Mar 28, 2013

A Bold Move

What will it take for you to make A Bold Move in your life?  I've been asking myself that a lot lately.  I've been asking myself that ever since Sandy.  Because Sandy was a push, a nudge.  It was a message.  It's a test, it still is.  But where is it nudging me towards?  What's the message?  What sort of test is this?

For me, the message has been clear:  Work Harder, Live Cleaner, Positive Vibes.  Keep fighting, don't give up.  Because if you do, you're doomed, you're dead.  Be strong but give yourself your time to recover from all this, to prepare for the tough days still ahead.  You can't do 2000 pushups in a day even if you'd like to sometimes.  Your house won't be rebuilt tomorrow.  Relax.  Breathe.  Be brave.  Speak your mind.  Take chances.

I talk A Big Game in this space.  I spout a lot of cliches.  Am I just drinking the Kool-Aid?  Isn't it easier to go back to being complacent, to set lower standards for myself, for others?  Sure.  It's easier.  It's always easier to settle.  There's less at stake.

I guess that's why I write this shit down, because it would be so much easier to give up if I didn't, so much simpler to settle for what would be - at best - quiet mediocrity.  I wouldn't feel as accountable for the words I typed, the things I said, the promises I made.  I could just endure this madness alone, quietly, or maybe back in therapy.  The couple hundred or so of you reading this - friends, family, fans, complete strangers - are waiting to see if I'll come back from all this or just shit the bed completely.  Things can't stay static in my story, there is too much that has happened, too much still happening in what has been an uphill battle since the storms came and changed my life forever.  In a strange way, I need that validation.

It's like when I run.  I always time myself.  Always.  Because I always want to beat the time before, I always want to do better.  I want it recorded so I can go back and look at it in a month, and say 'Look at you go, motherfucker.'  I need that.  I need to stay hungry.  I need my hunger to be documented, otherwise I'll sit on the couch and eat ice cream in the dark and no one will be the wiser.

The only way you can begin to Kick Ass is to believe that you can.  If I need to reaffirm those beliefs in My Stupid Blog - if that's one of the things that helps me achieve what I need to achieve - then so be it.  So be it.  I don't mind.  I like to write.  Whether I know what the hell I'm talking about is up to you, the loyal reader.  Either way, I believe what I'm spewing - whether you think I'm a noble warrior or Batshit Crazy Hopeless, I thank you for reading.  Truly I do.

You're welcome, Ron.  It's easy to talk A Big Game, but can you practice what you preach? 

I can either become the man I want to be or I can become A Disappointment, A Sad Case.  You can drive a nice car, you can live in a nice apartment, you can get married, you can start a family, but you can still be A Sad Case - as a parent, as a friend, as a lover, as part of a team.  You can conceal it well, you can fool people for awhile, maybe forever.  But you can't fool yourself.  You have to be real in order to truly be great.  This guy knows what I'm talking about.

Thanks to Sandy, it's easy to label me A Sad Case right now, to feel bad for me.  I turn on NY1 and it's five Sandy stories an hour - all day, every day.  It's my neighbors on Staten Island, my fellow victims across this big city - still rebuilding, still fighting, still in trouble.  The rest of the media has predictably eased itself back into generally ignorant normalcy.  After all, Kim Kardashian wore three separate outfits yesterday.  Priorities, people.

Me Today, me right now - the jerk writing this blog at this exact moment - this is the Best Adult Me that has ever been.  This is The Most Real Me that has ever been.  And I believe the best is still to come, that The Most Real Me has the best chance of becoming The Most Successful Me, the happiest me, the most fulfilled, the most fulfilling.  There is still work to do, still a path I need to stay on.  And I'm right on course.  My fate won't be revealed overnight, not with all the moving pieces in my world right now.

