Thursday, October 31, 2013

Our Extended "Family"

3 World Series Titles in the last 10 years.

If you had told ANY Sox fan that it would be a realistic possibility after the Aaron Boone Incident of 2003 they would have laughed in your face, then probably kicked you, then wept and then said "Well, ya know, it could happen I bet…". Red Sox Nation is an emotional bunch to say the least, taking their lead from a very emotional clubhouse. Well, there's reason to get emotional yet again in Boston as the Red Sox actually did it, winning an incredible 3rd World Series Title in these last 10 years.

As I scanned through Facebook last night I saw a few different friends post comments about their lack of interest in the World Series, Baseball, Sports in general, etc. What's great about living in this country and having Freedom of Speech is that we can say just about anything without fear of any real reprisal, other than getting hammered by others if we choose to post our opinions on a public forum like Facebook, Twitter, etc. I completely and totally respect the fact that many people aren't turned on by Baseball or the World Series but what I don't understand is why they are so bothered by those of us that are?

Baseball is a dirty game. It's played by men that often grab themselves openly on TV, chew tobacco and who knows what, spit incessantly and are often caught cursing on television. You know, like Basketball, Football, Hockey and even Golf. It also sounds a lot like many of the parties and get-togethers I go to throughout the summer season, so why is this a reason to knock the sport?
Baseball is a boring game. Sure, sometimes it is, and the time between pitches can seem like an eternity, but have you watched NHL Hockey? I enjoy that game a lot but no one's going to tell me it's wall to wall excitement. We watch sports like Hockey, Baseball, Golf or whatever we like because we're emotionally invested in the game and it brings us pleasure more than it brings the inevitable pain. Sounds a lot like something else we're close to, no?

The lure of Professional Sports, especially those involving a team, is very likely rooted in the love of family. Our families are dynamic, flawed, strange, messy, odd, emotional and a little crazy, but they're also beautiful and hysterical and passionate and perfect because they're ours. The Boston Red Sox have always been made up of big personalities, dramatic temperaments and players who seem like an Island they're so remote and hard to reach. One wonders how they all seem to get along, co-exist and function effectively, and sometimes they don't…just like our families. The Red Sox history also has its share of baggage and demons, just like so many of our own families, and therefore they're easy to relate to and empathize with. The Red Sox are what we hope to be when we're at our best, and they're what we wish that we weren't when they're at their worst. They are a reflection of ourselves and they are the dangling carrot that we reach for in times of desperation and need. They are the place we seek Salvation and they're the receiver of our anger and frustration. They are us.

Yes, it's true that many of the Red Sox and other Professional athletes make millions and millions of dollars, so most of them are far removed from the daily struggles we face as "regular folks". Since when is being wealthy a guaranteed path to joy and isolation from the pains of the world though? These players bleed like the rest of us, they get sick like the rest of us and they have internal struggles and pressure and fears like anyone else, except with bigger bank accounts. The strange thing is that I would wager a healthy amount of money that all the parents I know of would be incredibly proud of their child were they to become a professional athlete in any sport, including baseball. Wouldn't they also lobby for their child and work diligently to make sure they are paid what they are worth, based on market rates and conditions in their chosen sport? So why is it often so "disgusting" that these children of some other parent are paid millions? We can argue all day about the Veterans, the Teachers and the Firefighters and the wonderful heroes that deserve to be rich and provide services that are far more amazing, dangerous and necessary than a pro ball player, but why does their deserving more praise and/or money make professional athletes unworthy?

I have always believed that there should be value-whatever value we want to attach to it-to anything that gives us pleasure and makes our short time on Earth more enjoyable and worth living. For many of us it's watching professional Baseball and rallying behind a team and its players. This costs money, sure, in cable TV fees, game tickets, clothing and gear and so on, and much of it goes into the pockets of wealthy grown men playing a game as well as the owners and executives of the club. So what? They provide a service, an entertainment value to us, our children and the masses so why should it anger me that they make great money doing it? If I could create a venture that drove millions of people to watch, enjoy, share in and promote wouldn't I expect that over time I might make great money at it? Which one of you reading this right now is living your life to make less money and plans, were you to win Powerball, to give the majority of your money to people and entities outside your family? Exactly.

Major League Baseball, like many professional sports leagues, donates millions of dollars to Cancer research, youth groups, inner cities, education and various other charities. The players often sponsor and donate their time and money to similar causes as well, and although some are far from great role models to the kids who adore them out there, the majority are. They were children themselves who had to work very hard every day to attain the level of skill they possess. They are hard-working, dedicated individuals that are just trying to make their way in the world, make a few bucks, and make their parents proud. When has that ever been a bad thing?

