The Open Door Policy

When feature comics pass through the Vermont Comedy club they need a place to stay, often times that place is my futon. When comics come up from Boston to perform at my Meadery show they also stay on my futon.  When long lost distant cousins are interviewing for medical residencies they can save money by staying on my futon.  When my friends come to Burlington for weddings or to go on epic beer quests they often pass out on the floor, but the futon is available.  Buying that futon off a friend who was moving for $20 was a good investment.

Growing up we didn’t have a ton of money and were constantly traveling.  While we occasionally stayed in hotels, both nice ones and roadside dumps, we mostly found ways to stay with people that we knew.  Road trips to visit family, co-opted vacations with people to visit their families, visiting my parent’s friends from college, and fun adventures to unglamorous places defined most of my childhood.  Part of relying on the generosity of others was the need for reciprocation, and my parents always had an open door and a makeshift guest room available for any friends and family who may be passing through.  Having this open door policy and knowing that we would always make room for people left a huge mark on me, and is a tradition that I try to carry on today.

If you have ever lived in a frat house you understand that it is loosely controlled chaos.  While this wasn’t Animal House it was fluid enough that it always seemed like there was someone on our couch.  The freshman who had too much to drink, the friend who was having a rough time with her boyfriend, the alum visiting from out of town, the grand president who was doing a chapter visit, the friend from home who was working a summer job, or the guy who lived with his parents but didn’t want to go home where always present themes the places that I lived during college.  It wasn’t an imposition, we had 3 houses on the same block and it wasn’t uncommon for me to show up at the other houses and crash on their couch if it was too loud or busy at my house.  Having this commune feel lead me to an understanding of the transient lifestyle and embrace the good feeling that comes with providing shelter.  For the 5 years that I lived in those type of houses I always enjoyed having people stay, and often looked forward to having others visit.

When I was in my final year of college I did internships all over the country and I relied heavily on the kindness of others.  Part of the time was spent staying for a few weeks at a time with my parent’s friends, the ones who used to stay in our guest room.  I also spent some time living in a government trailer on the Navajo reservation where one day I went from being by myself to coming home to find a med student had moved in unannounced and took it all in stride.  Driving home from Arizona I was able to spend time visiting friends and family in far off places like Utah, California, Texas, North Carolina, and Virginia.  Taking advantage of offers to visit friends and have them point me in the direction of the important places that only locals know was one of the highlights of my trip.  After returning to Albany I resumed living a low impact life of sleeping on a futon mattress on the floor of my friends’ pantry before spending a few months of the summer at my family’s camp.  That year was one of the most trying, eventful, and memorable times of my life, and I couldn’t have made it through if people weren’t generous enough to open their homes to me.

After graduation I strove to pay forward some of that hospitality.  I was always looking for 2 bedroom apartments in order to provide a place for others to stay.  For the first few years there wasn’t much opportunity.  My friends were scattered into the wind and were busy setting up their own lives so with the exception of a friend who stayed with me during an internship it was mostly me alone in my bigger than necessary and excessively empty apartment.  Then something changed and all of a sudden visiting Vermont became a priority for my friend group, a change that closely corresponds with the boom in the beer scene.  All of a sudden there were a ton of people clamoring to stay at my place, and my willingness to let anybody stay, even if they were only friends of friends who I have never met made my place a destination.  It was good to connect with people, both new acquaintances and old friends, and it made my apartment a much more welcoming place to be.

One night I got drunk and signed up for this newfangled website called AirBnB.  The minimum that you could list for was $60 and I though that there is no way someone would spend $60 bucks to stay on my futon in Middlebury.  I was wrong, and over the next 4 months I earned more than 2 grand by utilizing my empty guestroom.  This experience taught me the how to be a better host, and motivated me to keep my apartment clean, which was something that I have struggled with in the past.  I was also able to meet some interesting people, and some fucking assholes, and get a better understanding of how to be a good guest when I visit people.  It was a very eye opening experience and was worth way more than it’s monetary value.  Once I moved back to Burlington my new apartment complex forbids AirBnB, so I lost the income stream but still found ways to play host.

When comics come to town they are always impressed that I let them stay for free and are always grateful.  I suppose I see where they are coming from, friends and family are one thing, but people who I haven’t yet met is completely different.  But these aren’t strangers, they are people who I share mutual friends with, who are up here on a business trip.  For the most part it has been great, and with one exception I would let them all stay again.  I have had the chance to meet new and interesting people, network a good amount, and help my friends who own the club get talented performers on the stage.  It isn’t anything fancy, just a futon in a room that I rarely use, but for some visiting comics it makes a world of difference.

When people say anything about how generous it is to open up my guest room, I just brush it off with “I have the space” but in reality it is more of a benefit to me than it is a drawback.  I like having people stay because it keeps me from getting too comfortable in my own space.  It keeps me on my toes and allows me to reconnect with a long forgotten past when my life was much more random.  I have been able to meet dozens of new and interesting people, have great conversations, explore new opportunities, and make a few new friends.  All it takes is having an open door policy and a $20 futon.

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Brave New World

During the fall of 2009 I was living like a nomad and working my way through a series of 5 week internships.  I was accustomed to scrounging whatever sleeping arrangements that find for a few weeks before packing everything I owned into a few duffel bags in the back of my van and moving along.  That October I was ready to head out on my grand adventure, a two month, 11,000 mile road trip out to the Navajo reservation and wandering my way throughout the country on the way home.  This week one of my favorite people is setting out on a similar adventure, this is for her.  Here are the things that I wish I would have known and the celebration of the things that I did find.

Beware the Altitude:  The reservation is one of the highest places in the country, Chinle where I stayed was over 7,000 feet, combined with desert dryness.  For the first week I suffered terribly from dehydration and the thin air.  Headaches, being out of breath, nosebleeds, it wasn’t fun.  The key is to drink a lot of water and wait to adjust.  Water, not purple gatorade, it may have electrolytes but it isn’t as good as just plain water (plus as we all know only blue gatorade works).  Buy a humidifier and put some vasaline inside your nostrils and keep hydrated, this too will pass.  Also be aware that your visions of “It’s a dry heat” don’t apply in the high desert, it will be cold, during the 5 weeks I was out there we got more snow in Arizona than my parents got in New York.  Dress warm.

Red Rocks:  When you transition from the plains to Texas into the desert the most striking thing is the change in colors.  Gone are the verdant pastures, instead everything is red, even the trees have a red tinge.  After years of reading Tony Hillerman books I thought that I knew what it is going to be, but it is so much more.  It can take your breath away, especially watching how the light hits and changes the colors.  It is amazing to think about the time that it takes to grind for air or water to grind the stone and carve these amazing landscapes.  As a side effect red dust is everywhere.  It is in the tap water, it is in your eyes, it was still caked into the nooks and crannies of my car when I sold it 4 years after I left the reservation.  No beauty comes without its own cost.

