spot at a small
club. It’s not an easy life, so a guy like me with a good day job can’t really act the least bit arrogant around someone like that. You have to play the politics – show respect, do what they expect you to do and ask for their guidance.

c. Competition: The first time I performed in the VB Funny Bone’s Clash of the Comics amateur competition, I tied for first and ended up second after a run-off. The second time, I placed third. I haven’t placed since, and it’s quite a frustration. Competitions are often judged subjectively and depend sometimes on a crowd who loves you.

After your honeymoon phases (first 1-2 months), your friends stop coming to your shows since they’ve seen your material so much. With your own personal audience gone, winning competitions is difficult. It takes the ability to be technically perfect and to appeal to people who don’t know you. It’s a huge
source of frustration for me, but also a huge motivator.

What do you do when a joke falls flat?

Finish and move on. It happens, you recover and hopefully learn from it.

Sounds like a great lesson for people in all trades. Thank you SO much, Sid. This has been awesome!!

You can hear some of Sid's comedy by looking up sidbridgecomedy on Youtube.