Saturday, October 22, 2011

Happily Ever After

As a child growing up, I loved having stories read to me.  Almost every story I heard ended with: "....And they all lived Happily Ever After."  Cinderella and her Prince, Snow White and her Prince, Beauty and the Beast, Little Red Riding Hood after she escaped the Big Bad Wolf.  Nobody knows what became of them, except that get the idea.   I always wondered what living Happily Ever After was like.  It sounded like this faraway place in never never land, where the concept of school homework didn't exist, where I could have as much chocolate and ice cream as I wanted, where I could have that pet dog my parents refused to get for me and where I would never again be tortured by my two brothers!

As I grew older, my perspective changed a little, but not very much.  Homework was replaced by other responsibilities that I couldn't get away from.  I could have as much chocolate and ice cream as I wanted to, but there were consequences.  My brothers grew up too and embraced the fact that they had only one sister (or so I hope) and became much nicer to me.  And my parents finally got me the dog that I so badly wanted.  But when I stopped to think, how much happier was I?  My heart had been broken, I was struggling with a weight problem, I had trouble making long-lasting or meaningful friendships.  The older I became, it seemed like my list of life's challenges just kept growing.  A series of circumstances through my twenties only compounded the situation, leaving me feeling so overwhelmed by negativity.  I began to believe that I didn't deserve the happiness I was so desperately seeking, which is why it seemed to elude me.  I went through the motions of life pretending that everything was fine, while deep inside the silent despair was building up and swallowing me completely.  I gave in to the feeling of helpless hopelessness.   

To keep myself from falling into full-blown depression, I began to play the "If Only" game.  If only I could live on my own and be responsible only for myself, I would be happy. I would then be accountable only to myself.  If only I had a decent job that brought me enough income to take care of myself, I would be happy.  If only I could get myself a new car, great outfits, a designer handbag.  I was hardly conscious of the fact that my pursuit of happiness was slowly developing into a list of material trimmings to impress everybody around me.  Regardless, I began to accomplish most of my If Onlys.  I was able to live on my own.  I got a great job, which bought me all those things I thought would make me happy.  The new car, the great outfits, the designer handbags.  The happiness, however, was a different story.  I enjoyed a brief and temporary feeling of contentment, but then it went away.  I wasn't sure why.  

Then one day, quite suddenly, I was laid off from my job.  Everything that I had built up was almost gone.  I had to start from scratch.  For two years I struggled to build a small business and get it off the ground.  A bad economy prevented this from being as successful as I hoped it would.  I realized I would need to use my small business as a second income and find a steady job.  This meant having to return to the company that laid me off in the first place, to a job which paid much less.  I slowly began to rebuild my professional life.  Through it all, I continued to believe that everything bad was happening to me because I deserved it.  I spent the next four years in deep resentment.  I resented the fact my small business didn't take off.  I resented the fact that I had to swallow my pride and return to the company that laid me off, because no other company would hire me.  I resented how much less money I was making and how I couldn't afford to live the lifestyle I used to before.  I was mentally free-falling into a vortex created from despair, anger, resentment and ever negative emotion you can think of.

It's interesting how life can come at you and give you that proverbial kick-in-the-rear that you really need in order to change your outlook.  Sometimes it comes in a way, shape or form that you would least expect.  I went through a situation that shook me to the core and forced me into a journey of introspection, a place I hate to go.  I began to realize how deep into my mire of negativity I had allowed myself to sink, so deep that it felt I couldn't pull my leg out of it, much less my entire being.  I realized how much I had in my life that I should have been grateful for.  I had my health, my well-being.  There were so many people out there who didn't have a job.  I did.  I had people around me who were so supportive of my business.  I had other people who wanted only the best for me.  From this realization came my blog, An Attitude of Gratitude. The blog was very short and to the point, but I didn't want to talk much about how I was feeling at the time.  The main purpose of the blog was to verbalize a commitment I had made to myself, so I could be accountable for it.  

Last year during the holidays, one of my uncles said a prayer, during which he quoted a song I had learned as a child.  "Count your blessings, name them one by one; And it will surprise you what the Lord has done."  I began to acknowledge out loud every blessing that had been bestowed upon me.  Sure enough, it was a surprise.  I had so much to be thankful for.  I made sure to be grateful for everything.  Even on the worst days, if I looked hard enough, I could find something to be thankful for.   It did surprise me what the Lord had done, but it also surprised me that I began to feel so much more positive.  I was even beginning to feel - dare I say it - happier.  I literally began to feel like I was slowly freeing myself from some invisible shackle that was preventing me from feeling good about my life and myself.  The biggest surprise of all was how my positive attitude was bringing changes to my life.  I have had a very good year with my business.  I am being challenged at my job, but in a good way, which is helping my professional growth.  I am learning to be content with much less.  I am learning that when I set small but significant financial goals for myself and then accomplishing them, the dividends are more than just monetary.  I am learning that happiness is all around me, I just have to open my eyes to it.  The strangest thing is that I am finding it easier to be grateful even for the less than positive situations which, while significantly less, are still prevalent in my life.  I believe that there is a lesson to be learned, no matter what the circumstance.  People around me are telling me how much happier I seem to be.  That must mean I must be doing something right, although I'm doing this for me.  That said,  I don't mean to make it sound much easier than it really is.  However, from trying my best to adopt this Attitude of Gratitude, every situation brings me to a figurative fork in the road.  It causes me to stop and think, then make a conscious decision on which path to take based on how I choose to respond.  I would like to think that I always make the right decision, but that is not true.  I am making the effort though, and am realizing the payoff is much better when I decide to treat every moment as one I can learn from.  

