Sunday, June 16, 2013

The ABCs of Appreciation (Part 1 of 2)

December 1, 2012
Be Thankful
The ABCs of Appreciation
"As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words but to live by them."
- John Fitzgerald Kennedy
There’s no denying it now. The holiday season is upon us. This past weekend, millions of Americans gathered around their tables surrounded by family and friends as they indulged in an array of goodies, ostensibly as part of the annual display of thanks for the bounty (both literal and spiritual) they’re fortunate enough to receive.
However, while we all have things in our life to be grateful for, the precise nature of just what we hold close to our hearts and what brings us joy varies greatly depending on the individual. In this way – perhaps – Thanksgiving is among the most subjective of holidays. Of course, family and friends, financial stability and good health are probably the most common objects of appreciation.
If we dig a little deeper, though, we will surely discover that there are certain aspects to life that take greater precedence to one person over another. The following blog is part 1 of my attempt to share – from A to Z, no less – a list of some of things in my life that I am eternally grateful for, from the mundane to the profound… and why they will always hold a special place in my heart.
A – Ambition
AmbitionLife is funny in that it truly is what you make of it. Some of us are simply content to go to work, spend time with family and friends and generally play the part the world has assigned to us. That’s perfectly fine, but it is the people who dare to dream bigger, who envision a greater success for themselves and actually take positive steps to make it happen, that I truly admire. It may never be easy, but I have watched friends and family members – through consistent effort and determination – transform their lives. That kind of boldness never fails to inspire me.
B – Brother
BrotherI count the day my younger brother Freddy was born as one of the best in my life, for that day I received not only a younger brother but an eternal best friend and partner in crime. Although the dynamic between us has changed with time, my brother and I share a special bond that has informed our lives, and I've become a better man for having him in my life. As we both continue to "grow up," I can't wait to see where the journey of life will take us next… and relish the thought of watching him continue to develop into one of the best people I know.

C – Cookies
Sweets have never really been my thing. Don't get me wrong, I can scarf down a piece of cake, a bag of Raisinets or a slice of pie like it's nobody's business (by the way, it's totally not). However, if I had to choose between an array of dessert options and "real food" entrees, I will pick the latter every time. The one exception to this is – as you may have guessed – cookies (especially chocolate chip… yum). Yeah, yeah… C is for Cookie, and if a certain Sesame Street character can proclaim his love for them, that's good enough for me.
D – Discussion
Maybe it's my naturally introspective personality talking, but I've never been one to enjoy small talk. To me, chatting about the weather or looking forward to the weekend is just about the lowest form of human interaction. It's more of a social obligation than a genuine communication between two people. When you share a part of yourself and truly connect to another human being, however, it's pretty magical. I consider myself lucky to have a number of family members and friends whom I have shared some unbelievably candid and memorable conversations.

E – Education
I'm of the mindset that you can never know too much. It is only through an ever-expanding knowledge base that we can come to understand the world around us and, by extension, ourselves. For this reason, I explicitly value my education and the ability it has afforded me to see the world from a more well-rounded and even-minded vantage point. From my professional life to my personal one, I credit my education for helping me to make better, more informed decisions, and as my peers are beginning to give way to the next generation, I place emphasis on education more than ever before.

F – Family
For some people, their work is the center of their life. For others, a circle of friends has proven to be the best support system. For me, however, it has been my family. The influence of my loved ones – especially my ridiculously loving and supportive parents – has served as the foundation from which I have been able to develop my own personality and foster the seeds of my future. Every step of the way, they have been there listening, guiding me and generally keeping me grounded. Along the way, I have struggled with low self-esteem and waves of self-doubt, and without my family’s support, I would most certainly have not become the stronger version of myself that I am today.

G – Goofiness
Turn on the television at any given moment, and you’ll almost certainly face a barrage of horror and tragedy. From the heart-shattering wars and unspeakable crimes to the general sense of negativity and cynicism, the world – I have come to understand in my adult life – can be a freakin’ dreadful place to live sometimes. It is for this reason that I have come to embrace all that is silly and affectionately absurd. What some see as “stupid” or “childish” I treasure as a respite from the dark side of humanity, the part that all too often rises to prevalence in today’s world. If that means that some people see me as little more than a big kid, then that’s their problem.

H – Hats
Within the last couple of years, my close friends and family members have come to know me for frequently wearing a fedora, but my love of hats goes way further back than that. As a child, I almost always wore a baseball cap. I suppose it started as a lazy way of avoiding having to fix my hair before I went out. However, what started as a way to shrug off the fashion of the day has turned into a fashion statement of its own. Not only does my growing hat collection serve as a stylish accent to my outfit, but it also harkens to my routinely old-fashioned nature and a certain classiness that sadly has fallen out of style itself.