It's easy to demonize the wealthy, especially those who play a game for a living, but it's we the people that have always determined the wealth and relevance of that game. Consistently the citizens of this country show we love, adore and even worship this game and its players, despite the naysayers. I have often responded to others that have put down Professional sports and it's high paid players with the same thing I say regarding politicians: "The best way to show you don't like them or their policies is to vote for the other guy". So, if you're not a fan then change the channel and watch something else. Don't go to the games; find another hobby or event to enjoy. If the player salaries bother you so much when compared with Teachers and the like, start a lobbying group to advocate for changes.

Do whatever you need to do to make yourself happy, but don't try to rob those of us that love the game(s) of ours.

The Red Sox have won the World Series. The New England Patriots are looking like they could still have some magic in them. The Bruins and Celtics are just underway so it's too early to tell but it doesn't really matter because just like our families, we're going to stick with them for the duration, through good and bad, as they conquer and as they fall. Rooting for these teams is our right as citizens of this great country and the euphoria that follows the victories make every heartbreak that accompanies the defeat worth the price of admission. It doesn't matter if the detractors don't understand and don't share the sentiment as long as they step out of the way and allow us to enjoy our passion, as I will do the same for them. Now is the time for celebration, jubilation and love for the team that I adore, the mighty Red Sox, have won it all. In my universe, (and millions of others apparently )having an extended family of emotional, flawed, crazy and overpaid athletes feels pretty good and I can't imagine my life without them.

Until next year, after a long losing streak, a few bad trades and dropping home games to the Yankees.


Thursday, October 24, 2013

Do The Work

My girlfriend and I just finished the series finale of The Sopranos, and for me it was actually the third go around with the show but she had never seen it. The series was as good as I remember it, if not better, and the best part was after the "controversial" ending it was wonderful having someone intelligent and insightful to discuss it with. Whether you think Tony was killed at the end (I do, after much discussion with Lenore and some additional reading and thought) or we were left hanging to ponder if Tony's fate was simply that he will always be looking over his shoulder or that metaphorically he's a "Dead Man Walking" because of pending legal issues and future assailants, there was a theme that I picked up throughout the show that was likely missed by the masses. Obviously a central focus to The Sopranos was the therapy Tony was receiving from Dr. Melfi, but it wasn't until the end that the notion that maybe it was doing more harm than good might be true. For me as a viewer, watching the show I came away from almost every episode thinking something along those same lines: "Does therapy have any chance if the participant isn't willing to do the work?"

Throughout The Sopranos we watch characters like Tony, Christopher, Janice and Carmella travel the road of attempted self-improvement, but except for isolated incidents or small slices of time we never really see an evolved or mentally healthy individual emerge in the end. Christopher made the most valiant attempt with "admitting he had a problem" and getting himself into AA/NA, but he consistently regressed back to his destructive ways because he was unwilling to completely change his life and abandon the enablers who made a life of sobriety possible. Tony was the biggest failure, because consistently he used therapy as a method to air his grievances and seek counsel and/or affirmation that his choices and the results that came from them were not his fault, instead of being forthright and totally honest about the details of his life in order to find and effectively treat root causes. Of course the idea that a Mob Boss with sociopathic tendencies can or ever will be totally honest about the details of their life is fairly ridiculous but Tony has a real problem in the panic attacks, and the only chance he had was to do the work...but he never does. The majority of us in our day to day lives are guilty of the very same problem.

I like to think I am a pretty decent guy. Funny, charming in a mildly creepy way, pseudo-intelligent, kind, fair and loyal. However it's not lost on me that I am also deeply flawed. Yet with each failure in my life I try to employ that tactic taught to me by my father a long time ago, straight out of AA, that says you should often take a "searching and fearless moral inventory" of yourself and that will be the conduit to change. Just like with the therapy that Tony and others seek in The Sopranos, however, that in itself can be a vehicle to lead us to change but we have to be the ones that make the hard choices and do the uncomfortable work that change requires.
Every day, all of us read and post and share inspirational quotes on Facebook. We add commentary, acknowledging that we believe in the words or share the ideology, and we espouse some of these ideas in social gatherings and family outings. Are we "liking" the message, though, and not truly employing the content it contains? I would venture a guess that most of my friends on Facebook, co-workers, family and casual acquaintances would be supporters of statements like "Be the change you want to see in the world" and "Your beliefs don't make you a better person, your behavior does", but in practice are any of us adhering to these things consistently? I know I want to but I often fail just like so many of us. I love the message but I am not doing the work. But why not? The answer is multi-faceted and involves everything from laziness to fear to hypocrisy.