Beware the tourist trap: Maybe I was more susceptible because I drove out alone along route 66, but tourist traps are everywhere.  Every rest area you stop at or place you want to hike there will be people trying to sell you garbage.  This is a common thing on the reservation because it is an easy way to generate cash from tourists, so don’t give in.  I do love doing touristy stuff, but it gets old really fast so space it out and talk to people so that they can point you to the legit events and the authentic places that you have to check out.  The stuff that people are selling off blankets isn’t all garbage, I got some amazing rock carvings and a bear stone necklace that I wore for years.  The key is to have an abundance mentality, because there will always be more chances, and if you find something haggle over it.  Sometime if you are feeling like having a weird adventure it is cool to pick a place off a billboard and explore, if you have no expectations then you can’t be disappointed.  If I didn’t do that then I couldn’t brag about going to a wolf sanctuary where George RR Martin later adopted a pack of wolves.

Hit the National Parks: Teddy Roosevelt did amazing things for this country by preserving so many of our national parks.  Growing up in the East we underestimate the size and scope of the country, but out West the world is so vast and the National Parks have some of the best vantages to see the world from.  It costs a few bucks to enter, but it is worth every cent.  I have amazing memories of hiking in Arches, and the Petrified forest, climbing the rocks of El Morro, and eating a burrito on the edge of the Grand Canyon.  There are dozens of other parks that I wanted to visit, but that just means that I need to go back.

Listen:  Navajo is one of the most amazing languages in the world.  It is a lovely sing song cadence that sounds amazing.  I spent a lot of time working through interpreters and was able to bask in the sound of my words crossing cultural barriers.  It is important to not get caught up in the cultural differences.  The Indian Health Services system is established on the 1870s ideals of the white man helping the poor despondent native.  Add this to the normal medical professional to patient distance it is hard to connect with these people.  It is important to remember that they are just people.  Also don’t use one person as a representative for all Navajo, especially if that person is an old lady hits you with her cane for not wanting to buy a rug.

Life of Poverty: One of the most striking things about living on the reservation is the poverty.  There is very little industry and a lot of federal handouts that are seemingly misspent.  I was often reminded of driving through the desolate small towns of upstate NY and seeing brand new trucks parked in front of run down trailers.  There was a big culture of panhandling and selling things in parking lots that took me by surprise.  Everywhere you look there are pawn shops because many Navajo traditionally use jewelry to store wealth rather than keeping it in banks, but when I first got out there I couldn’t shake the feeling of seediness.  Contrasting the economic depression of the towns are the federal facilities like the hospitals which are literally gleaming beacons in the desert which serve as a perfect exaple of federal waste.  It is enough to give you whiplash.

Addiction and Lack of Self Care:  As a medical processional, and as a human being, it is hard to watch people destroy themselves.  But you can’t live their lives for them.  The reservation is a dry territory, but booze still makes its way in.  The roads to and from the towns like Gallup, Moab, and Durango which are just outside the reservation borders are littered with beer cans.  Hitchhikers make their way into these towns every weekend to indulge their vices.  A lot of people just don’t take care of themselves despite free medical care.  Basically everybody had diabetes and heart disease from eating frybread with every meal, and the labs that I saw shocked my idealistic self.  It hurts, but you can’t live their lives for them.  We all have our own lives to live and our own bodies to take care of, and I am certainly not one to lecture on that.

Embrace the Silence:  I have never felt so alone when I was on the reservation.  I was not in a good place at that time, and the silence made it worse.  I was alone in a government trailer after driving out by myself.  I made no effort to connect with the people at work, one guy tried because of our fraternity connection, but I kind of pushed him off.  I traveled by myself every weekend, hiked by myself, and eventually became fine with it.  I embraced that silence and made peace with myself, which is the greatest gift that I have ever received.  To this day I am fine alone, I can fill my own head and heart, and have developed a self reliance that has served me well.  Once you leave the glow of the town streetlights you will be plunged into a complete darkness and silence.  Your mind will struggle to fathom it and invent stories that live in the darkness.  It isn’t hard to fathom how an ancient people were able to create such amazing stories and gods to fill that landscape.  It may be scary, but by knowing that darkness and that silence you will be able to know yourself and will come out the other side a better person.

I sat down to write a little list, but instead I have spewed 1500 words of stream of consciousness.  There are dozens more things that I can say.  Don’t drive fast at night or you might hit a horse.  Go to Antelope canyon and Bryce Canyon National Park, I always wanted to go there.  Flagstaff is the Burlington of Arizona, Durango is the Burlington of southern Colorado, I should stop comparing places to Burlington.  Know that big area on the Verizon map where there is no service, you will probably be right in the middle of that area.  Don’t do meth.  Watch out for snakes when hiking.  And a million more tips.

Go new places, do new things, meet new people, bring fresh eyes to ancient places.  Have an adventure.

Memento Mori

Late Fall makes me think of death.  Maybe it is the empty trees.  Maybe it is the gloomy early darkness and the eventuality of winter bearing down on.  Maybe it is the history and traditions of New England that our culture has adopted and transformed into the full on Halloween experience.  Or maybe it is that a few years ago my aunt and one of my close friends died within a week of each other.  It is probably the last thing.

I have never really feared death.  Not in a macho way, it is just something that happens as a part of life and I accepted the eventuality of my own passing.  I think that I have far worse feelings about the passing of others than I would ever have contemplating my own death.  I didn’t have any tragedies in my early life, and didn’t lose anybody close to me until I was in my teens, so I wasn’t directly touched by death but I knew it was around.  I think that I lived much of my early life with the reckless abandon that many kids of my generation had, taking chances and embracing the rush that comes with danger.

When I was 13 my best friend moved away and I scrambled trying to find another group of people who would accept me.  That fall I tried to prove myself to a group of guys who were a little rougher than the crowd that I was used to.  Spoiler Alert: I wasn’t rough enough at the time to handle it.  There was a lot of drinking and smoking and tough guy teenager stuff going on, and as the new guy I was the easiest target.  One time things got so out of hand when I talked back to the “ringleader” of the group that he took things to another level.  He went upstairs got his father’s pistol, made me get down on my knees to be forgiveness and put it to the back of my head.  Apparently he removed the clip and was just “joking” but had had enough to drink that he forgot to take the round of the chamber.  That was a pivotal moment in my life.

After that I realized that I needed to make some changes and started surrounding myself with better people, which was one of the greatest investments that I could have ever made.  The guy who pulled the gun on me wound up dropping out of school and when I last heard of him about 10 years ago was in jail for making a sex tape with his 16 year old girlfriend.  I was lucky enough to find new friends and set off in a positive direction, but that incident always stuck with me.  I could say that it made me realize that I could survive anything and rise above, but in reality it put a thought in my head that no matter what happened I would somehow meet a violent end.  This belief lead to a reckless college of experience of drinking too much, fighting too often, and feeling apathetic about everything.  My friend Brad and I shared a prevailing belief that we wouldn’t make it to 30, so why not take chances.  I apparently was wrong and have reached the ripe old age of 31, but Brad proved the point by not making it to 25.

After Brad died I pulled out of my spiral and spent a few years trying to be my best self.  By that I mean working far too much, isolating myself from everyone in my life, burning all the bridges that I could, and spending my time off watching Pawn Stars and binge drinking.  It was great.  It took getting robbed at work and actually experiencing the threat of violence beyond my control to snap me out of my self destructive path.   I turned things around and over the course of two years was able to actually make positive changes in my life, new job, new car, new apartment, new me.  And as I was settling in to this new life the rug to pulled out from under me.

