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  • "Sometimes you’re not aware of what you’ve been through until you witness someone else go through the same thing." The always on point Brian Gresko on "Wrestling With My Father."

    With my Father's Day lurking Brian Gresko brings some tough dad love with "Wrestling With My Father." Do check it out in its entirety at LONGREADS, though do excerpt below.

    "My therapist tells me that in more than 20 years of practice he’s heard the same thing from many survivors of abuse — it’s just his way. That’s how those who’ve been abused normalize mistreatment. Because otherwise, what does a person do with that pain? Someone who loves them has also hurt them deeply, to the bone. Rationally, emotionally, this doesn’t compute.

    "In my experience, this dysfunction defines how dads relate to their sons, not just as children, but as adults too. Through small jabs and takedowns, my dad has ensured the scars from his abuse have stayed open, oozing and infected, making healing impossible. He remains the dominant one; it’s essential, it seems, to how he views family. Even when it comes to my relating to my own child, he believes he knows best, or better than me anyway.

    "I have pretended to be someone else with a different experience, but looking at my life, I realize my therapist is right. As I’m sitting on his couch, something unclenches in me when I call my dad’s behavior by its proper name. My father was abused as a child, terrorized by authoritarian parents who gave him no words for his emotions or safety to experience them, instead teaching him that to be a parent means to cause pain. My dad then communicated that to me."

  • Suicide, Success, Stay and some belated thoughts on the deaths of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade.

    My relationship to suicide and suicidal ideation is sporadic at best, and my understanding of why it happens, and when, is as surface level as most of us. I am reminded though with the deaths of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade that suicide does not discriminate and that being successful, as loaded a word as that is, does not forestall the darkness, fatigue, depression, despondency, anger or abuse, substance and otherwise, that can underlie the act of suicide and the idea that it feels like the best option available when nothing else seems to work. I am also reminded of my own most recent bout of darkness and confusion, how I didn't know what I was feeling and that I found some clarity in Episode 238 of the always terrific Other People podcast, wherein the host Brad Listi talked to Jennifer Michael Hecht about her book Stay: A History of Suicide and the Arguments Against It. Other People re-posted the episode last week and I hope for those of you struggling with trying to make sense of why these things happen you will listen and gain some insight as I did. For those of you struggling with suicidal thoughts I hope you will reach out to someone who cares about you or if needed, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. One final note, it that is this element of success that I know I personally find most confusing in relationship to suicide, that somehow success isn't enough, and I know that I fixated on the suicide of acclaimed YA author Ned Vizzini when I was trying to make sense of my own feelings around writing, success and what it feels like when things didn't happen as I wanted them to. Which is also to say, it's important to recognize your personal triggers and for anyone who will find it helpful I tried to capture these feelings in my essay "Downbound Train," which first appeared in Nailed, and later in my sort of memoir, sort of essay collection, Be Cool, and is briefly excerpted below. I should also say that I'm happy to talk to any of you any time if it helps and there is no one else you feel like you can speak to. I have a wonderful support system, and lots of love in my life, but when I felt my worst I didn't really say anything to anyone, not at first, anyway, and I regret that now. That said, when needed please get professional help as well, there is no shame in seeking help, and things really do get better, even when it feels impossible to imagine that being so.

    "What does it feel like before you step off of a ledge? What is that moment like? Do you teeter or plunge? Is it a culmination of steps, moments of constant despair and pain leading to that moment? Or is it impulsive, sudden and volatile, grabbed with ferocity? What does it sound like after that step? Do you feel the wind in your face? Do you wonder if in fact you can float, or fly?

    "I thought about all of this when the author Ned Vizzini leapt to his death while home visiting his family on the East Coast, a place that was ostensibly safe for him, a harbor, but in this case, and at this time, was not. Was it easier for him to jump while visiting a place he knew and had roots in? And was it easier for him to know that his wife and child wouldn’t have to find him because they were home on the West Coast? That it would all happen at a distance, thus not quite as real for them? Removing the ongoing reminders that it happened where they live, even while being no less jolting, or painful. Can the victim of suicide even clearly think through these things? Is it possible that this may be the only moment they feel they’ve been able to clearly think in some time? Or is this kind of thinking only available to those left behind?