Change is difficult, and it involves time, patience, strength and endurance. Someone's who a drug addict or alcoholic has to change EVERTHING in their life, and abandon friends and associates who enable and learn to adopt an entirely new way of thinking about themselves and the world, and they have to wake up every day of their lives that they seek sobriety struggling to fight back the disease and embrace the benefits of change while they attempt to suppress the fears of failure. If we're someone who tends to be aggressive and adversarial but find it's having a negative impact on our lives with friends and family and we want to attempt to change that, the path to peace can be riddled with obstacles. Traffic, annoying co-workers, long lines, phone trees, political arguments and kids that don't listen; they're all enablers to our anger. Reading an E Card that says "Cherish the little things" isn't likely to turn things around for those of us who find frustration and rage always at the ready. So what do we do?

We do the work, and stop making excuses for the enablers and pitfalls and distractions in our lives.

In Season 4 of the Sopranos, Carmella visits and older man for therapy and she essentially complains about Tony the entire time. His temper, his drinking, the philandering and the criminal activities have all caused her grief and made it difficult for her to be the happy person she wants to be, though she has always "supported" him as a wife. However, this clever therapist isn't buying any of it and explains that she's been an "accomplice" or in fact and enabler to his bad behavior all along, and of course she has, as well as used it as an excuse to allow her own mistakes to be ignored. One of the best quotes from the old man is his response to her telling him that "My Priest says I should work with him, help him become a better man," to which he replies "How's that going?". In three words he's summarized what's wrong the entire situation of their lives, that none of us can "change" another person but in fact we can fortify their bad behavior with appeasement, support and even rejection. Neither Tony, Carmela or any of us can nor will ever change if we don't do the hard work that's required as an individual to achieve the results we seek. At the very end of the Sopranos that idea is expanded on when a study is discussed that maybe therapy for certain personality types is actually harmful because it may actually serve to validate some of the patients dysfunction and serve as a sort of "cleansing" instead of force them to be honest about their lives and actually modify behavior. Therapy and self-improvement without an honest accounting of who and what we are is nothing more than going on a diet and eating the same amount of calories except in different foods; it might feel good at first but nothing will change.

Those of us that really want to improve our lives, be physically and mentally healthier and be happier more days than we are angry or depressed have all the tools at our disposal. We have friends, family, children, therapists, medication and sometimes even wine. We have opulent sunsets that paint the sky in vibrant reds and yellows and moons so vast they seem to rest on the horizon and a strangers smile so unexpected in a time we need it most. We have our lives, the gift that is the vessel that allows us to experience all things great and small and absorb the majesty of love and landscape for whatever years we're fortunate enough to travel here. Tools, however, are useless unless we take them in our hands and do the work that's required.

Tony Soprano may have died in that final scene or he may have perished later or he may have gone to Federal prison, but none of that really matters. He spent most of his life lying to himself and others about who he really was and therefore never became the man he could have been or experienced the peace that comes from the freedom of emotional honesty. As the series showed us (and why so many of us loved it so much), there was a little Tony Soprano in all of us. The dichotomy in our souls where good and evil are often juxtaposed, hand in hand even while they battle one another. The desire to be self-serving instead of self-sacrificing. To commit evil deeds while excusing it with our own moral code. Doing what is easy and not what is right. Tony, in many ways, was an everyman, in a world full of men that could serve themselves and mankind better by working harder to rise above the median and Be That Change You Want To See In The World.

It doesn't have to just be a photo with a caption on Facebook that you click "Like" on. It doesn't have to be a dream or an ideal or a hippie mantra that's left to someone else to try, it can be your life. You have all those tools. You are the architect, the builder and the inspector, and you can decide when you're ready, but the project will likely be fluid and evolving and may never end, and that's OK. Your friends and your family and even strangers will let you know with their words and gestures if they like what you've built, and of course they will. Kindness and quality of heart and soul looks and feels good, and those who share moments in your life will thank you in ways that can't always be counted...but they will be measured.

Do the work.


Writing: The Most Rewarding Form of Self Torture

One of the best books I've read in the last few years is "The Courage to Write" by Ralph Keyes. Without doing a full review, i...