My aunt Pam was a character.  A learned doctor, a comic, someone always chasing hobbies and obsessions, an obsessive online shopper, who spent most of her life keeping people at bay.  Sound familiar?  We developed a pretty close relationship and spent a lot of time talking through my experiences and chasing her memories.  She was also a junkie who burned so many bridges (at least in her mind) that she died broken and alone.  We had a great conversation a few days before she died, we talked about Lou Reed.  Now listening to the Velvet Underground makes me sad.

I knew that Pam’s passing was inevitable and while it hurt it was bearable and I was able to console myself knowing that she was no longer in pain.  What wasn’t bearable was hearing a few weeks later that my friend Dustin had passed.  He was always the life of the party, a tiny little ginger who lived much larger than his stature.  We only knew each other for a few short years, but he made a huge impact on me.  When he died it tore me apart.  Dusty was so full of life and he died in a terrible accident that could have happened to me thousands of times over the years.  His death hurt a lot of my friends more, out entire friend group was destroyed, which took out most of the support system that I had left.  We all fell into despair for a while a while, but eventually we manned up and got busy living.

A few years ago I started reading stoic philosophy and learning about Roman customs.  I was captivated and fascinated by the idea of Memento Mori.  The concept is to remember death, which is a statement that cuts both ways.  It can be a “live the best that you can because death could be right around the corner” like that cheesy Live Like You Are Dying song that always plays on the Muzak station.  Or it could be a “Don’t get too full of yourself, because someday you will die and be nothing but dust and nobody will remember who you are” which helps to keep me grounded.  Learning from the stoics is much more rewarding than iconizing the skull and crossbones or memorizing lines from Thanatopsis like I used to.  It allows me to find peace with whatever is going on in my life, good or bad, knowing that things, including life, are temporary.  These books are full of wisdom that has stood the test of millennia and still rings true while also being incredibly quotable and relevant.

I like to think that I have started to become more comfortable with death.  I worked in long term care and for 18 months would start my day off with an email that listed which patients had died during the night.  I suppose that this helped me to rationalize that while death can effect us all in the end we are nothing but names on a list just waiting for someone to update our status in a computer to deceased.  In theory I have hardened myself against death and readied myself for it.  I don’t believe in God or an afterlife, so I have nothing more to look forward to so I might as well make the best of it.

I work in a field where death is constantly present, and spend a lot of time with comics who bring tragedy to the stage, and have become very comfortable with it.  Along the way I have learned that only through knowing the darkness I can enjoy the light.  Being aware of that contrast makes the good parts of life so much sweeter.  Everything in life, including life itself, is temporary, so why not make the most of it.  Everyone I know is going to die, and I am prepared to celebrate their lives rather than mourn their deaths.  And when it my turn I can only hope to approach my grave like one who wraps the draperies of his couch around him, and settles down to pleasant dreams.

“Do not act as if you were going to live ten thousand years. Death hangs over you. While you live, while it is in your power, be good.” -Marcus Aurelius

Meh-Political

As we near November the whole country is getting spun up about the election.  As someone who doesn’t believe in the political process I don’t have a dog in the fight of either the presidential or local elections, but I feel myself getting drawn into the anxiety and regularly feel like I may snap during the next stupid Trump joke or Bernie impression that I hear.  As some warning the last time I wrote about politics I got my father so angry that he actually yelled at me for the first time since I was in High School, so be aware that my views will probably piss you off.

I used to care about politics, it fascinated me in much more than the watching the train wreck feeling that I get now.  My parents are self described “Old Hippies” who were two of the three registered democrats in our small town.  Their liberal leanings were ever present, but they didn’t stymie the flow of ideas and allowed me to become who I wanted to be, which is how I became such an unabashed capitalist.  They encouraged discussion and at least acknowledging people’s viewpoints and trying to see where others are coming from.  As a teenager I started reading Tom Clancy novels and became enthralled with geopolitics and the delicate ballet of nation states.  I also became a news junkie, watching national news every morning before school, reading the local paper when I got home, and catching parts of the local news before bed.  I was in absolute overload, trying to balance the knowledge of Clancy’s Soviet struggles with the developments of the day, trying to find my way through a web of local, national, world, and fictional news.  I watched the 2000 election and was in heaven, the old dynasty Republicans versus the wooden but sound Al Gore fighting over the electoral college and hanging chads.  I loved it and was planning on finding a way to pursue this as a career, maybe with a history degree, and maybe making it into the CIA like my literary hero, Jack Ryan.  And then two planes flew into the World Trade Center and everything changed.

I obviously can’t take ownership of this tragedy, it impacted each and every American, and there are so many people who suffered so much more than I ever dreamed, but it had a big impact on my life at a pivotal moment.  At 16 I was not fully formed as a person and was at the point of making important decisions about my future that would have far reaching consequences.  I no longer started my morning off by watching tv, because I saw nothing but bad news.  I traded in the evening paper for reading Rolling Stone, losing myself in a world of music that became all consuming.  In short instead of rising to the challenge like so many did and dedicating myself to the country I sought out escapism and turned away from the present and from the relevant, which is something that I am not proud of.

For the next few years I fell down the rabbit hole of music, consuming all types, learning to play (poorly), using my brain power to memorize lyrics and track lists instead of trying to sort out bigger problems.  I suppose that this is a bit harsh on myself since I was far from the first kid to turn off, tune in, and drop out, but it feels like it was a big fork in the road for me that lead down a completely different path.  When I got to college I got into the punk scene and tried to avoid the political aspects but couldn’t help but get swept up in the angry “Not my president” aspect of the Bush years.  Through punk I discovered the ideals of anarchy and embracing the outsider status, and found it easier to completely ignore politics and plead ignorance rather than get caught up in the discussions between my friends.  I voted for Obama in 2008, not sure why but I think that I just wanted to shake things up a bit and piss off my conservative roommates.  Beyond that I spent all of college locked in an internal struggle between anarchy, apathy, and alcohol, and graduated well educated but ignorant of all political issues that weren’t satirized on the Daily Show or Colbert report.

In a not so surprising twist I graduated, started making money, and all of a sudden didn’t want to pay taxes.  I suppose that the idea of a small government fit with my anarchist ideals, but I never thought that I would wake up one day and realize that I was a Republican, especially after I moved to left of liberal Vermont.  Maybe it was just a brief counter reaction to the political climate here.  To be clear it was mostly only fiscal conservatism, I am still pretty liberal on most moral values.  All of a sudden I found myself politically awake for the first time in a decade, trying to sort out my feelings on taxes, second amendment rights, foreign intervention, and a host of other issues.  This is the point that you are probably thinking “Sounds like you are a libertarian” but please stow that.  The Libertarian party is bullshit, a bunch of people who want the best of both worlds aren’t willing to commit to their values.  It is a bunch of wishy washy agnostics who will never get any momentum and won’t get anything done.  I would rather bury my head in the sand and ignore the political system, which is exactly what I did.

