Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Gaining A Year

It was my birthday this past Sunday, and I have obviously since gained another year.  As per usual, this annual festivus is cause for some introspection, some reflection, and some cake.  Having consumed the cake, humor me as I dispense with some conclusion born of said introspection and reflection.

Approaching the big day, a very good friend did as all good friends should do and gave me a hard time in regards to my impending aging (apparently it all happens at once).  He asked when I would start lying about my age?  I thought for the briefest of seconds (I find that's how I do my best work) and remarked that I never lie about my age, nor would I ever.  You see, when I was 15, I was diagnosed with a very serious medical condition called autoimmune hepatitis.  Which is, as anyone with a medical degree could easily discern from the title alone, a disease in which my immune system attacks my own body (autoimmunity), in this case my liver (hepat) and causes it to inflame (itis).  After being ill for four and a half months, and receiving a diagnosis after a fair amount of jaundice and blood-letting at the very chilly hands of various phlebotomists, I was put on medication that suppressed my immune system and saved my life - medication that I am still on to this day.  Rest assured, my intention isn't to get all droopy here, or depressive, or melodramatic, or even a hybrid combination of the three . . . droopresslodramatic.  It's too point out a simple and long held belief of mine: age is a privilege denied to so many.

I will never lie about my age for the simple fact that if it weren't for my medication and the advances of science, I wouldn't be here right now.  I'm proud of how old I am.  I'm proud of the life I've lived.  I'm proud of how much living I've been blessed to be able to cram into these 37 years.  Furthermore, I resolve to pack as much living (or more) into my next 37.  After all, life is for the living isn't it?  It's this saying I think of when I read the more . . . shall we say dramatic . . . statuses on Facebook (or is that stati?).  It's a common theme for me, I realize, but when it comes down to it I think people should focus on the good fortune that surrounds them when they tearfully lament the burning of toast, or the dropping of glass, or the whatever of whatever that makes them scrawl FML.  Honestly?  To say f--- one's life over something so trivial?  I get it - it's hyperbole, but still - I think perspective is in short supply these days.

People will often ask online how I stay upbeat.  Well, I'll tell you - it's this.  It's everything I just wrote.  I stay upbeat because I remember how lucky I am.  Not just with family or career, in which I am incredible fortunate to be sure, but because I am here.  Because I am here to spend time with my family, because I am here to have a career.  My favorite thing to say when anyone seems frazzled, angry, overwhelmed, over-dramatic, or overtaxed is: "You are not in the Darfur, and you are not currently on fire.  Almost everything else we can deal with".  I realize it's an oversimplification, but the point is there.  I wrote in an earlier post that most of what we get so wrapped up in is make believe anyway, so try not to lose yourself in it.  This isn't to say I'm not guilty of getting wrapped up in the pseudo-importance of a moment either, but I try to regain focus by thinking about how lucky I really am.  There are people in this world who are literally eating dirt.  My life is just fine.  Help the people with the dirt.

As I've also written on here before, because of my medical condition, I have come to value and prize life over everything.  Not just the life itself mind you, but also the quality of that life.  No matter what you believe spiritually, we can all agree on this - you get one life.  One tangible, seeable, proveable life (not all of those words are real).  On that count we are all of us alike.  Having said that to take someone's life, or quality of life over a belief is about the the worst thing one can do.  Right now there are a lot of young men and women taking their own lives over other people's beliefs and the bullying that comes along with it.  Telling someone that they aren't natural or right because they don't live up to your idea of what is "right" or other is more than offensive, it's tantamount to bigotry.  Unfortunately it is also becoming State sanctioned bigotry when the lawmakers hide behind the veil of Propositions and ballots.  A government's job is to administer the workings of the country and serve and protect its citizens - apparently sometimes from other citizens.  I met a young man in Tampa this year who approached me for an autograph.  He wore a shirt that read, "Not Gay, But Supportive".  He couldn't have been more that 12.  I marveled at this young man and then wrote in his program, "The World needs more kids like you" before signing it.  Indeed we do.

Well, that's it.  Another terribly earnest blog post.  It started with birthday cake and sunshine and became political.  I am beginning to think that I can't actually write anything mirthful!  In the end it boils down to this: live your life to the fullest and let others do the same - heck, try to help others live theirs if you get the chance!  I certainly appreciated all of the birthday wishes from all my friends - Facebook and IRL!  So next time you get down about gaining another year on Father Time, remember what I wrote here and look at how lucky you really are.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Show on richardiancox.com and the Changes To Come . . . Maybe.

Honest to goodness!  I keep promising to keep up with this blog and well . . . I don't.  Don't get me wrong, I love this blog.  It's my voice to the outside.  In many ways, it's my real voice.  It's that guy beyond the humor and the (alleged) witty (or is that witless) status updates on Facebook and Twitter.  It's the guy who's up for a fight to defend what he thinks is important and criticize what he thinks isn't.