I – iPhone
Believe it or not, the iPhone wasn’t always a thing. To us Apple aficionados, it has become hard to imagine life without our trusty smartphone and its bevy of convenient apps. I was initially resistant to indulging the fancy tech of an iPhone, but when my co-workers, friends and family members began jumping onboard the Apple-fueled bandwagon, I decided to give it a shot. Now, my iPhone has become my trusted sidekick and the focal point of my connection to the world. Some days, I don’t even use my laptop at home, but I always keep my iPhone close by. Damn you, Apple, and your life-changing technology.

J – Jackson
On June 25, 2009, I was meeting up with some co-workers when I heard that Michael Jackson had passed away. To call the moment surreal was an understatement, but as the weeks went by, the sadness really began to sink in. The King of Pop was the first entertainer who truly captured my imagination. Remember my love of hats, as described above? Any idea who first made such headwear cool in my eyes? Or who fostered my interest in music (more on that later)? In so many ways, MJ was the entertainer who most affected my life, and his remains the only celebrity death that has truly affected me. Though he’s no longer with us, I am thankful for his role in my life and will continue to celebrate his legacy.

K – Kai
June 25 may mark the day that Michael Jackson exited this world, but ironically, it is also the day when another important figure in my life was born, albeit decades earlier. Throughout my life, there was nothing I wanted more than a girlfriend, but I continually struggle to connect with anyone. However, that all changed when Kai Proctor – my girlfriend of now almost two years – entered my life. Our initial meeting didn’t particularly lend itself to romantic love, but after months of long-distance courtship, the universe brought Kai and I together. We soon realized that, miraculously, we were both in the same place, and finally my long-held dream of finding “the one” who would love and accept me for all that I am had come true. Every day, I consider myself eternally blessed to have such an amazing woman by my side.

L – Language
Few people know this, but I actually started my college years as a pre-med student. However, a year and a half later, I had an epiphany. I am and have always been an English man (and no, I don’t mean I’m from England, silly). Rather, I have a natural ability to comprehend, manipulate and appreciate the art of language and, thusly, communication. In fact, I’ve built my career around the English language and many of my personal and professional goals center on the love of language that I cultivated from an early age. How many middle school students do you know that actually enjoy diagraming sentences?
M – Movies
We all knew this one was coming. To those who know me, I am essentially known as “the movie guy,” in that I have an extensive knowledge of the film industry. From childhood favorites like the Disney animated classics and the Muppet films to my current love of filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino and Christopher Nolan, I have always been totally enraptured by the world of movies. In my teen years, I came to appreciate films as not only entertainment but art and have been lucky enough to be able to use my love of film to fuel both my creative and professional pursuits (shameless plug: check out for some of my recent articles). Some people love sports, music or television; my chosen artistic medium will always be film.
That's all for now... Stay tuned for N through Z in the next few weeks, and of course, feel free to comment below.
Thanks for reading,