It may not have been a light bulb moment that brought me here, but rather a deliberate consciousness.  It is not a destination, it's a journey.  But I think I have found my Happily Ever After.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

An Evening With Jerry

October 1st, 2011.  The day I had been waiting for since August, when my friend Crystal and I bought our tickets to see Jerry Seinfeld at the Paramount Theater in Seattle.  As you know, I love watching stand-up comedy.  This was a dream come true for me, as I was going to watch one of the best of the best.  When all was said and done, the tickets set me back close to $100.  I was pretty sure the show would be worth the price.  And now that the day was here, I could hardly stand the excitement!  

We found our seats at The Paramount.  We realized we were in the second row, in the orchestra pit.  Wow!   The only disadvantage was that we were not in theater seats, but rather in chairs that were put out there for us.  That wasn't a problem though, because the chairs were quite comfortable.The opening act was Mario Joyner, whom I had watched on occasion.  The first time I saw him was back in the day when MTV used to show The 1/2 Hour Comedy Hour.  Mario was recently in the movie, "Just Go With It".  He will be turning 50 tomorrow, a fact that he mentioned during his routine, which, by the way, was excellent!  One of the bits that got many laughs was about how much he loved his Magellan GPS because when he missed an exit, it recalculated his route.  The Magellan did not bitch about it for the next 50 miles, nor did it ever bring up in conversation that he missed an exit.  After Mario was done, it was time.

The stage lights went off but I could see a faint silhouette of somebody running on stage and setting up a tall stool with a glass and bottle of water.  As soon as this person exited the stage, the lights came on.  Jerry Seinfeld ran on stage, pretty much in the same fashion as the guy who set up the stool.  Nobody announced him or anything!  It almost took the audience by surprise, as there was a slight pause before the applause began.   The first thing that struck me when Jerry came on stage was the fact that I was so close I could almost see up his nose!  The second thing was that he appeared much taller on television than he did in real life.  He was dressed in a slate gray suit with a gray tie.  Thankfully, unlike his character on television, he decided to ditch his signature sneakers for real shoes.  Not too shabby for a 57 year old.  Later in the show, at one point he lay down on the stage floor.  All I could think at the time is, "That suit!  I hope they vacuumed the floor nice and good."  No, my thoughts are not always grammatically correct, I know that.  

"Hello Seattle," began Jerry.  He didn't get the expected reaction from the crowd, where everyone normally cheers when they hear the name of their city.  He went on to describe how we already knew we had "arrived", so didn't feel the need to applaud about it.  He talked about the weather, how there was a slice of sun that shone through the clouds, just enough to make us aware of what we were missing.  In the two hours or so of his routine, there was only one piece of material I had heard on his television show, the one about the restaurant bill coming in a little book.  Other than that, it was all new material.  And simply hilarious, I might add.

My ticket
If I may digress just a little, I wasn't a huge fan of Jerry on the television show.  I think the three actors in their supporting roles were what kept the show alive and all of us laughing.  Jerry may have had a few shining moments, but acting was clearly not what he was good at.  His stand-up routines are a different story altogether.  He takes the mundane events of daily life, puts a comedic spin to it and delivers it in perfect timing.  He talked about the all too familiar coffee culture in Seattle, and questioned the need for so many places that served coffee.  He talked about how it has become such a social event, how people don't "drink" coffee, but rather they "have" coffee.   He went on about how coffee in a cup is very different from coffee inside your system, where it turns into a mean boss that insists that your small intestines be voided.  That's the other thing.  In his entire routine, he didn't feel the need to swear or use coarse double entendres very much in order to be funny.  If he did, he was so polite about it that it didn't sound half bad.  For example, he talked about the *69 feature on the phone for last call return.  Of all the numbers that the phone company could come up with, how did they decide on "69"?  His take was that the meeting at the phone company when they were deciding on the numbers was attended by a bunch of people, none of whom went to Junior High.  

And so it continued for the next two hours.  The laughter kept coming with observations on how our life goal has become to attain what birds aim for - Tweeting.  He talked about our e-mail culture.   He talked about his 12 year marriage and compared it to the game show Jeopardy, where his wife remembered every little detail of every conversation they've ever had, and he couldn't remember anything.  All of it was so funny and all of it rang so true.  When he was finally done, it seemed the natural thing to give him a standing ovation as he left the stage.  

Jerry then came back and acknowledged the standing ovation he got, saying that it wasn't something he saw very often.  Apparently he looked at Crystal and me while he said this, but unfortunately I was looking for my purse which I had dropped under my chair and so I missed it.  He gave us a few more minutes of laughter, with audience interaction this time.  We could ask him any question we wanted to.  Someone asked him if he brought the Marble Rye.  He had us know that Frances Bay, the actor who played the old lady from whom he tried to steal the marble rye, had recently passed away.   Then an 8 year old boy from the audience asked him for an autograph.  Jerry called him on stage and, as he signed the boy's ticket, asked him if his parents let him watch the show.  The boy replied that he watched it all the time and loved it.  Jerry asked him, "Have you seen the one called The Contest"?  He then went on to add, "One day it will be your favorite episode."  He then called his opening act Mario Joyner back on stage as they took one last bow.  

As incredible as the show was, what really left me feeling good was how humble Jerry Seinfeld seemed to be.  He more than deserved the ovation he got, but he took the time to acknowledge it.  Although it clearly said on our tickets that no cameras and no recordings were allowed, there was an idiot in the front row very blatantly violating this.  I saw Jerry notice this more than once, but he didn't say anything.  I wish he did, and embarrassed the daylights out of the inconsiderate audience member.  I was also very touched by how Jerry took the time and made an 8 year old's day.  Even though the ticket cost quite a pretty penny, it was so worth it.  

It was definitely an evening to remember!