maybe "rants" isn't the right word. these are simple thoughts about my life. some may be more colorful than others. some language may be offensive, but it depends on your definition of offensive. consider this your warning ;)

29 April 2014

Facebook is like a brother to me

Facebook, you're a funny thing.

And not in a funny, humorous, "Am I a clown, do I amuse you?" kind of way, but in a fickle friend, somebody-please-give-me-a-warning-if-you're-having-a-bad-day way.

Blogging and tweeting are similar, but not in as personal a way as Facebook is.

For example, a couple years ago I remember talking to my friend about how we love Taco Bell so much and how if we were a Taco Bell menu item we would be _________.

This spurred a Facebook status post asking "If you were a Taco Bell menu item, what would you be?"

I'd say in about two hours there were 50+ comments and at least 75 likes.


When I share something about Support the Arts, or pose a question of something, dare I say, serious or (for fear of sounding condescending or snooty) intellectual, I'll maybe get three likes and people rarely comment on it to share an opinion or have a conversation about it.

Occasionally, when I see someone else's status and it pertains to something I don't agree with, or would like to learn more about, or have some opinion on in any way, I tend to keep scrolling because who likes getting into actual conversations or (the horror!) an online argument.

I totally get that, by nature, most of us are non-confrontational, but does that mean we can't have conversations through our laptops and smart phones? I know that having a round table discussion about marriage equality, abortion, vaccines, immigration, politics, or whatever can be intense for many people because of volume, interruptions, eye contact, body temperature...whatever physiological reactions may occur, but online you're safe behind your computer wherever you're typing. No one can interrupt you, and you have as much time as you need to think things out, present them rationally, and breathe through whatever nervousness you have.

I guess what I really mean is...

Why have we drifted so far away from actually talking to each other? And why have Like buttons and Shares claimed plots in our land of communication skills?

And why has social media become such a factor in sharing feelings, asking questions, relationships, jobs, and essentially every aspect in life whether it's interpersonal, individual, happy or sad, joyous or sadness?

Why is it so simple for friends/followers to Like, Share, RT or double tap for like anything devoid of emotional response or critical thinking, but when there's an actual discussion that could be had where questions could be asked, viewpoints can be shared, and knowledge can be exchanged, we clear the road like a wild west duel at high noon?

Maybe this is more a question for Facebook programmers' algorithms for News Feed sharing. How do you decide what's important to share in my friends' feeds? Is anything relating to food, sports, or pop culture highlighted? Is it based on #NowTrending topics? Or is there a filter that actually hides posts with emotional/inquisitive words like "feel" or "help" or "why?"

Facebook, you're like a brother to me.

But in the way that I know "brother" as I was raised and not as I learned to use the word brother as in "my brothers were in my wedding party" or "I served aboard a submarine with my brothers".

You're like the older kid that lives in the house with me but doesn't really talk to me. You're that guy that is  used as a model for excellence for when I screw up, and as someone who takes credit for when I succeed. I share with you in hopes of conversation, but all you really want to know is what I had for lunch, how many games of Words With Friends I'm playing, and how many other social media apps you can follow me on.

You don't really care that I have a job, as long as you know I have one. Nor do you really care what's on my mind, how I'm feeling, what I'm watching, eating, reading, listening to, or what. You don't what to know why anything is going on, but more so just what.

Or maybe this is really about people I think I connect with on Facebook.

So I'm taking back control of my life online as I am taking back control of my life in the sunlight with my feet on the ground and the warmth on my face. I'm not worried about Likes or Shares or updating my information or if you care how many firsts, or places I've been, or relationship status, or hometown, whatever.

I'm calling the shots. I write my own chapters. I ask my own questions. But if you really care what Taco Bell item I am, then ask someone else. I'm a Sonic Chicago dog with cheese tots and a strawberry limeade. I'm a fresh funnel cake with powdered sugar on top--straight up classic no frills. I'm a chocolate Frosty with fries on a summer day while you sit on the curb with sweat dripping down your calf from the back of your knee.

And yeah, if you care, I love my job as a Service and Training Manager at Old Navy. My hometown is TBD because home is home wherever it is. But I was raised in Oakland and Antioch, California. I don't specify that as my singular hometown, though. The LBC is also my home. As is VB back east. And does it really matter if I select Separated, Single, or Divorced? Because anyone that really wants to know could probably have a better conversation with me than your drop down menu.

