life

Masks, Lies, & Faking It

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Kurt Cobain said that “the worst crime is faking it”.  When Nirvana was active I was not a big fan, but I have grown to enjoy their music, appreciate their legacy, and influence on countless other bands. It is hard to believe that twenty years have gone by since he took his own life.

This post could be about Nirvana and music, or about women faking it in bed, but it is NOT about either of them.

This post is about masks.  Not Halloween masks, but the masks we wear daily.

We all wear them. Don’t lie and say this does not apply to you. This applies to nobody specific but everybody in general.  I am as guilty as everyone, and use one of those multi-layered rock solid locking masks sold at the high-end mask stores (not the cheap one sold on late-night television).

Our masks are on every day, from the moment we engage with people, until we settle down at night with a book or in front of the television. We could be having a horrible morning, after a fight with our spouse or we are worried about our kid’s schoolwork, but when a co-worker asks “How’s it going?” we always respond “Good!”  To do otherwise would be to go against social norms and admit that something is bothering us and that life is not peachy keen perfect.

Masks are our protection.  They are comfortable and behind them is safety. They allow us to look and feel better than we actually do.  Masks are the force field that keeps people at arm’s length and away from our troubles. Our masks allow people to only see the public persona that we have constructed for ourselves.  We can live and act like everything is fine, and nobody can see the bad and ugly parts of our lives.

But this is a lie.  A safe lie, but a lie nonetheless.   Our masks allow us to deny to ourselves and others how we really feel.  It is much easier (and safer) to make believe everything is great, than to admit that we have a problem, or are troubled by something.

It is easy to be a faker and make believe that everything is OK.  It is a lot harder to be honest with how we feel, and that starts with how we feel about ourselves.  Living life the safe way is easy, and our masks help keep us safe.  Taking a chance and taking our masks off a little bit takes courage, but allows us to be who we want to be.

I am trying to peel some of my layers off. It’s scary, but I will let you know how it goes.

 

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Addiction Misconceptions and Philip Seymour Hoffman

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Overheard in the cafeteria this morning “……things would be better if he would just stop. I don’t understand why he just can’t stop using”. I wanted to butt in and give my two cents to another of the misinformed, but walked away and kept my mouth shut. It got me thinking about addiction, and my brain started to think about “famous people” dying from the disease and the public misconceptions that swirl around these deaths.

Philip Seymour Hoffman is the most recent in a long list of ‘famous people’ (actors) that died from a drug overdose where the toxicology report determined they were addicted to prescription drugs. I am not an addict, but like many people have some addictive behaviors. Many of us have some sort of an addictive ‘thing’ we do all the time (a certain food we eat, a TV show we can’t stop watching, cleaning our home, washing our car, etc.). My goal here is not to talk about addiction to drugs as I have no experience with that. I am frustrated how so many people think addiction is a personal and moral failure. “Just stop using” so many people say, without having a clue about what that really means.

Addiction is real and not easy to ‘beat’ or control. Addicts don’t beat the disease. All they can do is keep it at bay. When an addict is sober they are not recovered, they are in recovery. This is a disease that stays with them the rest of their lives, always lurking in the background, waiting for a weak moment to strike. The FIRST step of any 12 step program talks about the admission of being powerless over the disease.

Russell Brand (who I am starting to respect) recently said:

The mentality and behavior of drug addicts and alcoholics is wholly irrational until you understand that they are completely powerless over their addiction and unless they have structured help they have no hope.”

People have said that Hoffman must have been depressed, otherwise why would he use drugs (he was, after all, a ‘famous person’, and famous people don’t have problems). We don’t know what was going on inside his head so it is a waste of time to jump to conclusions. People need to understand that addicts don’t choose to become addicts, that this IS a disease and there needs to be greater empathy towards people struggling with it.

As a society we need to do a MUCH better job helping the addicts in our lives stay sober. There must be more empathy and less stigmatism. It really bothers me when I read or hear someone say that ‘all they need to do is stop drinking/drugging’ and they will be better. Tell that to an addict and they may respond that you should stop eating or sleeping. To an addict, using is just an important to them as eating and sleeping is to us, and we need to find better ways to help them.

Addicts are people to. They have jobs, families, friends, hopes and dreams. They deserve our love and support, and not people who turn their backs on them. As with any disease, they need our help, and don’t need to be locked up in a jail cell or isolated in a dark hotel room somewhere because they think nobody cares about them. When they reach their bottom they need to be able to shout out and someone will be there to reach out a hand to pull them out of the rabbit hole and get them the help they need.

