I WAS SOCIAL DISTANCING BEFORE IT WAS THE NORM

     I’ve lived half a lifetime trying to get out of social distancing, and now I’m back at it again. “I tried to get out,” Michael Corleone says, “but they pull me back in!” Throughout my teens and twenties, I had few friends and no romantic interests. I could get along with and work with co-workers and classmates, and I could even manage a few phone friends, but for the most part, I’ve spent a lot of time feeling alone and with no one to talk to.  Like Kate Moss was the definitive model of Calvin Kline when Calvins were cool, I was the definitive model for social distancing when ‘cool’ and ‘social distancing’ weren’t even in the same sentence. 

     In middle school, I thought high school would be like the Saturday morning TV show, Saved by the Bell. I thought that I’d have a cool group of friends, and we’d get into adventures. Any American sit-com was my oracle on countless aspects of life, but this particular high school fantasy wrapped itself around my mind like nothing else. Every year, I thought I’d finally be cool, I’d finally reach Zack Morris level of infamy and coolness. I would try to make friends and sometimes we’d hang out. I even tried to get a girlfriend by giving her flowers, but by senior year I was sitting at the lunch table by myself, reading books and writing screenplays by hand. If they weren’t going to love me in high school, they were going to see my movies in a few years. 

     Not much changed after high school. I met people at community college and got along with everyone at the 4-year college that I attended, but I never got into a clique. I was never really comfortable with that. I thought that only through a group of friends could life have purpose. I dropped out of college by the second year. If they weren’t going to love me in college, they were going to love me somewhere else. Somehow.     

     For the next decade, I built myself up. I went to karaoke at least twice a week, I wrote poetry just to perform it at open mic, and I found a friend or two that I got close to. By my 30s, I started to talk to therapists and soon I started a real dating life with real relationships, not just a patchwork of dates and phone conversations. Over those years, I kept writing and experimenting with writing. I began practicing meditation. By my late 30s, I felt just as confident about myself as a person as I felt as a writer. “I am not weird and never have been,” I could finally tell myself. And it felt good. 

     I think about why it was like that all those years ago. Was I really just an introvert that was afflicted with shyness? Was it just the cliquey nature of Lehigh Valley Pennsylvanians? Was I just too nice in a world where that’s looked down upon? It’s probably a mixture of everything, but I’m grateful for it. I have inner emotional resources that many do not have. 

     I told myself that I could handle this, that I could be isolated as long as this goes on, that I could dip my toes inside my old self while maintaining my newer, happier self. After a few days of this shut it, things got funny. I needed to talk to someone, even if it was just small talk. I’m not alone in my home. I have people to talk to. I even have people that I can call and talk to here and there. But it’s not the same. It’s not the same as my job, working with kids that say ‘hello’ to me in the halls.  It’s not the same as attending my writer’s group and sharing ideas. It’s not the same as going to an open mic and reading what I’ve put my heart into. I tried to get out, but they pulled me back in. 

     I feel that things will get interesting these next few weeks. There’s so much more that I want to say about my predictions and deeper thoughts that I have. I’ll save that for later. I just want to say that I hope this makes us appreciate each other more. We need to start valuing human life more than “likes”. Relationships are and always have been the only real currency that matters.

     Good luck, World. Rich or poor, many of us are now in the same boat. And it’s that thought that reminds me that I’m not alone as I was all those years ago.  

Meditation and Gratitude

(The real names of the people below have been changed.)

For the first time, I leaned in during our dedication of merit, the part of the meditation session where we dedicate our sit to someone or something.

“I’d like to dedicate the merits of my practice to those who have shown me kindness and compassion. We often forget that in a jungle of hurtful people, there are those who still help.”

I didn’t say it exactly like that. I never speak as clearly as I write, but I finally spoke out because I meant what I said.

Most of my life, I’ve focused on negative people. I’ve often referred to them as “my enemies”. I thought that if these people were not in the picture, I would feel respected and understood.

My Buddhist reverend stresses the importance of compassion, reinforces it through repetition. It took years of going to practice for it to finally seep in. People have been compassionate to me, and I only wanted more from everyone.

Pam was the only person who talked to me in high school without me having to open up first.

Albert helped me when I was trying to make a movie. I wanted to be known as a young man.

Donna invited me to a party at age 23 when I hadn’t been invited to one in years.

Tanya set me up on a date when I couldn’t even get a hello from a woman.

Gabriel helped me be more confident about myself when I did get more dates.

Professor Dan sat me down and helped me set up this blog.

Ellen is my friend today and is always on the lookout for potential career contacts.

Mom and Dad did so much that they cannot be thanked enough.

I can’t owe it all to mediation. Meditation was the tool. I chose meditation because there was something in it, something I needed to sharpen my awareness and love of myself. I helped Marc first. Then, the door of perception opened and allowed me to see the things I needed see at the pace that I could bear.

I don’t know how I made the choice to help myself. Somethings will always remain a mystery.

Stuck in the Middle: A Flash Memoir

“Tell her that she’s not my friend anymore,” Tina, who was sitting to my right, said.

I turned to Linda, who was sitting to my left, “Tina said that she’s not your friend.”

“Tell her I don’t care,” Linda said. “She’s not mine.”

I turned to Tina, “She said she doesn’t care.”

“Well, tell her I don’t care either and that she’s a liar.”

I turned to Linda, “That you lied that one time and she doesn’t care.”

“She doesn’t?”

“No,” I said.

Linda looked around me, to Tina.

“You don’t care that I lied?” Linda said.

“What?” Tina said.

Two minutes later.

“Yes, you were, Marc,” Tina said. “You were trying to get us to fight.”

“But you told me to tell her all that.” I said.

“You didn’t tell her everything I said.”

“I did.”

“You’re mean, Marc.”

“But I didn’t do nothing.”

Life Lesson #2: Drama loves company. Do as little favors as possible.

Reservoir Dogs and Theme Analysis

As an adolescent, I believed that that tagline of a movie was its theme. If I wanted to know what it was about, I looked at the movie poster.

Christmas 1994. I opened my brother’s gift to me. Reservoir Dogs on VHS. The tagline: “Four perfect killers. One perfect crime. Now all they have to fear is each other.”

“Hey, this movie’s theme is that there is no honor amongst thieves.”

July 4, 2015. I was thinking deeply about friendship and trust. In my mind, I gravitated to Mr. Blonde and his friendship with Nice Guy Eddie.

Mr. Blonde was loyal enough to do prison time for Nice Guy Eddie, but he turned out to be unreliable for the job that Nice Guy Eddie had for him.

The list of imperfect relationships went on:

Mr. White bonded with Mr. Orange, but Mr. Orange was an undercover cop that meant to bring down Mr. White.

Mr. Pink had been friends with Joe since he was a kid, but expressed mistrust for him.

Mr. Orange looked to Detective Holdaway to mentor him on undercover survival, but Holdaway is just doing his job. He might not have the concern for Mr. Orange that Mr. Orange believes Holdaway has for him.

My new Reservoir Dogs theme: No friendship or bond is perfect. Both their development and their maintenance is as unique as the next.

I’ve read many books on story analysis and development. They all helped as a writer and a critic. But it was a lack of a close circle of friends in my teens and 20’s followed by the longevity of new friendships that have allowed me to see the film in this light.

The tagline was my training wheels. I can ride on my own now, soaring down the street or falling off. With age, I realize that no one (not even tagline writers) know more than anyone about the nature of this world. We’re all figuring it out until we die.

Who knows what Reservoir Dogs will be about the next time?