Sunday, July 27, 2008

PRINCIPLE ONE: Don't criticize, condemn or complain.

"Do you know someone you would like to change and regulate and improve? ... Why not begin on yourself?" - Dale Carnegie, HOW TO WIN FRIENDS AND INFLUENCE PEOPLE


I would say that this first principle has been something of a bitch to apply to my life, but that would be a complaint. And, if I am dedicated to this process, I can't be dedicated to it halfway. Of course, Carnegie admits that he found himself backsliding in regard to this one. It's a process, and all I have to do is get better at it. I can do that.

It turns out my tattered paperback is not a copy that once belonged to my father, though my mom told me that he took the seminar when he was working for Hartford Insurance in the '70s. My copy just looks old. It turns out that my well-intentioned, oftentimes too-involved mother bought me this book to try and motivate me to get along with people and behave like a normal, undepressed kid when I was in high school, and I ignored it - except to carry it around with me from move to move to move until its pages yellowed and its cover got stained and beaten to hell. She routinely used to mention the book to me as though it could solve all my social problems and help me fit into future workplace environments. (She thinks it helped my dad with relationships and success, though would he be a divorced, twice-laid-off insurance exec if he'd really, really been good at keeping friends?)

I think I carried it from move to move because I thought it belonged to my dad, but the back cover mentions that it's been updated for life in the "complex and competitive" 1990s - and he stopped living at our house in 1982.

So, by reading this book after she told me to do so for years and years and years, my mother's arrow has reached its intended target. I'm reading the book. So the next time she tells me that I'd be better off if I'd read it, I can scoff and reply sarcastically with, "Oh yeah, well, I have ..." Except that it'd be really, really negative to say something like that, and it isn't even that funny. She means well, even if it comes off as dismissively judgmental sometimes to my ears, which have been honed to interpret everything intended as helpful with a degree of skepticism and venom.

I've been living with her for two months, and she's been good and nice and patient. I should have more in savings than I do, and I should be further along in my apartment search than I am.

There is much in my life that I need to work on. It seems too small to work on the fact that I'm a self-involved smartass. But maybe it'll be like dominoes, one thing will affect the next until a sea change comes in my attitudes and situations.

In trying to explain the backstory of how I picked this book and why this book in particular is the one I'm blogging about, though, it should be said that this was my mom's go-to suggestion of how to "fix" me whenever I had hardship or was having difficulty in friendships or work. This book was the salve she suggested I apply to my damaged psyche, and she told me that it did wonders for my father, with whom I have a sometimes connected, sometimes utterly disconnected relationship. So that's the "why" of the blog. I want to see my mother's remedy and my father's fabled "inspiration" affect my life.

So here's how I've applied the first principle this week:


I was nice to my stepfather whenever I saw him, asking him his opinions of what he watched on TV and saying hello whenever we were in the same room. And, this week, when he cleaned three rooms of the house while my mother was at work, I was impressed and maintained a good opinion of him. (Of course, it leads me to wonder how much cleaning I should be doing. But, well, I'm usually only at the house awake between the hours of midnight and 4 a.m.)

So, well, my stepdad vaccuumed, and I thought it was a cool thing for him to do.

In my communications with my improv teacher Jim, I've tried to be positive and encouraging, asking him - a little too bluntly and obviously after going on about myself for days before picking up the book - how I can be a better friend to him (in an e-mail that he didn't answer). And I tried to be upbeat in an e-mail reply to an announcement he sent me about an improv show he had this weekend (which he also did not reply to).

I shouldn't have made my attempts at positivity so blatant, such a 180-degree turn from the last conversation I had with him on Tuesday where I worried too much, criticized myself extensively and then asked him to hug me. When I tried talking to him this week, it came off as a desperate attempt to make amends, fix things and restore order. In short, I was a handful for him this week, and a freaked-out overreaction from me probably won't restore his faith in me that things are going to get better.

I need to chill with him, and I need to relax. In the meantime, I'm going to try a positive, smile, quieter poker face.

And I'll let you know how it goes. (He does not read this blog.)

