One Day At A Time

Dear Diary,

Yesterday, as I prepared to go out to an open mic, the familiar feelings of fear, dread, and self-doubt began to marinate into my bones. Thoughts of bombing, doing poorly, feeling inadequate, all rushed in. Then, I thought, ‘One day at a time. One performance at a time. You don’t have to be famous today.’

Seneca - letters from a stoic - dealing with anxiety

And it helped! I did aiite for an open mic, but as I was getting into my car, the business student inside of me scorned, ‘So, what did we learn from this experience?’ But before I could swallow myself into a clinical, exhausting post-mortem, analyzing and bubble-sorting the wheat from the chaff (like this post and this post and this post and this post), I thought, ‘Congratulations, man! You made it out! That’s good enough! Didja learn some stuff? Cool! Let’s enjoy this chune (incidentally, A$AP Ferg – Shabba Ranks remix)!!!’

Albert Camus - Indeed - The Fall - quote

I don’t know the way ahead. I used to take solace in having a plan, having a definite course of action, but now that I’m spending more time enjoying the beautiful moments in life, the plan doesn’t seem all that important anymore. I’m having fun. I’m, ‘…living the question’ as Ram Dass put it. For me, the reward of comedy comes from the practice itself. And, what’s more, now that I’ve stopped beating myself over the head all the time for not having achieved, this that and the other, I’m slowly removing that intermediary between myself and my life.

Albert Camus - I was - The Fall - quote

Now, do I still want the fame and adulation and all of that stuff? Sure, but I’m having A TON of fun enjoying those sweet moments when I make myself laugh, that moment where my tweet can upload fast enough. Granted, I haven’t developed the comfort on stage that allows me to fully embrace the laughter of the audience (I’m too focused on what comes next, but that’ll come with time). After all, that’s what it’s all about. The joy is in the expression, even if that expression is just to myself. How lucky am I to have found what I love to do?! Amazing.

Albert Camus - Nature - The Fall - quote

I’m nowhere close to where I thought I’d be when I graduated. I thought I’d be some CEO, moving and shaking, and I think there’s a part of me which will always prick me (no homo) about those old dreams, trying to remind me of what I should want to have. But I have what I want today. I have what I’m ready to accept today.

One day at a time.

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The Myth of Sisyphus and The Meaning of Life

Dear Diary,

The other day I was listening to a JRE Podcast with Duncan Trussell and Ari Shaffir, and Duncan brought up the myth of Sisyphus (Origin of Convo 23:55 | Myth of Sisyphus 25:40-27ish).

Long story short, Sisyphus defied the Gods, was sentenced to death, sent to Hades, and decided, fuck that, so he split, chilled on earth, but then the Gods found out, got pissed, and sent his ass back to Hades, only this time with an eternal punishment: to forever roll a heavy-ass rock up a hill, only to have it roll back down as soon as he reached the top. Fucked up? Sucks for him, right? Can I get an I Know Right?

I know, riiiyyt? – Diary

ego envy superiority

You know, I recognized that myth as soon as Duncan mentioned it, and the nerd in me rejoiced that I knew something I fantasized other people didn’t – I’m a nerdy asshole that way. People love the fact that I know my Jeopardy, but instead of receiving their compliments wholeheartedly and without ego, I’ve begun showboating, lol, half-listening to Jeopardy and answering the questions just to show off what kind of a bad ass I am, answering the questions mid-Trebek even, just so everyone knows w’sup. You show off your muscles, another shows off his clothes, yet another shows off their car…I show off my dome. My synapses be firing like two sticks and kindle in this bitch…lol, we all have our ego games, eh?

True I got more fans than the average man but not enough food to last me – to the end of the week I live by the beat like you live cheque to cheque – if you don’t move your feet than I don’t eat so we like neck to neck. – Andre 3000, circa 1995

But back to Sisyphus. I knew the myth, but I never considered it’s philosophical implications. I mean, I thought Seneca was a genius when he came up with the line, ‘To what end do we toil?’ but it turns out that even Seneca was standing on someone’s shoulders (which he readily admits in each letter, so give him a break, Mike, Gawwd you’re such as an asshole sometimes…). This also relates to another one of my favourite Seneca musings, ‘If anything could have satisfied us, we would’ve been satisfied a long time ago.’

albert camus - nobody realizes that some people expend a tremendous amount of energy just to be normal

Sooooo…yeah. Why? If the rock forever falls to the ground, and we have to haul ass back down just to push it back up, KNOWING that it’s going to just roll back down again, why do any of it? Yes, to what end do we toil, but why toil if there is no end? No destination?