And that's the test - Sandy's gift and Sandy's curse.  Patience.  We're all in a rush, especially here in The Rat Race.  We all have our crystal ball, where we see ourselves further down the Yellow Brick Road.  All noble sentiments aside, you can bet your ass your Magic 8-Ball will be far from accurate.  Odds are you won't wind up in your dream city with the perfect job, the perfect mate, the perfect life.  And if that doesn't happen - and it rarely does - what does that leave you with?  Will where you actually land, will what you end up with be good enough?  Will you be able to live with your regrets?

That's why it's time for A Bold Move.  Not tomorrow.  But soon.  Soon.  You can't just wait for things to change, you have to make them happen yourself.  You have to wear your heart on your sleeve.  You have to emote.  You have to produce.  You have to recognize that no situation can be perfect until you position yourself in a way to make it so.

I lost another co-worker this week, another decade-younger-than-me radio junkie leaving the nest - doing what I never did, what I should have done.  They kicked me out 8 years ago and I still didn't leave.  I came back full-time for 5 more years.  I was getting married, so I needed to put responsibility before risky business.  I was secure, it was a comfortable place, a familiar one.  I needed them to support me and they needed me to fill a particular role.  Things were okay even if they weren't great.  I settled, and 5 years later, I'm still not where I want to be, where I need to be.  It's like being the 25th man on the roster of a championship baseball team.  You know your role, you do it right, you don't screw up.  You're at the end of the bench but you get to be part of a quality team.  Maybe you steal a base or make a great catch in the playoffs and you become Homer Bush or Endy Chavez.  You gain little notoriety, but you can still show up at your cousin's Little League awards dinner and wow the neighborhood kids.

That's not good enough for me.  And it wasn't good enough for my co-worker, Loren, either.  Loren had a similar role on the show.  A lot of grunt work, little glamor.  She was clawing for airtime the way I did when I was her age, and I give her credit.  She worked hard, she put the time in.  She had a passion for what she did even if she complained about it as much as I do.  In our sort of roles, complaining - frustration - can be a birthright.  Loren is driven.  And now she'll be driving up to Boston for a more hi-profile position as my friend TJ's co-host in a very competitive market during a very uncertain time in our industry.  Most radio pros would not forecast good things for my friends' new show.  They're unproven in the roles they're about to take on even if they're proven themselves ten times over in the roles they have been in.  It's risky.  They were comfortable.  It's stupid.  They had security.  It's A Bold Move.

And I think it's great.  Because they had peaked in the roles they were in.  More than likely, in their current positions, this was as good as it was gonna get.  And even tho that's not so bad, it's not good enough for TJ or for Loren, either.  There was still a better option even if it wasn't the more practical one.  Risky business was the way to go.  It's symbolic, in its small way, of what I'm going through.  Only two things can happen:

1) They'll try really hard, they'll make an impact, and they'll ultimately fail.  They'll prove the experts, the doubters right.  And they'll still be okay, they still have the passion and skill sets to land somewhere else.  Even if they sputter out, they're both about to connect to a whole new set of people in the industry they want to work and thrive in who can help send them on more adventures, perhaps even bigger ones.

2) They're gonna kick some ass, they're gonna be great, they're gonna be industry stars.  They're gonna make their dent.  They're gonna make their supporters proud and their naysayers envious.  They're gonna sit down with the ratings in two years and look at each other and say, "Holy Shit, We Did It." 

Isn't that what it's all about?  Defying the odds?  Isn't it all about "Holy Shit, We Did It"?

Either way, they're gonna learn a lot about what they're made of, and that's probably the most important thing.  You'll never grow if you don't take chances.  I didn't talk to Loren about her departure like I did with TJ because I knew I'd hear all of the same things I heard from him.  Cliche things.  Big Game things.  "I'd be a fool not to take this chance for someone who believed in me, for believing in who I can become." 

Go dream the dream, you maniacs.  I'm pulling for you.

Loren and I enjoying the spoils of radio victory.
Me, I'm still feeling shackled by my own post-Sandy responsibilities, by my confused heart, by my concern that Time Is Running Out.  But these are also the things that make me most want to break free, to fly higher.  I have to.  I have to.  I'm not satisfied.  I'm not ready for A Bold Move but I feel destined to make one.  Not today, but soon.

