Socially Awkward AF

Surveying the room with dread. Identifying traps and looking for opportunities. Safe zones in the corners. Land mines around the bar. I walk smiling and nodding. Looking for a hack. Crtl + Alt + Del. I need a reboot. Intercepted by man. I recognize him from the elevator ride up. “Wamp Wamp Waa”. He sounds like Charlie Brown’s teacher. I nod, feigning amusement. I chuckle with a sound I’ve been perfecting for years for these very moments. Another man touches his shoulder. Crtl + Alt + Del. Esc Esc. Just the hack I need to exit. Dipping in and out of uncomfortable spaces. Crtl + Alt + Del. Esc Esc. Made it to the bar. I sip bad wine and pretend it’s good. “Wamp Wamp Waa”. He found me using the same network pathway. We are joined by a woman. Small talk ensues. The man remarks on the extraordinary beauty of a young woman entangle in conversation among a pod of people next to us. He gives a foreboding glance and I wonder if he is conscious of #MeToo. “Wamp Wamp Waa”, they say to me. Reciprocity is expected. Crtl + Alt + Del. I need to hack this conversation. Esc Esc. A familiar face peers in my direction from a different pod of people and I make my way. Crtl + Alt + Del Dipping in and out of uncomfortable spaces. In familiar face, I’ve found a safe zone. Small talk ensues and again I am trapped.

Circuiting the room like a signal with no receiver. Page loading indicator just churning. That’s me in most social situations. Socially awkward as fuck. Conferences, fundraisers, meetings, it doesn’t matter. I tend to view the world through economic lenses. Inputs vs outputs. Risk vs reward. Investments vs returns. Gains vs losses. Over time, I have determined that the amount of energy expended during “small talk” is not worth the return on investment. For me…small talk is exhausting. I now know what the weather is like outside. The amount of traffic you traversed to get here. Your child’s school district. What’s my gain?

If nothing else, I am self-aware. I recognize this character deficiency. And I recognize the benefits of social capital. Yet still, social gatherings without my “wingwoman” are soul-crushing events without measurable personal benefit. This will come as a bit of a surprise for those who know me through my social media persona. The gregarious, opinionated person from Facebook is simply a personality construct for social media. A bit of personal branding if you will. The truth of the matter is that I am most comfortable sitting in a recliner with a glass of red wine reading a book or watching Netflix. Or getting caught up on the days events with my wife.

But I’m trying, friends. I’ve committed to getting out more in hopes of developing a set of skills that will help me survive social events. But the struggle is real.

The weather “Wamp Wamp Waa”. “How are things”? “What do you do”? Crtl + Alt + Del. Esc Esc….

What Happens To A Dream Deferred?

FullSizeRenderIt wasn’t long after I arrived on the campus of Syracuse University as the newly appointed Program Director for the University’s public radio station that I received a highly anticipated telephone call from my hometown of Baltimore, MD. The voice on the other end of the line informed me that my submission to the annual WMAR TV Arena Players Black History Month new playwright contest was selected as the winning script. The screams of excitement were heard throughout the studios and offices I assure you.

You see, there was a time when I fancied myself a writer. I had dreams of creating great works of poetry and fiction. Maybe even becoming a screenwriter. My best bud, Sean Yoes, and I would put a pen to paper transferring thought to pad as we itched to create the next great work. We’d hit the open mics and spin tales of urban woe; oppressed warriors shaking the shackles of modern slavery; and even tales of love and lust. In truth, our shit might have stunk, but we couldn’t smell it. Creativity was our drug and the Jones kicked in every day.

You should have seen us two knuckleheads from Walbrook High fumbling around the Mid-Atlantic Writer’s Conference back in the late 80’s. It was a conference full of academia and professional writers. We were the second coming of Arna Bontemps and Countee Cullen. The Harlem Renaissance would be reborn in us on that day…or so we thought.

