The People That Surround Us Are More Than Strangers

For anyone who’s interested in listening, I’d like to make a public service announcement. The people that surround you on a daily basis are only strangers if you choose to leave them so. Real connections can be made without a network or event. These strangers could be your future soulmate, good friend, or even business partner. After all, we’re all just people in the end.

I’ve made quite a few new friends as of late. It may be the freedom of recent graduation and looming unemployment that allow me the chance to spend my time in good company. However, my most recent friends have come from unusual circumstances.

I made a friend at a bus stop. I had just finished an interview and the rain was pouring down. This stop had no cover but I couldn’t complain. There was the undeniable high of a successful interview. There was possibility. In this possibility, a new stranger walked into the picture.

This story starts with a friendly conversation between him and I. For some reason, I chose to turn off the iPod for a moment and talk to the person next to me. As it turns out, that was the best decision I could have made because I found a new friend. We sat across from each other on the bus and continued conversing throughout the long, traffic ridden commute. It was the most organic connection I’d ever made. We weren’t introduced by mutual friends. We hadn’t met at an office party or an event. There was absolutely no reason we needed to connect but it happened. Now we’ve shared dinner and beers, grocery shopped and even attended a pool party.

Why choose to stay in contact with someone from a bus stop? Take a moment to ask why not. As a society, we’ve established this disconnect between each other. We get lost in a crowd and close ourselves off from one another. There are work friends, school friends, childhood friends, and neighbors. Who can we call just simply a friend? We don’t need an excuse to connect with people. It can happen on our own accord. Let go of this indescribable fear and speak to a stranger.

Let me tell you about Dave, the non-stranger from the bus stop. He is blind. Well, mostly blind. Since our first meeting, I have learned a bit more about his sight and the various lights and shadows that come through once in a while. I’m sure I’ll discover more as time passes. In truth, that is the least useful thing I could use to tell you about him. But it is fact; these are the things we notice. Blindness and other disabilities as recognized in our culture is a complicated and fascinating issue but I’ll save that rant for another day.

What interested me about Dave was that he wasn’t afraid to have a good conversation. Many people shy away from interactions they don’t have to have. Speaking to someone you don’t know requires more effort, more discovery. You don’t know what you’ll get. With Dave, I learned quickly that he was a kind hearted person who was simply getting by in life. He writes too but as of late has lacked inspiration. We bounced ideas off each other though and I’m confident he’ll be getting on the right track again. The number of friends he’s made at all his regular spots doesn’t surprise me at all. I’ve already learned a thing or two from him and I expect I’ll learn more. He doesn’t need to hear this advice I’m giving because he’s the one who has taught me.

At first glance, our new friendship is a peculiar thing. When I tell my friends who I’m meeting on the weekend, I get into this story about this guy I met at a bus stop who’s really cool and we’re talking now… You can imagine I get the same confused stare from most of them. It doesn’t make sense because no one does that. Sure, maybe it happens with romantic interests. It’s true that people will do anything to get laid. But a new friend? Why bother? At first I had a difficult time explaining what the hell I was doing spending so much time with someone I met at a bus stop. I was worried people would think I was crazy. However, it didn’t take long to realize that I didn’t care. The more time I spend with my new friend, the more it all seems to make sense.

I have met a number of others through him. When I stop to think about it, I realize that I would have never known these people if I hadn’t given him a chance. There’s the very real possibility of seeing more of them and cultivating more friendships. This could very well change the course of my life. It’s that simple. Small connections shape our lives.

If anything, remember that none of us need to fit inside the established norm. Humanity and its cultures have evolved constantly since the beginning. Don’t be afraid to set a new norm and speak to the stranger at the bus stop. They aren’t merely strangers. They’re individuals with perspectives of their own and they could teach you a thing or two about life. Or they may just grumble to their friends later that there was an annoying stranger on the bus who wouldn’t leave them alone. You never know until you try.

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It is this simple: the more you write, the better you get

I’ve struck gold, ladies and gentlemen. I unwittingly unearthed my 6th grade writing journal. Naturally, I read through the whole thing immediately. It was terrible. I’ve decided to forgive the countless spelling and grammar errors because I was only 11 or 12 at the time. However, it took all my strength to quell the editor in me who was furiously demanding to mark up the whole thing with red ink.

