Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Hate Cookies

Is there anything better than the warm gooeyness of a freshly homemade, chocolate chip cookie? Perhaps only the sticky rapture of chocolate chip cookie dough...

“But JSP,” I hear in my head, “the empty calories!?” All that butter and sugar?!? Not to mention how hot an oven can make your apartment!?!”

“Completely worth it!” I interject. You see, the true art of chocolate chip cookies lies far beyond the actual dessert. It requires the very eye of faith to recognize how these yummy morsels of chocolaty goodness are actually representations of life’s greatest joys.

For example, “The Joy of Creation.” Think about it. Eggs, flour, vanilla extract… All are individual, ordinary ingredients until you, the creator, the ‘confectionery god’ if you will, organizes them into something that, before your efforts, did not exist.

Chocolate chip cookies also symbolize “The Joy of Caring.” After all, it is virtually impossible to bake the perfect cookie without feeling a little warm and gooey yourself. Making detailed measurements, gently placing the dough onto a baking sheet, and then delicately taking it out of the oven exposes the runny yolks of even the hardest eggs.

Finally, but certainly not final, a chocolate chip cookie represents “The Joy of Cravings.” Because, hey, sometimes you just need a cookie.

Still, the greatest life lesson I learned from this baked good wasn’t found in any of these joyful metaphors.

I’m not sure how old I was. I do remember I was in high school. It was on a Sunday after family dinner, and I was sitting at the kitchen table with my siblings talking, or more accurately ranting, about some of the individuals in our community that we found...well…difficult.

As it goes with these sorts of conversations, none of us was benefiting from it. Recognizing this, my wise mother brought the conversation to a halt with a challenge.

She told us that each of us needed to pick one person around town that we couldn’t stand, and then we’d take them cookies. A few minutes after we stopped laughing, we realized she was being serious.

We then proceeded to go around the kitchen table and each choose our respective recipient. One lady was picked thanks to her caddy remark about my little sister’s alleged fashion irreverence. Another family member picked a fellow who was never as funny as he thought he was. Even Mom picked someone who, she admitted, “got on her nerves.”

When it came time for me to pick, I humbly asked, “Do I have to pick just one?” (It must have been a particularly frustrating weekend.) My mom obliged, and allowed me to pick two.

As soon as the chocolate chip cookies were made, they were plated with plastic wrap, and we loaded them along with our repentant bodies into the family SUV.

Each house visit brought a collected “ooooooo” from the rest of the vehicle in recognition of both the destination and its corresponding family member. Whoever had picked that household was handed a plate of cookies, which they took to the front door and presented to their “Frienemy” along with a smile comprised of as many ingredients as the cookies themselves.

“Hate Cookies,” as I named the whole experience, inspired a lot of different emotions in me. There was, first and foremost, a sense of humor about the whole concept. Beneath that irony, though, was remorse in recognizing the initial time I had wasted by talking poorly of someone else. But Hate Cookies also brought out an emotion I didn’t anticipate: Love.

In fact, I now remember Hate Cookies fondly, warmly even. They weren’t a condescending joke or a guilty confession. For me, the miracle of Hate Cookies was that when we made the cookies, we built a bridge. It was a bridge between those people we picked and us. And from then on, that bridge was good for crossing to and from either party. It was the joy of creation, but on a far more soul enlarging scale. I had a connection to these people, and it was now a positive one.

That being said, to any of those reading this who might be suspiciously second-guessing ever receiving cookies from a Parsons family member, be not afraid. Hate Cookies were a one-time thing, and their recipients should feel only gratitude. I know I do! And besides, I’m 99.9% sure they’d never read my blog…