    "I don’t know the answers to any of these questions, and I didn’t know Ned Vizzini. I also don’t know how often he thought about his death, or whether the possibility of it seemed like a gift. Not an end to life, but an end to what seemed impossible to him, living how he was living and had been for so long. But I did listen to an interview with him not so long before he died, where he joked about death constantly, and I wondered later, whether that was his way of coping, and distancing himself from his past attempts at suicide, or whether these comments were the seedlings of what was to come.

    "I don’t know suicide either, not the hold that the idea of it must have on your brain once it clenches, or at least I didn’t until Ned Vizzini took his life, and I had to re-order my thinking about all of that."

  • Michael Tanzer. A shout-out. On what would have been his 77th birthday.

    I want to take a moment to recognize that June 3rd would have been my father Michael Tanzer's 77th birthday. He is missed and he is loved and he was a great artist who went mostly unrecognized during his lifetime. With that in mind, I want to draw your attention to both a piece I wrote about him titled PaintWriteDeathLifeArt (Sketches from a life in art), that ran in decomP way back in 2007, and is briefly excerpted below, but an academic article about his life and work as well, which is titled Michael Tanzer: An Artist Searching for His Routes by the late UCLA art historian and long-time family friend Dr. Albert Boime.
     
    "My father Michael Tanzer was a lot of things. Painter. Teacher. Activist. Raconteur. Filmmaker. New Yorker. High-school dropout. Tough guy. He was also a man who had regrets, someone who died much too young from a twisted form of cancer, an artist who never quite achieved what he hoped to, and a guy who never cried, not until the end anyway."

  • Some post-run real time thoughts on turning 50 and heading into the next half-century of my life.

    I still love the written word more than any other form of communication or culture, and nothing will ever have the impact on me that the grimy, poetic, real-time kinetic energy that is The Basketball Diaries did so many decades ago.

    In my next half-century I hope we can have a more public dialogue on trauma, its reverberations and the damage we carry.

    Ocean waves rules, and they will always rule. Even just sitting there and listening to them come in.

    One has to leave the house. I know how hard it can be sometimes, but we have to stay connected to the larger world to feel alive and grow, and when you can't get out or get-up, call me.

    Outside of my children's laughter I'm not sure anything is greater than the feeling of sunlight on my face. One has to do sunscreen though, I wish I had been better about it.

    If I knew my body would feel like this at 50, I would have done it differently along the way, not sure how, but differently. I would have avoided closed ski trails, hotel room fights and lawn mower blades for sure.

    Luck is real, and yes success involves hard work, showing-up and being prepared when the moments arrive, but without luck the odds are far greater.

    But privilege is very real too. And if you have it, which I certainly do, check it, and do better, we did nothing to earn it.

    This is not an original thought, but be the change you want to be in the world, don't complain, or rail on imaginary foes and slights, do shit, make a difference.

    People will cut you in line, they will be unfair and cruel, those who suck may not get their comeuppance and there are lots of assholes out there. You have to learn to live with this, otherwise it will kill you, slowly anyway.

    If you have love to give, give it freely, and don't be ashamed to do so. I've received so much of it, and I know that's not the norm, but I also hope that can change.

    And at every phase of my life I've been blessed with great friends, I don't know how that works, but I'm endlessly appreciative of that and I look forward during my next half a century to meeting those of you I haven't yet.

  • "How can I be my authentic self?" And other questions, ruminations, marinations, musings, observations and take-aways from my recent Personal Branding and Storytelling workshop.

    I recently had the great honor of leading my ever-evolving, when not always life-changing Personal Branding and Storytelling workshop. This version ran three hours and was hosted by the quite awesome Modern Capital Concepts. In this workshop we cover a lot of interesting ideas, we talk and connect, a lot, and we do a lot of work. Many workshops, and many I've led myself, involve a preponderance of presenting and large group conversation, punctuated by bursts of exercises and small group breakouts, but in talking to Khloe Karova, Modern Capital Concepts fearless leader, I decided invert that model, and focus on intensely engaging exercises and small group discussions punctuated by presentation and conversations with the larger group.  What I found... no surprise, is that people want to connect, and they want to learn from one another. They also want to be heard. Well that, and they already possess insights into their voice and personal narrative... they just don't necessarily see it, yet. They've buried that voice and the language that accompanies it under more formal words and thinking. Or they may be scared, or tentative, to embrace it, and who they are. All of which is to say, that there was lots of good energy and good stuff, you can learn more about the Agenda here and you are always welcome, encouraged even, to contact me if you want to discuss any element of the workshop further, especially though most definitely not limited, to hosting, and as needed, adapting a Personal Branding and Storytelling workshop for yourself and your colleagues, friends, family or peers. And all that said, I now want to take a moment to expand on some of the thoughts contained in this paragraph and share some takeaways and observations from what was a truly dynamic workshop that I am greatly appreciative to have played a role in guiding.