And, one more time, back to Russell Brand:

Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death is a reminder, though, that addiction is indiscriminate. That it is sad, irrational and hard to understand. What it also clearly demonstrates is that we are a culture that does not know how to treat its addicts. Would Hoffman have died if this disease were not so enmeshed in stigma? If we weren’t invited to believe that people who suffer from addiction deserve to suffer? Would he have OD’d if drugs were regulated, controlled and professionally administered? Most importantly, if we insisted as a society that what is required for people who suffer from this condition is an environment of support, tolerance and understanding.”

It’s Ok To Ask For Help

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I have been struggling with some things lately, and realize we are our own worst enemy in asking for help. There is a reason why we invented maps, and then the GPS, otherwise nobody would know where they were going. We can accomplish great tasks when we ask for help and work together, and we usually struggle mightily when we try to go it alone.

As a kid, we have to learn things on our own (going to the potty, tying our shoes, throwing a ball, etc.), but, if we never seek out help, we grow up never learning how to ask for it. We become adults who think asking for help is a sign of weakness. We tell ourselves we will find a way and figure it out ourselves. Eventually, we struggle with something and then dismiss it. “I can’t do that. I don’t understand it”.  It is easier to ignore what we don’t know or can’t do than to push through to it. It is easy to dismiss something than trying to understand it. It doesn’t matter if you are a kid trying to figure out fractions or how to ask a girl on a date, at your first job, or twenty years into your career, struggling with something is going to happen.

In life, there will always be challenges and forks in the road.

The easy road is comforting. Familiar. A beautiful walk in the park. No problem. No sweat. That was easy. I can do it.

The hard choice? Don’t go there. Mom said to not go into the woods. It’s dark, and scary, and we can’t see around that first turn. It is outside of our comfort zone. Why should we struggle? Who is going to help us when we fall down?

We have to learn that it is OK to make the hard choice, and to ask for help when we struggle. There will be others who will help you along the way, who will not laugh at you when you fail. There will be people who will listen, guide you, share their stories of strength and hope, and remind you that you can accomplish your goal or work through your pain.

Life is an amazing journey. It is full of ups and downs, safe and hard choices. Sometimes the choices are easy, and sometimes life will throw me a curve when I least expect it and I am not ready for it. But, my journey is not over, nor will it ever be. I am finally starting to realize, as hard as it is for me to admit, that it is ok to struggle and not know where I am going. The journey is the most important part, as long as I am still learning.

And on the days where I can’t see where I am going, I may ask you for directions.

I Love Evernote, and Dropbox as well

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My first “techie-light” post.

I love Evernote. Do you use it, and if you don’t, you really should!

Do you make lists? Do you like to save snippets of information you just read or found out? Do you need to see this information on multiple devices (ie phone, pad, various computers)?

Use Evernote! Seriously. I’m not kidding right now.

It is easy to use to add or edit notes. It syncs between multiple devices as easy as clicking a button. What you just added or changed then syncs among all of the devices you use. I have it on my phone, Ipad, laptop and desktop machines.

It is a cross-platform app. It is a digital file cabinet. A quick and easy way to save some important information on the fly, to jot down things I want to remember and save as opposed to writing it down on a piece of paper, and then wonder where that piece of paper ended up. Anything you need to store and save you can keep it in one place, and access from anywhere.

Did I mention it is free?

But what about Dropbox you may ask?
Well, the short answer is, I use them both, but I use them both for different things.

DROPBOX
Dropbox is a file storage tool. It is great for storing larger, more conventional files that you would see on your computer: PDF’s, Word, Excel, Music, Video, Photos. My Dropbox folder has files such as my resume, photos, multi-page notes, spreadsheets, etc. Unlike Evernote, you can’t open a Dropbox window and type a few lines of text. In order to place a to-do list or reminder in Dropbox, you save the content in a traditional file (ie Word, Excel, txt, etc). Dropbox is in short just a folder on your computer that you can use to house files of any type. I use Dropbox for what Dropbox is good for: storing larger files in the cloud so I can get to them wherever I am (my phone, Ipad, and various PC devices).

EVERNOTE
This is where I store the “post it notes” of my life. It’s great for keeping track of A LOT of small pieces of information. The information is in the form of notes that have a title and then the content. You can then organize this data into different notebooks, and easily scroll through the notes like reviewing pages in a book. Plus, it has a powerful search feature. I use it to post writing ideas, web page and online clippings that I want to view later, notes and quotes from books I have recently read, lists of books to buy/research, music to buy/research, sites to revisit.…I could go on forever. The point is, these are things that would be an absolute nightmare to find if I saved them all in just a regular old folder on my computer. With Evernote I am able to find things fast and easy, and it is everywhere I go.

So, which one should you use? How about both! There really are no definitive rules here. It really is up to you. For me though, I’ve come up with my own solution that works pretty well:

Evernote is for all of the little bits of information I need or want to save, while I use Dropbox to house the larger files I need to get to. Evernote is the stack of Post-It notes on my desk or in my pocket, while Dropbox is my storage box (or in the ‘old’ days the thumb drive I used to carry around).