I live in a place where my votes literally don’t matter.  Even being a centrist in Vermont puts me to the far right of the political spectrum.  Beyond the presidential race my vote will have little impact.  Local politics are even worse and more corrupt than national races, and since I am a bit of a nomad I don’t feel invested in trying to make changes.  I realized that I really don’t have a dog in any political fight.  I live a life of little political consequence, I don’t own property or champion any issues.  I am realistic enough to know that there are not going to be any sweeping changes to the system, and that any changes will have little effect on me.  I like to consider myself a feminist who believes in equal rights for all races, religions, and sexual orientations.  In my best future I could probably be an outspoken advocate for the rights of others, but in reality I am too selfish for that.  Frankly I hate the self serving white people who become mouthpieces for oppressed groups, because they don’t have skin in the game and never seem genuine.

Maybe I could have gotten behind Bernie, if he wasn’t such a caricature.  Or maybe someone like Ron Paul if he wasn’t so much of an isolationist.  I probably couldn’t get behind Johnson because he seems like an idiot.  Trump is also an idiot, but I doubt that he really has a chance.  Hillary has the credentials, and despite being a crook will probably do a decent job, but you could never say that I’m with her.  I believe that the Vermont political scene involves a guy with a pony tail, which is exciting, and some school board member turned out to be a bigot, but I can’t get invested in those races.  Maybe this will change and I will start championing a cause or fall under a candidate’s spell.  Maybe I will see some change instead of a continuation of the status quo.  Maybe they will put out some piece of legislation that will will effect high income straight white males who identify as feminists, believe in gun ownership but don’t own any guns, and are too fat to be drafted into the military and I can start championing that cause, but how likely is that?

So go out next month and vote if you want to or don’t vote, I don’t care.  Whoever becomes president will lead us down the path that they choose.  Whoever gets elected governor or senator will have their own agenda.  And the mayor or school board member will have rule over their own fiefdom.  But no matter the changes I will carry on, not reading the news, not caring about who is in power, and not willing to risk jury duty by registering to vote.  If this pisses you off then that is your own issue, and if we go down a perilous path I own that.  Feel free to point me out as a villain, because as Washington said “It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one.”

The Sophomore Slump: My Second Year in Comedy

In September 2014 I started taking a standup comedy class, now two years later comedy has become an integral and basically daily part of my life.  The journey hasn’t been all sunshine and candy corn, it has pushed me to explore a lot of subjects and thought paths that I wouldn’t have normally pursued.  I have found myself bouncing from top of the world to rock bottom, unbridled excitement to just going through the motions, riding the roller coaster of happiness, sadness, anger, and many other emotions.  I have tried to approach comedy as a chance to meet new people and have a fun outlet, so it makes sense to take a realistic look back at the past year and see what I have accomplished and have I need to improve on.

During my first year performing I fell into two big tropes, the promising newcomer and the guy who would go to great lengths to get on stage.  I was moderately talented and was very comfortable with public speaking which gave a better stage presence than I had earned or rightly deserved.  I was also living in Middlebury and driving to Rutland or Burlington every time I wanted to get on stage, which was a level of commitment that most people appreciated.  Knowing that someone is burning 2 hours on the road to get 5 minutes of stage time is something that you have to respect and knowing that someone is willing to go anywhere to perform in some sub optimal venues is also a desirable trait in a comic.  I was also writing prolifically, culling over past experiences and facebook statuses trying to squeeze every joke possible out of my life.  I was also branching out by taking improv classes and performing storytelling.  All these factors lead to a very productive year where I was able to perform very often and had high hopes for my comedic future.

Now looking back it isn’t surprising that I burnt out a bit, but it is surprising that it took so long to happen.  I was working more than full time, and grinding it out on stage 2-3 nights a week, trying to pursue several types of comedy, all while trying to live a real life.  Luckily I learn well from failure.  I thought that I was a shoo in to be a finalist for Vermont’s Funniest Comedian, and was pretty crushed when I didn’t even make it out of the preliminaries.  This Icarus moment spun me out a bit, I stopped going to as many open mics, stopped going to people’s shows, stopped enjoying producing my own shows, and withdrew a bit.  This combined with a lot of other outside issues with work and moving to Burlington while trying to have a real life lead to me spending most of my winter holed up in my apartment.  Throughout the spring I was going through the motions, not writing much, not performing well, not doing improv, not going to other people’s shows and not being supportive to other members of the community.  I went on vacation and planned on at least doing some exotic open mics, but I was so burnt out that I wanted nothing to do with comedy.  Instead of comedy being something that enhanced my life it became something that held me back, which is not a good place to be, but it was the type of place that forced me to do some soul searching.

This time for self reflection finally allowed realism to creep into my thought process.  Comedy is a very hard thing to pursue, Louie CK worked his ass off for almost 30 years before he got to where he is now.  Every successful comic says that you just need to keep working for 10 years before you realize that you have the chance to be good, so the unrealistic idea that after a few months performing comedy in Vermont I would be able to pursue this as a career.  In fact I realized that there is no way that I want to pursue comedy full time.  I don’t want to move to a big city, I don’t want to spend all my time in dark clubs, I don’t want to learn acting, and I certainly don’t want to give up my good job to pursue something with much more elusive financial prospects.  I respect anybody who wants to make the jump, and thoroughly miss a lot of my friends who headed to NYC or Boston to pursue their dreams, and will do everything in my power to support them, but it just isn’t a path that I want to pursue.

I suppose that leads to one of my internal dilemmas, why do I do comedy to begin with?  I do it because I enjoy it, not every second, but as a whole.  I enjoy spending time with funny people, and meeting new comics who I would not have met in real life.  I like the fact that my pharmacy friends tend to admire that I am stepping out of my comfort zone and doing something different.  I like it that my family now sees me in a different light.  I like that my comedy friends come to me with all their medical questions (you are constipated, eat more green things and drink more water).  I like being the type of person who you can run jokes past or have a beer with.  I like having a guest room that I can put out of town comics up in.  I like that my boss asks if I have a gig before asking me to cover a shift.  I like expressing myself, and having something to obsess over when I am bored or neurotic.  I like that feeling of having my heart in my throat before a challenging show or audience.  I like telling stories.  I like what I do in my free time, and I might as well keep it up.

I don’t want to sound like the whole year was nothing but pain and drudgery.  I started my own show, which allowed me insight into the business side of entertainment, and the complications that come along with running or doing anything worthwhile.  I hosted a lot, securing a skill that allowed me to command and audience.  I had the opportunity to perform at a brand new comedy club and tons of other venues all over the state and make a lot of people laugh.  I got to perform in benefit shows that raised money for good causes, and allowed me to give back to my community.  I am proud of the fact that even when I wasn’t fully engaged I didn’t become bitter.  It would have been easy to point to the successes of others and say that I was entitled to that, but I was able to frame it as those people worked hard enough and are talented enough to have those successes.  This mindset allowed me to support my friends through their successes, and while I was envious I never felt angry at them, or thought that I should be doing it instead.  I suppose that this is a mark of a good and supportive scene, which is the main thing that makes performing in Vermont fun.

Throughout the past year there was never a time where I was going to make a dramatic pronouncement that I am done with comedy and will never grace the stage with my presence ever again.  In fact over the past month or so I have had an uptick in shows and feel myself getting excited about performing and putting myself out there.  With most slumps I have been in it is a purely mental thing, and getting excited and having a reason rather than just going through the motions is the best way to pull yourself out of a slump.  I hope that over the next year, and for many years to come, I can keep refining my craft and viewing comedy as something fun to do that makes my life better.

