What I Learned From Salisbury Steak

Muslims don’t eat pork.

It’s a basic rule of Islam that’s so ingrained into every Muslim from birth, I learned it before learning that we don’t believe that Jesus (PBUH) is the son of God.  I learned it so well, that when I went to McDonald’s as a child, before they switched to vegetable shortening, I saw them changing the grease, and we didn’t go to McDonald’s for years afterward until they switched.  I eschewed Hostess Twinkies, glazed doughnuts, and other foods other kids defiantly ate in front of me, because I knew the rules, and refused to break them.  I still do that today, even though I’m more Agnostic than Muslim.  But of all the pork products I successfully saved from my Muslim mouth, the one that failed me was so-called it “Salisbury” Steak.

Salisbury Steak, I just learned, is a pork product, and I’ve eaten it for years.  Last night I bought a TV dinner, read the ingredients after taking one bite, and learned of my mistake.  I stopped eating the steak immediately, threw it out, went out and got fast food, and asked God to forgive me.  I was okay with that, because I knew God absolves us for honest mistakes.  Muslims learn that too – God judges you more by your intentions than your flaws.  Had I continued to eat the steak, I’d be punished.  Had I been starving and had no other option, He would’ve let it go.  I know the rules, and I followed them, so I’m good.

Here’s the thing, though: not 24 hours before, my former life coach Nina Rubin sent me a job lead from a friend of hers.  I quickly got on the computer, emailed my resume as requested, and wrote a long and rambling email that emphasized all of the things I couldn’t do rather than my good traits.  I figured I should be honest, and luckily, I BCC’d Nina, who advised me that I should’ve been positive.  She noted that my email sounded really negative and suggested some changes, even giving me a sample of the kind of cover letter I should send in the future.

And I have been mentally beating myself senseless about it ever since.

As I ate the dinner that replaced the sinful Salisbury, something occurred to me: I believe that God – a being I’ve never seen or heard from – would forgive me for breaking one of His commandments, but I absolutely refused to let myself off the hook for blowing that job opportunity.  Did I need the job more than eternal salvation?  If I truly believe, probably not.  And yet nothing could convince me that I wasn’t the worst, stupidest person in the world because Mr. Award-winning writer had written an honest, but negative email, thus likely costing myself a job when I needed it most.  And that’s something worth pondering, I think.

See the thing is, while it’s true that a Muslim would say my eternal soul meant more than any job, and that maybe it was all for the best, and part of God’s plan for me, at the end of the day, I have to live in the here and now.  And while I did make a huge mistake from a practical standpoint, of all of the sins I committed in this little story, I have begun to realize that the biggest was likely not forgiving myself for making the mistake.  While it is true that I’m assuming that it’s God letting me off the hook for the Salisbury Steak, not me, I’m the person who made the mistake, just as I’m the person who has to live my life.  If God is going to let me off the hook in the hereafter, thus escaping punishment, why am I punishing myself in the here and now?  Isn’t not getting the job punishment enough?

Here’s what I learned from that Salisbury Steak: when we make mistakes, it’s important to forgive ourselves and move on.  Just as the steak box taught me never to eat Salisbury Steak again, Nina’s feedback on my email taught me what I did wrong there, too.  Having learned the lesson, the experience is over.  No more Salisbury Steak, and no more negative emails.  End of discussion.  Move on.  The sooner I learn this, the better off I’ll be.  Spiritually and mentally.

I guess eating that “steak” wasn’t so bad after all.  😉

Deplorables Need Nasty Women Too

Jon Stewart on the election and what it says about us.

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My old life coach Nina Rubin hit me up online after the new year.  It’s been a while since we’ve really talked, so she said, “I’m curious how you’re feeling about work, dating, and the political landscape,” because she cares about my well-being, and remembered that I am known for having very specific opinions on politics and pop culture, and it feels like the two have merged in recent days. Since I have some decent job prospects, and the girl I was seeing reached out to let me know she was going to try to be more available (she’s the assistant dean of a California State University, in the midst of getting her PhD), I guess you’re stuck with what I think about the political landscape.  And what do I think?

I think that our country is in danger, real danger.  Not from politics, or terrorism or a draconian leader, but from our disconnection from one another.  And to me, in a world where human beings genuinely need other people, we cannot continue this way.  Like it or not.