A year ago, I was given a gift.  An opportunity, a chance to Get It Right.  You don't get these gifts often, they're fleeting.  Sometimes they only happen once in a lifetime.  Often, people don't even recognize these gifts for what they are.  Most of us think we have something coming to us, that we're owed things just because we exist.  I used to be one of those people.

A year ago, I wasn't in a position to fight for what I believed in, to earn what was put before me.  I was Damaged Goods.  I wasn't ready, I was unworthy - and so opportunity fizzled out before it could turn into Something Special, something wonderful.  It was a false start.  And it was a lesson.  Better to have a false start and ultimately finish strong than to stay damaged, stay static.  You can keep things the same or you can make adjustments and try again, try harder.

When I lost the first girl I ever really loved over a decade ago, I prayed for her return.  I prayed and prayed and prayed.  I walked into random churches and prayed, I knelt before statues in my bedroom with my hands clasped and talked to no one in particular - begging, crying, pleading for another chance.  I wrote songs, I wrote love letters.  And nothing happened.  I never got my second chance.  

I'm not a religious person.  I was acting this way because I felt I had no other alternative.  I was desperate.  And it was all a big waste.  Not because my prayers weren't answered - because, whether God exists or not, they didn't deserve to be answered.  I hadn't learned anything.  I was being selfish even after I was being punished for being selfish.  I should have been trying harder right then and there, should have been doing the work instead of expecting someone else or God or The Easter Bunny or Batman to do it for me.  Some people take longer than others to finally figure it out.  And some people never learn.

Things are different now.  I am different now.  I'm awake.  And that's the most important difference.  Because The Same Ol' Me was going nowhere fast.  He wasn't a bad guy, he had some really good qualities - but he needed some tweaks.  The Same Ol' You might be going nowhere fast, too.  We all need tweaking.  But do we all want tweaking?  I do.

And with tweaking comes a resolution to find the truth - in yourself and in your expectations, and in others, for better or for worse.  No more excuses.  You're not obligated to live your life in accordance with others, only according to your own expectations.

So what do you want to be when you grow up?  The same little boy or girl you've always been?  Is Self-Realization enough?  Are these words enough?  Action.  You have to take action.  Your life can't be a cliche or a sneaker company's campaign slogan, it has to be pure and true and honest.  It has to be yours.  I'm on target towards A Bold Move - maybe the pieces in my life will move to make it easier, maybe they won't.  It doesn't matter.  I'm in charge now.  Not Sandy, not contractors or Uncle Sam or FEMA or my parents or the girls I loved.  Not the ghosts of my past and not the uncertainty of my future.  Just me, right now.  Stay on the path, dummy.  Stay on the path. 

Mar 6, 2013

Redirecting The Meteor

Sometimes what's really going on in your actual life is too big for anything else, too deep to make writing about it seem like less than folly.  It pushes everything else into the background.  It's this meteor that has entered your atmosphere - hot as fire, massive, an unstoppable orb.

That's me right now, that's me tonight.  Not surprisingly, I want to feel the burn.

I'm a romantic.  If you look that word up in the dictionary (remember dictionaries?), you'll see words beside it like Imaginary.  Visionary.  Idealist.  All fair companions.  Because to be romantic, you have to have imagination.  You have to have a clear vision of the future.  You have to have ideals.

You have to have Big Ideas.

It has always been this way for me, and the objects of my romantic affections have always been girls.  I had a different secret crush every year from fifth grade through high school.  I was writing love letters, leaving mystery notes.  I was fantasizing, idealizing these lovely little lasses that I knew very little about.  But in reality, I never wound up with any of those girls.  I never kissed them or bedded them or took them to the prom.  Up until I was 20, being a romantic meant being a failure.  It was a source of pain and the occasional awkward moment - it perpetuated my shyness, it stunted my growth.