Happy Holidays Everyone! Build a bridge. And have a cookie on me-

Monday, November 1, 2010

Home Sweet Hotel

I pull into the parking lot at the Best Western, and the routine begins.
First I park, preferably in the spaces that are equidistant from both the main lobby entrance and the adjacent side entrance on the chance that my hotel room is closer to the stairs than the elevator.
I retrieve my overnighter from the backseat along with a plastic grocery bag containing two “healthy” frozen dinners. I enter in through the main lobby and greet the man at the front desk, all the while admiring how much he resembles that one dude from SNL. He brings out the little paper. I don’t really know what it’s for, but I sign my name, along with the make and model of my car. Then I wait for the key. What will it be tonight? 321? 412? 211?
I’m at the elevator. There’s music playing. I’ve never heard it before. I get out of the elevator and walk to my room. The hallway is completely deserted. Just an ominous row of doors on either side. Two scary, little girls are bound to appear at any moment.
I use my magnetic room key to open its corresponding hotel room. Attempt #1- blinking yellow light. Attempt #2- blinking yellow light. Attempt #3- green light. It’s the rule of comedy.
I walk straight to the back of the room. Bags go on the desk. I turn on the air unit hanging below the heavily draped windows. Holy Maria Von Trapp, where do they find this fabric!? I visit the bathroom.
The hand soap gets unwrapped; a hand towel gets unfolded.
Now to the bed. I pull the bedspread three fourths of the way down and lift off the linens to inspect for bedbugs in the upper seams of the mattress. It’s clean. I turn on the television. TBS. Raymond’s on.
I unwrap the first frozen dinner. Macaroni and cheese. Or thin crust pizza. Something that compliments the main entrée. I puncture holes in the taut layer of plastic using another piece of plastic: the fork I took from the deli section at the grocery store. Microwave. 4 minutes.
I get out my laptop. There are five different WiFi links, so depending on the room, you test to see which one has the better connection. I find it. Now connect. It’s all memorized. 05487. summer10. DING!
I’m back to the microwave and retrieve round one of dinner. It goes on the desk to cool. I prepare the sequel. It’s Turkey Meatloaf. Or Chicken Marinara. Something with lots of protein. I go to that grocery store every week trying to find something I can prepare in a hotel room that isn’t found in the frozen food aisle, but here I am. 4 minutes.
I watch TV. I eat food. I check my email. DING! And so it goes…
What can I say? This was my routine for the past couple of months, and yet I felt there was nothing “routine” about it. It’s actually quite strange to catch a whiff of yourself one day, and know it’s the smell of the Best Western.
In fact, it was on that day, the day I smelled like the Best Western and then found mustard on my gym shorts from having eaten a sandwich in the car, that I felt a little homesick. Not for a particular geographical location, but for a feeling.
Home.
What a great word. “Home” is one of few words in the English language that evoke such profound sentiments, yet remain somewhat difficult to accurately define. Here are a few who tried:
"Home is where one starts from," T.S. Eliot
"Home is a name, a word, it is a strong one; stronger than magician ever spoke, or spirit ever answered to, in the strongest conjuration." Charles Dickens
"It takes hands to build a house, but only hearts can build a home." Author Unknown
"Where we love is home- home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.” Oliver Wendell Holmes
“I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself.” Maya Angelou
Well back to my story. There I was that day, mustard shorts and all, feeling like a stranger in my own life. Not really recognizing who I was or what I smelled like. And then, just like that, I found my way back home. Not by myself, of course.
I had decided to take a walk because I couldn’t be inside anymore. As I was walking down a sidewalk, I glanced quickly to my left. Then I stopped. I looked again, but this time I turned to face what I was seeing. What a sight!
A current of wispy fog was slowly enveloping the arid desert mountains in front of me. As the setting sun sent its rays refracting through these layers of mist, a great patchwork of shadow and light was projected on the surrounding cliffs. In the foreground, giant palm trees appeared only as great, black silhouettes of themselves as the sprays of sunset illuminated them from behind.
Immediately I was back on earth. I was back to reality. Things were in perspective, and I felt like I had found my breadcrumbs again. I wasn’t home yet, but I was on my way.
I think we all have the inherent desire to feel Home. We want to feel like we belong, even if only to our own lives. I know I’m home when I feel like myself, and vice versa. It’s like empowerment and ease at the same time. You can sense the rich history of your origins, the possibilities of your future, and then bask in joy of the present. And though I find myself easily distracted at times from that down home goodness, at least I know I have others to help me along the way. Whether it’s through a friend, a family member, or this nature moment straight out of Jurassic Park, we all find home by ourselves, but never alone.
That being said, I’m very pleased to make an announcement:
On January 1, 2011 a brand new website will be launched. TheRoadBackHome.com. (Add it to your favorites right now!! The domain exists, but everything is still in the very early stages.)
TheRoadBackHome.com will be dedicated to fulfilling and maintaining the instinctively human desire to feel peace, worth, and joy. In short, to feel Home.
This will be done in many ways, but first and foremost, it will be done by YOU! This will not be MY website. It will be a place for anyone to share the joy, the defeat, the humor of what we each encounter on our own journeys home.
Though strictly anonymous, all participators will be encouraged to share something: a thought, an epiphany, a picture, something that has reaffirmed or maybe helped to rediscover their own personal power. Why? “Because sharing the journey makes it more your own.”
In addition, TheRoadBackHome.com will also serve as a platform for “Charity Spotlights.” This section of the website will be dedicated to sharing what good work is being done by others across the nation and world, and will include information on how to support them.
Finally, TheRoadBackHome.com will also sponsor Events from time to time. These Events will be opportunities to serve, and the website will serve merely as the organization to facilitate that service.
I’m excited to see how this project will continue to evolve. It will be a consistently changing website, unlike my blog which will continue to be updated the first of every month. And though it isn’t MY website, I will be managing it, so feel free to contact me with any questions or suggestions. What does Home mean to you?
At least I know what it’s not. Despite comfortable beds and free continental breakfasts, it’s not the Best Western.

Friday, October 1, 2010

What to Expect When You’re Expecting

Once there was a young man who wasn’t crazy. In fact, many people often relied on his not-craziness to take care of things they didn’t want to do–things like giving money to a homeless man on Santa Monica, or holding their own children. Still, he was a happy young man: confident, clean, and most of all, not crazy.

Then one late afternoon, around five o’clock, the young man lost it. And by “it,” I mean the not crazy. The whole thing started because he was hungry, and his mind began wandering to places of the edible kind in hopes of conjuring the perfect feast for that evening’s dinner.

What would it be? The possibilities were endless! He could make cheeseburgers, or tacos, homemade pizzas, chicken alfredo. No. Wait. Enchiladas! Perfect!! Now, of course, that means he’d have to run by the grocery store before going home. After all, he was out of tortillas, and you certainly can’t make a decent enchilada without cilantro and sour cream.

But, hold on– What if the grocery store closed early that day? Or worse, what if the grocery store randomly ran out of food? Or more likely, what if there was traffic? What if he’d never even make it there? WHAT IF THE ENCHILADAS DIDN’T HAPPEN!?

These questions continued to circle around and around the young man’s head until finally, when he couldn’t take it anymore, he decided it would just be safer to not be hungry. The End.

Hi, everybody! It’s JSP. The story I have just shared is not a true one, but it serves as a diving board for the pool of thought I have chosen to swim in this month. The not crazy young man is me. And my dinner? Well, that’s a metaphor for my future.

You see, I find I consistently struggle to talk about the horizons of my life. Ranging from career opportunities, like upcoming auditions, to relationships, I’m never quite sure if I should share which possibilities I’m hoping might work out. Why? Because the enchiladas might not happen.

I’m fully aware of how ridiculous that principle sounds. I mean, I had to write an allegory to even introduce the darn thing! Still, it continues to be something I haven’t been able to break. And it’s not that I’m pessimistic. On the contrary, I’d like to believe I live with a considerable amount of hope. It’s just, well… should I really bother to mention a first audition if at least two callbacks are required before there’s anything newsworthy?

I think what it all comes down to is expectations.