Here’s the thing: I believe that if America comes asunder completely, it will be because we cannot get along with people who don’t agree with us, and don’t think that we that we have to.  Terrorism or Russia or anybody else can’t beat us like we can beat ourselves in my opinion, and that won’t change unless we change our thinking about people we don’t like.  For me, this post is not about politics, because at the end of the day, politics is just the study of how we choose to govern the country, and because we in the United States live in a representative democracy, that means how we choose to treat the people that live in it.

This past election cycle, I saw people “unfriend” (as though that’s a real thing) old friends on Facebook because of who they voted for.  On both sides.  I saw people say absolutely vulgar and hateful gutter things to people online that they’d never met and didn’t even actually know.  On both sides.  And I saw many people complain about how miserably lonely they were, and how they felt isolated, despondent, and that nobody understood or cared about them.  On both sides.  While I’ve felt low myself over the past year, it’s not because I felt alone, thanks to social media.  So I find it ironic that in a time where I’ve had the ability to reconnect with people I went to grammar school with on the other side of the country, we seem to have large groups of people spending thousands of dollars on dating sites to learn to connect with other people, while living in terror of people they don’t even know.  And I’m terrified that this is a breeding ground for people with a fanatical ideology to convince those despondent people that the way to make their seemingly meaningless lives worthwhile is to sacrifice themselves to hurt those people they hate or they feel have otherwise rejected them.  And in my opinion, that has got to stop.

Here’s reality: by actual fact, human beings are social animals.  No matter how many dogs or cats you hoard, you came from a woman, and I believe that without people of both genders actively in your life, regardless of what your particular gender orientation is, you will be miserable.  I realize that people are tough – oftentimes, family members will drive you up the wall more than anybody else you encounter.  What I’ve found though, is that nothing will make you feel better than connecting with somebody you didn’t believe you could connect with, and nothings enriches you more as a human being than when you do.

My first girlfriend and I had almost nothing in common.  She came from poverty; growing up I came from wealth.  My family raised me to believe that her religion was the enemy, and while I’ve been a geek my whole life, she was a popular cheerleader, known for being the prettiest girl in her family.  We had two completely different races.  While I will admit that our relationship ultimately did not work out, I grew more as a person as a result of trying to make it work than in any other experience I’d had before or have had since.  Though most people refuse to believe this, I learned that there may be no universal “good,” “right,” and “wrong,” but that there’s mainly what works and what doesn’t, which differs from person to person.  In spite of all that difference and grey area, somehow, some way, people still need each other, and for me the easiest way to discover what works is to measure one’s own beliefs against those who believe otherwise.  If you’re open to it, you’ll either confirm what you believe more, or learn a new way of thinking that will give you answers and options that you didn’t even realize existed.

Every human beings deserves respect, in my opinion, even those you despise.  Please do not confuse respect and admiration.  Those people you ignore, belittle, and who escape your notice are the same people that can one day turn around and rob you for it, bomb your country, or take it over outright.  Despite your not respecting their opinions, their mere existence alone will make them matter to you eventually, I have found.  Again, because people need people, people eventually affect each other, no matter how hard you try to hide from them.  The family member you hate may be a part of you, and your hatred of them may eat you alive inside.  The person you ignore may affect somebody you care about, pulling you into their orbit.  The welfare queen that you reject may give birth to the person who kills your relative.  And the terrorist who bombs a country you never heard of may affect your country’s economy with his or or her craziness.  Again, I believe that if you arm yourself with knowledge of those different from you by respecting their ideas and trying to understand them regardless of whether you agree, you can shield yourself from harm somewhat, and perhaps enhance your reality.  Bury your head in the sand, and you may not even see the danger of changing circumstances until it’s too late.

At the end of the day, I believe that there is no good reason to be a jerk.  “I don’t like this” and “this stinks” are two very different things.  While we live in a country where confidence is king, I believe that you can be confident without putting down somebody else.  The world, as I see it, is not a zero sum game, and I think that turning it into one will drive you further and further away from the rest of society, and leave you unprepared for what I see as the inevitability of having to deal with it.  We inoculate people from illness by injecting part of the disease into the body, so that it can learn to protect itself.  The more we avoid the opportunity to do this, the weaker we become, in my opinion.

All that said, I also believe we need to leave people alone.  Not by neglecting them, but letting them be them.  In my opinion, the most you can do is protect yourself and your loved ones from harm – you cannot change other people unless they want to change.  If you can learn to understand them however, I believe you can make it – we all can.  By learning to respect and live with other people, as they are, I believe that we can do and survive anything together.  I think trying to cherry pick only the parts of life and people we like is not only harmful, but impossible.  We are all human, we all have traits that people like and those they don’t.  If we can learn to accept that, regardless of who we’re dealing with, I believe we genuinely have a shot at making this thing work.  I think it is literally the only shot we’ve got.