Things changed once I found a girl that was right for me, that I was connected to.  The love letters were given and received in equal share, the admiration and the feelings were finally mutual.  Romance became a rewarding sport.  It was eye-opening magic that made all that rejection seem like another guy's life.  When it all went to shit nearly 7 years later, I couldn't understand why.  How could this have happened?

The answers are always easy once you stop denying the truth and you start understanding it instead.  Romance can't blossom when it's drowned in lies.  If you're not true to your feelings, if you're deceptive to others, your relationships will never be full of romance, they'll be hard to maintain even if they seem manageable.  Instead, they'll be full of shit.  And yet it happens all the time.  It happened to me, it has probably happened to you.  For some of us, it happens over and over again.

We think we can live in denial, we can rationalize until we find a way to accept this fatal flaw as a little boo-boo instead of the massive head wound that it really is.  Most people live with it silently, they take stuff to the grave.  Others may take it to a friend or a therapist or to the nearest bar.

We all have secrets.

I'm done with all that.  I've been done with it.  It's an anchor, it's a curse.  I was doomed from the moment I stopped being a romantic.  I became a "guy."  A wolf.   I started working in two industries - music and radio - that bred wolves.  I grew up in the age of hair metal, where the prevalent themes were spandex, teased hair, and Getting Pussy.  Radio was less complicated, but no more noble.  Radio was the equivalent of Nerds Can Get Pussy Too.

So here I was on the assembly line at The Wolf Factory - girls were starting to notice me, they were starting to pay attention.  And instead of taking that at face value, I ate up the attention like a good little wolf.  I stopped putting the thing that was most important - the thing that made me feel whole - first.  I am not proud of that time in my life, a time where I should have been growing up instead of growing warts (writer's note: this is a metaphor. i do not, nor have i ever had actual warts).

I lost that passion.  I got too comfortable to realize that I was no longer doing my part to earn someone's passion in return.  And so it all went to shit.  Sometimes when it all goes to shit, you wake up.  Or you stay in that coma and you make more mistakes, worse mistakes.  With every misstep, a little more of The Romantic You flakes away.  The scars of acceptance start to form.  Your heart hardens.  You're still in denial about what needs to change.  Your self-doubt and secret shames compound and you start settling.  You start lowering your expectations - for a partner, or even worse, for yourself.  It's not just you, it happens to everyone.  It's a human epidemic, so it's okay.  It's the norm.

We are all weak.

And then the meteor appears.  Maybe the first meteor you ever really saw, maybe the last one you will ever see.  The meteor is this ball of fire, it's science fiction, a fantasy, an anomaly.  It has disrupted your complacent existence and you have no choice but to deal with it.  You can't run far enough away from something that generates that much heat.

More often than not, we don't ask for the momentous things that happen in our lives, whether good or bad.  They just happen.  It's how we choose to deal with them that defines who we are.  I have already dealt with a hurricane.  I have been asking myself over these past few post-hurricane months:  How do I handle a meteor?  And the answer I keep getting is: Bring It On.

Because I feel strong.  Because I need this change in my life, in my attitude, in my destiny.  Just like the hurricane changed things, just like Sandy did.  Sandy could have broken me, an already cynical down-on-his-luck dude looking for answers.  But Cynical Ronnie drowned in the flood, I let him die there.  He was no good to anyone.  Cynical Ronnie would have gained twenty pounds and grown a thick beard and ate ice cream for dinner.  He would have been a real dick.

I'm still dealing with Sandy.  In spite of all the headaches and setbacks, I have accepted it as a blessing of sorts.  My house will be rebuilt.  My life is far from ruined.  I feel lighter.  Things are happening that would never have happened if that dirty ocean water didn't come over for dinner and stay for dessert.

But Ron, how can you idealize something that destroyed your home, your possessions, that set you back financially?  Insurance is fucking you.  Your government is ignoring you.  Your Beatles albums are gone forever!

You can mourn that copy of Abbey Road that you still have on iTunes, or you can believe that something good will come of all this, maybe even something amazing, life changing.  You pledge patience and you shed yourself of all but the truth.  You get your shit together.  You feed your soul through a filter and you leave the dirt and silt behind.  Another romantic notion from a romantic idiot.