If I have expectations, and they’re not fulfilled, I can deal. It might suck, but I’ll be able to deal. The minute I start opening up about those expectations, however, I’m suddenly accountable to them. They’re out there. They’re no longer just silent prayers or a wish on a birthday cake. It’s like they’re real, but they’re not…at least not yet. And if those expectations never materialize, the actual reality I’m left with ends up feeling like an ice cold bucket of water dumped on my head. (Which, thanks to Scout Camp, I can testify is not a pleasant experience.)

So is it really fair to create expectations? For yourself? For others? Maybe just not for actors. I mean “the actor life” does seem to create more opportunities for shattered expectations. Still, wouldn’t it be better to just take life as it comes? That way, we’d free ourselves from any unwanted or unneeded pressure. Instead, we’d relax! And then it would be easier to receive all the new things that life might put in our path.

It reminds me of this musical that Stephen Sondheim wrote in the 90s called Passion. It’s never really performed regionally because it has this uncanny ability to bore people. That never stops me, however. While the majority of Americans might not appreciate the show, I still asked for its Original Broadway Cast Album as a reward for a perfect report card back in high school. My father obliged. J

I found its subject matter fascinating! The main character, Fosca, is a rather unfortunate looking woman who has very poor health and a superhero sense of self-loathing. Essentially everyone in the story finds her annoying. Funny enough, she’s also the heroine of the show… Anyway, she spends all of her time reading books as a way to live, because she has no real relationships of her own. The first time the audience meets her, she sings something very simple, but kind of poignant, “…if you have no expectations, you can never have a disappointment.”

Sister is talkin’ my language!

Well, maybe not.

Truthfully, that line makes my heart sink a little. There’s a sense of fatigue in it, or worse, defeat. And besides, wouldn’t its opposite also need to be true in order to test its validity: “If you have no expectations, you can never have satisfaction.” Well, what would life be with neither disappointments nor satisfactions? What would be left? Seconds, minutes, hours… Life would be nothing more than time.

And what’s time? It technically doesn’t even exist! It’s a human concept. I mean, the world keeps turning and all… But right now, we’re in the year 2010 only because we classified it that way. We could just as easily be in some other manmade terminology, like “the guarp 2.0.”

So if we’re actually in charge of our concept of time, then why do we always feel like slaves to it? The truth is we have complete control over how we view time. And actually, because of that, we also have complete control over how we view the expectation of it.

Then what should we do with our time? Do we allow it to just happen? As I alluded to earlier, I think life would be less stressful that way. But with our relatively short time on planet Earth, there’s got to be something better.

After a lot of thinking, I’ve come to believe that the best way to fill our time is by wanting the very best. And the most powerful means of wanting the best is by trusting that there’s every reason the very best should happen. In other words, and hold on here, maybe we should expect it.

SAY WHAT!?

Yeah, yeah, I know, I’ve changed my mind. But expecting the best doesn’t mean that everything will go exactly as we think it should. Expecting the best requires us to be willing to give up what we assume the best might look like.

Our best, someone else’s best, and anything else that may be a product of our expectations can materialize in any given form. The important thing to remember is it will never be “our best” unless we recognize it as such. And when we keep that in mind, our time truly becomes our own.

What should we expect while we’re expecting? Life. The best version of it. And though I don’t really know what that will continue to look like, I’ll try to let it be known a little more often.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Foilage

Have you ever realized you’ve been doing something incorrectly your whole life?

Now I’m not talking about the regular blunts and blows to the ego that occur during one’s lifetime. Whether it’s walking around with spinach in your teeth, or being on the receiving end when your spouse can’t stand the way you squeeze a toothpaste tube, it seems life always finds ways to keep us humble.

The moments I’m talking about, however, are when you realize you’ve been living life actively uninformed, not by accident or opinion, but just because you’re dead wrong!

By now, you may have already guessed that I recently basked in the glory of one these aforementioned moments. My offense? I have been vastly overestimating my vegetal vocabulary by defining large conglomerates of greenery as “foilage.”

Turns out the word I’ve been attempting to use all of this time is “foliage.” As soon as I heard it, I knew I had been wrong. “Foliage” sounded right, like it already existed somewhere in the back of my brain. But of course it couldn’t have, because I’ve been confidently complimenting architectural landscapes for at least a decade using the word “foilage!”

I mean can you imagine all of the occasions when I’ve visited the homes of family, friends, or *gasp* famous people, and have charmingly observed aloud, “Wow…nice foilage.” Did the complimented party assume I was referring to their home supply of Reynolds Wrap!?

Or what about moments in the car when, say, a windstorm has picked up and thrown loose leaves and branches across my windshield? I’ve grown accustom to taking control of the situation, and steering wheel, by shouting, “Hold on, we’ve got “foilage!” Did passengers think we were being attacked by the menacing darts of homemade TV antennas?

The thing is no one said anything about my foliage faux pas. Maybe it’s because nobody really uses that word. Or maybe everyone was just ok with the fact that I made up my version of it. Heaven knows it wouldn’t be the first time. Has anyone witnessed any of my “shootie-patootie” moments? They happen…

They happen, because I love colorful words. Not the ones traditionally labeled as “colorful.” I actually think those words kind of spew out a muted tan…or khaki, which, like all neutrals, comes in handy now and then. But I really like the words that can’t help but vibrantly paint the air when they’re used. Words like “boisterous” (blue), “sardonic” (red), and percolate (orange).

There have been times, though, when I don’t have a word in my vocabulary that’s the right color, so I’ll make one up. My word “frickily” is another favorite example… I guess you could say I use these non-words when there’s nothing else to say. And I think I just became a song from Mary Poppins…

Anyway, my point is I always used the word “foilage” because it painted my sentences the perfect shade of green. And you know, even now that I know better, I still believe it did. Maybe that’s why so many people just went along with it.

As I see it, “foilage” was a vibrant green color; it just didn’t color inside the lines. But now, having recently been updated with the 2010 edition of the JSP vocabulary, my landscaping compliments will finally be worthy of a 1st grade coloring book.