I had another good dinner with my friend Kurt, who does read this blog. At one point, I made a self-effacing comment about whether he actually thinks I'm cute - which he's said. It was just another way that I was condemning myself. It was wrong to do that, particularly in the way that it seemed like I was just digging for compliments from someone whose friendship has been a reliable, reassuring thing that I can trust.

Kurt saw the book, and he asked me how old the copy was. That's what prompted the realization that my copy was put to press in the '90s.

The most significant chance I had to apply these principles this week, and the one that I've been most unsure about addressing, was my trip to a guy's apartment on Friday night. We will call him "D," even though I don't think he reads this blog (and probably won't in the future). I've not blogged about my personal life in quite some time, but, if I'm going to examine how these principles are affecting my life, I would be remiss if I didn't mention - at least in part - what happened on Friday night because HOW TO WIN FRIENDS AND INFLUENCE PEOPLE and this project was mentioned specifically.

Shortly after I arrived, D saw that I had the paperback in my hand and asked me how it was going. I told him that it was going pretty well, though I said I was having a difficult time remaining positive and not complaining about stuff. I mean, I was aware that I complain a lot - for I know my temperament - but, geez, so much of what I say is negative.

I mean, it's almost as though "guy who bitches about things and people in a clever way" is who I want to be known as. (OK, it's a lot like that's who I want to be.) I'd never realized so completely as I did this week that being "that guy" is a silly thing to really want to be. I've done a lot of damage to myself by being that guy. If you want to be a harsh, critical, melodramatic person, why is it a surprise that you need help winning friends?

D sorta playfully mock-criticized the book, the way I always have with my mom. When he heard the first principle, D said that much of what he says is a complaint, criticism or condemnation. (We have that in common.) And it didn't seem to be a temperament that he wanted to lose. He said that people come to him for that sort of spice. (It was yet another moment this month when I felt, with D, like I was dating someone with my exact personality, and these moments kinda horrified me.) And, when he said that, I thought about whether I wanted that in a boyfriend, someone as jaded and bitter as I have been. I know what it's like to pride yourself on your negative temperament. (I still do it.) But how can I get better if I am growing close with someone who doesn't appreciate that I'm trying to improve or thinks that it'd be a stupid thing to try? I know I've made jokes, but I want to explore this process seriously. His reaction was such a bummer.

The remainder of the evening went downhill from that. There were some good moments, some fun. I really, really wanted to connect with this guy, for we did have things in common. And I would like to connect with someone.

At one point, my mind was wandering about things that weren't working, and D asked me if everything was OK.

"I'm not supposed to condemn, criticize or complain," I said in a smart-alecky way.

It was our third and probably last date.

I saw a lot of myself in that guy. I saw a lot of what I want to change about myself in that guy.

Friday, July 25, 2008

"Ah yes, you are attempting a new way of life."

By the time I was four years old, I had developed this rather in-depth conviction that I was either an alien from outer space or the savior of mankind. Or both. I'd seen Superman and Spider-Man in cartoons. I'd seen Luke Skywalker in the movies and sang songs about Jesus Christ in children's choir. My mom, without meaning to, encouraged this conviction. She told me that I was special, not just because I could walk on my wobbly legs like Bambi did when he and Thumper stepped on the frozen pond. She told me stories of my difficult birth, my surprising survival against incredible odds, my remarkable singing voice, my sweet temperament, my kindness toward all the people I met, the weird birthmark on my head and my unexpected intelligence. That was my origin story. I was supposed to be another hero. All I had to do was wait for my superpowers to show up. I knew that they were coming.

And, based upon some conclusion I drew after closing my eyes really, really tight and putting the palms of my hands against my eyes until I saw "stars," I thought my superpowers were going to come from another galaxy far, far away or, like, Heaven. (Jesus was just another guy with superpowers to me at that point. I knew all the words to "Jesus Loves Me" and the "Theme from Spider-Man.") By routinely inflicting that injury on myself, I figured that I was actually receiving some kind of message from the place that I was really from. My cerebral palsy wasn't an affliction that caused difficulty, it was something from which I would eventually derive power. My mom and dad were not my real mom and dad. My little brother would bite me and fight with me because he was merely normal and understood that a supreme being like myself didn't belong with them.