As I read through my numerous stories and poems, my first feeling was embarrassment but I quickly discovered that the proper emotion was pride. I really have been writing all my life and this is the evidence to prove it. What’s even better is that this evidence proves it’s working; the writing is paying off. It’s safe to say that I’m a substantially better writer than I was when I was 12. The public education system didn’t fail me after all!

I originally decided that this 6th grade work should never see the light of day. I’ve changed my mind. As it turns out, I was a little comedian back in the day. I also rejected all things deemed “childish.” Always the rebel. Case in point:

“Barney the purple dinosaur

makes my eyes sore

He’s such a freak,

He should not speak.”

“Happy little Dora and Boots

They do little toots.

If they would die,

no one will cry.”

Fantastic, right? I couldn’t stop giggling. How wonderfully morbid I was. To be honest, my sense of humor hasn’t changed much. It’s only gotten more vulgar. Horray for adulthood.

Some of this truly is gold. Even with the elementary writing, some of the ideas hold merit. That’s the thing though. We’re all capable of coming up with the idea. Implementing it is where the real skill comes in. As a child I was a storyteller. The stories were good too. The only problem was that I didn’t have the tools necessary to make my stories the best they could be. Perhaps I possess those tools now. There will always be room to improve but I’m just glad I’ve come this far. The following is one of my old writing passages, word for word, mistakes and all. I’m going to rewrite the prompt to the best of my ability and you can decide how much I have improved.

PROMPT: Do this yourself! Find a piece of work you did earlier on in your writing journey. There’s a lot of freedom here. It can be from childhood if you’re lucky enough to find it. It can be in young adulthood, before you had much experience writing. The one requirement is that it must be something that you can improve and/or expand on. Take a good idea you had and make it great. Here goes my attempt!

“There was once a land called Sorrow. That’s how all the books started. So many books of Sorrow, so many, telling lies. They say you should never judge a book by it’s cover. In some cases, it’s different though. When you see a book that has pictures of monsters and dragons with the name of The Truth of Sorrow, right off the bat, you’d know that the book was full of lies. Even if Sorrow does have monsters and dragons, no one knows. Not a single soul has even set eyes upon the place. How do we know it exists? Truth be told, we don’t. All we know is that on every midnight full moon, an agonizing cry peirces the planet. Every place on this world has been seen and mapped except for one small place that is considered the darkness. There are many myths about what is in the darkness. The most popular one is the land of Sorrow.”

2014 Rewrite

“The glowing full moon cloaked our end of the world in silence. Every person was waiting, listening. The silence would only last another moment. Then it came once again. The distant wailing was difficult to notice at first but as the chorus joined in, it was impossible to miss. Children shuddered as their mothers clung to them. Some put on a brave face but we all knew the feeling of utter sorrow the wails delivered to us. Sorrow commanded our attention once again.

There is only one place that rests unknown to the world. Shrouded in darkness, it stomps out the power of human curiosity. No adventurer brave enough to travel there has returned to tell their tales. Anyone claiming otherwise tells lies. They attempt to capitalize on the fear of the unknown, writing fables disguised as truths. People will look to any explanation to quell their fears but there is only one truth and it is simple.

We will never know the land called Sorrow.”

Good Eats!

I think it’s pretty safe to say that food is essential for survival. On top of that, it’s one of my favorite parts of  being awake. The problem is, pretty much anyone can struggle with eating what our bodies need and saying no to the crap. I know I do. What can I say? I love a good burger and fries. I’ve fallen in and out of good eating habits and it’s driving me crazy. I know what I should be eating and I know what I shouldn’t but my willpower sometimes just isn’t strong enough to avoid crappy food. I speak for myself and anyone reading when I say this: Have no fear! Change is a long term process that includes struggle and failure, sprinkled with a little shame. It takes time to form good habits and good cravings. It’s possible to stop craving junk. I did it with soda. Now all the soda you’ll see me go for includes vodka (also not so good for you). Again, you win some you lose some. No matter what, eating healthy can be wonderful. There are some killer delicious recipes out there that keep you satisfied and happy. If you fall on your face and proceed to order some MickyD’s, have no fear, there’s always another meal ahead to make better choices. Here are some of my favorite “super foods.” Most are pretty versatile and can be used in many recipes. Also, I’m digging the green smoothies right now like crazy. Methinks I’ll make a green smoothie video some time…