On Facebook it's a funny old thing - you want the people who follow, or rather friend, you to like you.  Perhaps more accurately you want them to like the product that is you.  Let's be honest - I don't really have 1225 friends - I have 1225 "friends".  I like them, hopefully they like me, but I don't know them, and they don't know me.  I have long been contemplating setting up a "Like" page and asking people to gravitate in that direction so that I can somewhat reclaim my Facebook page as my personal space, but I worry that such a request will smack of ego.  The truth is that there isn't much that's personal about my current page.  The people I talk to on a daily or weekly or monthly basis - you know, the friends I actually know - don't post on my wall or comment because they'll wind up with 50 emails (to be fair 49 of them are mine)!  Again, don't take this the wrong way - I love that people out there care enough about me without having met me to want to take a personal interest in my life, but it is a surreal thing to have folks posting on my wall and then chatting amongst themselves as though it's a public page.  Of course, I did bring this on myself - I did open myself up, and many people frankly don't know that this is a personal page.  The tricky bit is that I do want to share personal elements on my page with friends and family, but I don't want to open up any more to folks I don't really know - you know? :)

This blog lets me say what I really think about the world without a flame war ensuing, because somehow commenting on this seems to take more time and the format somehow asks for an opinion rather than a snippy remark quickly jotted down.  A blog is something to seek out and not just an item in a never ending news-feed to "Like" or ignore.  As a result, I have been yearning to use my voice more (my inside voice rather than my literal one).  I do post the occasional link to things I believe in or can't believe.  I suppose I do this because I think people should see what's outside their window and also because I like healthy debate.  Of course, there isn't really much that's healthy about debate on Facebook is there?  I honestly couldn't tell you why.  Perhaps because it seems so quick.  As we scroll down the news-feed, it all flies by and maybe we forget the verbal middle finger we just extended as quickly as we forget it in the car from which we flip birds of varying degrees.

I'm a feisty, scrappy little guy, and I like to tell it how I think it is.  Frankly I think it's been driving me crazy to suppress my opinions for the sake of being palatable to all.  I certainly don't think I am the alpha and the omega of opinions, and am fully aware that mine is no more valid than those on either side of me (unless they're wrong).  Yet sometimes I need to stand on that soapbox and point out what I think is hypocrisy, yadda yadda yadda . . .

So all this drivel brings me to The Show on richardiancox.com - that brilliant sophomoric podcast brought to you semi-weekly, monthly, or is that annually by the brain trust that is myself and Sharon Alexander.  I feel that The Show should have a little more spice in the veins of Jon Stewart, Bill Maher, and Kermit the Frog.  I don't always want to play nice.  I mean I am nice, but I want to stir things up a bit.  Besides, good comedy so rarely comes from "nice" don't you think?  I don't want to alienate anyone, and I hope that everyone comes along for the ride, even if just to risk opening your eyes to another world without actually going over.

I don't know when or if these changes will take place, just taking that first step of putting it out there.  I think that generally the loudest among us get the most attention.  I don't want to be loud, but sometimes I want to push back at those who are getting too loud.  There seems to be more and more hate out there these days.  It's on our news channels, on our social networks, it's out of the mouths of the ignorant.  I would like to do more to point out that ugliness and invite people to hold a mirror to it.  Maybe The Show can be my little way to disarm this nastiness by making fun of it.  If you feel like it, have a listen and laugh along.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The More Separate We Are

Well, this is certainly the longest break I've taken yet between posts. I really do want to be more up to date with these things, and I certainly want to be less "heavy" with everything I write . . . but maybe not this time. To be fair, I don't think this is going to be quite as serious as the last entry - at least I'm not going to threaten any unseen force in this post.

I was musing earlier today about the state of my industry and more specifically the state of my career within that industry. The economy has obviously been a bit flat in the last year and a bit, and my industry has been no different. Looking forward, one can't help but look back. And so it was to the early days of my career toward which I cast my gaze, the heady days of being a very minor television celebrity back when cable meant a handful of people were watching, not the millions who watch their thousands of designer channels today. I often think about a very vivid memory that I have of one particular and rare day on set when I didn't have much to do and was therefore blessed with a day spent mostly watching others work. We were filming at a thoroughbred farm outside of Vancouver. It was beautiful warm day late in the summer and I was leaning against a fence watching the crew setting up a shot on the other side of the training track. From that vantage point I was struck by the notion that we were all a bunch of grown-ups being paid to play make-believe. Grown men and women (and me) rushed about lugging equipment here and there, setting up in arbitrary places to shoot random people saying made-up words so that other people could watch our enactment of a pretend situation written by someone else they didn't know. Millions and millions of dollars are spent on this form of entertainment when really folks could just get together and make-up stuff for themselves. It's cheaper and it gets you out of the house.