The conference concluded and our resolve strengthened. We had dreams. Dreams of being writers. Dreams of being film makers. We would be integral parts of the creative class come hell or high water.

During that period, a local television station sponsored an annual contest for up and coming playwrights. The station, WMAR TV, partnered with the Arena Players, a local African-American community theater organization, to host the contest in celebration of Black History Month. The chosen playwright would receive a $1,000 cash prize and his/her play would be produced by the Arena Players and aired in the Baltimore metropolitan area on WMAR TV. It was a big freaking deal.

Twice before I attempted to submit a competed script and twice I failed to realize a finished product. Writer’s block got the best of me as did a lack of technology.1992 was a different year. 1992 would be my year. I was arrogant enough to condemn prior contest winners to the dung heap. Yet, as arrogant and cocky as I was, I still needed permission from my new bride to buy a word processor. Handwriting a complete script proved to be daunting.

$500 is what I needed to prove myself worthy of the dream. It might as well have been $5,000. $500 was a lot for us to consider spending. Having just jumped the broom three years prior and  adding a new addition to the family, every penny was needed for daily necessities. Yet there I stood before Angela Lee breaking down my simple plan – buy a $500 word processor on credit (a personal computer for us in the early 1990’s was unthinkable), write and submit the script, and win $1,000 for a net gain of $500.

It didn’t take much convincing. I could see the concern on her face but it quickly turned to a smile and a “yes”. Angela has always believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself. Her confidence in me fueled my creativity as I banged away at the word processor keyboard. It’s why I continue to be in love with her today.

I submitted the script to WMAR TV and accepted a new job in Syracuse, NY simultaneously. So much was happening at the time and it was overwhelming.

Flanked by my bride and 1-year-old daughter, mother and mother-in-law, I stood in the crowded Arena Players theatre listening to the buzz around me, anticipating the moment that my work would come to life on stage. Announcements made, lights dimmed, and there it was; a cheap imitation of Zora Neale Hurston and influences of every Harlem Renaissance writer I had ever read appeared on stage. The work wasn’t very good; it was just unique enough to win. The actors breathed life into my play which, ironically, was about fulfilling dreams.

I was buoyed by my family and good friends like Sean Yoes and Tony Perkins. Yet despite the kind words and praise of the actors and theatre attendees, I knew as I stood there that the dream had come to an end. I held my squirming 1-year-old and looked at my beaming bride and knew that the work that was ahead of me was not as a dramaturg, but as a husband, a father, and a radio guy. And with no regrets.

I think about Hughes’ question all the time. What happens to a dream deferred? We all have dreams. Fruition is the end game for all but only the lucky few get to see their biggest dreams unfold on the grand stage. For the rest of us, those dreams go through a metamorphosis of sorts. It doesn’t have to dry up or fester like a sore. And it needn’t sag like a heavy load. A dream deferred merely becomes a different dream and the dreaming itself is what sustains and drives us, isn’t it? Today my dreams are simpler and  they change from day-to-day; but always centered around my girls.

My friend Sean parlayed his dream of becoming a writer into a career as a journalist. Between the two of us, he was the far more talented scribe.  As for me, I just needed some sort of creative outlet. My dreaming is never-ending. There is no tragedy in unfulfilled dreams. Tragedy exist when we stop dreaming altogether.

Hold fast to dreams

For if dreams die

Life is a broken-winged bird

That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams

For when dreams go

Life is a barren field

Frozen with snow.

Langston Hughes

Married to High Maintenance

Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered

My wife Angela is undoubtedly a beautiful woman and takes “high-maintenance” to a different plateau. Aside from battling her for sufficient shelf space for my own personal care products, I am not affected by her beauty upkeep. It rarely disrupts my life. This morning was one of the rare occasions that it did. This morning, I found her beauty to be affecting and, in actuality, intoxicating.

