Discretion Please

screen-shot-2016-10-25-at-6-12-03-amThe father of someone I’m connected to on Facebook recently passed away. Very recently. Just a few minutes ago, in fact. How do I know this? Because the connection in question said so on his Facebook wall: “My father passed away just moments ago”.

How does this work, exactly? I imagine this fellow sitting vigil by his father’s side, holding his dad’s frail hand, the thumb of his other hand hovering over the “Send” key in a pathetic frenzy to raise the profile of his Facebook page.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed but discretion is out – way out. What’s in? Sharing online every thought, emotion, impulse and event as it occurs. In our therapeutic age, grief is out and healing is in. After a mass shooting, the bodies aren’t even cold yet before the self-directed cries for “Let the healing begin” are heard.

And to the extent that we do still grieve it’s not for the departed’s loss but for our loss. In this regard clergy have been of little help. The secular world having infiltrated religion far more than the reverse, clergy insist that when we cry for the dead we’re actually crying for ourselves. With all due respect, not me: I’m crying for the departed’s loss.

When I was a kid I heard someone say “You can learn a lot by keeping your mouth shut.” The truth of it was obvious to me even then. Speak less, listen more, take it all in and you’ll gain in knowledge. After all, you can’t speak and listen at the same time. Perhaps just as important, you can’t reflect and speak at the same time.

Sure, there are times when we reflect on this or that with a friend or spouse, but in general reflection takes place internally. Relating an experience before having a chance to digest its full meaning often invests it with undue import. But I’ve never regretted those occasions when I resisted the temptation to immediately share an experience that only just occurred.

This is true for both positive and negative experiences. Give something days or even just hours to breathe and the increase in clarity is revealing – and often reassuring. Whether it’s losing a job or winning the lottery, reflection and the passage of time often reveal what appear to be pivotal events into something not crucial, not turning points, not make or break.

Oftentimes what seem to be life-changing developments turn out to have a very different meaning from the narrative you’ve been weaving for yourself and others. Why we still envy lottery winners even though the lives of lottery winners invariably spin out of control is beyond me. Conversely, things like losing a job are very often the real beginning of a satisfying and career.

Like the ability to entertain yourself when bored, learning to keep your mouth shut is a valuable tool: you may even find that it enables you to keep up with the truth.

Return to daviDDeeble.com or watch me perform the Flaming Marshmallow Balance of Mystery on the Late Late Show.

 

Gorgeous Rainbow Straddles America As Trump, Clinton Step Down

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Look – it could happen. And Hurricane Matthew could pull out of North Carolina over that state’s bathroom law.

Before the emergence of Trump vulgar comments about women on Access Hollywood dominated the news cycle, Bill Clinton’s characterization of Obamacare as “the craziest thing in the world” was making headlines. To put Bill Clinton’s statement into perspective, he’s married to Hillary Clinton.

Trump – the gift who keeps on giving – has ensured the former president’s comments about Obama’s signature legislation are ancient history. So grave did the Trump camp deem their candidate’s comments on Access Hollywood that Trump deigned to fax in a characteristic pseudo-apology when The Donalnd does his best thinking/seething: at midnight.

Only time will tell if Trump, the most under-estimated presidential candidate of all time, can survive. Remember when the New York Times was publishing all those stories about Bill Clinton groping women? Neither do I.

Bill Clinton, of course, was the embodiment of a conventional politician while Trump is not, although few can doubt that had Trump rapped his comments about women he might have received an invitation to the White House.

Meanwhile, the seasoned Clinton machine is attempting to seize advantage with a top-to-bottom re-branding of their candidate:

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Return to daviDDeeble.com or learn more about my talk, Winning With A Bad Hand.

 

Marketing: The New Caring Profession

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Is that coffee you’re drinking fair-trade certified and ethically sourced? Is the microprocessor in your laptop manufactured by a company whose board is half comprised of women? Have the holes in your blue jeans been carefully frayed by Indonesians working in an air-conditioned surround?

Vanity is an ugly vice; vanity with regard to one’s virtue is somehow uglier. Crowing about one’s personal wealth, athletic accomplishments or extensive travel is off-putting. Yet marketers increasingly seem to see moral preening as a virtue: “Good people eat this tuna and not that tuna”. “Bad people drive those cars and good people drive this car”. “Setting homeless people on fire is wrong”.

Maybe that last one isn’t a good example but you get the idea.