Begin Again: An Exercise In Meditation

I love silence, not because it allows me to relax and experience peace, but because it gives my consciousness the chance to expand and fill the empty space space.  Being in silence gives my mind an excuse to race and fill the silence with thoughts or ideas, chase scenarios, rationalize the past, and build mental walls.  Chasing this silence pushed me to drive cross country, and survive college, and create physical and mental art.  The thoughts that inhabit this silence were my constant companions, and something that kept me sane, or as sane as someone with voices in his head can be.  As much of a benefit as this has been, it does have it downfalls, namely years of isolation and decades of lying awake and staring at the ceiling waiting for sleep to come.  Over the past few months I have fallen into a habit of trying to silence my mind during these quiet periods and instead of processing the past or envisioning the future I have taken the opportunity to explore a time that I don’t often inhabit, the present.

I have dabbled in meditation over the years, from breathwork to calm flying anxiety to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy lead by a psychologist to help fight my chronic headaches.  It was never traditional and was never anything that I fully committed to, but it did seem to give me a small respite in a turbid world.  Last winter I decided to forego the “woo woo” aspects of meditation and try to develop a mindfulness practice.  After listening to 150 episodes of the Tim Ferriss Podcast and hearing about two thirds of this high performing guests talk about their meditative practices I started thinking that it was something that I should try.  I downloaded the Headspace app and planned to give it a shot sometime in the unspecified future.

About a week before Christmas I had a terrible day at work in what I just knew was going to be a long and frustrating stretch.  I went home in a terrible mood and couldn’t shake it not matter how I tried. I grew frustrated lying awake staring at the ceiling, so I pulled out the Headspace app and gave it a shot.  After 10 short minutes I was able to relieve a lot of tension and anxiety and fall blissfully asleep.  The next day went so smoothly it shocked me, not because it was an easy day, but because I was so calm and relaxed, and the only thing that I could point to was the magic of meditation and I committed to giving it a try.

Unfortunately meditation isn’t always as easy as it seems.  Over the next few months I kept trying to use Headspace but got annoyed at the British voice that guided the meditation.  I tried just sitting and following my breath, but I found it incredibly boring, and since I find boredom maddening I would be angrier after a meditation session.  A friend suggested reading 10% Happier by Dan Harris, which is something that I now appreciate, but the first time I read it his descriptions of his past anxiety walked me right into panic attacks.  I tried to explore local mediation groups and events but those all verged into the religious and crunchy aspects which made me far more uncomfortable than the idea of secular mindfulness meditation.  I listened to talks by Sam Harris and Tara Branch but found both of them off putting for different reasons.  I struggled to even define meditation, constantly questioning if I was doing it right and wondering if I was supposed to hit some special place where I would be hit by a beam of cosmic light that would take me to nirvana.  Eventually after several months of hacking at it and trying to Alpha male my way into peace I got frustrated and just gave up, which apparently was all that I needed to do.

A week or two later I was getting ready for bed and felt the overwhelming need to meditate.  I downloaded a different app called Calm and was lulled into a meditative state by a nice woman with a pleasant voice.  And the next day I tried it again with the same results, and again and again before I decided to upgrade the app and pay for a subscription that would allow me to try different guided sessions.  For a few dollars a year I had access to sessions that covered self acceptance, forgiveness, non judgement, sleep prep, and a bunch of other topics that I need to work on.  The calm and non judgmental voice kept telling me that the point of meditating was that when my mind wandered and fell into the thought stream to just return to my breath and begin again.  And after all the fighting and battling from my previous attempts it was nice to just fall into a practice where I was fully in charge, yet not in charge of anything.  For a few minutes a day I just existed, and that quickly became my favorite part of the day.

A lot of meditation books talk about the benefits on and off the cushion.  When meditating (on the cushion) I found it easier and easier to find the moments of peace because I was exercising the focus “muscles” that allowed me to return to my breath or point of focus.  After years of multitasking my way through life I was purposely singletasking, and focusing on just one thing made me even more efficient.  Off the cushion I found that taking those few minutes a day had lasting after effects.  I felt more at peace and in touch with my emotions, and when I was in a bad mood or something angered me I found it much easier to detach and re-frame things for a positive outcome.  I found myself having more moments of spontaneous happiness and was able to appreciate more of the little things.  It wasn’t instantaneous, but over time I started noticing how I felt when taking the first sip of a coffee, or while stepping into the sunlight on my way to my car in the morning, little moments that had become part of the background were brought to the forefront and made life a little bit better.

Over time I worked my way into a daily meditative practice where I sit and meditate for a 10-20 minutes each day.  I also started making time to take a few deep breaths and find my center whenever I find myself losing control.  I found that to meditate you don’t need to sit on the floor in the lotus position while wearing an orange robe and anointing yourself with oils and crystals.  Instead I can take a few seconds to push the past and future away and appreciate the here and now.   And I learned to be ok with having my mind wander a bit, and to explore the reaches of my psyche, as long as I recognize that it is wandering, bring it back to breath, and begin again.

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Much like my life my living situation has followed a pretty straight trajectory with a few setbacks and double backs along the way.  Willsboro to Broadalbin with summer reprieves back to the lake, then bouncing around Albany for a few years.  While I was in college I had a few delusions of dropping everything and moving to Alaska or Utah, but I had a constant vision that I wanted to live in Burlington.  Upon graduation it didn’t work out an I found myself living in Plattsburgh biding my time until I could move to the promised land, and after 6 months was able to make it to the area that I have called home for more than 5 years now.  Now things may be changing and I am feeling like it is time to make a decision on what to do with my future and where to go from here.

I need to say that I love my life.  It is important to know that I appreciate and accept what I have, while I do love pushing myself and trying to better my situation things are pretty good, so I apologize for sounding like I am whining.  People would kill to be in my situation, but as with every situation there are two sides.  One man’s trash is another man’s treasure and what looks like traps in my life may look like benefits to you, and your life may feel fantastic, but I want no part of it.  I have spent most of my life trying to live outside the lines and having no urge for a white picket fence and 2.5 kids in the suburbs opens a paradox of paralyzing choices and opportunities that boil down to a simple question.

Question: What do I want?

Answer: I don’t know.

Yesterday I got a call from my landlord that he is strongly considering selling my apartment.  While I am an ideal tenant he has gotten two unsolicited offers and is strongly considering pursuing one of them even though he has repeatedly assured me that the unit was not on the market, which is true in practice if not principal.  He kindly offered to move me into another one of his apartments that is apparently much nicer but is in a different town.  While I am going to check out the apartment I don’t much care about how nice it is because it is 10 minutes further from work, adding 20 minutes a day to my already hour and a half commute.  I can’t fault the guy for selling my apartment, he is a very nice guy and he is just trying to do what is best for him, but I can resent the fact that he is is putting me out and serving up a worse lifestyle and presenting it like he is doing me a favor.  Complicating things is that my lease ends in October, which is a very dead time for Burlington area real estate, and finding a comparable place will be a huge pain, on top of having to pack up my life and move yet again.  Oh and if you made it to this point and are saying “Why don’t you just buy a house its an investment” please keep your pontificating, I have no plans on buying in a very expensive market like Burlington on short notice while having my money tied up in long term investments, especially since I don’t know if I will be staying in the area.  I am using this time to explore my options and to consider making a move that I have been contemplating for a while.

