insomnia, roller coasters and panic attacks.

Its late and I should be asleep but I cannot. This dilemma is amplified throughout the anxiety cathedral that is my brain due to my keen awareness of the unfortunately small window of time between the present moment and the moment my alarm clock will sound in the morning. Approximately six hours…and counting.

Insomnia visits me less than it used to, but when it does it is a most unwelcome guest. I adore sleep. Its one of my favorite pastimes. I get to turn off my brain, I feel the warm blankets cover my body, my shoulders relax, I breath slowly and, most nights, concentrate on the dull hum of the small plastic fan on my nightstand. I got it at Wal-Mart.

I turn it to medium which is represented by the Roman Numeral for two (II) because low (I) barely does anything and High (III) feels like I’m about to be sucked into a black hole. I must have at least three pillows–one doubled up underneath my head, it’s a little too small but if I fold it right its perfect–a second pillow rests between my legs simultaneously preventing prostate cancer and future back surgeries, and then I teddy bear the fuck out of the third pillow because it makes me feel safe.

Fuck you, I know how it sounds. 

Yet my nightly concoction of evening accoutrement was no match.. I tried an old fail safe: one glass of cold, two percent milk filled three quarters of the way up a pint-sized glass followed by a guided meditation played through my smart phone and found on YouTube. 

I tried an old favorite: Jon Kabat-Zinn. 

Years back, I had a particularly rough stretch where my ever-present anxiety got out of control. I was so far wrapped around the axle it ultimately led to a panic attack–which–if you’ve never had one–is about as awesome as it sounds…which is to say it sucks.

It’s like that moment on a roller coaster when you almost shit yourself–like you feel your anus start to open but then you save it last second– because you are for sure going to die because there’s no way the bolts in this coaster were tightened all the way and even if they were who knows how long ago that was or how rusty they are now and so they’ve got to break down at some point–everything breaks down–if there’s one thing I know about the world its that everything breaks down! And if there was ever a person to be on the coaster when that happened it’s me–holy buckets we’re all gonna dieeeeee–AAAAHHHHHH—that was AWESOME!!! 

The only difference is you get just about equally freaked out at the sound of a toaster popping up some sliced whole grain. 

(Mmm…whole grain.)

It’s like in movies when war vets have PTSD and a car backfires and they hit the deck because they think they’re in a war zone.

(What a bunch of dumb asses am I right? Don’t they remember the flight home?)

It’s like that, except you’ve never been in a war zone.

You’re in a Target in the suburbs and a lady is click-clacking her annoyingly long fingernails on the nauseatingly plain counter while she waits to pay for her unfathomably cute tank top and its making you’re fucking skin crawl. 

(Seriously though, Target rules.)

It’s all of those things and its irrational. It’s like all the bad parts of cocaine, no high. Anxiety is the fucking devil. 

But I digress. 

Jon Kabat-Zinn, was recommended to me by the therapist that I saw after the aforementioned panic attack. For those of you who don’t know, Kabat-Zinn is a leader in the psychiatric community whose written and spoken a great deal about mindfulness. This is the practice and pursuit of constant awareness of one’s body and mind. I know it sounds like bull shit, but basically its a program for people who have a hard time relaxing. It also helps in a lot of other ways, for me anyway…when I actually do it right…which is almost never…but still. It increases my ability to think clearly, my capacity for keeping tabs on my emotions and makes my body feel like its sitting in the position it was meant to sit in as opposed to its normal position of “hey-you-wanna-massage?-yes-Oh-My-God-you’re-shoulders-are-so-tight-you’d-think-you’re-in-line-at-Target!”

Mindfulness, when practiced properly, would also keep one from going off on tangents. See above.

So I’m listening to Jon Kabat-Zinn–or as I like to call him Jay-Z–and I find that I’m really in tune with what he is saying, and I’m relaxed and listening to him, and that as I engage more and more, I start to hear my fan’s dull hum, and feel my breathing, and the warmth of my sheets, and my massive pillow arrangement–I feel at peace, and, remarkably…awake. Calm and focused.

Obviously, this was not the original intention, but it got my brain working and made me want to start writing which I haven’t done in a while.

So if there’s anyone still reading, that’s what this is. I’m not sure if there’s a point to the entry, this is more for me than for you. Sorry. Actually no, it’s a blog, go fuck yourself.

The feeling I discovered was a momentary glimpse at true mindfulness. 

A peaceful descent into the present for a series of moments in a woken state. A comfort. A truthfulness and clarity. Zen. Nirvana. This feeling was so full. An open road to self discovery. I think this is something to be yearned for, I’ve never felt so in touch. I felt at home in my body, I was able to feel the love of those close to me, and a faint sense of interconnectedness with the world at large.

