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.

 

Compared To What? Thoughts On Gratitude

screen-shot-2015-01-24-at-7-00-49-pm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-4-05-32-pm

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.

Two Types Of Competitiveness

Competetiveness

Most of as are familiar with two types of optimists: let’s call them the Hopeful and the Realists. The Hopeful believe, against all experience, that the best possible thing will happen. They tend to be characterized by childishness, naïveté and an inordinate tendency to be disappointed. Realists, on the other hand, tend to focus on the positive aspects of an outcome regardless of what happens. They tend to be characterized by maturity, calm and cheerfulness.

The Hopeful says “I will win America’s Got Talent!”. The Realist says “No matter what happens, there will be positive aspects.”

Similarly, there are two types of competitiveness: the kind that gnaws at you if you don’t finish first or win the gold medal (Michael Jordan) and the kind that aims to out-perform all the others while maintaining psychological equanimity in the face of catastrophe (Lou Gehrig).

But there is a third category of competitiveness which I’ll call the anti-competitive. You know the type: for example, the comedian who goes over the time allotted to him despite the despite that fact that he’s not getting any laughs.

Ask the funniest comedian on the bill how much material she has and the answer will be “About an hour”. Ask the least-funny comedian on the bill how much material she has and the answer will be closer to two hours.

These anti-competitive types aren’t interested in being the best performer on the bill. Indeed, it’s the furthest thing from their mind. They are “grateful to be there” and more interested in maximizing their potential (whatever that means), rather than maximizing the audience’s enjoyment.

Having been performing a period spanning nearly forty years, there are still very few things which I can proclaim with certainty but one of them is this: my sense of competitiveness is the number one driver of my success.

We live in a profoundly “soft” era: feelings and effort mean more than accomplishment. Winning a marathon means less finishing a marathon which, in turn, matters less than having the courage to start.

“I feel good about what I’m performing”, however, is very different than “I am the greatest ballet dancer in the world”.

Those aspiring to be successful performers should hew to the latter.

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

In Praise Of Checklists

screen-shot-2016-09-15-at-5-51-50-pm

Work out your principles during moments of calm so you can refer to them quickly during times of panic. .

I keep a checklist for everything I require for a full show, which covers everything from plastic grocery bags to a marshmallow. Because I know my checklist is comprehensive – created as it was during a period of reflection – it frees my mind to focus on more important things before the show like the specific needs of my client.

Consider the amateur actor who invests so much time “identifying with the character” and “investing emotionally” in the script only to walk onstage only to realize that he hasn’t memorized his lines.

Recently I got to thinking about Gene Krantz, the legendary vest-clad flight director of NASA’s Apollo space program. What a high-pressure job I thought. Imagine being the sole person responsible for green lighting a launch of human beings into space.

But then I got to thinking: Wait a minute: this guy has numerous others in charge of every conceivable aspect of the mission. Responsibility is broken down into incredible detail. Krantz’ job was basically ensuring that the vote is unanimous. He’s just a straw counter!

There’s the guy in charge of the rocket’s hydraulics. The mainframe computer. Even the lowly flight surgeon is on hand to monitor the astronauts’ heart rate. What does that leave for Krantz? Nothing other than the awesome responsibility of saying “You’re go for launch, Apollo”. Put me in a vest and I could do that job.

“Ah!” I hear you say. “But what about when something goes wrong like on Apollo 13?” Are you kidding me? That’s the easiest press conference in the world: you simply gesture to the guy in charge of that aspect of the mission that went to pot and say “Look – he said we were good to go. Now you’ll excuse me – I’m going to get quietly hammered.”

Return to daviddeeble.com or learn about my laugh-out-loud corporate presentation Winning With A Bad Hand.

The Futility of Envy

green eye textLast night I lay in bed with the mellow satisfaction one enjoys at the end of a particularly good day. Then, shortly before calling it a night, I checked-in on Instagram and suddenly found myself feeling jealous toward of a couple of my colleagues.

Instantly my mood had changed from mellow satisfaction to painful dissatisfaction. It was then that I reminded myself of words I had read many years ago by George Will and which have stayed with me ever since: Envy is only one of the seven deadly sins which does not provide the sinner even temporary pleasure.

In the annals of products promising quick relief, few will serve you better than these words have for me over the years. Implicit in shame is the possibility of a new beginning through forgiveness and making amends. Lust has its tantalizing appeal and righteous anger can be exhilarating. Envy, on the other hand, is the emotional equivalent to drinking Drain-O: nothing good comes from it.

When feeling envy, I remind myself of George Will’s words and then of how life is like a movie: it is comprised of countless “frames”: in one frame we’re winning the lottery; in another we’re stubbing our toe. And while it’s tempting to compare our own movie to someone else’s, it’s absolute folly to compare an individual frame to someone else’s, particularly if that frame is an outlier.