I’m no philosophy major, but I think I’m just discovering what the unemployed’s call absurdity. If there is no rhyme nor reason, no end in sight, this life is absurd.

Fuck me. So…now what?

At the very end of his long effort measured by skyless space and time without depth, the purpose is achieved. Then Sisyphus watches the stone rush down in a few moments toward that lower world whence he will have to push it up again toward the summit. He goes back down to the plain. It is during that return, that pause, that Sisyphus interests me.

Ugh. Such poetry. You ever experience something that just fills your heart with joy and sadness at the same time? I think when man ascends to the heights of Mount Olympus by following his passion, as Camus is doing in this essay, or as my boy Dujean is doing in the video, we can’t help but stop – arrested (no pun intended black friend) – and stare slack-jawed at man’s spirit, unfiltered. BTW – how crazy is it that Camus realizes that he’s rolling his OWN rock up his OWN hill as he writes about the human paradox of perpetual rock rolling??

sisyphus at the top of the hill optimistic

But back to Sisyphus, watching the rock roll back down another goddamn time. Now, you, like me, feel sorry for Sisyphus. Aw man, this poor dude, all he ever wanted to do was to taste life for just one more time, and for THAT these Gods are torturing this guy for eternity?? Assholes, man!

Camus doesn’t see it that way, and this is where he reveals his genius. As Sisyphus walks down the hill for the nth time, Camus looks into his eyes and sees…optimism??

I see that man going back down with a heavy yet measured step toward the torment of which he will never know the end. That hour like a breathing-space which returns as surely as his suffering, that is the hour of consciousness. At each of those moments when he leaves the heights and gradually sinks toward the lairs of the gods, he is superior to his fate. He is stronger than his rock.

Wowzers. So he’s saying that yeah, he has to go back down, and start fresh, but it’s in that moment where he renews his effort that he becomes, ‘…superior to his fate.’ But really!? How is he superior to his fate when he continues to labour, KNOWING full well that the labour is pointless?

If this myth is tragic, that is because its hero is conscious. Where would his torture be, indeed, if at every step the hope of succeeding upheld him? The workman of today works every day in his life at the same tasks, and this fate is no less absurd. But it is tragic only at the rare moments when it becomes conscious. Sisyphus, proletarian of the gods, powerless and rebellious, knows the whole extent of his wretched condition: it is what he thinks of during his descent.

Yeah fuckin’ right it’s tragic! Goddamn it, man…

But crushing truths perish from being acknowledged. – Camus

Aiite. Cool. I get that. But now that we’re with the truth, that we can stand outside of ourselves and look at our dumb-asses rolling a rock up the hill with no end in sight, now what? Hey Genius, you realize that I was taught the success ethic, that I will be happy once I become successful?? That’s all I’ve ever been looking for, all I’ve ever been striving towards!

So if there is no success, and the…but perhaps, hey maybe…maybe there is success in pushing up as well as there is success in walking back down.

Yeahhhh, kiiiind of, I mean, I get that persistence is admirable, but you can try to chop down a tree with your forehead, and be successful, but I don’t rate that kind of persistence. No ratings from me, my yute…you are bereft of ratings in my book, sonny boy.

oedipus - all is well

One does not discover the absurd without attempting to write a manual of happiness. – Camus

Fuck me, Camus knew that everyone discovering this crushing truth would do exactly as I’m doing right now, trying to figure out how to be happy in a world of absurdity. Aiite, aiite, you good, Camus, you good…

“I conclude that all is well,” says Oedipus, and that remark is sacred. It echoes in the wild and limited universe of man. It teaches that all is not, has not been, exhausted. It drives out of this world a god who had come into it with dissatisfaction and a preference for futile sufferings. It makes of fate a human matter, which must be settled among men. – Camus

OK, okayyyyy…so now instead of looking to the heavens, let us look within. No matter how many times we roll the rock upwards, all has not been exhausted. There’s still more left. Each time we roll the rock up the hill, we are getting something new out of the equation, discovering something we didn’t see before, exploring new things we never fathomed.