 

 

I Am Dying To Live

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In the past year, I believe an unfortunate reality has become very clear to me:

My resume does not reflect what I am actually good at.

I realized recently (not sure how recently anymore) that I have two talents, things that I honestly believe that I am good at: writing and public speaking.  From my resume however, you would have no way of knowing that, as I’ve never done a job where that was my primary function.

No, that’s not true.  Either statement.  First, I am kinda funny and / or charismatic (interesting at least), so I guess in a way that’s a talent.  And I did work as a traveling financial aid coach, giving presentations to students and other groups on various financial aid and financial management topics, so I have had a job where public speaking was a primary function (it also became one of my functions when I worked in college admissions so there’s that).  The advising position was seasonal, not permanent though, and giving presentations was secondary to my primary function in college admissions, so to write a resume that makes those central isn’t entirely accurate, I don’t think.  I did it, at the urging of my grad school’s career services department, but because those have never been my primary jobs, only secondary functions of those aforementioned positions, I don’t even know what job title to plug into a search engine when I look for work, and I’ve thus done a lot of things that I’m downright bad at to survive, so now I feel stuck.  I desperately want to get a job where I’m either writing or public speaking (or both) most, what I’m evaluated on, and what my job title describes.  And I have no idea what that is.

Worse, I don’t know how to find out.  For free, I mean.  I know of a service called “Career Tuners” that will help one with these things, but they charge $2000 a session.  Is what I want worth two grand?  Sure.  But since I’m not and haven’t done a job I’m good at as yet, I can’t even remember the last time I had two grand on me (also not true – I had it back in 2011 / 2012, when I was working), let alone two grand I could spend.  I’ve got no savings, live by temping, don’t qualify for unemployment due to a technicality, and am thus angry, unsatisfied, and unhappy most of the time.  And no matter how hard I wrack my much celebrated brain (he says ironically), I have no idea how to figure it out.  No, scratch that.  I might have another idea on how to find out, but that would cost me $1-200, and I don’t have it, etc.

So… I feel trapped.  And I think that unless I get really really lucky, that’s not going to change.  And in my opinion, that stinks.

That being the case, my goal for 2017 is to find a way to stop complaining about it like this, and find that answer.  If I’m as smart as people keep telling me I am, I will.  If I’m not?

I don’t know the answer to that either.

Character

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One of the nicer things about the internet is that you can quickly learn about things you never could as easily before.

A while back, I was able to find a track from an obscure album that my friend bought just for its absurd title and send it to him by doing a search on YouTube.  My sister passes time with my infirm father by locating songs he knew in India growing up, and playing them through her computer – he’s 72 years old.  Just by entering the parts of song lyrics I know, I can locate a song, and as you can see above, I can even show you the cover to my one published comics work.  For all of its faults, I think the internet is pretty amazing.

Something I like to do on the internet is find the titles of episodes of old TV shows I watch on Antenna TV, and then go to the Internet Movie Database (which has television information too now for some reason – what a country!) and find out the names of people who appeared in them.  Oftentimes, I will see character actors and actresses I really liked growing up, and used to be disappointed when I’d look up their credits and discover that at some point they called it quits.  That is until today, when I realized that I don’t think “making it” means you made it – doing what’s right for you does.

See, I’ve spent my whole life – and I can honestly say that, because I dreamed about it since grammar school – trying to break into entertainment.  IMDB also has an entry for me which, with Robotech: Escape, pretty much represents how far I got.  I’ve been on the top radio call in show (which I won’t name, because I might lose friends) twice; I was on TV after I got an organ transplant from a coworker, been published in Time Magazine, and done a lot of other groovy things, none of which made entertainment into my permanent career, just as few of these character actors’ experiences made them stars for life either.  I spent most of my life feeling like a failure because I didn’t make it, but it dawned on me that if you appeared as a regular on a TV show that ran for multiple seasons and still called it quits, “making it” means nothing.  Just ask this guy.