I think Wilde said, ‘to love oneself is to begin a livelong romance’–or something like that. I wonder if this is what he meant. 

(probably not, I think he just wanted to get laid and drink, but still.) 

Anyway, I suppose this might be uninteresting to others, but for me, managing anxiety and at times–insomnia–is a difficult task. And I needed to get it out there. 

 

 

 

 

The Shooting in Connecticut

12-15-12

 

People die all the time. It’s natural.

Murder, despite how horrifying it is, is something that most of us accept as a reality. Around the world people are shot or blown up or bombed daily—and that doesn’t bother us because it’s far away and because it’s not on our televisions. It’s easy to look the other way when it’s in the Middle East or in Africa and there aren’t American troops involved.

We can deal with that.

But today was different.  It’s always different when a group of children are killed in an elementary school in broad daylight. A deranged man, who had just killed his own mother, a school teacher,  in her Connecticut home, walked in to her school, wielding a multitude of firearms—and then he shot and killed twenty children and eight adults.

It’s difficult to comprehend the horror of that.

Imagine sitting in your class, you’re eight or nine years old.  Its just another day at school, you’re wondering what’s for lunch that day, and you keep looking over at Cindy, the girl you have a crush on, hoping she will notice you.

You’re taking a pop quiz, struggling to remember all of the multiplication tables—you work at it, you’re pencil breaks, you sharpen it and then– all of a sudden a strange man comes in with a gun starts shooting a gun at you and at your friends and at Cindy.  People scream and the teacher is shot and killed.

Can you imagine how that would feel?

Imagine you are a teacher in the classroom next door, and you hear gun shots coming through the walls—suddenly responsible for the lives of your students, you have to keep them calm and keep them alive, putting yourself at an enormous risk to do so.

The panic they must’ve felt, the wild, frantic fear that an animal has when its cornered—that base instinct—survival—ever present but likely never felt with such a kinetic fury. But the teachers try to keep it together for the kids–because they know how important they are—and how perfectly innocent most of them still are.

Childhood innocence is like the first snowfall of the year before it has been touched—sparkling and glistening along a perfectly smooth plane of snowy wonder.  A tapestry of possibilities, you can build snow men, have a snow ball fight, make a fort, go sledding–who knows what the future holds for this snow. But eventually something taints the perfection, footprints or a snow plow or a dog relieving itself. It never lasts, but usually it takes some time for it to melt. Today that snow didn’t just melt for the kids in CT–it evaporated.

For them to see carnage of this nature will change them, break them down. They will never be the same and it’s not their fault.

Twenty children… They were going to  learn and grow and fight and have crushes and go the prom and play in the summer together and eventually graduate. Then they might’ve become doctors or store managers or more importantly fathers, mothers, husbands, wives… They had so much time left—and it was taken away from them. And that’s unfair, appalling and infuriating.

What kind of a person could do something like that?

Clearly, not one that can fully comprehend the harm they are causing. Only someone who has come undone has the ability to do something like that.

A lot of the fallout from the shooting that I’ve seen has been related to gun control which is the obvious reaction considering all the shootings that we’ve had in the US of late.

But I wonder—is that really the only cause of this? It seems naïve to think that people wouldn’t find ways to carry firearms if they were criminalized. People certainly have no trouble finding illegal drugs. Guns are the same.

I have a friend. She is from Bulgaria, but studies at the same college as me here in the US. We were texting about the shooting earlier and she said simply: “America.” As if to say, what do you expect?

At first, I felt a sting of national pride which urged me to fighter her on that, I thought that’s not true, it happens in other places too. We’re not to blame.

But maybe she’s right.

I remember the shooting in Norway a few years ago, but that was the only one I could think of.

There have been four shootings of this nature in America in the last year: Today. Portland last week. Wisconsin earlier this year, and Colorado before that.

These are innocent people killed without provocation in public places by killers with very little to no motive. They are almost always described as “quiet types” or “loners” or “Goths”, many of them are said to have personality or mental disorders of some kind—and they tend to commit suicide after the shootings.

If only we could understand these people and what is happening in their life that could lead them to do these horrible things…

Is it a cry for help? A “Fuck You” to society for ignoring them for so long?  Or is it simply a psychotic rampage?

Regardless, it’s not just about gun control; it’s about mental health. This was a deranged man who, if he had been helped, might not have shot those children and ripped the innocence away from their classmates. His mind was unwell. He needed help and he clearly was not afforded it.