Foliage. It’s paints a beautiful picture, right? And yet, I can’t help but think sometimes you produce a far more interesting one when you color outside the lines.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Happy 1st Birthday!!

A long, long, LONG time ago, back when MySpace was popular, I was vehemently against creating or posting anything personal on the Internet. I thought self-promoting websites were a bit egotistical, and social networking was just a viral extension of high schoolish nightmares.

I decided at that time that if I were to ever create a MySpace account, it would serve as a destination on the Internet that people could visit knowing they’d leave feeling uplifted. Maybe it would feature my favorite art photos or a soundtrack of soothing music, or even better, a herd of giraffes encouraging us to “reach higher!” Maybe not. All I really knew was I wanted it to reflect the best possible “me.”

Then, MySpace stopped being cool…

Of course, Facebook soon followed, and though I kinda got tricked into one of those accounts, I found gratitude in connecting with people I didn’t necessarily see or speak with very often. Still, the layout was too general for this wholly original concept I had in mind. I was out to make something special!

Then, one day last summer, I was on my computer looking through files of random ideas I had saved over the past six months. A few were funny observations. Others were epiphanies generated by specific memories. Anyway, I liked them. They were very “me.” And what’s more, I felt that it was a “me” that could be shared with everyone.

With that in mind, I started researching the whole “blog” idea to get these thoughts out there for others to read. It was definitely a step into the unknown. Still, the more I learned, and the more I thought, the more I felt this was the medium I had been looking for all along.

Before beginning my new blog, I set up a few rules. First of all, since I would never consider posting my personal journal online, I vowed never to treat my blog as one. Whether people were looking for a quick update, or an uncomfortably intimate look into my personal life, it wouldn’t be found on my blog.

Next, I decided that I’d never begin an entry “trying to say something important.” I didn’t want to vent or preach, particularly from some false sense of grand self-importance when, in reality, I was in my pajamas sitting next to an empty cereal bowl. No, my blog would never assume to fix people or change minds. Instead, it would be a literary opportunity to document and ensure my own perpetual evolution.

Finally, I gave myself a deadline: the first of every month, no matter what! There is something assuring in making a commitment like that. There’s safety in knowing you have to do it. On the chance you’re ever running low on inspiration, all you have to do is look at the calendar.

Over the past twelve months, I’ve posted first of the month entries in places ranging from my hometown in Utah to a Coffee Bean in Long Beach, CA. From a hotel room in Escondido to a beautiful kitchen in Fresno, I’m grateful to say the words have arrived on time.

But my blog is a lot more to me than just the words. Do I spend too much time fretting over each preposition? Yes. Do I hope people are actually reading? Of course. Would I like to publish my writings in a book? Absolutely! But more significant than the actual words in these past 12 blogs is what they represent: I’ve shared a little bit of “me” each month.

Have you ever seen any of those “The More You Know… shooting star” campaigns that air on NBC? You’re probably humming the musical theme right now, aren’t you? And if you’re not, then feel free to share how you have avoided primetime television over the past 20 years. Anyway, these famous campaigns are mini commercials usually featuring celebrities making some sort of a public service announcement.

I saw one the other day and marveled at their efficiency. They are only ten seconds long, including the fore mentioned ending sequence: “The More You Know…shooting star.” But within those, say, seven seconds, they somehow find the most potent way to share their message, maybe even more powerfully than if they had twice the amount of time.

It got me thinking, if I had the chance to make my very own “The More You Know…shooting star,” what would I say? Reflecting on this anniversary of my first year of blogging, I think it would go something like this:

“The most important things in life are meant to be shared. If you want your life to mean a little bit more, try sharing a little bit of yourself.”

Happy Birthday Blog!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Substitutiary Locomotion

There was very little in the early years of Jeffrey Scott Parsons that wasn’t absolutely consumed by the Walt Disney Corporation. Everything from the shows I watched and music I sang to the very bedding I slept in seemed to be blessed by Tinker Bell herself. Even the prescription glasses I wore had little Mickey Mouse faces on the frames. I was, in a word, “Disneyfied.”

Along with this complete “Disneyfication” came an overwhelming desire to visit the place where my sort was not only tolerated, but actually preferred. I’m speaking, of course, of The Happiest Place on Earth. You can imagine the kind of fireworks, complete with musical soundtrack, that would play behind my eyes whenever my parents would announce a family vacation to Disneyland.

Leading up to the big trip, I was constantly envisioning the whole thing, leaving no stone unturned in my preparations. I would map everything out in one of my Mickey & Friends spiral notebooks, rehearsing the names of all the different “lands” of the park and their subsequent attractions. I knew everything I was going to see before I even got there. But the reality of it all was the last ingredient, the “bibbity-bobbity,” “hockety-pockety,” “substitutiary locomotion” that magically brings even the most dormant dreams to life.

And brought to life they were! My Disney Dreams came true when I saw them in person. The sights, sounds, and smells were there for the taking. The dream was real, and I was exhilarated.

Then, last year, I became an official, Disneyland Annual Passport Holder. Living out here in LA, and going to the park as often as I was with family and friends, it seemed like a financially sound investment. Which, speaking of, do you know how much I’ve saved this year with my Annual Passport?? More than $363! In fact, I think I’ll emphatically spell it out too: three hundred and sixty-three dollars!! And that doesn’t even include my 10% off food! When you wish upon a star INDEED…

Anyway, despite that financial deliverance, it was just last week that I was driving past Disneyland after an appointment in Orange County and impulsively thought, “What if I got off the freeway right now and went to Disneyland?” My initial reaction was responsible, but boring. “What’s the point of going all by myself?” And then…I exited the freeway. Immediately a boyish grin crept onto my face.

A few minutes later, as I was getting out of my car in the giant Disneyland parking structure, I decided that the only thing better than your dreams coming true is dreams coming true that you didn’t even dare to dream.