My life is my life and sometimes I'm more raw and open about it than some people are ready for.

But the cool thing about social media--whether it's a blog like this, or a tweet, or a Facebook status--is that it's like leaving a postcard on the floor of a club. Most people will probably step on it or over it, but every once in a while, something will catch someone's eye and they may read it.  Someone may even pick it up and share it with someone.

Whatever happens to it, I got it out in the open, and for me, that makes it more real. That puts my thoughts down "on paper," for public consumption, and I stand behind what I say. That's really me. And as much as I don't fulfill the stereotype for musical-loving theatre geek...

Take me or leave me.

17 April 2014

Domino the Philosopher


The antithesis of success.

For some, it is "not an option." For others, an extreme description of a hiccup or wrench in the works.

Failure is occasionally regarded as a sign of weakness, incompetence, or a lack of drive, passion, or a positive attitude. Not twelve hours prior to seeing the commercial below for the first time, I was just talking about failure with a friend of mine. As any good friend would, she assured me I wasn't a failure, nor had failed, but I diffused the situation's potential for an emotional dip by approaching it with an objective eye.

Failure doesn't imply I executed incorrect actions, at least to me. Failure means to acknowledge the actual results in closed-loop event were in gross contrast to the preferred result. In simpler terms, it didn't turn out the way you wanted it to, and an opportunity to start over, or even begin something new, is presented.

And that's ok.

Last night I was watching Game of Arms (specifically S1, Ep5, Welcome to the Slaughterhouse). Yes, the show on AMC about arm wrestling, not the often trending Game of Thrones. Before the match they focus on Mike Selearis of the NY Arms Control Team. Some would call him cocky and arrogant, others would cheer on his self-confidence and constant self-assuring. One cocky guy isn't anything new, especially in a testosterone-saturated show like Game of Arms. But what stuck out was his Ricky Bobby-like parenting.

A high school teacher, husband, and father of two, he instills the spirit of a winner in his two children. Cheers echo through the house as he and his two kids take turns proclaiming, "I'm a winner! I'm a winner!" For many, this is a good thing, instilling a positive attitude and a desire to be the best. But the wife shares a reality check with the camera when she says there's one problem with all the winner conditioning: dealing with losing.

No one's keeping score for you. They just notice what you do in between possessions.

11 April 2014

April 11: 3 of a Kind

I met Paula back on March 19th, but haven't spent as much time with her as I thought I would. After a trip to Guitar Center this morning, quality time with my new six-stringed friend should be picking up quickly.

As the saying goes, "like a kid in a candy store." That's how I walked around the store, admiring all the instruments and set ups while other customers were shredding in the other room. It's been so long since I've been in a music store, and as I flipped through music books and perused the shelves I struggled to find a definite reason of why I stopped.

But I'm picking up speed on the on ramp, not on a Highway to Hell, but in more of Life is a Highway manner. No time needs to be wasted on the Boulevard of Broken Dreams, this Low Rider is Cruisin into the Danger Zone.

If you don't get all the musical references, don't fret, I finger picked a few for this post. Eventually I'll have enough to be enjoyed by a Seven Nation Army. If you're still lost, maybe you should stick your neck out of whatever hole you're living in and push the pedal to the metal so those who aren't moving forward see nothing but tail lights and Dust in the Wind.

April 10: My Fave Part of the Day

As the gray, snowy days have been becoming scarce, clear shots of the sunrise have been more frequent. If I've won the battle with my snooze function, I usually get to work a few minutes before I have to actually go in, as I did this particular day.

There's a level of clarity that is bestowed upon you at this point in the day. With the parking lot still rather empty, before the doors have been unlocked, and the customers arrive, there is serenity in the stillness.

In my post from March 26th (I Am Here), I talked about how it's important to be present in whatever you do. That's why I enjoy this moment so much. It's before I even enter the building. Before I get out of my car and walk up to the doors and cross the physical threshold of my place of work, I take a moment to myself to mentally prepare for a transition.