All Sisyphus’ silent joy is contained therein. His fate belongs to him. His rock is his thing. Likewise, the absurd man, when he contemplates his torment, silences all the idols. In the universe suddenly restored to silence, the myriad wondering little voices of the earth rise up. Unconscious, secret calls, invitations from all the faces, they are the necessary reverse and price of victory. there is no sun without shadow, and it is essential to know the night. The absurd man says yes and his effort will henceforth be unceasing. If there is a personal fate, there is no higher destiny, or at least there is but one which he concludes is inevitable and despicable. For the rest, he knows himself to be the master of his days. At that subtle moment when man glances backward over his life, Sisyphus returning toward his rock, in that silent pivoting he contemplates that series of unrelated actions which becomes his fate, created by him, combined under his memory’s eye and soon sealed by his death. Thus, convinced of the wholly human origin of all that is human, a blind man eager to see who knows that the night has no end, he is still on the go. The rock is still rolling.

I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one’s burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy. – Camus

You know, I walked away from the computer to reheat my French-pressed Starbucks French Roast I did at home and Awwwww yeeyyuuhhh!! Whatchu know about FRENCH PRESS, hah?! Man, pushing that strainer down is one of the most ego-filled, pompous things I’ve ever done in my ENTIRE LIFE, and I LOVED every second of it. Oh, you’re buying Timmies stirred by a chick with a PhD in nursing? Well, I frank-roasted the fuck out of Starbucks’ DARKEST ROAST. Ugh, all these people bragging about how they like the Timmie’s Dark Roast. IT AIN’T DARK, you losers! I’ve seen chinese supermodels darker than the Tim Horton’s mean mug. *drops teaspoon*

Oops. Got carried away there. Yeah, but I got up from the computer, but the problem was still nagging me…if we know that the rock is gonna keep rolling down…why roll it up in the first place?

The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. – Camus

REALLY? … …yeah – I feel you. To what end do we toil? The end is in the doing. It’s that idea of karma yoga, ‘…the process of achieving perfection in action. Karma yoga is said to be the most effective way to progress in spiritual life [per the Bhagavad Gita].’ The Yoga of chopping wood and carrying water.

ram dass karma yoga chopping wood and carrying water 2

ram dass karma yoga chopping wood and carrying water

Yeah right, Mike, or the other way you can interpret it is like van Pelt who gave another point of view,

Sisyphus also personifies humanity and its disastrous pursuit of perfection by any means necessary, in which the great rock repeatedly rushing down the mount symbolizes the accelerating pace of unsustainable civilization toward cataclysmic collapse and cultural oblivion that ends each historical age and restarts the sisyphean cycle. – Wikipedia

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Who? That Guy? He Aiiiiin’t Shit

competition in comedy streven pressfield

I finally got down to reading The War of Art by Steven Pressfield and again, another life changer. Ever look at your co-worker (in my case, fellow comedian), and say,

“Eh yo, FUCK that dude. He aiiiin’t sheeeit.”

But he is. He is the shit. He’s doing well, and worst of all, you resent him for it.

No, just me? Yo, fuck you, Diary. Anyways, I used to feel a healthy bout of envy whenever I saw someone doing better than I was, especially if they started when I did or gasp! after I did. Luckily, Pressfield explains why I felt that way, why it was perfectly natural to feel that way, and most importantly, how to break out.

Pressfield on how competition is a silent killer for the artist:

In the animal kingdom, individuals define themselves in one of two ways – by their rank within a hierarchy (a hen in a pecking order, a wolf in a pack) or by their connection to a territory (a home base, a hunting ground, a turf).

This is how individuals – humans as well as animals – achieve psychological security. They know where they stand. The world makes sense…

High school is the ultimate hierarchy. And it works; in a pond that small, the hierarchical orientation succeeds. The cheerleader knows where she fits, as does the dweeb in the Chess Club. Each has found a niche. The system works.

There’s a problem…When the numbers get too big, the thing breaks down. New York City is too big to function as a hierarchy. So is IBM. The individual in multitudes this vast feels overwhelmed, anonymous. He is submerged in the mass. He’s lost…

…Our brains can’t file that many faces. We thrash around, flashing our badges of status (Hey, how do you like my Lincoln Navigator?) and wondering why nobody gives a shit…

For the artist to define himself hierarchically is fatal. In the hierarchy, the artist looks up and looks down. The one place he can’t look is that place he must: within.

The artist can’t do his work hierarchically. He must work territorially.

…[Our territories] are psychological. Stevie Wonder’s territory is the piano. Arnold’s is the gym. When Gates pulls into the parking lot at MSFT, he’s on his territory. When I sit down to write, I’m on mine.