Live from the Tightrope

October 12, 2012
“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”
-Albert Einstein
What it's like...
Throughout my life, I’ve always struggled to maintain balance. Not in the literal sense, as both my physical equilibrium and mental stability have remained intact. Rather, I’m typically swayed towards the two extremes: either overdoing something or not doing it at all.
For example, as a member of the Nintendo generation, I was obsessed with video games as a child and often becamely overly fixated on one particular game (Super Mario 3, I’m looking at you). I would literally be glued to my controller, trying – sometimes in vain – to outwit Bowser and his minion of flying turtles and walking mushrooms (sidenote: how trippy are those games??). This would inevitably cause my parents to threaten to take away my Nintendo access when I would misbehave.
Ultimately, this would implant in me a sense of guilt whenever I would be wasting time playing games when I should be nourishing my young mind. So, every once in a while, I would swear off video games (to the point where my old Nintendo system still has sticky remnants of a piece of scotch tape across its lid, ensuring that I wouldn’t relapse). Of course, this never lasted, and I soon found my fingers once again wrapped around the rectangular control of that mustachioed plumber.
This anecdotal-filled backstory – long-winded, as it may be – is aimed purely at establishing the focus of this post. While a LOT about me has changed in the two decades or so since my Nintendo obsession has ebbed (though I do occasionally like to get my Wii on), I still encounter difficulty finding that ideal equilibrium necessary to make time for everything I need and want to do in everyday life. Perhaps this is why I haven’t made the time to compose a blog post in months.
The inherent problem with this all-or-nothing approach to life is that, as time goes by, our collective to-do list becomes filled with more responsibilities – personal, professional, financial – that cannot be shirked aside in favor of the instant gratification offered by more frivolous pursuits. Rather, these chores demand that we devote time to them, come boredom or, y’know, actual productivity. Growing up, I’ve found, consists largely of the epiphany that procrastination is no longer a valid excuse. Time is passing by every day, and every day, a new assignment awaits us.
Along with this mounting responsibility to do what we must, sadly, comes the increasingly sharp deterioration of free time. This is especially trying for creative-minded people, like myself, who possess ambitions that don’t yet provide the stability (and, honestly, the paycheck) of our “day jobs.” So, the more obligations we have to satisfy, the further our creative whims plummet down our list of priorities. And, as a result, the more emptiness we feel when we’re not fully adhering to that need to get things done.
When I think about what my parents, my jaw drops in wonder and astonishment at all that they managed to do while my brother and I were wrapped up simply being kids. Day in and day out, they both held down full-time jobs, maintained a household (and anyone who’s done that, with its limitless stacks of dirty dishes and unfolded laundry, knows how frustrating that is in and of itself) and raised their two sons to be the hard-working, upstanding men we have become. I shudder to think what my future holds in regards to the sheer number of tasks I will be forced to confront, and yet, at the same time, I know that when the time comes, I will raise to the occasion.
Come to think of it, it’s ironic how we spend all our lives wishing we didn’t have so much to do, but simultaneously, some of us (myself included) keep wishing we could get more and more done. Perhaps, it’s my eternally ambitious soul or just my creative aspirations run wild. Whatever the case may be, I’ve discovered that the more impossible it seems to fulfill all my goals – regardless of whether they are borne of necessity or desire – the more I know I must step up and the more driven I am to keep going. In the immortal words of Barney Stinson, “Challenge accepted.”
The message here, of course, is that life is a war that we’ve all been unwittingly drafted into. Every morning, we suit ourselves up for battle and head out into the world to conquer the day. The details of the mission vary from individual to individual. Passing a test, getting the kids to school on time, even publishing a blog post on this very topic (wink)… But what matters is that the end result of that mission informs the satisfaction we feel in our hearts and how far we feel we’ve come in life. When we accomplish all that we aspire to, we emerge victorious. If not, we are condemned to shuffle off to bed with the sting of defeat piercing our heart.
As human beings, we crave the ability to feel useful, to accomplish something and to make a difference. For some, this is the common (yet no less remarkable) task of holding down a household. For others, the aim is to progress along a career path or to make that first million. No matter what the particulars involved, we all seek to carve our own niche in this world, a place where we can finally (and truly) belong.
Life sure as hell doesn’t make it easy, but that’s the beauty of it all. Without effort, there can be no satisfaction. Without climbing up that hill, you can’t gain the relief of reaching the top and the self-respect to know that you finally made it. Perspective is only gained through suffering, and while maintaining balance is the ongoing conflict in all our lives, it is also what makes life worth living.
So, greet every morning not as a burden but as another chance to prove that you are worthy of achieving your life goals and earning your victory. I’ll see you in the trenches.

Art of My Heart: Music

June 29, 2012
"I despise a world which does not feel that music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy"
-Ludwig van Beethoven
Anyone who knows me even remotely knows that I am borderline obsessed with popular culture. Not the gossip rag nonsense regarding various celebrities’ sexual orientation, relationships or drug and alcohol-fueled escapades.
Rather, I’m endlessly fascinated with the ebbs and flows of the entertainment world, which musical artists are shaping the mass consciousness, what films are making an impact, etc. However, while I possess an appreciation of the arts on a grand scale, only a select few works manage to capture my heart in that special way that essentially makes them an indelible part of my entertainment DNA.
I will likely do a future blog post delving into my favorite films (as this is my personal favorite artistic medium). This time, though, I’m outlining the five male vocalists which I feel most represent my musical taste and with which I most identify.

5) Musiq Soulchild (1977-present)
How You May Know Him:
Unless you’re a big fan of R&B, you may not have. Aside from a few moderate hits, Musiq Soulchild has largely stayed off the pop charts. Rather, his career has been marked by a steady, more low-key following within the R&B community, where he has amassed six hit albums in the past 12 years. Sales-wise, he may not be in the same ballpark as someone like Usher, but his under-the-radar nature enables him to avoid having to commercialize his music unnecessarily.
How I Became a Fan:
Around 2000, I caught the video for his single “Just Friends (Sunny),” which was featured on the soundtrack to Nutty Professor II: The Klumps. The film was a massive disappointment, but the song always stuck with me. Its subject matter is simple (a guy asks a girl out just because he wants to get to know her better), but the laid-back vocal delivery and romantically implicit lyrics hooked me right from the start. It probably helped that – at this point, at least – I was far too shy to actually ask a girl out. The song was a fun way of fantasizing about it in the meantime.
Why His Music Resonates With Me:
The let’s-be-friends-but-possibly-more message of “Just Friends” carried on through several of Musiq’s other tunes, most notably “B.U.D.D.Y.” and “Halfcrazy.” In addition, he has made some of the most romantic soul songs of the last decade in “Yes,” “Whoknows” and “Dontchange.” His music is melodically driven, lyrically sincere and distinct in that it pays tribute to R&B of old and still maintains its status as so-called “neo-soul.” For someone like me who spent the better part of his life pining for the kind of love Musiq sings about, it’s easy to see why I was drawn to it.
Signature Work:
“Halfcrazy” and “Dontchange” – both off his sophomore release Juslisen – are his highest-charting singles to date.
Personal Favorite:
For my money, “Someone” is probably the most underrated love ballad of his career, and that’s saying a lot.