I'm no escape artist attempting to wriggle out of a strait jacket and chains in a locked box filled with water, but it's still imperative to let yourself know that you are stepping into a different environment when you get to work. The focus is different, the attitudes may need some alterations as well, and to put it bluntly, you're on stage.

And actors stay in character well before they get on stage, and for a bit after they leave. But listen to RDJ in Tropic Thunder.

Sidenote: I'm not using this to condone the use of the word "retard".

05 April 2014

The MDA and Me: Make a Muscle and Make a Difference

Picture your life when you were 17.

I turned 17 a couple months into my senior year of high school. I was just over a hundred pounds soaking wet, with not much of a clue of what I was going to do about college. I sat first chair in my high school orchestra, joined the Drama Club, and ran around the gym during rallies making me the first unofficial mascot in the inaugural graduating class of Deer Valley High School.

Successes? Um, I had won a handful of spelling bees and received a few certificates for perfect attendance, but not much else. Oh, I did win a dance contest in the first grade at my private school.

Struggles? I wore glasses and had to watch what I ate because of food allergies. My all-time favorite color is red. (But of course I had other phases: blue, orange, and yellow. Oh, yellow.) Matchbox Twenty has been my favorite band since I was in high school. And I love lemon bars—really any dessert treat or pastry with lemon in it (without nuts of course, since I’m allergic). I was just another kid who had never broken a bone, loved hugs, and laughed as much as I could.

In the last fifteen years I’ve graduated from high school, joined the Navy, deployed on a submarine, been to Norway and Scotland, learned to shoot multiple firearms, lived on both coasts, loved, lost, and loved again, earned a Bachelor’s in Theatre Directing, shoveled snow, cried in the sand, written the majority of my first book, and exchanged vows on a sunny January day in California before moving to Indiana where I am today.

But if someone told me when I was seventeen that I wouldn’t make it past my thirties, I’d probably have a better plan of what I wanted to do with my life.

The other day I got to meet a seventeen year old who very definitely knows what she wants to do after she graduates. She wants to major in Clinical Microbiology, ideally at Northwestern. And she wants to minor in singing. Over the last 7 ½ years she’s been practicing Taekwondo, and she’s currently a 2nd degree Black Belt instructor.

But let’s backtrack a bit first.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been in contact via email with Alison Eckert. Alison is with the Muscular Dystrophy Association as their Fundraising Coordinator for Northern Indiana, and she wanted to introduce me to Nikki as a local ambassador for MDA in preparation for the MDA Muscle Walk on April 26th at Bethel College.

Through these emails Alison and I exchanged in coordination of this meet-up, I had not asked if Nikki was living with Muscular Dystrophy or if that she was talking to us as a representative from a family who is affected by MD. Alison had arrived first and so we chatted for a few minutes in the front of the store while we waited for Nikki to arrive. When she walked in with her backpack on and her blended beverage in her hand, I felt terrible for being so uninformed and doing some pre-judging in my head, because Nikki looked like any other customer that would walk into the store. She didn’t have any leg braces, canes, or a wheelchair. She looked…normal.

If it weren’t for Alison calling her over to introduce her to me, I’d have treated her like any other person walking into the store that day, or any other day. But in thinking about it, that’s the way it should be.

But it isn’t always that easy.

Looking at her, you would probably have no idea. And that’s the best part of getting to know someone. You find out about the stories you can’t see. But who I do see is in the break room at work. She sits on the opposite end of the couch from me, half cross-legged with one foot on the floor. The braid her brown hair is in curls around her neck, perched on her right shoulder, and her face is calm, adorned with black-rimmed glasses, framing her eyes that await questions I have not prepared. Her friend Alison sits in a folding chair in front of us on the couch, but she turns to face Nikki, the woman of the hour, as if to silently defer.
Alison (left), Nikki (center), and myself at Old Navy.

I was not prepared to do a one-on-one interview. I was hoping for a small group of us to be in attendance for their visit, but the universe had other plans, so I decided I would take notes to share with the others. What happened over the next hour (and I hate to sound cliché, but it’s true) literally changed me life. What I learned from Nikki and Alison accelerated the development of a bit of my work life, and plenty of my personal life.

After some small talk and getting settled in the break room while we waited a few more minutes to see if anyone else would show up to meet Nikki and Alison, I decided that I just had to jump in and just start asking questions. I apologized for my fumbling around, but I was swimming in awkward attempts to be politically correct and sensitive and inoffensive and didn’t know how to bring up what we all knew she was there to talk about.