You take your drugs.  Running and writing.  That's what gets me through the days and nights, this winter of my discontent.  Running, like romance, takes effort.  It's catharsis.  It's good pain, it's stamina, it's a test. I have plenty of motivation to pound the pavement and I'm getting fit in the process.

It's also about commitment.  A year ago, I got on That Treadmill I Got To Keep In The Divorce and pledged to make proper use of it.  I signed up for the NYC Marathon to test my mettle - it was time to see what I was made of, to see if I could start something and finish it.  Because up til then, I couldn't finish anything - I kept failing.  And the only way not to fail is to keep trying, to keep going, to keep running forward til you reverse your fortune.  That's what running is to me - a romance.  I'm Rocky Balboa in my sweats and Adrian just came out of the coma and said "Win" and Bill Conti struck up the jazz band and I'm running up the steps with all those little kids in tow and I'm already feeling the champion.

My romance with running was supposed to end in November, right before my 38th birthday, when I crossed the finish line in Central Park.  This was a one-time deal.  A happy little chapter in my life that I figured would keep me in decent shape for the middle aged years to come, a time where most folks "let themselves go."

But sometimes romances last longer than you anticipate.  And so instead, there is unfinished business.  Would I still be banging out 12-15 miles a week in the cold and the snow if Sandy had never shown up and taken away my Marathon along with all my possessions?  Most likely not.  But that's what happened, and I'm riding the silver lining all the way to the finish line.  It has become just another blessing.  My body isn't screaming at me to stop.  Rather, it's inviting me to go faster.  And I'm obliging.  When you have as much on your mind as I do these days, running around in a circle for an hour can seem a real treat.

A friend gave me this card at my post-hurricane birthday party in Brooklyn four months ago.  What she wrote inside was very touching, as was her charitable and unexpected gift.  But it was the sentiment on the front that still sticks with me.  To me, it simply means It's Up To You.

Shit is gonna happen to you - your whole life, shit is gonna happen.  You're gonna literally step in shit, you might even step in shit figuratively.  You're gonna pile up a lot of shit in your life, too.  But how you deal with it, what you learn from it - It's Up To You.  If you get all your shit together - if you start believing that it's possible - your past mistakes won't matter anymore.  The future will appear less daunting.  Your history can't be rewritten, but that doesn't mean the later chapters can't be different, can't be better.  You might even find a little peace.  Your dreams might even come true.  More shit will happen, puzzle pieces will move, stars will align, a meteor may appear in the distance.  But at the end of the day, it's really all up to you.

I have learned some hard lessons these past few years.  I have lost some people I really cared about, that I felt connected to.  I have failed at a marriage, I have lost money, a house and a business.  But sometimes it's these little things - like this card I was handed on my 38th birthday, ten days after Sandy took everything - that really open your eyes to what you have gained, no less what you still stand to gain.

It's what lies within me - the romantic idiot - that sent this meteor hurtling towards me.  It's my music, my passion, my imagination, my ideology that has kept the fire burning.  It's me.  And that fuels me - knowing I can still be a bohemian dummy - that I can be who I am - and still attract something so bright.

And according to the card, it's What Lies Within Me that matters most.  It trumps both the imperfect past and the mysterious future.  It's The Biggest Deal.  And being passionate - about love, about music, about romance, about this meteor and all it represents - that's who I am.  There is no cure for it, there are only patchwork solutions.

Being passionate hurts.  Jusk ask Reznor, Yorke, Lennon.  Ask Beck and Prince and Marvin Gaye and Martin Gore.  Ask Stevie Wonder and Tina Turner.  No matter what great music or art or writing comes of it, it hurts.  The less you care, the less you pay attention to what your heart is trying to tell you, the easier it is.  But can you care less?  Is it within you?  Can you just shut it off?  Can you redirect the meteor or is it destined to crash land into your world, light you on fire, and change everything?

It's Up To You.