4) Jamie Cullum (1979-present)
How You May Know Him:
If you have a penchant for modern jazz, you may be familiar with Jamie Cullum. If not, then you definitely should be. After breaking through in 2004 with his second album Twentysomething, Cullum has slowly but steadily developed a worldwide fan base with each subsequent release. He has even worked with Hollywood heavyweight Clint Eastwood on the title songs for the films Grace Is Gone and Gran Torino and has contributed music to the soundtracks for Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason and Disney’s Meet the Robinsons.
How I Became a Fan:
Much like many of you, I had no clue who Jamie Cullum was… until 2006, that is. A good friend of mine – who is far more into discovering new artists that even I am – had heard that Cullum was coming to town for a concert. He played me a song, and while I wasn’t immediately stricken with Cullum fever just yet, the tune he played for me (a cover of Pharrell Williams’ “Frontin’”) was intriguing enough that I expressed interest in going to the show. However, I wasn’t prepared for the sheer virtuosity of Cullum’s energetic, charismatic performance. Literally climbing on seats at one point, the man plays piano, drums and guitar, and his passion for music is incredibly infectious. Needless to say, I was hooked.
Why His Music Resonates With Me:
Some artists are torn between paying tribute to the past (see #3 on this list) and blazing their own trail, but Cullum somehow does both. Each of his albums features a number of covers of artists as diverse as Cole Porter, Radiohead, Natalie Cole, Rihanna and Jimi Hendrix. However, Cullum totally makes these songs his own, transforming even the most antiquated tune into something fresh and ready-made for the current generation. In addition, his original songs – which comprise about half of each album – are even more connected to the modern world, often dealing with the search for love and the emergence of nostalgia. Check out “Get Your Way” and “Photograph,” respectively, for two fine examples.
Signature Work:
Since Cullum is relatively unknown in the U.S., it’s hard to say what American listeners would recognize, but “All at Sea” and “These are the Days” – both from his sophomore release – are among his most-performed songs.
Personal Favorite:
“Twentysomething” – in more ways than one – is the theme song to my mid-20s, embodying the confusion, frustration and even the joys that come with self-discovery. “It’s About Time” is also up there, as far as relatability.

3) Michael Bublé (1975-present)
How You May Know Him:
Launching onto the scene in 2003 with a dynamite update of the classic tune “Sway,” Canadian crooner Michael Bublé might not be the most mainstream pop artist on this list. After all, his entire catalog is comprised almost exclusively of covers of standard songs from as early as the 1940s, but original hit singles like “Everything” and “Home” helped him break through to adult contemporary radio and expand his fanbase. In addition, his best-selling 2011 holiday album and his incessantly packed concert tours signify that his profile is on the rise.
How I Became a Fan:
Some of you may regard Bublé as nothing more than a bland, suited white guy singing old songs, and truth be told, I used to agree. I too found his music too old-fashioned, too slow and lacking in anything real and tangible that I could connect to. That all changed when he released the first single from his Crazy Love album. Entitled “Haven’t Met You Yet,” the song is told from the perspective of a young man who has grown somewhat disillusioned with his search for love. Yet, despite his doubts to the contrary, he perseveres in his hope that his dream woman is out there somewhere. Needless to say, my own struggles with the dating scene caused me to relate, and it remains one of my all-time favorite songs.
Why His Music Resonates With Me:
Aside from the above, Bublé’s music is understandably old-fashioned in its sincerity, blatant in its sentiment and confident in its relevance. The same could be said of me. I’ve always considered myself to be something of an old soul, uncommonly perceptive and naturally able to cut through all the superficialities of a situation or an individual. Much like Bublé’s career involves a young man singing music that predates his existence (in a style many consider extinct, no less), I have often felt like a man out of time. So, why wouldn’t I want to belt out “Cry Me a River” or “Save the Last Dance for Me”?
Signature Work:
Much to my delight, “Haven’t Met You Yet” is his highest-charting single in the United States.
Personal Favorite:
Besides the song that started it all, nothing pumps me up more than jamming out to Bublé’s rendition of “Feeling Good” with the windows down and the stereo up.