When I was young, I never even thought to dream of one day being able to go to Disneyland by myself whenever I wanted. But there I was on a cool evening in June, dressed in jeans and a jacket, walking down Main Street USA. I went to the shops, looked at some of the more sophisticated Disney art, and stopped by the ice cream parlor. It was relaxing. I just kind of breathed in the reality of my adulthood.

That kind of maturity led me to “Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln,” which I was always far too busy to visit when I was younger. As it turns out, the attraction is pretty cool, except that the prerecorded narrator voice is also the one that talks to you in the elevator at the Haunted Mansion, and I kept expecting him to challenge me to “FIND A WAY OUT!!” (insert evil laugh…)

After Mr. Lincoln’s presentation, you exit through a hallway filled with the portraits of many people who, just like Walt, and in a far more tragic way, Abraham Lincoln, saw their dreams become realities. In their midst is a plaque that says, among other things, “You must keep dreaming, America.”

It was the perfect capstone to my evening. I left the park that night, not only convinced that dreams come true, but that it’s just as important to seek out the dreams you didn’t even know were out there. Otherwise, a pumpkin would never be turned into a carriage, because there wouldn’t be anyone crazy enough to dream it. Furthermore, a sword would never be pulled from a stone, and Angela Lansbury would never visit a land full of sports playing zoo animals, yet our beloved Disney classics remind us that those are all very real possibilities. Possible, of course, when assisted by a little touch of magic.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Sand Castles

A few years ago, I found myself on a small beach in Mexico, wading in the warmest surf I’d ever felt. It was beautiful. As I moved further out into the ocean, I suddenly felt someone swim into my side. While certainly surprised, I remained calm. The underwater world has its fair share of tourist hating inhabitants, but I recognize an old-fashioned, human head butt when I feel one. Almost instantaneously, a little, round face emerged from the water, eyes squinting painfully from the salt and forehead covered with black hair.

“Disculpe,” he said politely, and then, when he saw me, grew embarrassed. “Uh, sorry. No English.”

“Hablo Español,” I assured him, and he regained some confidence. Of course, once he knew we could communicate, he proceeded to do what any ten-year old does and ask every single question he could think of. Intermittently, I managed to find out his name, that he was from a town further inland, and that he was there visiting his grandparents. He, on the other hand, asked where I was from, what I was doing there, how I knew Spanish, the names (and ages) of the girls I was with, and my personal favorite: Did I know Hannah Montana.

“Not personally,” I answered. After bidding him “adios” a couple of times and still receiving more questions, I realized the kid wasn’t leaving any time soon. So I asked if he wanted to go back up to the beach and build a sand castle. He reluctantly agreed. He said he didn’t really care for sand castles, because after all of that work, it just takes one wave to wipe them out. I promised him it would totally be worth it.

Within fifteen minutes, we had our fortress of sand. I’ll admit to secretly hoping that his native culture would instinctively result in a sand castle of Mayan proportions, but as it turns out, amateur sand castles are universal in design. Still, in the face of our clichéd handiwork, we were both pleased.

It wasn’t soon after completion, however, that the waves began to creep up the shore and threaten our finished product. Heaving the sigh of a mother of three, my new little friend looked at me in defeat. Trying to lift the weight of his burden, I suggested we dig a moat around the castle that would collect the water of the weaker waves, and perhaps prolong the life of our sedimentary palace.

He agreed, and we did. The sand castle stayed around long enough for him to bring his little sister over and show her what we had done. She didn’t seem to think it was that cool…until I told her I knew Hannah Montana. I’m kidding.

On an unrelated side note, I remember that my back ended up very red that day because my waterproof sunscreen turned out to be only water-resistant. Not fun. Actually, on second thought, I’ll save that for another blog entry. I’ll discuss the layers of human nature as seen through the metaphor of a peeling sunburn.

But back to the beach. I really enjoy going there. It’s the one consolation to no longer having the Rocky Mountains in my backyard. I miss looking out the window in the middle of June to see if there’s still snow on them. I miss the playful way the sun peeks up over their tops in the morning. I miss climbing high above life and looking down at it like little pieces on a Monopoly board. There’s humility in all that majesty. Of course, “humility” is bound to exist when “majesty” can crumble down at any given moment and crush you.

Which brings me to Los Angeles. I mean, really, has there ever been a place more conducive to natural disasters? Fires, earthquakes, the possibility of dropping off into the ocean, it’s amazing we don’t all live in paralyzing fear. But just like the mountains of Northern Utah, the beaches of sunny SoCal provide me with a place that affords me a little perspective.

You see, the beach is bigger than me. Not in a “Statue of Liberty” sort of way, but more like “if humans never even existed, the beach would still be there” sort of way. Despite our best efforts to pollute, commercialize, or otherwise ignore them, the beaches are there, serving as launching pads to the endless stretches of blue behind them.

The beach reminds me that some things are (literally) too big for me to see. In my feeble attempts to stand on them and see beyond the horizon, or catch a glimpse of the end of the water, I never see anything more than more ocean. So, I resign to sitting peacefully there in the sand. I watch the waves wash up around me, wondering where they’ve been before now. I marvel at the countless grains of sand surrounding me, and breathe in the gratitude for my brief time in the presence of such glory. In a way, I’m a sand castle.

As lowly as a single sand castle may seem, it’s that feeling that brings me humility. It makes me mortal. But it also makes me strong. It assures me that all this grandeur exists to remind me that I’m of a part of it. And that is a miracle. Sand Castles: Totally worth it.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Spring Cleaning

Spring signifies the renewal of many things: the beauty of well-maintained yards, the softness of blossoming fruit trees, and the chirping of newly populated nests. Along with the sunshine and tulips, however, Spring also delivers to each of us the opportunity to look at our homes and ponder that age-old question: “Where did all this crap come from?”

I’m talking about Spring Cleaning: the time of year Mother Nature reminds us to take out a scrub brush and make everything in our home as fresh and new as it is outside. I personally find great satisfaction in certain Spring Cleaning duties. Have you ever used a toothbrush to clean the moldings that run along the base of your walls? It’s instant gratification! There is no waiting to experience “clean,” because you enjoy how great it looks as you go along.