Kids want to be superheroes. Kids play pretend.

On the last day that I was in daycare at Lithia Springs High School before my family moved to Buford, I remember that it was raining and darkly stormy and that the drops were beading against the window of the daycare classroom. I was told that we were leaving Lithia Springs, but I didn't understand it. I didn't understand that someplace else was supposed to be my home, that I wasn't supposed to be "from" Lithia Springs anymore. So I put my hand against the window, acted like I could touch the raindrops, that I could freeze them in place or command them to move down the window. I imagined that I had powers, that I had control over the weather. I didn't want to go to the town with the dumb name. "Buford" just sounded like a dumb name. "Lithia Springs" sounded mythic to me in comparison, the name of a goddess or a radioactive element. I sat in the classroom, looked up into the dark sky and tried to imagine that my real life - the one where my future as a hero was set in stone - was beginning. I closed my eyes, pressed my palms against them until I saw stars and waited to receive the message telling me exactly how to become a superhero. I might've imagined voices telling me what to do, but the voice sounded to me like mine. I wanted something else, someone bigger than me, to communicate to me, to tell me that everything was OK. But the whole thing was just a game I was playing, one where a four-year-old boy had power over the universe, where it was only a matter of time until I fulfilled my destiny and all the things that I didn't understand would eventually be explained. Until it was time for us to go, I sat Indian-style against the window, concentrated on the raindrops hanging in front of me and tried to make them move.

I wish I still had that sense of power, that certainty, that belief in single-minded purpose as strongly as I did when I was a child. But things happen. If that sense of myself as "special" or "a superhero" was gone completely, I don't know that I would even mourn it, but there are still elements of it within me. I still dream. I still stubbornly believe that I'm doing the right thing.

Somewhere along the way, though, the idea that I was supposed to help other people got lost, replaced by the notion that I was important and that other people were supposed to pay attention to me. And the me that I have become is not totally the me that I wanted to be when, you know, the aliens were sending me my special purpose and weather-controlling superpowers from Heaven.

Somehow I got off-course when finding my special purpose. This wasn't supposed to happen like this. I was always supposed to be able to fit in with people and talk to them. I'm not supposed to be this self-centered. I'm not supposed to be this sarcastic. I'm not supposed to EVER be a complete dick. I was never supposed to complain, and I was never supposed to have any reason to complain. My destiny was supposed to be set. I was always supposed to be the hero.

I am not always the hero. I'm not always nice. I'm not even remotely cheery or an optimist. I feel like I barely smile. In fact, I can be a self-centered, self-defeating ass. In fact, I can be a downright drag. I'm the dark one. I'm the villain sometimes. There are times when even my friends really, really, really need their space from me.

I want to get better, and this book can help me.

I want to be the hero again. And that's going to take a lot of work.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

How to win friends and influence people.

My mistake happened this weekend. It was the sort of error that you wouldn't notice unless you were really paying attention. Somebody said something to me while I was onstage doing a comedy show, and it threw me off my game. I kept going with the comedy show, but I stopped enjoying it. Eventually, that little seed of self-consciousness grew into a tree of insecurity. By the end of the show, I'd started struggling and was not having a good time, which is a real shame when you consider that I was doing something that I love doing and had taken time off work early to be able to do. But, at the time when I was onstage judging myself and in a panic, I'd forgotten why I was there. I was just up there, trying to get onstage, trying to get my groove back, trying to survive. It was not a total disaster, for me struggling through a show can still generate some decent comedy - and I had people onstage who weren't "in their heads" like me, people were trying to help me.

My problem was that I wasn't returning the favor. I was thinking about myself, my level of comfort, how *I* was doing, how the mistakes that were happening were not my fault.

But it was all my fault that I had a bad show. It was all my fault that I didn't have a good time. It was all my fault that my mind wasn't where it should've been and that my job as a performer wasn't done the right way.

The people who were trying to help me should've gotten an equal lift from me trying to help them, but I was not doing that. I wasn't trying to make them look good. I was out there in a panic, putting myself into a bad mood while trying unsuccessfully to save myself.

That can't happen again. And I can't keep going over it in my head. So instead, I'm going to work on my attitude.