2) Michael Jackson (1958-2009)
How You May Know Him:
The better question is… is there any way you don’t know him? “Thriller.” “Billie Jean.” The Moonwalk. If none of these words ring a bell, you seriously need to stop reading this and get educated.
How I Became a Fan:
This is a tricky one because I can’t remember a time I wasn’t a fan. Legend has it that I pleaded with my mother to play “Beat It” even when I was a toddler. Come to think of it, there’s an excellent chance I emerged from the womb already wearing a sequined glove. Over the years, my love and appreciation of the King of Pop’s music has grown considerably. A true entertainer through and through, Jackson was truly one of a kind and impacted my childhood and adolescence as no other celebrity ever has.
Why His Music Resonates With Me:
Regardless of your thoughts of all the controversy Michael Jackson faced during his life, his music has remained steady in promoting environmental issues, protecting our children, embracing love and criticizing hate and disrespect (including – in MJ’s case – invasion of privacy). In addition to all of that, his solo catalog (not to mention his incredible work as the frontman for The Jackson 5, later known simply as The Jacksons) features countless classic dance tunes and beautiful, heartfelt love ballads. From rock to soul, pop to disco, Michael touched on them all, making his music truly applicable to everyone and remarkably timeless.
Signature Work:
Basically every track on Thriller.
Personal Favorite:
When it comes to MJ, you really can’t go wrong, but up-tempo jams like “The Way You Make Me Feel” and “Remember the Time” are rarely ever skipped on my iPod. Ditto for slower anthems like “Human Nature” and “Man in the Mirror.”

1) Stevie Wonder (1950-present)
How You May Know Him:
Blind from birth, Stevie Wonder emerged on the scene in the 1960s as one of the prodigies of the Motown era (he plays both piano and harmonica like a boss). His career peaked in the 1970s with albums like Songs in the Key of Life and Innervisions. These led to chart-topping songs like “Isn’t She Lovely,” “Higher Ground” and “I Wish,” which soon established him as one of the pre-eminent names in soul music. Since then, he’s continued to record, with the Grammy-winning 2005 album A Time to Love as his most recent release. Stevie Wonder remains a living legend and one of the most acclaimed and best-selling musical artists of all time.
How I Became a Fan:
At first, I neglected my two-disc Stevie Wonder compilation, only ever really listening to the tracks that I knew from my childhood. Songs like “I Just Called to Say I Love You” and “Sir Duke” are, of course, classics in their own right, and for my teenage self, this was enough for me to consider myself a fan, though not to the extent I would eventually become. It wasn’t until years later that I finally gave his lesser-known tracks a listen and had matured enough to really connect with the deeper messages inherent in his lyrics and melody, ultimately using his tunes as the primary inspiration for my creative writing.
Why His Music Resonates With Me:
Most of Stevie’s best work (not his overly radio-friendly tracks like “Superstition” and “Part-Time Lover”) delves into the world of unconditional love, nostalgia, dreams and hope. These themes are all brimming with positivity and the yearning for a better tomorrow, on both a personal and global scale. Like his fellow Motown-era geniuses – such as the late great Marvin Gaye and #2 on this very list – Stevie uses his music to entertain as well as inspire. That’s the very definition of art.
Signature Work:
I don’t care who you are. You will instantly recognize the intro to “Superstition.”
Personal Favorite:
“Overjoyed.” So simple, elegant and heartfelt. In that way, it’s a microcosm of his catalog as a whole.

However you might feel about these particular artists, I’m sure that some artist, band or composer has managed to grasp your soul and affect your life in the same way that these fellows have mine. Feel free to share your own Top 5 in the comments section, as I’d love to hear more about your musical taste and the stories tied into it.
And stay tuned for a future edition of Art of My Heart, in which I will discuss the films responsible for turning me into a film fanatic.