That is, of course, until your joyous scooting across the carpet is interrupted by the presence of “a pile.” You know what I mean by “piles,” right? My piles usually consist of show programs, holiday cards, pictures, sheet music, and (if I’m lucky) pay stubs. It’s basically my life…in a pile.

I’m not sure whether it’s poetic or sad how little time is required for these piles to form in my home. Don’t get me wrong; they’re always born out of the best intentions. For example, I might wake one day and feel a burning desire to clean out my car. So, I take an old grocery bag down to my trusty Cavalier and throw away any garbage that might be laying around in it. Then I gather up any non-junk, take it inside, and set it next to my bed, or on the counter, or next to the table, or some place conspicuous, so that if I actually need something from this pile o’ life, it will readily be available.

Then, somehow, the pile just starts growing…like a fungus! I might empty out my audition bag and put the contents in the pile. Or, I might need to use a binder that has an old script in it, so I take out the script and put it in the pile. Or, I get a credit card bill in the mail, which I actually pay online, but I still need to receive it in the mail as proof of my California residency. Pile it!

OK, now that I think about it, I’m not really describing a fungus. Fungi grow in dark corners by themselves, and that is not the case here. I alone am responsible for making the piles grow. So it’s only fair that when I have had enough of a pile, I am also the one who must break it down. I begin by going through its contents. I ask myself the hard questions. “What things do I want to keep?” “What things do I need to keep?” “If I move tomorrow, would it be worth it to load this into my car?”

Before I know it, the piles are gone, and I notice things, like the forgotten texture of my carpet and the sudden reappearance of my nightstand.

And yet, as miraculous as those discoveries sound, imagine the kinds of things we would find if we sorted through the “other” piles scattered around our lives. These piles aren’t found on top of the microwave or next to the couch. In fact you may not see them at all. But they are there. With all that life gives us to sort through, how could they not?

It makes sense that as we go through life, making choices and forming our lives, we begin to create piles from what we gather along the way. Neither good nor bad, their contents are like a build-up from the residue life leaves behind. And unlike the physical version, these piles are far more personal than memorabilia and pay stubs. They are the most telling representation of our truest selves.

The older I get, and the more I see, the more empowered I feel towards what I own on the inside. That includes what I think, what I remember, and what I spend my energy pondering and feeling. I think that, every now and then, we all need to do a little Spring Cleaning. Not in a regretful way, and not in an ignorant way. But I think we can afford to sift through the piles in our minds and ask ourselves the hard questions. “What do I want to keep?” “What do I need to keep?” “If I go tomorrow, would it be worth it to take it with me?”

There’s power in cleaning. Sometimes it requires you to get down on your knees and scrub until the grime is gone. Sometimes you have to notice the before and after to stay motivated. And sometimes, you just have to let go.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The New Adventures of...Us

I love superhero movies. In particular, I love their opening sequences. You can feel the excitement build as the screen goes dark, and the first notes of what will become the title character’s musical theme are played. Soon, both light and shadow creep onto the screen, alluding to the always-present battle of good and evil. The music begins to accelerate. Shapes swirl, darkness flies, and then, it happens. The title of the movie! No matter your cinematic tastes, you feel certain you’re about to see someone kick some butt…or at least mutter a cheesy catch phrase. The whole feeling reminds me of pajamas on a Saturday night: warm, comfortable, wanted. It’s no wonder these movies are some of the biggest money making films in history.

Perhaps the reason so many people identify with these films is because superheroes live in a strange limbo. They simultaneously live on the ground and in the air. No pun intended. They’re ordinary people who have extraordinary abilities. So it seems whether you’re looking to be inspired by greatness, or to merely sympathize with the human condition, you’ll find it for about $13.50. I’ll take this opportunity to reiterate that I recently paid $13.50 to see a movie. Thank you, Los Angeles.

But the truth is you don’t have to go to the movies to witness a superhero story. All you have to do is look in the mirror. I believe there is a superhero in every one of us. OK, stop rolling your eyes. I’m not writing some inspirational song for church camp. I’m serious. As serious as kryptonite! We’ve each got a superhero power. It may not be the speed of Superman, the blades of Wolverine, or the strength of The Hulk, but deep down, there’s something that makes us more than mere mortals.

To prove my point, I will now reveal my own mother’s superhuman ability: Iron Hands! Yes, that’s right, Iron Hands! Her power allows her to somehow wash the dishes in really hot, soapy water. We’re talking scalding!! I don’t know how she does it. I’ve tried, and I can’t even submerse one hand long enough to find a salad fork. Her powers also come in handy when preparing baked potatoes after they come out of the oven. Forget it. I can’t even look at the tinfoil around the spud without my eyes watering.

At this point, you might be rationalizing, “Of course he thinks his mom is a superhero.” And I do, but just because I care, here’s another example for you naysayers. One of my friends has the ability to pinpoint a single characteristic in a human being that could eventually annoy to the point of insanity. And she can do it in only ten minutes! “He clicks his pen.” “She says ‘sure’ too much.” “Have you ever noticed how she sticks her leg out when she stands?” I’m telling you, her super power could wipe out Washington DC…or just vastly improve the dating process.

Still not convinced? Do you know someone who can sleep through pretty much anything? You name it: cell phones, alarm clocks, police sirens, tsunamis… Superhero!

Yes, we are all a force to be reckoned with. Which leads me to my own superhero power... I have the ability to always have food on my face when I eat. This power is so strong, so overwhelming, that I have to insist upon the aid of a sidekick. I usually assign someone during formal dinners to keep an eye out for stray sauces, crumbs, or full entrees that might be hanging out near the corner of my mouth. You see I, like many superheroes before me, recognize that with this great power comes great responsibility.