Burlington is great, I like living here.  I have a great community of friends and comedians here, and there are an abundance of things to do and ways to spend time and money.  I really enjoy the lifestyle that I have here, but as with any small place the opportunities are limited. I have been here for 5 years and except for doing comedy nothing has really popped for me.  I am surrounded by people that I like whenever I want to be, but there is nothing concrete that absolutely keeps me here.  On top of that the job market is limited, mostly because I have blown through so many options over the years.  To be clear my job isn’t terrible, I don’t cry in the car after my shifts, and it pays well but it is a bit of a dead end with few opportunities for growth.  I can’t help but think that my resume with 4 jobs (one of them twice) over 6 years is a black mark against me and that one look at that scares people away more than the immense range of skills and achievements that I have gathered from my wandering path draws them in.

So where to do I go from here, the first step is making a list of opportunities and cutting it down.

Asheville, NC- Years ago I drove though and thought that I could live here.  It’s a beer mecca with a laid back culture, good food, and is at an acceptable area of the Black Lives Matter – All Lives Matter spectrum.  It is also a reasonable drive from my family in Richmond, friends in North Carolina, and friends in Atlanta while still being just a day’s drive from Albany.  I visited this January and enjoyed my day in the city, it is a reasonable climate with a lot of culture and things that I enjoy, including what seems to be a vibrant comedy scene.  I do fear that I will make it down there and won’t want to live in the city, and once you leave Asheville and head into the hills you are in a far different place than Vermont

Hotlanta,  GA- I haven’t really liked Atlanta during my tow previous visits, but then again I was looking at it as a travel destination rather than a place to live.  I am not a fan of 7 lane highways or sprawling suburbs, but Atlanta does have a ready made support system.  I have a whole bunch of friends in the area who all have their own deep support systems that they would allow me to tap into.  On top of that there is good beer, professional sports teams, and easy flights to anywhere in the world.  The climate is a bit too sticky for my tastes but I can get used to anything and every place has air conditioning.  I think that I can grow into loving Atlanta because it has so much to offer and will allow me to explore lifestyles and options that I have never experienced before.  I will actually be heading down in two weeks for a previously planned vacation and will pay closer attention than I would have before.

Austin/San Antonio, TX- Barbecue and burritos.  I suppose that there is much more to Texas, but from my previous trips that is what really sticks out.  Austin is one of the fastest growing cities in the US and offers a wide range of options for food, comedy, and entrepreneurial growth, and while I have never been there I feel like it would be enough of a Texas with training wheels for a Yankee like me.  On top of that it is close to San Antonio where two of my dear friends live with their families, and another couple that I am close to is moving.  I don’t know if I would be able to settle in San Antonio proper, but it is a really cool (figuratively) city that I loved when I drove through years ago.  My biggest hangup is travel considerations, and the fact that Texas is so damn Texas.  I identify as an anarchist with nihilistic tendencies, and while I am very open minded plopping me down in the land of God, Family, Country may be a bit much.  I will keep an open mind, and at least explore the options.

Tampa, FL- Lets face it, I am probably not moving to Florida.  It is a humid and swampy state shaped like a penis, but a number of my closest friends live on that penis, and they love it.  I have visited several times over the past few years (during the temperate months) and enjoyed what it has to offer.  As someone with a background in Long Term Care it is probably a decent choice since people go there to get sunburned and die, not necessarily in that order.  For all it’s drawbacks it does have good beer, lots of beaches, and the opportunity to get eaten by an alligator and/or a python.

Portland, OR- Coffee.  Beer.  Flannel.  Facial Hair. It is Burlington on a large scale.  Probably not realistic, but I would be a fool not to explore my options when I am visiting next month.  The dream of the 90’s is alive.

Plattsburgh, NY- I love the ‘burgh, enough so that I am willing to abbreviate it as “the ‘burgh” and have a good history in the lake city.  I didn’t fully appreciate it when I lived there, but that was more about be being 25 and dumb rather than the city.  I could easily see myself settling down in a place that has good memories, is close to camp, has family and close friends, and is still close enough that I don’t have to leave Burlington fully behind.  It is also extremely cheap and is a gateway to me getting my “dream” of owning a small cabin in a secluded place so that I can write in peace and get murdered by an escaped prisoner.  The biggest drawback is Plattsburgh’s climate, which for most of the year is as frigid and unwelcoming as it’s women.  I also feel like it would be a big step backward, I spent so long holding Vermont as the promised land to backtrack and return to my roots feels like defeat.

Going Nomad- I have entertained the idea of doing consulting work on federal facilities like military bases and reservations.  I think that I would really like this job for a year or two, but beyond that it isn’t sustainable.  The adventure and travel would be amazing but it is really surrendering to a lonely life of being rudderless and living in government trailers.  The consultants that I worked with on the Navajo res were all jaded divorced guys in their 50s plodding away until retirement, and I don’t know if I am that far gone.  Yet.

It is fun to entertain these options, but lets be honest I am probably not going to leave Vermont.  Last week I was offered a job in California making 170k a year doing a job that I could easily handle, and the reason was because I simply didn’t want to leave the life that i have built.  I don’t have anything holding me here, but at the same time I don’t have anything motivating me to leave, and in that case inertia almost always wins out.  I can enjoy this thought exercise and explore other areas and spend the next few months looking off the ledge and contemplating making a leap, but based on my track record I doubt that I will actually make the jump.

I welcome your opinions and view and will listen to compelling arguments, but just saying “just go for it” doesn’t work.  The boom/bust prospects just aren’t there, the best case scenario is that I like the new lifestyle I have more than the one that I currently have while the downside is that I am put into a bad situation.  I hate meeting new people and while I love exploring and having adventures I am afraid of failing in the new place that I go.  Saying “you can always move back” belittles the fact that I am in a constantly changing situation and taking a detour even for a year or two can put my in an even worse position.  I acknowledge right now that I will probably just find a new apartment and carry on with the decent but unfulfilled life that I have now.   I will always enjoy the minimalist fantasy of packing up my car and driving off into the sunset, but as with most things the fantasy is the best part.

Final Summation: None.

You Always Remember Your First Time

Today I took some time to reminisce about a moment where everything changed.  That seminal moment many years ago where I went in a boy and left a man.  As I sit here in the place where it all started more than 10 years ago I can’t help but think of how foolish and awkward I was, and how much I have grown, and how much better I have gotten at all aspects of the act.  And now it is time for you to get your mind out of the gutter as I tell the story of my first time drinking coffee.

I was a late bloomer, and didn’t come into my own with coffee until I was almost 20 years old.  I had always enjoyed the gas station cappuccinos that come out of that terrible sounding machine and that are mostly sugar with some coffee flavoring, but actual coffee was not anything that I could stand for more than a few sips.  I preferred to find my caffeine though diet sodas and little cans of energy drinks, and rode that “EXTREEEEME” lifestyle through the first two years of college, but as is my tendency one day I decided to try something new partly out of necessity and partly out of a sense of adventure, and now it has lead me down a rabbit hole that I never could have predicted.