The War on Sorrow

May 19, 2012
"The quality, not the longevity, of one's life is what's important."
-Martin Luther King, Jr.
It's a telling and sad truth that our society seems to have been designed to anesthetize us from emotional pain.
Think about it for a second. Every song on the radio encourages us to get wasted up in the club, engage in casual sex and generally keep ourselves physically close but emotionally distant from those around us. Meanwhile, films and TV shows are also mostly superficial, derivative fluff - firmly rooted in the escapism of sci-fi and fantasy too - that rings lack any semblance of reality and real, tangible truth.
Even on the rare occasion that the popular arts attempt to touch on sentimentality, it's done in such a glossed-over, saccharine manner that it's difficult for the already-guarded population to relate to.
If women get sentimental and emotional, our collective default response is some jackass comment about hormones, and if a man shows the slightest inclination of emotional sensitivity or genuine compassion, he's branded a "sissy" by this inept male-driven society we live in.
As one of the aforementioned sensitive guys, I've encountered this attitude time and time again over the course of my life, to the point where I deluded myself into being shameful of the fact that I'm more attuned to the emotional, artistic and creative side of life than most.
Part of that is because I somehow managed to retain a remnant of that childlike sense of appreciation and enthusiasm that most of us eventually outgrow, replacing our joy and purity of spirit with stress, doubt and guilt. Whereas most people see life negatively and have acquired a cynical view of their circumstances, I have tried to imbue mine with a sense of fun, silliness and optimism, albeit tempered with a sometimes self-deprecating realistic stance that keeps me from becoming one of those "head in the clouds" types.
Not that I don't have my off days, mind you, but I try not to take things too seriously, to remember the little things and keep my life in perspective, the good and the bad parts of it (because really it all helps to shape who we are and who we will be tomorrow).
Yet, today's obsession with technology has caused everyone to be constantly flooded with information non-stop. There's no chance to breath, to think, to actually stop everything for a moment to reflect on the life that's passing you by. Every facet of life is so intent on delivering instant gratification. Just a couple clicks on the World Wide Web (which you can now fit in your pocket, thanks to the invention of smart phones) and anything you need is right at your fingertips.
This is leading us to lose that self-awareness of ourselves, our loved ones and the world around us. How can we take the time to see our lives - really SEE our lives - if we're constantly drowning in a flood of responsibilities, negative emotion and the relentless swarm of our despicably fame-centric culture?
We can't. We don't have time to "stop and smell the roses," to consider all the beauty in the world and, most important of all, to react to it all. As sad as it may sound, people today don't even allow themselves to feel, and the world around us, with its Kardashians, its Ke$has, its mindless mission to remove any genuine emotion from life, isn't helping one bit.
I shudder to think of the next generation of kids, eyes glued not to the television as my generation was (although that was bad enough... see my previous rant about television) but stuck on the Internet, a world where entertainment never sleeps... making "friends" with random strangers on Facebook... listening to a mind-numbing, sex-obsessed tune by Pitbull and watching a film wherein anonymous characters battle each other in a valiant (but ultimately shallow) effort to save the world.
The world... as I see it... isn't being saved. The values, morals and artistry of our race is slowly dying. Never mind global warming and the potential environmental threats that others may be discussing. The best, most admirable quality of the human race is its ability to feel, the realization that you've found someone who truly understands you, the weight of loss when someone you love is stolen away by disease and the flood of joy when your child is born.
I've experienced all but that last one. And I can honestly say that I consider myself one of the lucky ones for not necessarily having these events in my life (because I would never wish the death of a loved one on anyone) but for being able to feel these unforgettable moments, even the sad ones.
Because our grief and sorrow are what help to put the wonder of life in perspective. Without feeling both sides, there's no way for a human being to ever truly be complete, and today's crop of individuals have become so used to being on-the-go, having their culture spoon-fed to them, being disappointed by the way their lives have turned out... that they don't even dare to dream anymore. They don't even get sad about it. They just are.
"Survival of the fittest" may have been Charles Darwin's claim to fame, but nowadays, that's become our only focus. It's not life, so much the quality of it, that concerns me. For, if we never feel joy, passion and love, what the hell is the point?
I'm sure my message will fall mostly on deaf ears. Chances are, only a handful of people will even consider my words carefully. But that's really not my concern. All I can do is live my life, share my perspective with the world and do the best I can to enrich the lives of the people I care about. If I manage this, at least I can go on, even in a society that has become more and more obnoxious as the years go by, knowing that I lived my life and chose not to sleepwalk through it.

Innocence Lost

April 25, 2012
"Maturity is a high price to pay for growing up."
-Tom Stoppard
Most people undergo a maturing rite of passage during their teenage years, but for me, the definitive event of my adolescence arrived 10 days before my 13th birthday: the death of my grandmother to cancer.
Up until that day, I was convinced that she would recover, that the world was far too bright a place to let such an unspeakable tragedy befall such an open-hearted and generous soul as my Nana. Sadly, my innocent mind was mistaken.
Just days prior to her passing, my parents, my brother and I boarded a plane and headed to New York City. My grandmother’s condition had worsened, and my mom – on the verge of seeing her only remaining parent slip away – knew that she had to be there to say her goodbyes and be with her sister. Meanwhile, my dad did his best to support my mom, and my brother – only four years old at the time – was blissfully unaware of what was going on.
But me… Well, I understood what was happening, but for some reason, I remained relatively unfazed by the sheer horror of it all. I figured that – even though things looked bad now – it would all work itself out in the end. After all, my grandmother had beaten cancer three years earlier, and though it was a torturous time for the family and things had never been quite the same, my naïve disbelief in the darkness that life can bring emerged unscathed.
Those next few days remain the most surreal and haunting of my life. Seeing for the first time just how physically decrepit the disease had made her. Bursting into tears talking with my dad during the wake. Pleading with God for Him to spare her life. Little by little, the realization began to sink in that this was indeed really happening. These are moments I shall never forget, ones that continue to plague me and which played a critical role in ending my childhood.
Despite the fact that I was not personally afflicted with the mysterious, destructive force that is cancer, its role in my grandmother’s death has proven a constant reminder of just how vital our loved ones are and how fleeting life can be, marked as it is with equal helpings of both bliss and sadness. For an entire decade, my childlike spirit and brazen confidence was largely absent, replaced with a deep-seated inability to achieve happiness and a sub-conscious desire to emotionally guard myself from ever feeling similar pain. It wasn’t until my mid-20s that I began to truly face the damage that was done that day and find my way back into the light.
To this day, I still think about Nana, the unshakeable bond we shared and the massive crater in my heart that her absence left me. I sometimes find myself reliving the events that now transpired over 15 years ago and wonder what she would think of the man I’ve become. I think how her relationship with my brother would have developed, how she’ll never meet my beautiful girlfriend or the kids I hope to have with her someday.
Then, I catch myself and realize that it’s of little use to dwell on the tragedies of the past. What we must do instead is focus on the joy our lost loved ones brought to our lives and put our grief to positive use. No good can come from holding on to that hurt. Negative emotions – whether anger, jealousy or even sorrow – will only serve to consume your soul and corrupt your present.
For, while my loss has irrevocably changed who I am and how I see the world, mine is sadly far from the only story left in the disastrous wake of cancer’s grasp. Entire libraries could be filled with all the heart-wrenching tales – both tragic and victorious – of the lives directly and indirectly touched by this disease. And, in every one of these experiences, a lesson is to be learned.
In my case, my family’s history with cancer has instilled in me an inner strength and the knowledge that nothing lasts forever. Every moment counts. All we can do is fight for what we believe in while we’re here and never fail to let our loved ones know much they matter. It’s what Nana would have wanted.