I have a task. I'm setting it for myself and working on it alone. I'm not going to worry about what I did wrong. That's in the past. I'm going to make sure that it doesn't happen again.

I don't want to be in my head so much that I can't see the effect I have on myself or other people anymore - onstage or in my life. I need to focus my energies outside of myself and relate to people better.

When I changed jobs, had the puppet show happen and had to move back in with my mom for a couple months, there was a book at her house that I've sold to many, many people at the bookstore called WHO MOVED MY CHEESE. It was just sitting around the bathroom, and I picked it up, more to scoff at it than anything else, but reading it actually provided me with a lot of comfort in regard to the changes that I was going through at the time. And, when the changes come again, I hope I'm better able to face them.

So I've picked up a couple more self-help books from a box of my father's stuff - specifically Norman Vincent Peale's THE POWER OF POSITIVE THINKING and Dale Carnegie's HOW TO WIN FRIENDS AND INFLUENCE PEOPLE - to see if they'll help me fix my attitudes and my way of dealing with people. And, last night at Steak 'n' Shake when I started to read my father's old copy of Dale Carnegie's business motivation book, HOW TO WIN FRIENDS AND INFLUENCE PEOPLE, the book said that you should write down and constantly review how you used the principles of the book in everyday life.

I figured that it might make for interesting blog entries and improve my improv skills, and I do have a legitimate desire and curiosity about how to improve my relations with other people. So I thought I would try it.

OK, so here's a new personal project.

I'm going to apply HOW TO WIN FRIENDS AND INFLUENCE PEOPLE to my life, and I'm going to blog about it.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Things to do with a freeze ray.

- Last night after my improv show, someone told me that there was a new Joss Whedon musical, which I thought incorrectly was some kind of stage show. No, instead it's a three-part video called DR. HORRIBLE'S SING-ALONG BLOG, that's available at the website until the end of the day and thereafter only available through iTunes, according to the "master plan" on the website. It's a comic-book plot with fun music starring Neil Patrick Harris as an evil genius and Nathan Fillion as a superhero in a really tight shirt, and I recommend it (and not just because of Fillion's nipples).
- Saw THE DARK KNIGHT. Absolutely amazing.

- A couple days ago, I was watching the trailer for WATCHMEN, a movie coming in March that's based upon the best graphic novel ever written. (TIME called the Alan Moore book one of the greatest novels ever written, a friend of mine called it "the CITIZEN KANE of comic books." Both assertations are correct.)

- Lupo tells me that I have to see MAMMA MIA! because it's just that awful, featuring the worst choreography he's ever seen in a musical. He compared it unfavorably to GREASE 2. Who wants to go with me???
- Emily just e-mailed me to ask if I knew about six-word stories, which paint a picture in spite of their lack of length. After finding this website, I wrote this one: Mother wept as the soldier knocked. THIS WEEK'S ASSIGNMENT: Write a six-word story in the comment section.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Things to do in someone else's dreams.

- My friend and improv cohort Jeremiah Prescott is the only person onstage in PushPush Theater's work-in-progress movieplay, INTERSECTION OF DREAMS, and I saw it on Tuesday. Good stuff. It's romantic, contains much dream logic but tells a clear, somewhat creepy story. It's very experimental, but I recommend it.

- I already have my tickets to THE DARK KNIGHT: THE IMAX EXPERIENCE. I'm going at the end of my shift on Friday to the Mall of Georgia IMAX theater. I can't tell you how excited I am to see this movie. I just hope that my expectations for it aren't too high. But I love Christopher Nolan, and I love BATMAN BEGINS.
- I started listening to Tom Perrotta's THE ABSTINENCE TEACHER audiobook at work. Its narrator is Campbell Scott, an actor that I've had a crush on since I saw DYING YOUNG in 1991. His voice is so smooth. Everyday at work, listening to him talk about a sex-ed teacher's difficulties in a right-wing, religious suburban community, Campbell's voice makes it all so soothing and right.