Go for it. Try Evernote out. You won’t be disappointed.

Oh, and if you need help, let me know.

The Handoff, Cultures & Sub-Cultures

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On a Sunday night, around 6:45, the mini-van, driven by a lone adult woman, pulls into a space of the diner parking lot.    After a few minutes I realize she has not exited her vehicle and is just quietly reading in the van. Is she waiting for her dining companion so she doesn’t have to enter the diner alone, or is it something else entirely?

Just before 7 another vehicle, driven by a man,  parks right next to the mini-van. The man does not exit the car or even look at the woman. Instead, a small boy about 10 years old gets out carrying a backpack, closes the car door and enters the mini-van, which promptly pulls out of the parking space, making a quick left turn out of the diner parking lot.  The man sits in his car for a moment, checks his phone, then puts his car back in gear, and makes a right hand turn out of the lot.

I had just witnessed the Sunday evening end of visiting weekend transfer of a child from one divorced parent to another.   I started to ponder  about how many times on a Sunday evening this event must occur, and how for the most part I have been totally oblivious to it.  As a happily married man of almost 30 years with two children, I have no first-hand experience with this part of our culture, and only a passing knowledge about.  Sure, I know it occurs, but I have never done it (thankfully), none of my friends do it (thankfully), and I have only occasionally seen it.

After watching the exchange, I was struck that the parents never looked at one another during  the transfer.  I can only imagine how bitter and complete their divorce is that they cannot even say a few polite words to the other.  I started thinking about how they even communicate to each other, since they are both responsible for the child in some way.  Do they just text each other about arrangements, or do they only communicate through another party or a lawyer.  A 10 year old kid must have a busy life, how do these parents share that life if they cannot communicate, even during a weekend transfer?   For the sake of their child, I hope these parents can one day set aside their bitterness and share in the joys that await them in the years to come; birthday parties, proms, graduations, college, etc.

I also starting thinking about how our  culture has many sub-cultures that I have little or no awareness about, or I am no longer a part of.  Divorced parents, single parents, mixed race parents, parents that work different shifts, ultra-religious families, families of the disabled, families of the terminally ill, young adults just out of college, wrestling families, swim families, dance families, cheer families, etc.  The list of sub-cultures (mini-cultures if you want) within our own society is endless, and unless you are a part of one you usually don’t think about them.

These sub-cultures or sub-groups fit into other parts of our life as well.  The brand of car you own, the type of music you listen to, whether or not you own a mac or a PC, do you watch MSNBC or FOX news, are you a republican or democrat, conservative or liberal or somewhere down the middle do you like Springsteen or (god forbid) Bon Jovi.  Each of us is part of the greater culture of our society, and at the same time we are all parts of sub-cultures that make us who we are.  Being able to span these sub-cultures on a daily basis is one of the things that make our society thrive, and for that I am grateful.  I’m just glad I’m not forced into being part of a group I wouldn’t enjoy.

Welcome to A Beautiful Thud

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Welcome to my new blog, A Beautiful Thud, where I will share my view on life, music, media, technology, my writing,  and whatever else crosses my path.

In the daily adventures of my normal life I am always listening to music, using technology and learning about the world around me. I hope that sharing these aspects of my life, what I see, and what I think,  will help and inspire others (and myself) to explore new ways to do things, find new music to enjoy, and use the tools that are at our disposal to educate and mold our lives.  My plan is for this to be dynamic, change through time, and possibly morph into something thing else entirely.  Time will tell.

“…..a beautiful thud” is the end of a line from the third and final verse of Bruce Springsteen’s Lost in the Flood (from his 1973 debut album Greetings From Asbury Park N.J.).   Lost in the Flood is one of my top 10 favorite Springsteen songs, both from a lyrical and musical standpoint.  It is a sparse piano-driven song that builds in intensity throughout the three verses.  Like Dylan’s Desolation Row, Lost in the Flood tells us about characters that are lost in their life, whether they are a victim of their own circumstances or stuck in a life that they can’t get out of (U2 song reference unintentional).  With intricate detail, strong emotions, and memorable characters, this is one of the first Springsteen songs that hit me hard from the start, and shows that everything in life will work out fine.
As Lost in the Flood almost comes to a close, the line  “Hey, man, did you see that?  His body hit the street with a beautiful thud.”

reminds me that while life can be tough, sometimes the most awful things lead to something great and beautiful.  In this song, when the body hits the street all those that are lost can now find themselves as they are now free.  One can only hope.

Enjoy all of this and check back here often. If you see something you like here feel free to share it with others.