Television: A Diatribe

February 5, 2012
"I must say I find television very educational. The minute somebody turns it on, I go to the library and read a good book."
-Groucho Marx
Far from the truth?
Most people are shocked and/or dismayed when they discover that I don't have cable television, as if somehow my life is devoid of some essential substantive matter. A hole that can only be filled by weekly devotion spending hour after hour in front of the boob tube.
Or maybe they think that I must be SO strapped for cash that I can't even spare the necessary funds to gain access to this magical land of reality shows, paint-by-number dramas and dreadfully hackneyed sitcoms.
In reality, neither of the above is the case. In fact, I simply have no interest in television as a medium and decided that the extra expense was more wasteful than not.
No offense to those of you who live and die by your TV Guide, but compared to the melodic orchestrations and structured nuances provided by music and film, respectively, television is a meandering, often inconsistent and artistically unsatisfying form of entertainment.
More than that, it's one that requires a long-term commitment, an unspoken oath to keep up with the weekly developments in order to stay informed with the narrative. In doing so, it robs the common man of his productivity and discourages social contact.
Rather than finally wrapping up those long-overdue chores or spending some quality time with the kiddies, Mom and Dad just have to know what the CSI crew is up to. No more staying close through conversation and relating to one another. Nowadays, families spend their shared time (even during dinner) with their television.
People are more likely to stay in (yes, even with DVR at their disposal) and less likely to foster their own ambition. As a writer, I, for one, have fallen prey to the instant gratification that television provides. Sitting like a lump on the sofa and flipping channels takes so much less effort than actually accomplishing something. So I understand the appeal to the masses, most of whom are entirely content with never striving for more, whether this means starting your own business or finding a more stimulating hobby.
Also, despite the fact that a handful of series possess well-crafted, intelligent storytelling, most television programs strike me as fairly formulaic and simple, dumbed-down as it is to appeal to the broadest possible audience. They're more focused on selling products during commercial breaks and seducing audiences with cheap thrills.
There's little real, honest or tangible about television shows and certainly no storytelling as high-level or emotionally raw as some of the film work out there, which accomplishes a greater feat in a shorter timespan. When it comes to visual entertainment, it seems less truly is more.
Since the advent of reality television, the overall quality has plummeted drastically, making it easier and easier to switch off the television. I'll always have a soft spot for a handful of past shows (SeinfeldBuffy the Vampire SlayerThe Fresh Prince of Bel-Air) and will continue following up with the few current shows I do follow online (Family GuyGleeHow I Met Your Mother). Hell, I'll even keep watching those short-term overlooked gems I've come to love (Arrested DevelopmentFlight of the ConchordsFreaks and Geeks) on DVD or Netflix.
Again, my intention is not to insult those of you who preciously cling to your weekly dose of Real Housewives to get through the work week. But, as a critic of popular culture and artist at heart, I have become increasingly exasperated and disappointed with how television has developed since back in its "Must See TV" heyday.
In my opinion, the very nature of television as a medium is to transform smart Americans into devotees of whatever shallow, unoriginal shows they can dredge up, many of which corrupt the lifeviews and perspectives of today's youth in the process. There's little opportunity for viewers to grow emotionally or mentally, as they should with great art... just the chance to waste hours turning into the equivalent of modern zombies.