This orgy of virtue isn’t merely an attempt to appeal to the vanity of hippies but a form of tribalism: good, caring people versus the indifferent masses. But it also pits another pair of consumers against one another: the poor versus the well-off. And the increased production costs associated with caring disproportionately affects those consumers on limited budgets. For example, shade-harvested coffee is a welcome development if you’re a poor Guatemalan coffee harvester. But if you’re a poor Guatemalan coffee drinker? Not so much.

For the cash strapped, such a cost increase is just the thin edge of a very wide wedge. While the well-off fret over the cost of wine and Chilean sea bass, the poor are left in thrall to the cost of butter, eggs and pancake mix (trust me, it goes a long way). California’s widely-applauded law expanding the dimensions of cages transporting live chickens to market is another example. Such a law is wonderful if you’re one of those poor chickens. But if you’re a poor person sensitive to the price of eggs and other staples of the underprivileged diet? Not so much.

In the regulation-palooza world of food labeling, the FDA dictates in tiny paragraphs everything from what manufacturers must disclose to consumers to the font used to disclose it. Maybe we need a federal agency whose mandate is to ensure that consumers are made aware of the price increases resulting from the production costs associated with everything from non-GMO underwear to free-range snails.

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Solve Problems By Fixating On Goals, Not The Problems

screen-shot-2016-09-29-at-9-11-00-pmWhy do some people seem perpetually overwhelmed by problems while others appear to manage them quite nicely? One reason is that people with problems tend to accumulate more problems. Every doctor knows that minor infections are no big deal to people who are basically healthy. But if you have a problem that compromises your immune system – like HIV – then even minor problems easily become major ones.

As another example, consider the sad biographies of those who’ve lost their lives to serial killers like Jeffrey Dahmer. Were these young men regularly employed, forming meaningful bonds with others, earning and saving money while seeking a lasting, monogamous relationship? No: for the most part they were staying out late having sex with strangers like Dahmer in exchange for $50.

Another reason people become overwhelmed by problems is the tendency to allow problems to crowd-out everything else. We treat problems as deer do headlights: fixating not on our goals but on the headlights until eventually the headlights solve us. Like a hurdler training his vision exclusively on a hurdle, we can’t help but collide with it.

None of this is to say that when problems arise, as they inevitably do, they should be ignored. But it’s wise to keep many problems in the periphery of your vision while you keep your eyes on the prize. Like a great hurdler, you’re more likely to accomplish your goals by focusing on the finish line, not the hurdles.

Return to daviDDeeble.com or watch me perform the Flaming Marshmallow Balance of Mystery on the Late Late Show with James Corden.

You Think Too Much

A 45-year old woman old looks at a photo of herself at 38 and is astonished at how much younger she looked just seven years prior. At 50 she’s chagrined to see how great she looked at 42. At 60 she’d give anything to look as she did when she was only 50.

A man’s early career success begins to cool and he comes to resent merely having steady work. Then he must begin hustling for the steady work while longing for the day when work came to him.

Miserable one moment, ecstatic the next, we lack the wisdom of King Solomon who knew that this, too, shall pass. .

So what’s going on here? What’s not going on is an objective assessment of one’s beauty or career success. “I am ugly” or “I am a failure” are characterizations, as are “I am beautiful” or “I am a success”. They are attempts at finding meaning through storytelling.

When I won the International Jugglers Association’s junior championships, I told myself a story: “I’m going to become the best juggler in the world.” Eight years later, when a head injury cost me the coordination in my right arm, I told myself a different story: “I’m trapped and there’s no escape”.

I had been telling myself this story for years when a friend handed me the abstract into the FAA’s investigation into the fatal crash of Eastern flight 401. The investigation revealed that while captain, first officer and entire crew distracted themselves with a story about how the need to replace a light fuse in the plane’s control panel, they lost sight of their job: monitoring the plane’s altitude. As a result, the plane crashed shortly before midnight into the inky blackness of the Everglades.

Stop characterizing, look outward and get to work.

Return to daviDDeeble.com or watch my latest set at the Comedy & Magic Club in Hermosa Beach, California.

Compared To What? Thoughts On Gratitude

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People make mistakes, like the time my wife bought me some home-brew coffee which wasn’t Starbucks French Roast. I was hopeful: given the scale of my coffee career we’d save a lot of money over time with the brand she was steering me toward. I took one sip, sealed the air-tight lid on what remained then scribbled the words “Save for guests” on the front.

Then one 5 a.m. I realized I was out of my French Roast. Wiping the sleep from my eye, I shuffled toward the car keys in a foolish, inchoate attempt to drive to the grocery store. After realizing the insanity of operating heavy equipment without a coffee in me, my forlorn gaze fell upon my wife’s purchase.