But what can I do with my gift? What service can I render? I suppose the most logical answer is that I have a built in food supply should, heaven forbid, a natural disaster strike. I will be able to impart scraps of manicotti to the hungry survivors of earthquakes, tornados, and potato famines. The far less remarkable explanation is my powers are just an endearing part of who I am. They remind me that no matter what I do, I’m still just me. They keep me grounded, and in doing so allow me to fly.

So what’s your superhero power? You have one. Look closely. Or better yet, just keep it in mind, and I bet it will make itself known. It’s possible we don’t readily see them, because we’re too busy looking for something we “think” is special. The fact is you don’t have to possess prodigy-like abilities to be a superhero. You only have to be you.

And once you’ve adorned your proverbial cape, look around you… We are ALL ordinary people with extraordinary abilities. And the sooner we recognize each other’s gifts, the sooner we start to appreciate each other! And the more opportunities we create for people to use their gifts, the more exceptional life can become! Wait!! Here it comes! The catch phrase...

We are all individuals, individually touched by a little bit of wonderful.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Fears, Peers, and British Playwrights

I recently read a highly sophisticated survey, polled by the media giants over at PopEater.com, that said the person America would most like to invite over for dinner is Jennifer Aniston (Daly, 2008).
Now while I would enjoy a little one on one time with America's favorite haircut as much as the next Kmart shopper, I think the far more intriguing question is, "Who would you least like to have in your home?"
There are the obvious candidates: MTV reality-show stars, Osama Bin Laden, Martha Stewart. But I think there are more telling answers. Think about it. Who are you most afraid of?
Speaking for and as Jeffrey Scott Parsons, which I do quite frequently, I hereby declare that, according to me, the most terrifying human being alive is playwriting legend Tom Stoppard.
Yep. That guy.
But I'm not just referring to his intimidating good looks. The fact is I don't want to work with this dude, I don't want to see him walking down the street, and I certainly don't want to break bread with him! Not in a house, not with a mouse, not here or there, or anyplace...
And yet, the question begs to be asked, "Why?" Why would a theatre nerd, such as I, be so terrified of a playwright such as him? I will answer that in one word, "his brain." Wait, that's more than one word...I take it back. "Arcadia." Yes, that's my answer: Arcadia.
Forget Rosencratz and Guildenstern Are Dead, The Real Thing, The Invention of Love, all three plays that make up The Coast of Utopia. You can even throw out the screenplay of Shakespeare In Love. It doesn't matter. Arcadia is scary enough.
Background
This phobia of mine didn't always exist. When I was a child, I was frightened by normal things: tarantulas, the dark, the music video of Michael Jackson's hit "Thriller." Of course, I've since grown out of those fears. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets took care of the tarantula thing. I grew to embrace the dark as I started needing to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. And "Thriller..." well, OK, I still haven't seen the whole thing, but the Mickey Mouse Club did perform the song on one of their Halloween specials in the early nineties that did wonders for me.
Stop it, Stoppard, Stop it!
Then how did I come to this? How did I resort to waking up in a cold sweat, pondering the philosophical debates of Russia between the years of 1833 and 1866? The explanation is also the answer to why I no longer think Thai food tastes like stomach acid: I've matured.
Or more accurately, I hope I've matured.
You see, I would like to think of myself as an educated person, someone with whom you can converse, laugh think, etc... And yet, when I read a Tom Stoppard play, I feel as though it is more alive than I am. To prove my point, I will share with you a two sentence synopsis of his fore-mentioned play, Arcadia, as found on America's leading source for unreliable knowledge, Wikipedia.
"Arcadia alternates between a pair of present day researchers investigating an early 19th century literary mystery and the real incident that they are investigating. It touches on mathematics, thermodynamics, literature, and landscape gardening as it examines the quest for knowledge" ("Tom Stoppard," 2009, "Work").
WHAT!? Did anybody understand that? What are thermodynamics, and what do they have to do with landscape gardening?
Look, the problem, as I see it, is that they are emotionally connected somehow. But do you know who's the only guy that understands how?
Exactly. Tom Stoppard.
My point is the guy makes me feel like a Walmart. He's too smart!
If we were to have dinner, he would already have the first draft of a future, award-winning drama before I'd finish the appetizers. I picture him calmly drinking tea while I ferociously try to sound intelligent with remnants of blue cheese dressing on my face from the buffalo wings.
His new play would probably be about bar stools and microbiology in which my life would be used as a metaphor for "blindness cause by one's own mediocrity and disappointing lack of potential" (Parsons, 2009).
OK, I'm getting a little carried away. Actually, having talked about it, I feel better now...lighter, like a weight has been lifted. Am I still scared? Yes. But maybe I'm supposed to be. Maybe our fears are merely signs that we still have something to learn. Then again, maybe our fears are loud, flashing lights, warning us of dangers ahead. But when all is said and done, why leave life up to a bunch of "maybes?"
Who knows? One day I might do a Tom Stoppard play. I'll think I'll begin by taking one to lunch...thermodynamically speaking.
REFERENCES
Daly, Bridget. (2008, November). Jennifer Aniston Is Top Thanksgiving Day Guest. Retrieved February 27, 2010, from http://hollyscoop.com /jennifer-aniston/jennifer-aniston-is-top-thanksgiving-day- guest_18557.aspx
Parsons, Jeffrey Scott (2010). My Insecurities. The Book of Jeff. Not published...not finished.
Wikipedia: The free encyclopedia. (2009, Oct 12). FL: Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. Retrieved October 13, 2009, from htttp://www.wikipedia.com

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Parable of the Snowflake

There once was a land that was home to the tallest mountain in all the world.  The Great Mountain was so high no human eye had seen it.  Even the birds could only climb so far before its peak disappeared into layers of cotton candy clouds.

But even higher than the Great Mountain, miles and miles into the air, sat a Great Snowflake Factory.  The factory was open for business all year long.  Every day it churned and chugged around the clock to keep the Great Mountain covered in a thick blanket of white snow.

One day, while all the gears and sprockets and wheels worked together in perfect harmony, a little snowflake was made.  And when it came time to start its journey down to the Great Mountain, the little snowflake heard in a voice both strong and gentle, "No two flakes are exactly alike.  You are special."