Before I say anything more, I am by no means a “health expert.” No one handed me a piece of paper saying that I know what I’m talking about. I’m coming to you as one human to another. My favorite super foods come from lists established by professionals (many of which don’t agree on a lot of things and keep changing their minds). My real purpose in writing this is to get this message across: It’s possible to change your food taste. I’ve done it numerous times. This requires eating foods you know are healthy even if you don’t particularly enjoy them. Chances are, eventually you’ll start to like those foods. Currently I’m working on developing a love for tomatoes because they’re really healthy. It’s an ongoing process that’s taking longer than expected (it’s a texture thing really). Eating healthy can taste delicious but sometimes it takes time. Your body will start craving all the healthy foods when you consistently provide them. It’s all about habit forming. Then it gets easy (so I’ve been told). Here’s my favorite foods list:

Spinach – So good for you! Eat lots. Make salads. Put it in your smoothies (I promise you wont taste it, just add banana too).

Kale – Also good smoothie supplements. This stuff can be tough for salads but if you let it sit in oil and vinegar with lemon juice for a little while, it’ll soften up and taste delicious. Try some cool Kale salad recipes. It can be delicious when prepared well!

Bananas – Best go to snack. Freeze it and mash it up to make “ice cream” or put it in a smoothie.

Avocado – I’ve been using avocado oil to cook instead of olive oil. I prefer the taste (practically nonexistent) and apparently it does better with high heat.

Coconut – Also a killer oil. And milk. And water. It does it all ladies and gentlemen. Coconut water does make for an effective hangover cure too.

Radishes – These have become my crouton replacement. Adds some crunch and flavor while being awesome for you. Makes for good variety in salad.

Carrots – Baby carrots are an easy and satisfying snack. Need to do something with your mouth and hands out of habit? Munch on these with no guilt. Hasn’t turned my skin orange yet either.

Onions – I didn’t used to like onions as a kid. Not sure what happened, but one day, my perspective changed and onions are a go to for me. Red onions in spinach salad taste delicious too.

Brussels Sprouts – Sautéed brussels sprouts with some sea salt make for a great dish.

Broccoli – I’m one of those weirdos that can munch on raw broccoli and actually enjoy it. Funny thing too because they terrified me as a kid thanks to the Power Puff Girls. Way to teach kids how to eat right, PPG. If you’re not like me, steam them. Get used to them because they’re great for you.

Here are some websites I use to guide my food choices:

Super food list

Buzzfeed Vegetarian Salads

Kale Recipes

Healthier Boozing Drinks (you’re welcome 😉 )

Green Smoothie Recipes

Oil Free Vegan Recipes

And if you need to shoot down any excuses: Excuses

10 excuses not to do something productive and why they’re full of s**t

I’ve dug deep inside my own unproductive and lazy mind in attempts to find the root of all my slothy problems. Maybe some of these excuses sound familiar?

1. Fatigue – Have enough energy to watch hours of youtube videos or television but not enough to do something of personal value? I call bullshit. Read a book or something but for God’s sake get away from the laptop. It’s what’s sucking energy away. And if you’re really that tired, then take a freaking nap or something. Don’t let it be your excuse to sit on the couch and stare at a screen for hours. There are better things to be done. (If you’re the writer type, as I am, then it might be time to nuke that google chrome and get working.)

2. $$$ – Lack of money will constantly remind me of what I cannot do. Welcome to life, my friends. So I don’t have the money to go to dance lessons, hire a personal trainer, buy Rosetta Stone, or take more college classes. This money excuse truly is a tricky bastard but it’s a deceiving one. Truth is, there are so many things that can be done without money. They just require self discipline. The internet is a wealth of information with a lot of free tips on learning many different things. Want to learn a new language? There are podcasts, youtube videos, TV shows, pen pal sites, Skype and so much more. You can learn a new language without ever setting foot in a classroom or in a different country. You just need to make yourself work. The best way to find that discipline is by setting goals, checkpoints and milestones to keep you on point.

3. Following the status quo – Everyone else sits on their ass watching TV so why shouldn’t I? This is something I ask myself all the time. It’s really what we do nowadays. The new generation is being raised to be consumers of media and products. Society gets it wrong constantly though. Conforming isn’t the right answer. Other people’s mistakes are not excuses to do the same. Quite the contrary, actually. Learn from their mistakes and do things differently.