…If Arnold were the last man on earth, he’d still go to the gym. Stevie Wonder would still pound the piano. The sustenance they get comes from the act itself, not from the impression it makes on others.

…When the hack sits down to work, he doesn’t ask himself what’s in his own heart. He asks what the market is looking for. In other words, the hack writes hierarchically.

…I was starving as a screenwriter when the idea for The Legend of Bagger Vance came to me…[My agent and I] knew that first novels take forever and sell for nothing…But the Muse had me. I had to do it. To my amazement, the book succeeded critically and commercially better than anything I’d ever done, and others have been lucky, too. Why? My best guess is this: I trusted what I wanted, not what I thought would work. I did what I myself thought was interesting, and left its reception to the gods.

The artist can’t do his work hierarchically. He has to work territorially.

Nuff said.

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You Ain’t Gotta Be Famous Today

having fun on stage

Dear Diary,

One of the best reactions you can EVER get on stage is when an audience member repeats one of your phrases as they’re laughing at your joke. Case in point, listen closely at 1:01 when Chris Locke says, “she looks like she just had, like, a millions of…” You can hear a woman laughing and echoing along (joke starts at 0:31):

Beautiful, right? Well, last night, I went on stage for the second time in, oh, I dunno, A YEAR, and two audience members repeated a few of my phrases (0:54 and 1:20), which is awesome because it was legit like 1:20AM on a Thursday night!

It was easily one of the most enjoyable and successful performances I’ve ever had at an open mic, and it’s funny, because…check out the note I made to myself as I sat in the back, preparing to go up:

how to approach stand-up comedy

Last night I had FUUUN, maaannn. I wanna do that again, SOON. Even crazier is that those three sentences I used to coach/motivate myself blossomed from the intersection of four very disparate rivers.

Mark Forward’s Retirement

Mark Forward, when asked what the turning point in his career was, replied,

“I retired from a certain way of doing comedy. I reinvented what I wanted to be and what I wanted to do.” – Retirement is a joke to comedian Mark Forward

Seneca’s Query

My change in the way I approached comedy also related to Seneca’s fundamental question, “For what end do we toil?” I realized that my goal when performing stand-up was to put together a new five, seven, or ten-minute set, rather than trying new things, getting comfortable on stage, or taking risks, and fuck, even just having goddamn fun! I ain’t gotta be famous today, or tomorrow, or then next day. That shit’ll come.

MadVillainy

What did I mean when I said, “Madvillainy that shit?” Well, Madvillainy was a collabo between two of the heaviest underground hitters in hip-hop, MF DOOM and Madlib. They created an album called MadVillainy which, while unacceptable for radio airplay, received widespread critical acclaim. What a great notch on your bedpost, eh? Oh, you went platinum? Well the people that study music for a living said my shit was better than everyone else’s. Oops, I mean, I have outstripped myself.

Pressfield’s Hierarchical vs. Territorial Perspective

I realized that I was always judging my performances in relation to the people around me, which as Pressfield argues in his seminal work, The War of Art, is a sure-fire way to drive yourself batshit crazy (my words, not his). He contends that artists should strive to become a master of a domain, rather than rabidly focusing on beating everyone else, because the latter will never make you happy in the long run, and can’t be sustained over time. Michael Jackson was great, and so was Prince, and neither of their achievements diminished the other’s. There’s plenty of room for great comics, musicians, artists, software developers, etc.

Aiite, homie, thanks for the kind ear. Here’s some tracks to keep ya warm on this cold winter day…

And the sample…what a track!!!!!! Certified banger.

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Giving Joy a Big-Ass Bearhug (Oh yeah, and Achieving Goals. Yeahyeah…Goals)

how to achieve long-term goalsDear Diary,

A few months ago, I started really getting down on myself. This comedy shit – is it worth it? Can I really make it? But it’s going to take soooo loooonnnggg…

Thankfully, my perspective on life has been utterly capsized by the teachings of Seneca, one of the three kings of Stoicism and oh, by the way, just the wealthiest financier in Rome. Two thousand years ago, Seneca asked his pupil, Lucilius,

For what end should I toil?

When I become a world-touring stand-up, is that really going to make me happy? It’s my goal…it should, right? No, not necessarily. Why not? Quite simply, it all depends on how I get there.