I think a lot about that tiny little revelation. Someone paid us to play make-believe. There's no real rhyme or reason to it outside of the focus groups and the pitches. Once you're on set, the director points to where he or she wants people to play make-believe, and then the director of photography points lights at the place, and then they film us pretending. No hard and fast rules (well there are, but I won't get into that). Funny old thing. I know I'm not the first one to have this thought - heck, that's why everyone thinks it's so easy to do (it's not, but I won't get into that either). I would, however, caution everyone to not get too smug about my revelation - you know, about actors being just a bunch of people who get paid to make believe . . . The reality is, that we're all paid to make believe when we get right down to it.

You see in the old days, we as humans spent pretty much all of our time just focusing on staying alive. I'm not just talking about caveman days either. During our hunter/gatherer days, we spent an awful lot of time hunting, and . . . gathering. Then once we developed into an agrarian society, we still spent most of our time tending our animals, tending our crops, you know - agrarying (not a real word). We didn't have time for much else. As time crept forward however, we realized that we could divide our labor, and the first specialists arrived, followed closely by the first referrals. With this division of labor, we could focus more on one job and make more time for our families and golf. With this division also came the barter system. If you give me some of your grain, I'll give you one of my cows . . . this one here, low miles, only tipped by a little old granny on Sundays. Eventually of course, the barter system developed some snags - what if the guy you're trying to buy that car from doesn't want a cow, low miles or not? Welcome the currency based system! I'll give you X amount of this unit of currency with an agreed upon amount guaranteed non-negotiable by the ruling government, and you throw in the floor mats. Brilliant right?

Of course, now that we had all this free time because someone else was going to provide you with your food at a cost, and that other person was going to build your shelter at a cost, you'd better fill it - probably by doing something to generate currency so you could have these things. But what should you do? You have nothing that these other guys want. They already have the means to provide food and build shelter. What could you possibly offer them? I know! Ringtones! And so it was that ringtones were invented.

Outside of the truly important things like food, and shelter, and health services, all else is really secondary - but you try telling that to my accountant. As time has progressed, so has our need to not only earn money, but to fill our time. If we no longer spend all of this time finding food and making shelter, and protecting ourselves from things with really big teeth, we discover that life is really long (if we're lucky) and that we have to fill it. All the better if those things make us feel important. Most of it though is arbitrary stuff. We speak languages that have evolved over time from grunts to grunts that represent a verbalization indicating a thing, to specific words to denote variations of things to poetic words that bring us to tears. We've developed letters and a written language to record our history. We've developed mathematics, and cultures, and industry, and huge scale economies, but nothing can really separate us from the fact that the basics remain the most important - food, shelter, health. All of these great advances could have evolved differently or not existed at all and we would still be here as long as we had food, shelter, and health.

We all spend a lot of time convincing ourselves that what we do everyday is so important and integral to the survival of the human race - if the Henderson report doesn't get filed, the world is going to END! We also convince ourselves that the way we live is so important that we go to war over it. So when my accountant is adding arbitrary notational symbols to determine how much of a certain value of a currency I need to pay to an arbitrary governmental system occupying a random geographical region I will try to see her in the same light as I saw that crew years ago - as a grown-up playing make believe, albeit a very real make believe that stresses me out every April.

We as humans have very much created ourselves as a species in so many ways and have created the confines we live in when all we're really doing is occupying ourselves as we take this journey. In creating ourselves we have also separated ourselves not only from our former ancient selves, but also from each other. We are so specialized, so separate from each other that we have lost the ability to really provide for ourselves at a base level. I remember having another revelation (I'm full of them) as a young man. At 2 in the morning, I distinctly remember sitting in my bedroom in my parent's house and realizing that I didn't know how a single thing in that room worked - I mean I knew the concept behind everything, but if I suddenly found myself in the past I wouldn't be making a fortune by "inventing" it. It got to the point where I understood that there was a graphite shaft surrounded by wood making up my pencil, but I was damned if I could tell you how they put it there.

Max Weber talked about the idea of the iron cage - the idea that our divisions of labor forced us into these cages separate from those around us despite giving us the impression we were free. The current economic crunch has illustrated this perfectly. People becoming homeless, physically losing their shelter because that very specific task that they perform has been reduced. That very specific task that fed their family, put a roof over their head, and provided health, was and is for most of us an arbitrary task of our own creation that is in effect make believe despite our need for it. I think this point is apropos in light of the health care debate in the States right now. Does one really want to hinge a health care plan on the arbitrary task that we carry out to generate income if the past has proven to us how untenable that task might be?

We're only ever as strong as that weakest link, and in a society of specialists, that link might be our separation from each other and our needs, not our wants. The truth is, we're all (well most of us) playing make believe, and that's okay. It's only when we let the make believe become our only reality that we find ourselves on shaky ground. The idea that our make believe is the only make believe can do very bad things to good people. We must also remember that but for a slightly different evolution in our cultures we may be totally different people who are pretty much the exact same people we are anyway - you know what I mean?