4. Fear of failure – This one gets everyone at least once in their life. It can be very hard to pick up something new for fear of looking like a fool. I’m going to be captain obvious here and say everyone has to be a beginner at everything before they get anywhere with it. Suck it up and prepare to look like an imbecile. It’s okay, it’s all part of the learning process. I’m going to go one deeper here, though. There’s another part of this fear that’s darker and more dangerous. It’s when you reach the point where you think you can really make something out of what you’re doing but there’s a fear that it won’t be good enough for the status quo. Maybe my writing isn’t pretty. Maybe it doesn’t actually speak to people. Will it be worth pouring all that time into? Uhhhh… yes. Because I need to do this for me. It’s as simple as that. The first step is proving to yourself that you’re capable. The rest can follow.

5. Procrastination – “I’ll just watch one episode.” Go ahead and pick your poison: youtube, tumblr, twitter, facebook, netflix, hbo, etc. There are so many ways to waste time. And we’re not just talking 45 minutes or whatever length your show may be. Those places are like vortexes. Hell, with netflix now, the new episodes will just keep playing. You don’t even have to pick up the damned remote. It’s that easy to waste time. This is the best advice I can give. Don’t even start. Resist the urge. Save that “one episode” for after you’ve gotten shit done. What’s the point in waiting around? I promise that it will feel a lot better to do or make or create than it will to merely consume. That not enough for you? Stick to the google chrome browser and take off all the other ones. The “Stayfocusd” app will allow you to block any and all websites that suck up all your time. It’s cruel and wonderful and it works.

6. I deserve it – This one can be tricky. It’d be pretty tough to be at least semi productive all the time. This thing called burnout is no joke either. However, I have this tendency to over-reward myself sometimes. It goes something like, “Wow, wrote for 3 hours straight. My word count is looking pretty good. And look, took care of all those emails too. I totally deserve to watch movies for the rest of the day.” Yeah, something’s off there. I’m doing great, being productive and feeling good about life, then some little voice inside my brain says it’s time to power down for the day. And it’s only, like, mid afternoon! So maybe the writing inspiration isn’t there anymore or I can’t bring myself to finish those errands. Instead of turning on the TV or marathoning videos online, how about I try reading an interesting book or going on a jog or strumming the guitar for a bit instead. Make a (semi)useful hobby break time.

7. Procrastinating with chores – I don’t know about you, but my room is the cleanest when I have a deadline approaching. This isn’t entirely a bad thing. After all, I could use the help when it comes to cleanliness. The problem is that this can get out of hand. I may reach a point where I’m reorganizing my clothes in the closet based on color or fabric or dusting every single nook and cranny in the house even if it doesn’t need it. At the end of the day, chores become an excuse. There’s always something to be done and it’s a temporary fix. Please do get the vacuuming done but maybe not every day. 

8. It’s no fun – If there’s no fun involved with your past-times, you’re probably doing the wrong thing. There’s also the possibility that you haven’t given it enough time or variety. Then, of course, there’s those things that are never going to be very fun. There’s a reason they’re called work and at some point you’ll just have to make the best of it. If it’s working out, change up the regimen to keep things interesting. Try high intensity short workouts and longer endurance type training. There are so many ways to stay active. Then it may be possible to find something that’s actually pretty fun.

9. Immediate rewards trump long term rewards – This is the psychology behind laziness. It’s the reason people are fat. It’s the reason they party and drink. It’s the reason why people sit at home watching television rather than doing something productive. Long term rewards are difficult to see. That slice of cake in front of me though… oh damn it looks good. We’re a fast paced nation, more so now than ever before. We want to have everything instantly. Unfortunately, most things don’t work that way. When we don’t see results fast enough, we go for that cake instead. It’s easier to enjoy and it comes as instant gratification. If we had an instant gratification pill, we’d be popping that too. Oh wait, that may be Prozac. There’s a way to stay on track though. It’s cliché as hell but I’ll say it anyways: steppingstones. Set small goals along the way that show improvement. Let them remind you of what they’re leading to.

10. Not ready to take the next step – This is the endgame. The question of where to go next. You may have come pretty far but you’re not sure how to keep moving forward. I believe the marathoners call this “the wall.” There’s not much else to do but find a way to get through it. No matter what.