With the relief that occasions waking up from a disturbing dream, I put my single-cup Keurig coffee maker to work then continued with my morning routine. The coffee brewed, I took a sip and a noticed something funny: it wasn’t terrible anymore. It wasn’t even bad. It was good.

John Updike once wrote a short story about a man desperately seeking a toilet. Finally finding one, the humble toilet appears to him to be one of the most beautiful things he’s ever seen. In non-fiction, U.S. war hero Louis Zamperini tells the story of waking up one day on his life raft adrift in the middle of the Pacific Ocean to discover a seagull resting on his forehead. He quickly grabbed the bird and devoured it, saying it tasted like a banana split with chocolate syrup, whipped cream and cherry on top.

Why was my wife’s coffee so much better the second time? That’s right: because the first cup was tasted against a backdrop of an ample supply of own coffee. The second time I brewed it, though, it was my only alternative to the unthinkable: going without coffee.

I don’t pretend to know if mothers still say it to their complaining children today, but when I was a kid we were always reminded that “Somewhere in the world somebody has it worse”. Then, as now, it caused me to reflect that at any given moment there’s a child in the world who actually does have it worse than anyone else. (What does his mother tell him? Then again definitionally he doesn’t have a mother.)

It’s said that Olympians who win the bronze medal are often more satisfied with their result than those who win the silver: the latter compares her result to the gold medalist’s while the former compares her result to finishing out of a medal entirely.

What should be the attitude, then, be of those Olympians who actually do finish out of a medal? Should they be grateful merely for the opportunity to compete? Yes. And what of those who fail to qualify for the Olympics altogether? Should they appreciate the opportunity to have given it their best shot? Yes. What about those who will never fulfill their dream of attending the Olympics, let alone compete in them: should they, too, be grateful for the opportunity to watch The Games on tv and online?

You know my answer.

Return to daviDDeeble.com or watch me roll a honeydew melon down my back and pierce it between my legs with a garden hoe at the Magic Castle.

Time Decides, Not You

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Sometimes what appears to be a fork in the road turns out only to be a bump in the road. Most of us have experienced something which seemed catastrophic at the time – a job loss, a divorce, an entire chocolate cake devoured in a single seating – but with the passing of time one realizes it wasn’t catastrophic after all.

Other times what appears to be catastrophic does turn out to be life-changing but in a positive sense. When a head injury cost me the coordination in my right arm, I largely lost my ability to juggle at a professional level but over time I developed a workaround which ended up taking me places conventional juggling never could.

Then, of course, there are what appear to be incredible blessings which eventually come to haunt us. Think of the countless lottery winners whose lives spin out of control as if on cue or the boffo young actor who falls prey to the trappings of fame and fortune.

So what’s the point? The point is that Much of the pain in life comes not from events but our characterization of events. . And a monomaniacal insistence on finding meaning from events in real time.

This was the view of the stoic philosopher Epictetus. For example, if you drop your favorite coffee mug causing it to shatter into a million shards it’s tempting to think of it as anything from unfortunate to a profound misfortune. According to Epictetus you should not engage in characterization at all, positive (“It’s a growing experience!”) or negative (“Somebody kill me”).

Learn to think of the facts in your life in exactly those terms: facts. “My favorite mug is shattered”. One advantage of this approach is that describing it thus makes you right and being right is an important contributor to happiness, except for pessimists who are happy to be proven wrong.

Return to daviDDeeble.com or watch my latest set at the Comedy & Magic Club.

Is The Boss Laughing? Why Corporate Shows Are Easy

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There’s hardly a gig I haven’t done: nude cruises, kids’ birthday parties, comedy clubs,  The Tonight Show, colleges, parades, corporate events – you name it, I’ve done it. Of all of them, corporate shows are unique in at least one respect: the audience is keenly attuned to the boss’s reaction.

It’s not like performing for North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, of course, but corporate audiences do tend to be inordinately cautious about not laughing until they’re sure the CEO is.

Which makes performing for corporate audiences a nightmare, right?

Wrong. Why not? The reason is simple: the CEO isn’t worried about what her boss thinks – she is the boss. While employees, desirous of keeping their jobs, are taking cues from her, she’s simply enjoying the show.

This is one of the reasons corporate shows tend to be far easier than, say, college shows, where the boss (i.e. professors and faculty) are processing the show through their politically-correct (i.e. leftist) ideological lens rather than simply having a good time.