- The French trailer for TRANSPORTER 3 has been posted on YouTube, and Kacoon and I have already made plans to see it when it's released in November. (My first reaction to the trailer was, for the record, "Sweet Jesus, he's in his underwear!") Kacoon said that this one looks better than TRANSPORTER 2, and I agreed because it looks like it has more Jason Statham shirtlessness, a fight scene that requires the bad guys to strip a suit off the Transporter and a girl that looks like she's had at least one meal in the last two weeks.

- Lately, I've been listening to some Rilo Kiley, and I realize I'm late to the party on this one. But UNDER THE BLACKLIGHT is a good album.
- A couple weeks ago, I wanted to ride on the Ferris wheel that was at a roadside carnival on Jimmy Carter Boulevard, but friends of mine refused to join me at a roadside carnival for what would only be a 20-minute stay. I was just in the mood for some Tilt-a-Whirl action, you know, maybe some cotton candy or something like that. I was in the mood to put myself in danger. I wanted some thrills, twists and turns, something like a roller coaster. On Wednesday, though, I finally found someone who was willing to go on an amusement park ride with me: my two-year-old nephew DJ. He and I hopped on the Merry-Go-Round at the Mall of Georgia, and he had fun, even though I wouldn't let him have the black horse that he wanted because I was afraid he was going to fall off it and break his head open. Heck, even the horse I put him on managed to freak the hell out of me. DJ is this little, fragile kid I adore, and I was deathly afraid that something would go wrong. Even though he was strapped in safely, and nothing bad did happen. I can't believe people are ever able to relax about taking care of their own children. I was freaked out that my sister-in-law Samantha trusted me to put her child on such a ride, which went from being cute, quaint and fun - at a distance - to looking to me like a giant death trap while I put DJ on the horse. Parenthood must be like one long, sustained, paranoid panic attack. High praise to those of you who manage it. Once the ride ended and DJ was back safely on the ground, I felt better and realized that it was all fun. But, geez, that ride was scary. THIS WEEK'S QUESTION: Do any carnival rides scare you? Have you ever had a bad experience on one?

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Momentarily gone.

My domain name expired, so I just renewed it. Blog will be down for a day.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Card in a drawer.

A couple days ago, going through an old drawer of cards and Valentines, I think I found a holiday card sent to my mother from her Aunt Averial. (I always thought she had an "Aunt Averille" or "Aunt Avril," but, to trust the card, it's "Aunt Averial.")

My mom can't talk about her aunt without tearing up, but I always try asking about her. My mom's aunt, you see, was sent to an institution and lobotomized during the 1970s - I think - after having a nervous breakdown. But, to hear the stories from my mother, Averial wasn't crazy. She was smart, strong and a battered wife. Apparently, for speaking out against her husband or defying her husband or something like that, she was institutionalized. When she wouldn't comply with being locked away, her husband had the authorities there treat her "madness" by cutting off a portion of her brain so that her personality would subside, so that she would lose the supposed crazy defiance she had for being a strong, smart and independent woman trapped in a bad marriage.

I found out about this in an odd way. There were occasional mentions of Averial's lobotomy, none with too much explanation, but I got the most detailed descriptions of the story after I watched ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST and asked my mom if she's seen the movie in the theater. My mom tells me that she had to walk out of the theater while seeing it with my dad in 1975 because the ending - which, sorry to spoil it, features a creepy, creepy lobotomy - reminded her too much of what Averial had gone through.

While driving through Paulding on a trip there while my grandfather was in better shape than he is now, we drove past the "county institution," though it wasn't the one where Averial stayed. It was an earlier one, maybe from the 1920s. It was a dark, renovated shack - practically falling down. My grandfather pointed out the graveyard with no marked graves. He pointed out to me that, in the '20s, that's where parents were encouraged to send their children if they were retarded or disabled or such, for that was how mental health was treated in those days. It was horrifying, particularly for someone born disabled, for I often wonder how my life would've gone if I'd been born at a time when disabilities like mine - even ones as mild as mine - were treated with "care" that was a good deal more harsh.

Her name was spelled "Averial." As it happens in the family, her handwriting was almost exactly like my mother's.

Another trip to the library.

A woman here keeps lightly smacking her children when they get loud. I don't know whether to be offended or to find such discipline of children quaint.