So what is “making it?”  Though I don’t know any, I imagine all of those character actors would tell you they reached a point where having a life exceeded “the dream,” and that’s why they gave up acting.  Don’t get me wrong – I am sure people like Tom Hanks or Sandra Bullock or Eddie Murphy have few regrets about how things turned out for them.  The thing is, they represent a small number of talented people in entertainment, which I know for a fact from when I was making no budget shorts, and actors who were just as talented would show up and do our silly little shorts for no pay.  One of them was a friend of a friend of mine, and when I learned that he moved back to where he was from, I was heartbroken, because I thought he really was amazingly talented.  I now realize that he likely decided that he wanted to have a stable life for himself and his family, as he was very happily married.  So he left, and likely found something that he could do.

And that’s what I’m planning to do now.

I’m not leaving Southern California, because I just love Southern California.  Instead of beating up on myself for not making it in entertainment though, I’m going to take my writing ability, originally intended for me to “make it” in comics or some other entertainment medium, and channel it toward getting a regular job.  Why?  I’m 40, and now I know better.  I don’t see that as failure or selling out, because I’m not looking for a job that just pays the bills, which I’ve wasted many years doing.  Instead, I’m looking for a job where the primary function is writing and / or public speaking because I know for a fact that I’m genuinely good at doing those things.  The extent to which I “made it” confirms that.  But becoming Sandra Bullock is really hard, and when you’re not healthy or young anymore, it’s not terribly practical. Better to be able to say that you know you could if you had the opportunity, but in absence of that, use the skills that would have made you great at that and let them make you great at something else, something that you can actually get.  Will it happen overnight?  No.  But it will happen a lot sooner than making it in entertainment would.

I’m old enough to realize now that being an adult means being able to let go of what’s beyond your reach, hang on to the part that isn’t, and move forward, not on.  I like to believe that all of those character actors and actresses who threw in the towel went on to something else that they were just as good at, but it took them much further and gave them more satisfaction than acting did.  To me, that’s success.  It’s not as big or as glamorous as what I envisioned, but it’s life.  And I can deal with that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Almost Famous

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Well, I’ve been able to admit it to Twitter, at least.

The bane of my existence is the simple fact that I am good – no, let’s get away from self-deprecating false modesty, great – at exactly two things: writing and public speaking.  But you couldn’t tell that from my resume.

The quality of the resume itself might suggest it, but I think these days people assume that people get professionals – or people like me – to help them craft their resumes.  So the effort and care I put into crafting mine, a different one for each job I apply to, goes largely unnoticed.  From my resume, you can only tell that I graduated with high distinction in English by reading that line item – the resume doesn’t indicate what it might mean to a potential employer.  Yes, I list a bunch of my writing achievements, but not all, like that aforementioned Twitter account that has 500 followers now (and has been vetted for ‘bots).  I don’t list the published articles I’ve written on my resume, because those publications aren’t to be spoken of (I was young and needed the money).  I don’t mention the website I currently write for because again, it came about because of those unmentionable articles.  All it lists is that I did a gang of customer service jobs, have some legal training, and did well in education, both professionally and as a student.  It doesn’t mention that I can write just about anything, in any writing style, but did all of the above grunt work just to survive.

So how are we going to change that?

At a recent Meetup I went to, the ladies in the group all strongly felt that I really should put some work into getting a job that draws from my considerable writing and public speaking talents, and in accordance with that, I decided that I really should compete in public speaking contests.  Various club leaders (because I’ve been in and visited several clubs at this point) have urged me to do that for years, but because I’m good at public speaking, I’ve been lazy about it.  I already know that I’m good, and have thus far felt no urge to prove it, as I’m just not a competitive person.  It’s also why I’ve done so many jobs just for the money they offered.  Some call that low self-esteem, which might be mixed up in there, but I call it a lack of interest in making money.  Like Mary J. Blige, I just want to be happy.

The second things I’m doing to try to do work that draws from what I’m best at is getting in touch with Syracuse’s alumni career services network, and see if we can alter my resume / network better to get myself a decent entry-level writing or public speaking job.  “Decent” because again, I don’t care how much it pays at this point.  As my sister pointed out, SU needs successful alumni to donate and raise the cache of the school.  When I first moved out to Southern California with a credit on a television show coming out the gate, it seemed I was going to do just that.  Then my health took a dive, so I just worked enough to collect health insurance and live.  Now that my health is better, I have no excuses.  I want writing and public speaking to become a regular part of my job, and I want that next job to lead to a career that focuses on writing or public speaking.

I know I can do it, because I’ve done it before.  As long as I can survive long enough to do so on limited money, I’m set.