Something must be done.  Enough of this.

The boy and his piano – 15 minute writing exercise

The boy was born in a blizzard at 11:11 in 1898 at night into a fractured home. He was not planned, his father was gone and he wasn’t given a name.  At ten, he was living in an orphanage in Bushwick, a heavily Dominican neighborhood in Brooklyn. In the orphanage he had very few friends, the ones that he made came and went as new families came and picked them up.  The only constant in the orphanage was a large, black grand piano that was often adorned by Ray, the elderly Janitor. He would stay after his shift and play songs; the boy learned the keys by watching from across the room.

Then one day the janitor stopped coming in. The old man had passed. The boy was totally alone except for his piano, and so he played. He pounded the keys with all of his frustration and no training. Wild, chaotic sounds came out of him and that great piano. It raised him in a way.

The boy went on to become a pianist in Manhattan, he was successful and played beautiful music to enormous theatres.

In the winter of his life, he was unmarried, had no children, no parents and only a few friends that he had made through his musical endeavors. He bought the piano from that dingy old orphanage and brought it into his large apartment. Years went by, he played in all of the great music halls around the world. But he never felt as alive and as pure and as comfortable as he did when he played the old piano.

He was not a religious man. The orphanage was Catholic, but he never felt a connection with it. He knew great success in his life but never felt a true sense of identity or happiness. He had played music because he thought that if he could play the most beautiful song ever played that he would feel whole. But he didn’t. Women came and went, friends drifted off. Time rolled on.

He and the piano aged together, and in his last days he recorded a version of “Mary had a little lamb”. It was beautifully played, and it became his first commercial success, posthumously. Children around the world heard his tune and it brought them joy. It brought families together around their music boxes. Despite his sadness, he brought happiness into the world.

The piano has since stopped working. But his music lives on.

What our elections should be.

The election. It is going on right now; I cast my vote this morning despite my differences with both Presidential candidates, I chose the candidate whose social issues I side with the most because I value them over financial and economic issues. I’m not going to get into right or left, conservative or liberal—my biggest issue with politics is the election process itself.  In Great Britain, the election for Prime Minister takes place over the course of about 30 days—in America it lasts years.

 It’s obvious that our politicians are more focus on getting re-elected than actually getting things done during their term.  And this is understandable! They are human, they want to succeed, and they have power and they want to keep it.  However, this self-preserving objective, generally speaking, obstructs their priorities. They should be creating policy, fixing problems that exist today and coming up with innovative ideas for tomorrow. It shouldn’t be a cockfight between two extremes—there should be an open dialogue, bi-partisanship is important.  

 This is not what democracy was supposed to be.

Now we all know that ideas are not what win elections—money is.  There are six candidates on the Presidential ballot—have you heard of the other four? Yeah. Me neither. That’s because they don’t have millions of corporate dollars behind them, financing political advertising.  People would argue though, that people—and as of Citizens United—corporations have the right to donate to the candidate they prefer.  I disagree with that idea entirely. People have the right to vote, but paying for a politician’s campaign creates an enormous conflict of interests—and that conflict is dramatically worse when the donors are corporations. Corporations are not big evil things—but they do have a single-minded objective and that is to make money. Which is fine. But because of that goal, they have a vested interest in policies that relate to their business. 

 So when politician A gets two million dollars from MegaBank B in his/her first election—they want to get that same support in the following election, and so when a bill lands on his/her desk that could hurt MegaBank B, but aligns with his/her stated ideals and their true beliefs—what do they do? If they risk pissing off the MegaBank they might not get re-elected.  All of a sudden its not about the issues or their beliefs alone, but its also about self-preservation.  This is corporate fucking bribery and it has to stop. And its on both sides of the aisle, its everywhere.

Here’s how we fix it.

 -        We limit politicians to one term in office. That, by default, will change their priorities. Once they are in office, they can focus on actually doing their job.

-        We give all candidates for a given election a set amount of money for political advertising—but it can only be done within 60 days of an election.  And we eliminate private and corporate donations. This will cost us tax dollar, but if we, for example, cut defense spending we could reallocate the money for this type of program. (Our current defense budget is greater than the next 36 largest defense budgets internationally—combined. And more than half of those countries are our allies. We cut down on active forces and international bases around the world, and we increase our spending for remote technology and small, tactical units.)

 I know this is a far-fetched idea, but I believe that it is manageable and could make for a more effective democracy. And that is important.