Besides, everyone’s “movie” eventually comes to an end. And like movies, the wise admire those lives which tell the best story while fools admire the biggest box-office hits.

Return to daviDDeeble.com or see how a head injury started my journey from a conventional- to comedic juggler.

If Life Was Fair You Wouldn’t Have It So Good

Screen Shot 2016-01-26 at 9.31.25 AM You’re walking down the street and find a $100 dollar bill on the sidewalk. Do you ask yourself “What did I do to deserve this?” What about when you receive a good diagnosis from your doctor?

I didn’t think so.

Why, then, do you do so when your car gets a flat en route to an important meeting or you wake up with sore throat?

Is misfortune to befall only the unjust? Are good people to go from success to success? Why must so many decent people walk miles for clean drinking water? Why is Donald Trump so successful?

The ability to rise above life’s vagaries – it’s thrills, disappointments, satisfactions and savage unfairnesses – affect every single one of us on a daily basis. A certain degree of calm is required to be effective, not to mention to remain sane. And calm isn’t possible if you don’t appreciate that truth we constantly remind our children: that life isn’t fair. If it was you’d be subsisting on tree bark like North Koreans or have a life expectancy of 46, as in Sierra Leone.

If it was, you wouldn’t have it so good.

Return to daviDDeeble.com or learn how a head injury instigated my transition from a conventional- to comedic juggler.

I’m Over-Training – and Loving Every Minute of It

IMG_5785The conditions were ideal: my wife and two children were visiting our family in Germany for six weeks, leaving me little to do except run about 40 miles a week and lift weights twice – really throughout – the day. I ended up actually gaining several pounds. Anyway, it’s amazing what you can do when there’s no kids around.

When they returned home it seemed like the perfect time to cut back, shift my focus to consistency by running easily but daily, maybe enter a few weekend races,. The thing is, just as I began backing off I began to notice the telltale signs of overtraining. It’s tempting to back off, of course, but then I remember what my friend and 2:09 marathoner Jerry Lawler once told me back in Boulder, Colorado: a little overtraining is a better than a little under training because you can always back off before a race but you can’t make up for under-training.

So I’m having fun with it, while using common sense. I’m doing absolutely no fast running but instead just focusing on my stride rate and posture and exchanging fast running for more of a strength-based, longer-than-is-prudent slow running.

These runs are characterized by beautiful scenery up here in Alaska, for example, where I ran today. When I felt my stride rate was slowing I concentrated on keeping it high, even if I was only running at little more than a shuffle. Satisfied that I was back on form, I’d resume into taking in the scenery.

Sometimes I’d find myself loosening up and pushing the pace slightly but even during these times I largely kept it under control, not pushing my body further than it seemed to want to go. It was a kind of “enjoy the ride” runs that are one of the many joys of this simple sport.

After returning home to my family after a week pushing myself up here in the beautiful Alaska surround, I’ll expect to cut back my running quite a bit and let my body recover and play with the kids, etc.  But in the meantime it’s still my Thanksgiving season and I’m going to enjoy overindulging for a while longer.

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

It’s Never Too Late To Learn

Face-Palm - Even kids get it.

Face-Palm – Even kids get it.

Have you ever looked at a photo of yourself from as little as five years ago and become amazed and more than a little depressed because of how much younger you looked? Similarly, five years from now you’ll look at a photo of yourself taken this afternoon and think “Man, I looked great!”

If, God willing, I live to be 80 years old, I’ll at photos of myself thirty years from now and think “What I would give the energy and youth of the man in that picture.”

What the point? One is to not be too harsh on yourself. “Slow learner” is not the same as “bad person”. Hold yourself accountable for your actions, by all means, but be humble knowing that better people than you have failed similarly. You are not alone.

But the more important lesson is that act of searching for happiness tends to foster and even induce happiness. This is why the U.S. Constitution says “the pursuit of Happiness” instead of “happiness” – they are two sides of the same coin.

Return to www.daviDDeeble.com or let me regale you with stories about my experience performing on a nude cruise…

Strong Body, Focused Mind

Screen Shot 2015-04-02 at 1.37.15 PM

I was in great shape last January. For some reason I decided to into great shape for an engagement on my calendar – something I had never even considered doing before.

Why did I do so this time? One reason that it was a weeklong run at the Magic Castle and after all, one does not simply walk into Mordor.

By the end of the week I learned some interesting things. For one thing, the strength I’d built up from moderate, consistent distance running running and working out with babies effectively reduced the physical workload of performing. More pertinent, onstage it freed my min  to focus on more pertinent things, like what am I doing with my life?

Was is it worth it? This Magic Castle bootleg nicely conveys the incredible reserves of energy my act requires.

In 24 days I’ll need to again be physically strong for my mind’s sake. I’ll make it – but it starts today.

Thoughts? Comments? Leave them in the section below.

Return to www.daviDDeeble.com.