Above all, my dear Lucilius, make this your business: learn how to feel joy. – Seneca, Letters from a Stoic

I’ve had a lot to be happy about in the past few months. Just got married, killing it at work, writing 19+1 minutes a daybut I wasn’t experiencing the joy. As I told my wife at our reception, ‘The entire time I was walking down the aisle, I was thinking to myself, holy crap, I’m walking down the aisle beside chairs we spent hours thinking about where to place, in a ceremony we spent a year planning, on an aisle runner that…’

Accomplishments were coming and going, and on top of not feeling happy about them, they weren’t leaving me satisfied. OK, I made a few grand…how do I make more? And how do I make it quicker the next time? And this one was the woooorst one of them all – Oh no, look how much more money he’s making – fuuuuck!!! (We’ll look at that last one in a future post; it deserves its own hyperlink)…

The fool’s life is empty of gratitude and full of fears; its course lies wholly toward the future…for we are plunged by our blind desires into ventures which will harm us, but certainly will never satisfy us; for if we could be satisfied with anything, we should have been satisfied long ago; nor do we reflect how pleasant it is to demand nothing, how noble it is to be contented and not to be dependent upon Fortune. Therefore continually remind yourself, Lucilius, how many ambitions you have attained. When you see many ahead of you, think how many are behind! If you would thank the gods, and be grateful for your past life, you should contemplate how many men you have outstripped. But what have you to do with the others? You have outstripped yourself. – Seneca, Letters from a Stoic

You know when you read something so profound that you put down the book and shake your head in amazement and wonder? Now that’s joy!

These teachings upended my perspective on achievement. Now, when I laugh, I stop, and let my head fall back under the shower head of pure bliss. There’s a long way to go before I start criss-crossing the globe with nothing but a backpack and writing utensils, but I’ve never been so excited about the journey in my life.

The Paradox of the End Goal – Jason Selk

how to achieve long-term goals

Truth be told, Seneca’s teachings on achievement were shaded in by Jason Selk’s Executive Toughness, specifically, his idea of Process Goals. Who’s he? Oh, just the Director of Mental Discipline for the then World Series Champions, St. Louis Cardinals. How’s that for a cocktail party introduction?

Oh me? Oh, I-I teach world-class athletes to, uh, win World fucking Championships. You?

Oh wow, that does sound tough. I’m sorry? Oh yeah, sometimes the wheels on those shopping caaan get stuck. If-if you’ll excuse me…

I’m sure he’s a nice guy. But seriously, if you’re the dude collecting shopping carts from the Wal-Mart parking lot…I’ve heard of starting from the bottom but gyaaaaddaaaymn! Anyways, back to J-Selk.

“…the Paradox of the End goal. When we emphasize the end result [the goal] more than we pay attention to the means to achieve it, we come face to face with this paradox. For example, the baseball player standing at the plate thinking to himself, ‘I need to get a hit” is probably going to hear, ‘Strike Three!” on the other hand the player focused on the fundamentals of his performance (tracking the ball, executing a compact swing, following through) has a much greater likelihood of getting a hit.”

What a STUD! So, I quit my job at Wal-Mart, and started with four process goals:

  • Write & Practise comedy for 15 minutes per day, increasing by one minute every week (Product Goal: Become a world-touring stand-up comedian)
  • Exercise every other day (Product Goal: 160 lbs and Sexy)
  • Meditate for 16 minutes every day (Product Goal: Peaceful)
  • Complete XYZ I work (don’t wanna bore you with that one) (Product Goal: $)

As you know, Seinfeld motivated himself to write everyday by placing an X on his calendar after every writing session. The idea of keeping the chain of X’s going, day after day, provided the spark he needed to keep on keeping on (see Gamification). So, I downloaded the Seinfeld Calendar app and started tracking the completion of these process goals. Here’s how December looks thus far:

Personal Success Quadrant

So, as you can see, I’m a fat ass. A funny, money-making, no shopping cart pulling, very peaceful, but fat ass, all the same. They say you can only focus on three things…fuck! Ha! But just look at that. Look at how I perceive things. I’m killing it, and still beating myself up. Lol. Still gotta lot to learn…

But seriously, if I just get my eating in check, yo, I’ll fuck a motherfucker up. No, stop. I’ll do better than fuck a motherfucker up…I’ll have outstripped myself. Fuck those shopping carts. It’s Sunday, and I’ve been up since 7:30AM making sweet music on these black keys. I can’t sleep past 8am anymore. I’m having too much fun.

Here’s Carl Thomas singing Summer Rain.

Here’s me singing Summer Rain with my noise-cancelling headphones on…

C-C-C-C-C-Cuff yo chiiick…

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