Imitation

There is no such thing as a good influence…All influence is immoral…because to influence a person is to give him one’s own soul. He does not think his natural thoughts, or burn with his natural passions. His virtues are not real to him…He becomes an echo of someone else’s music, an actor of a part that has not been written for him. The aim of life is self-development. To for. People are afraid of themselves nowadays. – Oscar Wilde

I remember when I first read this passage from The Picture of Dorian Gray, it was late at night and I was in bed. But after reading that chapter where Lord Henry speaks with Dorian in the courtyard that includes the above passage, I was up and out of bed and couldn’t sleep because of how interesting it was. It was a treatise on individualism and self-respect and art and indulgence and free will. It was exciting!

That was written in the 1800’s in Ireland, but it still applies. People are still afraid of themselves. Only now, we have the internet, hundreds of tv shows, movies, talk show hosts, comedians—Media! And so the amount of influences on us as people and as creators of things has grown and is still growing at an astounding rate. It is impossible to live in a pure state, free of influence, without living in Plato’s cave. We are all influenced by others at some level, whether we like it or not.

As a person who is very interested in media—and creating media—I consume a lot of it, and therefore, whether it be conscious or not, am influenced by it when I am creating on my own. However, when you’re working in an established medium, with conventions, it is important to understand these conventions which puts you at risk of being influenced by them; if you can understand the conventions, appreciate them for what they are, and then build off of them or break them down entirely—well then you are creating and you are insisting on yourself and your voice. We all have a voice, but we must allow ourselves to find it.

I have been influenced by a lot of people. On a interpersonal level, my dad, my siblings, some of my close friends—on a indirect level–artists, musicians, writers, comedians, philosophers and filmmakers. I am influenced by many.

As a person, I think I am very prone to imitation. I do not have very high self-esteem which stems from childhood, and is my largest obstacle. I moved to different schools when I was a kid, eight of them before I was in 7th grade—and it derailed my development. I was at a delicate age, where I was desperate for friendship and acceptance—scared of being an outcast. So when I went to a new school, I found the people I was interested in and started to act like I thought they wanted me to act so that they would accept me. And it worked. I was good at it. At a certain point, I stopped truly being myself. I was impure and dishonest. To this day, I am confused about who I am and what I really believe in. I have certainly started to become less concerned with what others think, but it is still there. The need for approval, it’s so small and so petty and yet so immensely powerful. I have never felt truly comfortable in really any environment because of my anxiety problems. I feel like a wanderer. I’m accustomed to change and I feel more comfortable now in the unknown, out on the edge with the fray because I’ve never known a stationary world. I think right now, the essence of who I am is a person searching for something within; I’m trying to understand myself so that I can become better equipped to love and to know joy.

I am still an individual, no one shares my experiences, no one shares all of my desires, or beliefs or interests or knowledge. There are similar people no doubt, but no one else is me. I’m me and that’s it. I have to have the strength to keep that individual spirit going when I’m in the midst of a mob of colliding forces and opinion and belief. I have to stand or I will drown into a sea of sameness. We all do.

The Pursuit

You’re born. You go to school. You graduate high school. You get a degree in a field that will find you work in. You get a job selling insurance. You get married. You have kids. They get a degree in a field that they can find work in.  They get jobs selling insurance… and the cycle continues.

Now, I have nothing against insurance salesmen and I think insurance is a very important thing for people to have. That said, I have absolutely no interest in selling insurance—or working in many fields.  My mother graduated with a degree in business from the University of Colorado, I’ve heard her say over the years, that she would’ve rather gone to veterinary school because she loves working with animals. But, she—and her parents—didn’t think veterinary school was a very reliable career choice—which at the time it might not have been. So instead, she studied business. Since then, she has worked in a ton of different jobs, but over the years she has gradually worked her way back into working with animals. And about a year ago she started working at an animal shelter. She is 49 years old.

For almost half her life, she worked in various positions that weren’t her passion and I think it made her unhappy.  Many would say she took the practical route—but the practical route to what? Financial security? Disposable income for vacations and nice things?  That way of thinking isn’t practical if your goal is to be happy and fulfilled.  If your goal is to be happy—you should do what you love to do.  This is why I believe that life should be a livelong pursuit of self-understanding so that you can discover what excites you; and then figure out a way to make that your work.

When I graduated high school, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I loved sports and I loved movies and I loved comedy. I loved being creative and I loved girls.  Unfortunately, you can’t major in girls—they are too unpredictable a field to possibly teach never mind fully comprehend. And I wasn’t getting drafted by the White Sox any time soon.  So what’s left? Movies? Comedy? I went to high school in a town of 2000 people, there were 70 kids in my graduating class, and I lived in Wisconsin. How could that ever happen?