    How can I be my authentic self?

    Authenticity may be a current buzzword, but that doesn't mean it isn't an important concept for us to tangle with and one the participants found themselves returning to again and again. I should note here, that I designed the early versions of this workshop with authors in mind, but it neatly aligns with the needs of those launching small businesses as well. So, how do they, you, me, be authentic self? By embracing the self you are and not the version you wish you could be. That doesn't mean we can't always be striving to be better or different, but knowing who you are, owning it, and stripping away your desires to be something else, is where you start. 

    How can I differentiate myself?

    You have to understand where the gaps are in terms of work or publishing and figure out whether you have the skills and experiences to fill them. But I also believe this begins with knowing your personal narrative and story, what differentiates may be skill and experience on the one hand, but it's also the journey you've been on to become that person, and being able to articulate your successes and failures, your influences and inspirations.

    What is the "Ask?"

    In a former life I worked with the public policy staff in my office and one key lesson I learned from them is that you never show-up at a meeting without an ask in hand. There is an expectation that you want something and you've been thoughtful in determining what you want. It's no different with every meeting you take as your build your business. Nothing is more valuable than time and there is no bigger waste of time than not knowing what you hope someone can do for you, and when possible, what you can do for them.

    How do I prove my credibility?

    One thing I've learned in recent months is that first step towards proving your credibility is putting yourself in situations where you can thrive and the second step is going into those situations with confidence and swagger. I'm a proponent of being transparent and honest with yourself about what you're good at it, and not, but once you've decided what you're capable of doing, step in, all-in, and don't step out until you're successful at ti. That success will only further burnish your credibility.

    How vulnerable should I be?

    The misnomer is that we are not to show weakness, no flaws or failures, but when you make these setbacks part of your story, when you own them, and learn from them, you grow and people will embrace you for it. What your connections and clients don't want is false bravado, and the lack of there there. It comes back to being the authentic you, and again embracing who you are and bringing it to the table.

    Do I let people know I feel passionate about my work?

    Yes, always, as with vulnerability, we can shy away from what we are passionate about, and what excites us, but there is no success without passion. Our responsibility to ourselves is to determine what we are passionate about, do everything we can to make that our work and let people see the passion that is driving us. It will be contagious and that's how we build our connections and businesses, and even find our authentic selves.

    How do I find my voice?

    You keep talking, and pitching, testing new language and ideas, and refining, rinse, repeat, asking those you trust, and everyone else, if what you're saying rings true to them. You also have to continually ask yourself if what you're saying rings true to you. I would suggest that you know it when it doesn't, that it feels false, or lacking, more dream than reality. But that's why we talk to others, especially those who can be truthful with us.

    How can I make connections?

    You have to be out in the world, lunches, meetings, trainings, drinks, informational interviews, work events, using LinkedIn to find those who are like-minded or who you emulate, and then you follow-up and you go to their office, or buy them coffee, or both, and when they need something you provide it, and you follow-up with their requests and recommendations, and some things work out and others don't, and the things that don't you try to make sense of, but either way, you keep pushing.

    You also give me a shout so we can talk further, but I think I already mentioned that.

  • I'm really honored, and yes, most excited, to be among such fine company on the board of Hypertext Magazine & Studio and I really hope you'll take a moment to learn more about all of the great work we plan to do.


    Please do take a moment to learn more about Hypertext Magazine & Studio, and please don't hesitate to let me know if you have any questions. You may also read the below description, which is sure to change your life (and yes, that is most definitely a touch of cross-promotion).

    HYPERTEXT MAGAZINE & STUDIO
    We're a social justice storytelling nonprofit led by teachers, writers, & publishers dedicated to teaching writing and storytelling techniques to communities directly impacted by violence, people who are rebuilding their lives after being incarcerated, recovering from substance use disorders, or any community whose collective voice has been marginalized.