I have eight minutes to write something profound.

OK ... peanut!

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Things to do while I'm in suburbia for the summer.

- Last night, I saw WANTED, the hilariously violent Angelina Jolie-James McAvoy assassin comic-book movie. Every friend of mine who'd already seen it (and, in some cases, seen it twice) said that it was the most crazy and satisfying "summer movie" they'd seen this summer. And it didn't disappoint. It was, in fact, a hell of a lot of fun, and the combination of seeing people getting shot in the head and getting to hear Morgan Freeman's crisp diction as he says "kill this motherfucker!" was worth the price of admission. Best action movie since IRON MAN.

- Granted, WANTED is no WALL-E, which is a masterpiece that's equal parts romance and sci-fi. I'm assuming that you've already been to the theater to see it. If you haven't, nothing should keep you from it.
- Meanwhile, at the Center for Puppetry Arts (Oh, come on, you knew I had to mention it ...), this nice couple I met at a party are staging this show called THE DRAGON KING, a Chinese fable about an old woman who travels to the bottom of the sea to find out why it's stopped raining in her country. The show's touring the country, and I always recommend stuff at the Center for Puppetry Arts. It runs through July 13.

- Dad's Garage has extended the run of the great SONG OF THE LIVING DEAD until July 19, so there's still a chance to catch musical numbers like "Why Are You Cornholing Me, Jesus?" at the theater. Highly recommended.
- Or, if you're me, you can go to the library to check your e-mail and find out that all sorts of interesting people have moved into your hometown since you graduated high school.

- I've been watching all sorts of TV on DVD lately. My copy of the first season of MAD MEN should, UPS-willing, arrive at my house tomorrow. Meanwhile, Netflix has allowed me the chance to become obsessed with this show called BURN NOTICE. SLINGS & ARROWS, before that, was fantastic. And I'm really enjoying the 1976-set trading-spouses drama SWINGTOWN on And, above everything else, did you see that mid-season ending of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA? Good Lord.

- As for books, I've now completed JONATHAN STRANGE & MR. NORRELL after trying to read it for years. (Thank you, downloadable library audiobook!) I've also read my friend Emily Giffin's latest bestseller, LOVE THE ONE YOU'RE WITH, and now I'm debating what to read next.
- I'm in Level Five of the improv classes at JaCKPie now, and my experience there has changed my life for the better. I highly recommend taking part in the new JaCKPie Level One class if you want to add some fun to your life and some positivity to your existence. The new Level One will be on Thursday nights, beginning within two weeks. You can sign up for it at, and I strongly suggest that you do so.
- As for this list coming back, I thought it would be a way to get me writing regularly and paying attention to what's new in art again. Plus, I thought it might drum up some readership. (I'm a whore.) Actually, I thought it'd be nice to drum up topics of conversation again. THIS WEEK'S QUESTION: So what's the most fun thing you've done this summer? What movies, books, TV, stage shows and music have you enjoyed lately?

Friday, July 04, 2008

What I've kept with me and what I've thrown away.

Things are changing at my office, though I'm not sure if things are changing for me this time. So much has changed since I started this job in March, what with my forced departure from Barnes & Noble to the loss of my apartment, that I should start feeling more comfortable about change and loss.

A couple days ago, it talked with my old bookstore manager about the changes here in the office and how they might affect my potential return to the bookstore, but I don't know if it's going to work out - and I don't know if it should. I mean, I didn't honestly expect to work two jobs as I approached middle age. But why am I not relieved? So much is changing and so much was supposed to have changed for the better, but I'm still shell-shocked by much of it.

I don't feel like myself. It's another Independence Day that I've spent inside working, and routinely I've been calling people on the phone to assure that they have plans, that they're having fun and that they've been taken care of.

But, in spite of all these changes, I feel like I'm still not taking proper care of myself.

I didn't really want to spend another Fourth working, but I actually said that I was OK with working this shift when I was asked. (Someone just walked in while I was typing this to alert me to the fact that there might actually be work to do, but my shift here ends in nine minutes. I have friends to meet.)

Is my life better? I think so, even though the evidence is harder to discern when you actually examine the details of my life.