During the summer of 2005 I overextended myself, another familiar tendency that know all too well.  I liked Organic chemistry so much during the school year that I was overjoyed to be invited to retake Orgo 2 again over the summer.  Two months of Dr Martha Hass teaching me and 6 of the other dumbasses who couldn’t hack it the first time in intensive classes 3 days a week.  That would have been torture enough, but as I have covered previously I am a workaholic.  During my 4 days off each week I still managed to juggle 2 jobs, getting up at 5am to work at a hospital pharmacy then driving up to Saratoga to work at SPAC during the evening, before heading back to Albany to crash out and repeat the process.

During one of these 70 hour work weekends I found myself with a little downtime between jobs on one of the hottest days of the summer and in that moment I felt the need to make a change.  While driving through downtown Saratoga I was overcome with the strange need for an iced coffee.  Knowing nothing of this magical bean juice I didn’t want to risk it with a gas station variety, I wanted to go to the source, the most fancy high end independent place that I could think of, Starbucks, the exact Starbucks where I am sitting now.  Walking in for the first time and being enveloped by its warm Pacific Northwestern decor and hip music made me feel like I was at home and ease some of my nerves, but I was still kind of freaking out.  I was out of place, I was this kinda grungy kid with longish hair and big mutton chops (yeah I made bad decisions) wearing a polo shirt for a performance arts center over slacks and dress shoes from being at the hospital.

Beyond being uncomfortable in the venue I was all of a sudden confronted with an entire language that I didn’t understand.  As the people in front of me in line rattled off terminology about grande half caf one pump mocha lattes I started to panic.  Coffee, I want coffee, but not hot coffee I want coffee with ice in it, but how do I say it, where is it on the board, I don’t know what all of these words mean, how foolish am I going to look to these cute baristas, are they going to like my sweet sweet mutton chops, oh god what am I doing.  And as I scoured the display board I noticed the one word I was looking for, Iced, right next to the word Americano.  I sidled up to the counter and asked for a large iced Americano.  For a few seconds the panic abated, its an Americano, Americans love coffee so it is just an iced coffee, and I am such a grown up that I ordered a large one.  Let me take a moment to say I was dumb.  If you aren’t familiar an Americano is espresso topped with water, and while it is my favorite style to drink now, it was probably not the best option at the time.  Espresso, especially Starbucks roasts of it, is the darkest most bitter way to roast coffee beans, and a large (Venti) iced Americano at Starbucks has 3 shots of espresso in it, making it one of the most bitter and burnt coffees that you will ever have, and that was what I started with.

Once my name was called, or more pointedly “Venti Iced Americano for Alan” I sheepishly approached the counter and embraced my fate.  There was no room to put in milk or cream and I couldn’t get the raw sugar to dissolve so it just formed a layer of sediment on the bottom of the cup, I gave up and headed out into the sunshine to carry on with the day.  As I stood on the busy sidewalk holding a 24 ounce cup of cold espresso water on that hot summer day I was about to embark on a journey.  I took my first sip and savored the cold beverage as it rolled over my tongue and hit all my tasted buds resulting in a jolt that I will never forget, because it was fucking terrible.  It was all that I could do to keep from spitting it out, but I gutted through that first sip and contemplated where to go from here.

I tried a few more sips and couldn’t make it work. I was faced with one of my biggest failures and unsure what to do I took a path that I don’t take often, I called it quits and threw the nearly full cup into the trash.  I think it is the sting of this defeat and my reaction to the situation that have burned it into my brain for all these years.  I couldn’t muster the  strength of will to make it through.  From where I am sitting I can see the trash can I put it in, and my inner monologue keeps calling myself a pussy and repeating the line “drink up, there are tired kids in Africa that would kill to have that full cup of coffee.”

My path through coffee has been long and twisted.  I kept trying until I started to like coffee in all its forms and embraced it’s culture.  I have used coffee as fuel, and as a reward, and as a motivator, and for pure sensory joy.  From Starbucks, to 3rd wave independent roasters, to instant and kcups, hot or cold, black or with various additives and enhancers, coffee has always been there for me.  Even when I go on my periodic detoxes to kill my tolerance the sight and smell of coffee bring up strong memories of experiences good and bad, the adventures that these beans have fueled, and the friends that I have shared my cups with. But no matter how long it has been or have far I have traveled I will never be able to forget that first Iced Americano, and the bitter taste of defeat.

The Deafening Sound of Silence

Hello, it’s me, that guy who used to enjoy writing this blog.  The guy who couldn’t wait to open his computer in a coffee shop or quiet bar and transform raw thoughts into blog posts or essays that left him grounded and allowed people to understand what was going on in his head while potentially helping themselves.  The guy who used to love working out complex thoughts for hours or days before settling and channeling a flow state and walking away with a finished product.  It has been so long since I have written anything of substance that you probably forgot who I was, and maybe I have forgotten a bit of who I am.

So what happened?  I like to think it was the perfect storm of moving, buying my first real coffee brewing device, podcasts, writers block, seasonal affective disorder, five seasons of Breaking Bad, and a myriad of distractions, but in reality it is just laziness, and maybe some fear.  The last post that I wrote at the end of 2015 caused me to freak out a bit because it was the first time in a while I sat down and was fully honest with myself, especially about some of the things that I really need to change in my life, which rapidly triggered several weeks of near constant panic attacks.  That type of negative reinforcement for writing made me want to stay away from the keyboard and focus on other things.  I think that enough time has passed that I can try and get back on the horse, but even now I feel the anxiety rising, but fear not faithful reader, I shall push on.

Even though it was primarily laziness I have to say that there are a large number of smaller issues that have influenced my hiatus.  Moving to Burlington last fall made life a lot easier for me and definitely produced a lot of benefits for my social life, but it did cut down on the time that I had to spend waiting around for open mics or shows or events.  This was time that I would normally spend sitting in coffee shops or libraries trying to write.  I have never been good at writing or studying at home, it has always been too easy to fall into other patterns or to attack one of the dozens of other projects that I need to do, especially since I now have an Aeropress coffee device so I don’t need to go out to get magical caffeine fluid.  Writing is hard, so hard that even fighting the continuous laundry beast is a much more appealing task.  With this myriad of tasks and distractions hanging over me I just haven’t felt like sitting down and forcing myself to work on writing long form material.  I have developed a bit of writing ADD where I can bang out a 4 line joke a few times a week but every time I started to work on writing I would get halfway through the first paragraph and then lose interest, even this post has taken me months of thinking and procrastinating to generate and I still may not even post it.

I think that another big factor in my silence is the lack of silence in my own life.  I am a bit of a loner and have spent large portions of my life by myself.  While I would often listen to music I was able to push that noise to the background and have a dialog in my own mind (or sometimes out loud to myself).  Whenever I would drive anywhere I would talk to myself and work though thoughts and generate ideas.  It sounds stupid, but it is something that kept me sane and awake during the 25 or so thousand miles that I drive each year, and along the way it helped me to wrap my mind around a lot of deep thoughts.  In November I got a new phone and one of the first apps I downloaded was called Podcast Addict, which has actually turned myself into an addict.  I listen to dozens of podcasts and have focused on catching up on years of backlog and have been pumping this information into my brain every chance I get.  Now whenever I am in the car, or in the kitchen, or alone at work, or even in the shower I am barraging myself with other people’s thoughts.  This is an easy and effective way to attain and process information, but it is filtered through other people’s lenses which keeps me from generating my own ideas and pondering my own views.  I recently took a two day podcast fast where I was able to revel in being alone with my thoughts.