So I settled. I went to school in Iowa called Clarke University where I had a partial scholarship to play basketball.  I did not declare a major. I tried business classes. Not for me. I tried history—I like history–I thought about teaching—not for me. More and more, it became clear to me that all I wanted was to make movies.  And after a year and a half at Clarke, a semester off, and six months working building fences in Virginia—I transferred to UWM to study film.

Since then, I’ve made films, music videos, commercials, and more—I have a solid cinematography reel and I’m getting paid freelance gigs on professional shoots.  What changed is I started pursuing what I love—I started practically pursuing happiness. What I discovered is that when you do what you love, you are willing to work harder than the next guy.  I had always been driven in certain things, but never academia—it was only sports and girls. Now I channel my energy into filmmaking and as of last night I was selected to direct the Production Club short film for this year. We have a budget of about 20,000 dollars, we have a full crew, we’re building a set and we are shooting on one of the best cameras in the world.  I got here because I’ve worked my ass off in the pursuit.  If the film does well in festivals, I might have a shot at directing something more—and get paid to do it.

Recently, I’ve been trying to look inward to find more things that I really enjoy doing and it turns out that creativity is exciting to me in a lot of different mediums. I enjoy the creative process of advertising—its certainly different from film—but it’s an outlet.  Writing prose is an outlet. I’ve written poetry—its shit—but still I’ve written it and felt something while doing it. I like to sing and I want to learn to play music so that I can create another outlet.

I need outlets. And so I search for them and I search for inspiration so that I can be fulfilled and experienced enough in the creative process to monetize my skills.  Advertising and filmmaking are highly competitive—but I want to work in those fields because they will help me have a shot at contentment. And that is my goal—above all else.

Hate failure and you will succeed.

When I was a freshman in high school I was an all-conference baseball player, played football, and led the freshman basketball team in scoring. Sports, for me, were a pathway to acceptance in a social sense which at that age is of the upmost importance. It was also a focused outlet for my energy and competitiveness.  After that year, I decided I was going to do everything I could to be the best athlete I could be—I lifted weights five days every week, I ran, I rode my bike instead of driving, and I played in summer leagues. One goal I had set for myself was to improve my ‘max-out’ lifts for football by fifty pounds—at the beginning of football season all of the players had to lift as much as they could in four major lifts to demonstrate how much improvement and work they had put in since the previous year.  I knew if I made that much of a jump and practiced well, I’d have a shot at varsity.

When the time came, I surpassed my goal in bench press, dead lift and power clean, and I had only the squat, my best lift, to go. As a freshman I had done just under 400 pounds, and I was well beyond that. I started with 465 pounds on and I did it with relative ease, I was pumped up, my muscles were firing off and I felt good. I could do more. I added 20 pounds, 485. After a few minutes of recovery from the first attempt, I got myself psyched up to try it. I wrapped my knees, I put on a safety belt, and I had three spotters around me as I stepped under the bar. I felt it on my shoulders, some people used a pad, but I had to feel it to know how heavy this really was. I picked up the weight and felt the metal bar sag from the heft of it. A deep breath, focus, determination—I started to lower myself, I felt like I had it, the toughest part of the lift is coming back up–once you get upward momentum it’s just extending your legs. I was about half way there—and then it happened. My back gave out. I crumpled. My back screamed in pain, there was a loud popping sound and I knew it wasn’t good. I couldn’t stand up straight at first and I was shaking from the pain. I was in shock because I knew it was serious, I could tell–this wasn’t a muscle cramp, it was serious.

Three weeks later I had season ending surgery to repair the two disks I had just herniated in my lower back. I was devastated. All those early morning workouts, the sweat, the constant soreness—was for nothing. I couldn’t work out for 4 months, I lost all of the strength I had gained and then some, I was as weak as I had been in 8th grade.  How would I ever get back to strength? Would my back be able to take the contact? For about almost a month I could barely get out of bed, I thought, so much for being an athlete.

The doctors said I had a chance to be ready for basketball season—and so that became my first goal—and I made it. I was slow, out of shape and not nearly as effective as the year before—but I played.  I kept working. And by the time football rolled around again I was almost as strong as I had been the year before, but not quite. I was faster though and a little taller. A guy ahead of me got hurt and I started both ways the first game. I never looked back. I started on both offense and defense every game junior and senior year, and was all-conference and all-area at defensive end as a senior. I think, because of the back injury, I was able to play through a lot of  minor injuries to my ankles and left shoulder. It made me tougher, it made me work harder than everyone else. And I overcame because I persevered.  There was a time where I thought I would fail, but I didn’t because I made myself believe that I wouldn’t.