What was I supposed to ask? These were my options in my head:

“What are you suffering from?” Because she definitely didn’t look like she was suffering at all. She looked more lively and moved more enthusiastically than most people I see day to day.

“What is your affliction?” Does anyone even talk like that?

“Why are you a part of MDA?” Is the MDA a club? Was she initiated like a sorority? C’mon, Marlon.

While I considered my options, she just went ahead and said it because she knew that’s what I wanted to ask but didn’t have a way of asking it “nicely.” She called me out.

“ ‘What’s wrong with you?’ Right?”

Right. Even though I knew that was a rude way of asking, in addition to be incorrect because I didn’t even think there was anything wrong, incorrect, or in any way negative about her.

Nikki Losievski is living with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA type 3), which affects a portion of the nervous system that controls voluntary muscle movement. SMA is an invisible muscle disease with genetic roots that doctors don’t even know if it’s hereditary or caused by a genetic mutation. That means she doesn’t know if she got it from her parents or if it’s due to a surprise abnormality in genetic coding. In turn, that means researchers and scientists are challenged with finding a cure let alone a solid treatment since they don’t even know its origins.

And that’s just the overview of why MDA plays a part in Nikki’s life. Before last summer her family didn’t even know she had SMA. She had shown signs of as early as 18 months, but not everyone has been helpful, or correct for that matter, along the way, including two incorrect diagnoses of Cerebral Palsy and Congenital Myopathy. She admitted that one doctor even told her, “Yeah, you’re not gonna be walking much longer,” and that she would be “lucky to make it” into her twenties and thirties.

Did you miss the part where I said she’s a 2nd degree Black Belt in Taekwondo? Well she is. And I was subject to a fraction of that strength when she slapped me a strong high five before she left.

So how does the Muscular Dystrophy Association play an integral part in her life? There are plenty of services available to her and her family, but the most fun comes from camp. One week out of the summer, kids and young adults from 6-17 years of age gather for plenty of fun and safe outdoor experiences, partnered with a camp counselor of their own. Nikki loves MDA Camp for many reasons. One of the first things she said is that
“[MDA camp] is a place where you’re actually normal.”

Nikki goes on to say to summer camp is a great way to “hit the reset button” and “build a support system.” At a place like this, no one has to feel different, out of place, or fear being bullied—something that happens weekly, if not on a daily basis at school. Additionally, there is a 1:1 member to counselor ratio, and one of the best perks for parents and caregivers is that they can attend at no cost to their family. The cost of $800 per child is covered by MDA (thanks to donors like you) to provide a safe, fun, worry-free environment where these children and young adults can focus on sharing stories, making friendships, and living their lives instead of a muscular disease controlling them.

As the Community Leader at my Old Navy, it’s up to me to partner with community organizations and get our team members to provide services and assistance to the neighborhoods we live in. I signed up to do the MDA Muscle Walk because it was opportunity to help out, but I knew I had to do something more. It’s one thing to share my personal fundraising page for the upcoming event, but I think of all those pictures and links with captions that scream “1 LIKE = 1 RESPECT” or “RT OR USE #[inserttragedyhere] TO SHOW YOUR SUPPORT”.

Medical research, flu shots, and services like summer camp can’t be paid for with retweets and likes. They need monetary donations. Alison kept it simple, saying that donations “provide hope.” And what did Nikki have to say about why you should donate?

“[Muscular Dystrophy] deprives kids of having an actual childhood.”

Nikki is not SMA, just as her friends are not ALS, Mitochondrial Myopathy, or Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.

Nikki Losievski is a 17 year-old junior at Penn High School whose favorite dessert is coconut cream pie. She’s a younger sister and a daughter. She loves metalcore and rock. Her favorite bands are Parkway Drive and Black Veil Brides.

She is not her diagnosis.

But she is the reason I’m sharing this story. She is now a personal connection to the MDA, and why Team Old Navy is fundraising for and participating in the MDA Muscle Walk on April 26th. I started on this path with MDA because it fit the bill for a work-related responsibility, but I’m continuing because I have the opportunity to help someone else.