She spent most of her before-work prep time in front of the bathroom mirror. I found myself looking in her direction quite often. I donned colorful socks and laced up my white shoes before stepping into the bathroom to brush my teeth. As I completed my oral hygiene routine, I moved closer to Angela to say goodbye and wish her a nice day. She was beautiful. More so than normal. She stood there, a vision, putting the final touches on perfection. Her hair laid perfectly. Makeup applied without flaw. Lip color popped like a single rose emerging from a dark stained glass vase. Her jeans defined contours that spoke to being a woman; grown and sexy. And she smelled damn good.

My overtures to “togetherness” were met with, “You’re just horny”. I know when I’m horny and this situation was far deeper than that. It was primal.IMG_0348

I refuse to boil all of that down to being horny. There were some other invisible forces at work here. I considered,for a moment, the possibility that I married a black-magic woman. That some voodoo root or spell had been cast on me. That she could manipulate me with a doll and a few stick-pins. Or some mystical concoction of chicken blood, dog hair and sassafras root had been mixed in my wine. But that would require that I believe in the mystical and I don’t.

Thoughts of her smell, her curves, her lips haunted me for most of my day and I had to know why. I needed to know why I felt this way today and not yesterday; why we are attracted to the people we find attractive; and if not a black magic root, then what? What drives our primal magnetism? How much does confidence, passion and personality come into play?

Turns out that there is a significant amount of research on what attracts us to our lovers and friends.

Research shows that a person’s most attractive trait is their availability. Somehow, Angela was communicating some serious availability this morning.

In dating relationships, it is about physical availability – will this person mate with me? Within long-term relationships it’s more about emotional availability. Is this person available to connect with me?

Sexy body language also comes into play. An open torso is a non-verbal communication signaling availability. Folded arms will get you the opposite effect. Visible hands tend to signal trust. Studies show that we mistrust someone if we can’t see their hands.

Did you know that a man can detect a woman’s fertility? The is perhaps pheromones at work. A woman will give off a different scent during the fertility cycle that might make her more attractive to men. These are serious DNA level decisions that we have no control over.

Research also suggest that we are more attractive to bilateral symmetry. Meaning that a person’s facial features are aligned and proportionate. This is important to diversifying and deepening the gene pool. Asymmetry can mean that there is some DNA damage at play and our internal wiring will suggest that we move on to more attractive options.

Then we have the “cuddle hormone”, Oxytocin. Oxytocin is a powerful hormone that renders grown, macho men into snugly teddy bears. It plays a huge role in pair bonding. It is thought to be released when hugging and touching and can increase in men as they get older. It causes us to seek closeness and physical contact.

Wife’s confidence and swagger is damn near erotic as well. In watching her get ready this morning, I knew that she was preparing to kick ass in the workplace. She sauntered. When she saunters, you know her swag meter is on 10.

So here’s what likely contributed to this morning’s experience: 1) All of Angela’s mirror primping, hair adjusting, and makeup application revealed a perfect symmetrical face; 2) Angela was likely at the height of her fertility cycle and, thus, emitted high pheromone levels; 3) Angela communicated physical and emotional availability; and 4) my Oxytocin levels were off the chart. Then again, I could have been horny. Regardless of the cause, I’ll have a bit of fun further exploring this over the weekend.

5 Ways Wine is Better Than Sex

wine2Yes, it is true. I love wine and everyone knows it. My Instagram account is full of wine photos, my Tweets are about wine, and my Facebook posts are largely centered around vino. A friend remarked that I appear to cherish wine over most things, including sex.  Maybe I do and maybe I don’t; but here are 5 ways that wine is more enjoyable than sex:

  1. Wine pairs better with food. Despite kinky movies like Nine 1/2 Weeks and others that try to convince you that sex and food are fun, it is indeed a messy proposition at best. A well balance Cabernet Sauvignon paired with a juicy burger or perfectly cooked steak will delight your senses. What it won’t do is tangle your hair, stick to your fingers, or create extra laundry. Keep your whipped cream and pass me a good Spanish red.
  2. As they say, variety is the spice of life. There are many different grape varieties and types of wine to enjoy. Red wines, white wines, sparkling wines, dessert wines, fortified wines…the list goes on. Cabernet grapes, Chardonnay grapes, Pinot Noir grapes, Riesling grapes, Malbec grapes, Merlot grapes…this list, too, can go on ad infinitum. And while there are numerous positions described in the Kama Sutra, unless you are a contortionists or your partner weighs 80 pounds, you are probably experiencing 2 to 3 of those positions on average at best.
  3. Wine last longer. According to Dr. Harry Fisch, author of The New Naked: The Ultimate Sex Education for Adults, almost half of men surveyed finish sex within two minutes. That’s about how long it takes me to brush my teeth. A good full-bodied wine will have a long finish on the palate and you can nurse a glass or two or three long into the evening for hours of enjoyment. And you won’t have a frustrated partner.
  4. Wine is easy to open and get started. You need only peel the foil, pop the cork, and pour to enjoy the taste of great wine. It’s a three-step process people. There are 5 phases in the sexual-response cycle and let’s not mention the time, energy and effort needed for foreplay. That’s a lot of effort for 2 minutes of action. The economics here are not in your favor.
  5. With wine, you can have as much as you like when you like. Wine doesn’t have a bad day at the office. Wine doesn’t get headaches. Wine doesn’t have to be quiet because the kids are awake. Wine doesn’t get PMS.  And you don’t have to wait 24 hours until you have another.

Kama

Mood Indigo – Part 2

 

Green Lakes Park
Green Lakes State Park

I imagine that the things that cause sadness also cause stress. As noted in part one of Mood Indigo, we as a society are a pretty blue bunch. We find less joy in our careers than many other societies around the world. Most likely because most of us are not doing what we really want to be doing. Hell, it may not even be an option for some.

Given the sad state we find ourselves cocooned in, adding stress to the picture can only increase the fragility of our mental being. But there are things that we can do to counterbalance the negative affects.

This is not new stuff but it is stuff we often forget about. I’m speaking of the power of green space. Researchers are discovering, with each passing day, that surrounding yourself with nature can be one of the most powerful stress-relievers available. And its mostly free.

Did you know that those who live in areas with the most amount of green space show lower levels of cortisol and their self-reported feeling of stress is lower than those who spend more time in urban settings?  Catherine Ward Thompson, director of the OPENspace Research Centre at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland says that getting outside forces you to get a little exercise which is a natural energy boost.

It is said that focusing on natural scenes gives voluntary attention a rest and allows involuntary attention to take over and recharge the human psyche. In other words…chill the f*#! out!  Cities with high numbers of parks are reportedly having more success battling obesity and diabetes.  Even relatively passive contact with nature-such as viewing it from a window- lowers blood pressure and anxiety levels.

So what do you do?  It’s as easy as a walk in the park really.

You must find your go-to spot. I have 2 of them. While I do have windows in my office, one is roughly 4 feet off the ground and looks onto another building. The other provides a view of the landscape outside our building. I need only glance over my left shoulder for a glimpse of leaves and flowers bending to the force of a breeze. But on a particularly stressful day at work, I take a stroll across my University’s quadrangle. The trees, grass and ivy covered buildings provide a sense of peace and calming.

Syracuse University Quad
Syracuse University Quad

On a sunny day, when it is quiet there, it’s like floating on a cloud. And the affects are far from ephemeral. The peace stays with me for quite some time for the remainder of the day. I am also fortunate to have a rose garden just two blocks from my office. There I think through issues or think about nothing at all. Nothing but the wonderful variety of roses to behold.