Anatomy of a Romance

November 21, 2011
"Consider how hard it is to change yourself, and you'll understand what little chance you'll have in changing someone else."
-- Benjamin Franklin

I’ve never pretended to be an expert on relationships. As a matter of fact, I used to feel like I didn’t have the first clue about what constitutes a healthy, stable relationship. That is, until I realized that my accute sense of observation and above-average proclivity for finding the fair and logical in everything have helped me formulate a solid grasp on exactly how the joining together of two people should be.

However, not every relationship is created equal. As I see it (and you may disagree), there are only three forms of relationships. Sure, you may think that your relationship has qualities of multiple types and, quite likely, it does exhibit tendencies of all of the below, but at its heart, every relationship embodies only one of these three categories.

I have witnessed examples of them all so read on and take a close, honest look for yourself.

1) Parasitic Relationships –

If the name of this type calls to mind those organisms that feed off of another in order to survive, give yourself a pat on the back and thank your high school science teacher. Parasitic relationships are just that.

A parasitic relationship always has a host and a victim. The trouble is that, sometimes, the victim is so enraptured with his or her partner and so willing to make a concerted effort to make the relationship work that they don’t even realize the relationship’s true nature until it falls apart. Sadly enough, this revelation could even take years to be fully realized.

These are those unions in which one person – often through duplicitous and under-handed means – exploits the other person’s feelings for him or her, subtly taking advantage or even belittling their beloved. This also can involve a situation where one person bears the full brunt of expenses as well as household chores, for those of you who are in serious relationships.

Don’t get me wrong, there is usually some level of affection and love involved in these relationships. It’s just that the dynamic between the two partners gets murkier and murkier as it goes on, with insecurity, a crippling fear of loneliness and other unresolved emotional issues preventing parasitic couples from truly reaching the self-actualization that can only be found with a equal, balanced and healthy realtionship.

2) Disparate Relationships –

One thing can be said with absolute certainty. Disparate relationships are a surefire way to avoid the single-partner domination indicative of a parasitic relationship. So, those of you who relate to this section at least have that on your side.

The catch, of course, is that disparate relationships are – in many ways – hardly relationships at all. In this scenario, the couple spends a great deal of time apart, to the point where they begin to grow both physically and emotionally distant. A typical situation would see one partner going out with friends on a Friday night, while the other stays at home surfing the net or catching up on some reading.

While a certain degree of separation and independence is a necessity for a relationship to go the distance, it’s becomes problematic when it becomes the norm. For this reason, many couples designate specific “date nights” to ensure that the spark in their love life remains fully alight for the duration.

Besides, if you’re in a relationship, you should be anxious to spend the majority of your time with your beloved. Otherwise, if you’re constantly looking for excuses to do your own thing or unwilling to put forth the effort to accompany your partner for a night on the town, you’re probably better off searching for a partner whose interests and priorities are more aligned to your own.

3) Symbiotic Relationships –

Time for the last of our three relationship types, and if you surmised that this is the one you should be striving for, kudos to you!

A symbiotic relationship – in short – is one in which both partners (not one or neither, as in the previous types, respectively) are equally committed to making things work. There is a more balanced divison of responsibilities, wherein neither partner is slighted, and rather than tearing each other down or largely ignoring each other, symbiotic partners feed off of each other.

When one is down, the other picks his or her partner up. They encourage each other to grow emotionally, professionally and spiritually, supporting each other and truly believing in their ability to pursue and achieve their goals.

If there are issues to discuss, symbiotic partners address them like adults, without yelling, name-calling or emotional attacks. They are lovers, confidantes and each other’s best friends.

Final Thoughts:
Cynics would have you believe that symbiotic relationships are nothing more than a fairy tale, that the single and lonely should be thanking their lucky stars just to be with someone, regardless of the relationship’s flaws and copious red flags. But I am here to tell you, right here and now, that that is bullshit.

As someone who has been perpetually single in the past, I spent years contemplating if I should settle for someone who was less than an ideal match for me, lest I end up alone completely. Luckily, my self-doubt and wavering self-confidence never reached that unfortunate nadir because, in my heart, I knew I deserved better.

Even though I had no logical reason to believe that I would be blessed with a symbiotic relationship, I had faith that the possibility still existed and that one day, all my years of patience and solitude would lead me down the right path.

So, for those of you who feel that you’re stuck in a parasitic or disparate relationship, have the courage to seek what you truly deserve. On some level – however indistinct it might be – people in these relationships can sense when a relationship is not meant to be. If this is you, be strong and find someone with whom you can share a symbiotic relationship. You’re worth it.

And for those of you, like me, who are blessed enough to find yourself in a symbiotic relationship, never forget to appreciate what you have and remember just how rare an auspicious coupling such as yours is in this crazy world.

After all, tis the season to give thanks.