The shocking thing for me was that I really didn’t miss the silence in my life.  I have to credit this to my new found practice of meditation.  I took a stance this winter that I was going to delve into the world of meditation and after reading a bit and trying a few things I have been able to setting into a daily practice that helps to bring me some calm.  I think that having 10 to 15 minutes of concentrated silence and stillness has given me the ability to fill my life with so much more, which is something that you hear from a lot of people that meditate.  I often get up after sitting for a few minutes to find myself energized and focused in a way that I haven’t been before, and I use that energy to tackle bigger and more pressing issues than writing, like fighting the laundry monster.  I guess it is some of those things where since writing hasn’t be in the fore front of my mind I haven’t been going after it, especially since writing has felt like such a chore.  I will occasionally snap out of a meditative state with the title for an essay, but I haven’t found a way to unlock my mind to generate more than a passing thought let alone a fully formed idea.

So where do I go from here?  I suppose that this is the point that I make a grand statement about how writing is the most important thing in my world and I will unveil my plans to write the great american novel in one sitting.  Or it is the point that I give up, close the website and spend the rest of my life staring vainly through whiskey tinted eyes at the writing career that could have been.  I think that I am going to take a less extreme path than either of those options, I am just going to write.  I am going to write about things that matter to me, and things that make me uncomfortable, and things that make me laugh, and hopefully over time I will develop a practice where I can consistently produce writing that is better and better.  But for that I need your help, I need you to hold me accountable for producing, debate with me, argue about the things that you think I have gotten wrong, push me to be a better and more prolific writer and to have stronger convictions.  Tell me what you love, tell me what you hate, tell me that I am making a difference in your life, tell me that I matter, because knowing that what I have to say is not inconsequential is the first step to fighting off the anxiety and sitting down and putting words on the page.

 

Yes I know that this essay is poorly written and choppy, but it was written and that is the first step.  Also yes I know that I used a double negative in the last sentence, want to fight about it?

 

 

2015 a Year in Review

All years have ups and downs, highlights and lowlights and everything in between.  Every year has it’s own trends and themes, which are sometimes very pronounced.  This is my synopsis of 2015 and some of the themes that stole the focus.

It is impossible to talk about 2015 without touching on comedy, and touching on may be too tame of a term.  I put a big focus on performing and trying to hone my craft and feel like I made some great improvements.  When setting goals last winter I thought that 100 times on stage would be way out of my league, but somehow I managed to get on stage 121 times, in a variety of places all over the US.  I expanded from only doing standup to performing improv and trying storytelling, and found that I actually enjoy those performance forms more.  I took to storytelling and really enjoy it since it emphasizes my natural storytelling abilities, I am not the best improviser and have a lot to learn but it is so much fun that it is the often the high point of my week.  Participating in the Vermont’s Funniest Comedian contest was a crushing defeat since I didn’t even make it out of the preliminaries but how upset I felt emphasized how much I actually care about performing standup and how much I care about and respect the many other talented comedians in the scene.  With Vermont Comedy Club opening I now have a home base bar where I can hang out and help build a community.  I also got to start my own show, working with the fine folks at Vermont Craft Mead has been a blast and I have had so much fun running shows with them.  All in all I stepped into some uncomfortable positions and was able to grow from the experience, hopefully the trend will continue on into 2016 and I will continue to improve in all aspects of my craft.

As usual travel was a big trend for me.  I was able to make a number of short trips around New York and New England, a fun road trip to Virginia and Tennessee, and 2 flights to Tampa, a few days on Nantucket, plus a conference in Albuquerque.  I feel that balancing these short trips with bigger adventures allows me to get out and keep myself from getting stir crazy.  The amount of time and money that I spend on my travel schedule is pretty insane, but it is part of living a rich life and keeping my sanity so it is worth it.  I have been able to explore a bit and spend time with friends in all sorts of locations and explore some new places as well as others that I had visited before.

I have always been a big reader, but over the past few years I have slacked off a bit, mostly due to Netflix.  This year I finally took some time to clear through my bookshelves and get some reading out of the way.  I suppose it was mostly because I didn’t want to move with them, but in the end it was fun.  I instituted a new rule that if I hear recommendations from 3 separate people I buy that book, worst case scenario I waste a few bucks and it gives me insight to how other people think.  I also started the process of giving up if I am not enthused by the book after 50 pages.  This need to quit was pivotal since I can walk away from something that doesn’t interest me rather than slogging through the remainder like I always did.  I also continued the policy of giving away or donating a book once I am finished with it, this prevents a huge back log and allows others to enjoy good books while also generating some revenue for local libraries.

Along the same vein I started the year strong with writing, but over time I petered out a bit.  I suppose that I had a lot to say, and still do, but have had issues falling into a routine of getting it down on the page.  I had a few big hit essays that got a lot of exposure, but so many that slogged through in obscurity that it got depressing.  I really need to continue writing and will do my best to force myself to stay on a schedule during 2016.  I am trying to set up a cozy place to write in my new apartment and will hopefully force myself to get back to it.

One of my favorite aspects of 2015 was my commitment to experiencing a variety of sensory inputs.  I have been trying to experience more than the basics, i.e. not just drinking coffee, but trying to relish the whole experience.  I wake up each morning and hand grind beans that I buy from a boutique coffee roaster and brew up a cup in my Aeropress and savor the moment.  I have gotten big into whiskey tasting and beer pairing which help to elevate meals and experiences.  I guess the main focus is taking the time to enjoy all aspects of cooking and tasting foods.  In a way I have spent a lot of time falling in love with the process and being present in the moment, but whatever you want to call it I really enjoy the experience rather than just the end result.

I had a few very important failures that stand out from the year.  I spent a lot of time injured and without health insurance so I wasn’t as active as I had hoped to be.  Professionally the year was a dumpster fire, but I landed in a well paying if unfulfilling job that I can tolerate for at least another year or so.  Dating continued to suck, I just can’t seem to find that young beautiful heiress that I have been looking for, I know that she has to be out there.  I tried playing the guitar (again) and couldn’t make it more than a few weeks of consistent practice (again), maybe next year.  I don’t know if it is truly a failure but I feel that I spent a lot of this year treading water and waiting for the next thing, waiting for the LTC pharmacy to close so I could move on, waiting to find a new apartment to move out of Middlebury, waiting for my comedy career to pick up so that I can get booked more, and all around waiting to grow up a bit.  Every year I watch more of my friends get engaged or married, buy houses, have kids, and move on with their lives.  While I realize that I don’t want those things right now, and that I am happier living a life outside the lines rather than settling down I still feel that persistent need to make progress toward those things.  I am not a patient person and as the song says, “The waiting is the hardest part,”

As with any year there are a number of experiences that set it apart.  I shot guns, went fishing in the ocean, watched several friends get married, dug clams in the rain, got a high desert sunburn, performed, drank, sobered up for a month, did yoga, took photos, cooked, drove, swam, punched, took selfies, laughed, and had a pretty good time.  Hopefully 2016 will bring more adventures and opportunities for growth.