Then, the factory opened, and off it flew.  The little snowflake flurried about the sky, enjoying the cool, clean air and admiring the care with which it had been made.  There was an interesting pattern on its left side, and a few extra crystals on the right.

But the little snowflake wasn't the only one whirling around the sky.  Millions of snowflakes, each with their own design and shape flurried and flew across the blue.

The little snowflake examined each one closely.  It was hard to believe they had all come from the same factory.  One was round.  Another was angled.  Some snowflakes had delicate patterns, and others crazy swirls.

The little snowflake took notice of them all.  It looked and compared and analyzed and critiqued, and when it was certain that the voice was right, that no two flakes are exactly alike, the little snowflake suddenly felt very alone.

That's when the little snowflake started looking again.  But this time, it looked in a different way.  "If no two snowflakes are alike," it thought, "where will I fit in?"

The little snowflake combed through the great crowds of white flurries.  "I could fly with all the smaller snowflakes," it hoped, "but what if they only fly with larger ones?"

"Maybe I could join those snowflakes over there," it thought gazing at a fluffy cluster.  "They have a similar pattern to mine.  But not on their left side.  No one would ever like my left side."

The little snowflake began to worry more and more, and it was so busy worrying that it didn't even notice the winter winds beginning to blow. But with a sudden gust, the little snowflake was flipped upside down and suddenly realized he could now see the top of the Great Mountain.

The cold blizzard winds sent the once gentle sky of snowflakes into complete chaos.  The little snowflake was scared.  There was no time to see anything anymore.

The freezing blasts whipped everything from side to side, and the little snowflake grew very dizzy.
Then, without warning, a thick cloud swallowed the flurries as they fell closer and closer to the Great Mountain's cliffs.  The little snowflake held its breath.  It clenched each little ice crystal as hard as any snowflake could until finally... it stopped.

Everything was still.  The little snowflake looked around.  It was still high off the ground but could see nothing but white: an endless clump of snow.

"Where am I?" the little snowflake wondered aloud.

"It's called a tree," said a nearby snowflake.  "It's the only one left on this side of the mountain."  Silence passed, and then the snowflake continued, "I don't really know.  I just heard the icicles talking about it."  The little snowflake glanced up and saw the clear spikes of ice hanging above them.

"What happens now?" asked the little snowflake, hoping for another answer.

"I don't know," the other replied.  "But I guess we'll see when the sun comes out."

"We will?" asked the surprised little snowflake.

"Yes," kindly replied the other, "we will."

Friday, January 1, 2010

It's Gonna Be a Happy New Year

I’ve never really understood the hype surrounding New Year’s. For me, it’s always been a little anticlimactic. What are we counting down to anyway? Confetti explosions? The inauguration of a new wall calendar? Time, itself? Maybe we feel like celebrating the passage of time gives us a little control in its inevitability. Or maybe we all celebrate New Year’s because it symbolizes a new start. Why else would we set New Year’s resolutions?

Still, the new year, complete with all it's fanfare, rarely inspires the lasting goals and expectations that survive the spring thaw. From my own experience, I have found the most ineffective New Year's resolutions are primarily based on our past, not our present. We tend to look back at the people we were in January of the year before and set resolutions for that person. It’s no wonder that depression sets in during the winter months as we desperately look to restore what once was rather than use the present in moving forward. But, I digress...

January 1, 2009

I spent the end of 2008 pretending that I was the exact same person who started out the year. That somehow, the twelve months preceding it were nothing but a safari to some untouched wilderness from which I had escaped unscathed. This jungle of vulnerability, where one meets exotic creatures like romance, would one day be a great source for dinner party anecdotes but nothing more. I assumed that I could simply go back to being resilient, independent, and utterly unaffected. In a word: alone. I was wrong.

Thanksgiving and Christmas were spent in California that year. Thanksgiving I spent by myself, volunteering at a homeless shelter. I wanted to get lost in the service of others. It had worked for me before. I thought cleaning up trays of jellied cranberries would cancel out any desire to actually connect with someone.

I gave up a little of that pride for December. I accepted an invite to a Christmas Eve party with a family from my church, and spent Christmas afternoon watching a movie with a friend in Hollywood. But, I was home by two o’ clock and passed the rest of the evening feeling ashamed for tearing up during “Love Actually.”

By New Year’s, however, I realized that things would never be exactly as they had been. I had changed. It was an embodiment of what I had discovered in a production of Les Miserables during the previous summer: Those who refuse to accept change as one of the only true constants in life are doomed to be called “the miserable.”

As it turned out, my safari trip of 2008 was far more significant than anecdotal. It was my life. So, I made a new resolution for the new me. I resolved to create opportunities in 2009 to surround myself with those I respect and admire. Why? Because that’s what the new me needed.

January 1, 2010

Well, I did ok. I got sidetracked a few times. I got scared quite a few others. But, in the darkest moments, there was always a little light just a few steps ahead, and I was amazed at who I met along the way.

Some people I met for the very first time. Other people I met despite having known them for years. I met many who showed me my own strengths, and others of whose strengths I admired and sought to emulate. I met people who looked me in the eye at dinner tables, and listened as well as shared. I, myself, learned how to share, not just serve.

Hammerstein’s lyrics became a little more profound in 2009: “Love in your heart wasn’t put there to stay. Love isn’t love till you give it away.”

So what lies ahead for Jeffrey Scott Parsons in 2010? New safaris? Plenty of laughter? Maybe a few, dare I say…tears? Who knows! All I do know is what I need from myself. This year, I’m stating it thus:

To be the person I keep on waiting to become.

“How will he do it?” you might be asking yourself. Well, I still have eleven blogs to go this year. I guess you’ll just have to wait and read. J

To whomever might be reading this now, Happy New Year! You’ve changed. Congratulations! It’s time to enroll yourself as a force in your own evolution. What’s it going to be? I’d love for you to share…