My favorite thinking spot
My favorite thinking spot

Perhaps one of my favorite places in the world is Green Lakes State Park which lies just a mile and a half from my home. Acres and acres of woods, trails, two lakes and a championship golf course provide the perfect natural setting. I go often after work and on weekends to run, walk the dogs or quietly stroll and think. One of my favorite thinking spots is the bench pictured above.

The trail circles around both lakes and branches off too
The trail circles around both lakes and branches off too

A stroll on the scenic trail around Green and Round lakes is good for people watching or nature watching. Brief chats with other visitors is also an added benefit.

Fallen trees scattered about the shore line is beautiful in itself
Fallen trees scattered about the shore line is beautiful in itself

The park staff take great care in leaving things in their natural state which makes for a more authentic natural experience.

Good for family time
Good for family time

While I do enjoy my alone time, my more favored moments are when my family joins me on the journey. We talk and laugh and connect in ways that you can’t in front of the television.

These natural spaces need to be protected in order to preserve our own health. Our physical and mental health are dependent on them.

If you want less stress and more happiness in your life, don’t take green space for granted. In fact, be more strategic with how you incorporate it. Do anything that you would normally do inside on the outside. Eat a meal outside or trade a treadmill run for an outdoor run. Surf the net on your patio. Do you normally prescribe an afternoon coffee pick-me-up? Try walking on a nice day instead. Move a casual or work related chat with a colleague outdoors.

Spring and summers in the northeast are very short. I try to take advantage of as much outdoor time as I can. I am a much happier person when I do.

Do you have a go-to green space?  I’d love to hear about it.

Mood Indigo – Part 1

sadness

Hey guys.

If you’re feeling blue, you are not alone. A recent Galup study shows that American well-being has not improved in six years and actually took a tumble in 2013.  As a nation, we are a collective group of sad saps. Other reports suggests that 85 percent of Americans are unhappy in their current jobs. Where are you on the happiness continuum?

It is becoming increasingly difficult to find rewarding, life altering work. I’m not talking about success here. Many of us are successful by obvious financial measures, career progression and the amount of shit we collect. Many findings highlight that high percentages of professionally successful people and those with significant wealth are actually not happy. It’s shown, too, that financial and career success could actually be hindering our happiness and well-being.

Jackie Ruka, author of “Get Happy and Create a Kick Butt Life!” says that as a society we have gotten it backwards: “it’s happiness that leads to success not vice versa.” Some forward-thinking companies like Zappos, Google and Pfizer work to include “happiness” as part of their company culture.

You are unlikely to make a drastic career move tomorrow so what can you do to eradicate the blues?  Ruka offers these scientifically studied happiness strategies:

  1. Savor ordinary events. Study participants who took time to do this showed significant increases in happiness and reductions in depression.
  2. Avoid comparisons. Why are you worried about what someone else has? Focus on your own personal achievements instead of making comparisons to others will better impact your happiness and self-esteem.
  3. Put money low on the list. According to researchers Kasser and Ryan, those who put money high on the priority list are at greater risk for depression.
  4. Have meaningful goals.
  5. Make friends and treasure family. Social capital is important to well-being. Just make sure that they are genuine and meaningful. Lose the losers.
  6. Take initiative at work. Make your work more rewarding.
  7. Fake it until you make it. Act happy until you are happy. Studies show that this actually works.
  8. Keep a gratitude journal. I like to keep a mental running list of things I’m thankful for.
  9. Get Moving. According to a Duke University study, exercise may be as effective as drugs in treating depression.
  10. Serve others. Helping others, volunteering, donating goods and services results in more health benefits than exercising or quitting smoking.

So don’t wallow in the blues. There are things that you can do to improve your mental health while you develop a way to improve your career situation.  Have you found the secret to happiness? What suggestions do you have for the rest of us?

Part 2 of Mood Indigo will be about controlling your stress and mood through environment so please check it out.  Credit for much of this information goes to Stephanie Fisher at Kern Communications and Jackie Ruka, author of “Get Happy and Create a Kick Butt Life!”.