Return to daviDDeeble.com or watch me perform the Flaming Marshmallow Balance on the Late Late Show.

Fun Is Easy, Happiness Is Hard

10443158_788833557827333_4179652623399338578_oExercise is hard. My primary form of exercise – running – is particularly unfathomable to many. Yet when it comes to running long distances, I’m one of those annoying people who “get it”.

You know what I also get? Eating doughnuts. Who doesn’t love doughnuts? Fried dough, delectable vanilla icing, rainbow sprinkles. What’s more, eating doughnuts is a lot more fun than running. No matter how much I engage in both activities, eating doughnuts never fails to out-fun running. But here’s the thing: I eat doughnuts only rarely but I run 30 to 50 miles six or seven days a week. So what gives? Am I preternaturally disciplined? Obsessed with being skinny? Is someone always chasing me?

The answer is that I’m acutely self-aware of what makes me happy as opposed to what merely makes me feel good. Orgasms feel good yet I’ll wager that if I spent my life pursuing them I’d be a less happy person. If engaged in for a prolong period of time, fun things tend to make me miserable. Difficult things, conversely tend to make me happy.

Confusion about the difference between fun and happiness has caused no shortage of pain in people’s lives. A good question to ask yourself before engaging in any activity, from flossing your teeth to going to attending religious services, has been suggested by author Dennis Prager. The question is “How will I feel once I’m done?” Happiness-inducing activities tend to provide good feelings long after the activity has ceased. Merely fun things, however, tend to stop providing pleasure the moment one desists in the activity.

This phenomenon is easy to observe in children. Calling my children inside for dinner, they remain flushed with the joy of having played outside. They exhibit the “glow” I feel after a good run. But if I must inform them that it’s time to stop playing video games or watching Netflix, well, the words “profoundly irritated” best describe them.

We all know that passive entertainment diverts us for a time but leaves us less happy and more irritable. Yet we continue to eat junk food, play video games and watch too much tv instead of doing the hard work of exercising, reaching out to others and creating.

If you want to spend your life having fun then by all means, fill it with fun things. But if you want to spend your life being happy, pursue things that make you happy.

But most importantly, constantly remind yourself of the difference.

Return to daviDDeeble.com or watch my most recent set at the Comedy & Magic Club.

Stop Pining For A Clinton-Trump Dream Ticket

Change You Can Believe In, Okay?

Look, I get it: the American people face a difficult choice. Now that both parties’ primaries are over and the general election is finally upon us, it seems unfair that we must choose between Clinton or Trump.

But talk about a good problem to have!

Sure, it’d be nice to have a candidate on the ticket who embodied both the unbridled ambition of Clinton and the unmoored political philosophy of Trump – like Joseph Stalin, say. But instead of losing sleep over this decision, be grateful that God has blessed America with such a bountiful general election!

Don’t get me wrong: I’m conflicted just like everybody else. On the one hand, Hillary would be our first woman president. I think we can all agree that the last thing this country needs is another George Washington or Abraham Lincoln: BOR-ing! On the other hand, in Trump we have the kind of candidate who would protect America’s interests as only a true authoritarian can.

I understand why some are losing sleep lose sleep over this election. One minute I’m leaning Hillary: from the reset with Russia, the invasion of Libya and her handling of the difficult situation in Benghazi to the fact that she’s never been indicted, Hillary’s résumé speaks for itself. Talk about an ability to think inside the box! But hen I fluff my pillow and suddenly I’m leaning Trump, who understands that it’s the Constitution that’s obstructionist, not Republicans or Democrats as such.

Like many Americans, I was hoping that once the primaries were over that the choice before us would be a clear one rather than the current embarrassment of riches. The Republican primary showcased its remarkable depth of talented and young politicians, from Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Scott Walker to Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry and Chris Christie. And while the Democrats’ primary was a cozier affair, who couldn’t help but be impressed by candidates like Bernie Sanders, Martin O’Malley and something called Lincoln Chaffee.

But now we must make the most difficult choice of all: the jingoistic nativism of the unpredictable Trump or the corrupt cronyism of the all-too predictable Hillary. I hear you: 

 Well wish all you want but as Trump would say, it’s time to think white and get real. Maybe when Clinton and Trump debate one candidate will clearly stand out as less cover-your-eyes-awful than the other. But until that happens, I feel like the proverbial donkey who starves to death because it can’t decide which pile of hay to eat from because they both look so appetizing.

Return to daviDDeeble.com or see me perform the Flaming Marshmallow of Mystery on the Late Late Show