Sunday, September 30, 2012

Make or Break a Habit Week

You know those moments in life when you wake up and think, "Well, now what?"

That was me seven days ago.  It was me six days ago.  In fact, I'm still kinda asking the question.  But the reason I decided to dedicate Things I'm Gonna Do This Week to making good habits and breaking bad ones was because of that of question.  I was tired of imagining my world spinning out of control without any scientific justification.  So in my desire to figure out what's next for me, I concentrated on the little stuff, and then paid attention to what bubbled up.  I also forced myself to journal about it.

(deep breath)

Here's what happened:

I'm slightly regretting the choice of blogging that I feel my world is spinning out of control.  With a statement like that, you run the risk of everyone that loves you feeling like you don't know they love you.  I also don't want this week to look like a fishing trip designed to catch a six-pound Sympathy Card.  But enough of my insecurities…

I'm journaling this week because I have long-term goals and not many short-term ones.  I don't know what's next.  Nothing new there, I guess…  Show business is a constant trust fall exercise.  This is different, though.  I'm very busy, but feel like I'm at a stand still, and I think that's what's making the Earth seem like it's turning so fast.

Ugh.  Even as I write that, I can hear my head giving itself advise that doesn't make me feel any better.  That's probably how I ended up on the couch this morning watching crime shows on TNT.  Knowing you should do something and not feeling any motivation to do it is a perfect recipe for cable surfing.

OK, so short term goals.  Wash my car, get a haircut, go to the bank, grocery shop, walk the dog, do laundry, wash dishes, exercise…

A rerun of the Oprah show is on.  "When people show you who they are, believe them."  Maya Angelou.  Oh wow.  I almost wrote Maya Rudolph.  HAHA!  Not the same person.

It's Wednesday, and I accomplished all my goals yesterday!  I'm going to allow myself to celebrate it for a few minutes, and then move on.  I don't want the efficiency of my life to be dependent upon a checklist.  

I took about ten minutes to meditate and pray last night.  (Can't believe I'm posting this kind of stuff… Breathe, Jeff.  It's just a few days.)  I've started implementing a "technique" to my prayers that has seemed to make them mean more to me.  When I'm asking for blessings or giving gratitude, I picture what I'm saying and surround it with light.  It makes Prayer feel more powerful.  It's incorporating the non-physical: my imagination, my faith, my hope.  Definitely a new habit I want to keep. 

Other habits I'm trying out today: a new workout routine.  Bad habit I'm trying to leave behind: not eating because I don't want to spend money.

Thursday = My legs are sore!

More importantly, though, I've found not only a new habit I want to make, but a full on REVOLUTION I want to begin!  I'm single handedly going to revive Audience Etiquette.  From here on out I vow to be the best audience member in the world, thereby setting an example that hopefully others will follow.  It consists of three very important pledges:

#1- I will enter the theatre 100% willing to go on the journey that has been prepared for me to take.  

#2- I will applaud after every musical number because I am NOT watching television in my pajama bottoms.

#3- If I stay after the production to say hello to the actors, I will initiate conversation with them, realizing that they have been working for the past 2+ hours and shouldn't be expected to keep entertaining me.

Sounds simple, right?  Apparently it's not!  I was in an audience tonight, and I'm positive we are currently experiencing a very scary dip in audience etiquette.  Our attention spans are shot, we arrive to the theatre already grumpy and judgmental, and there's this pervasive attitude (particularly among theatre performers) that actors should be more excited to see us after a show than the other way around.  Not true!  Give them a compliment, people!  It will not kill you, I promise.  In fact, the pious restraint of your self-righteousness could possibly be a character building exercise.

In other news, I need to stop "scripting scenes" with people before they happen.  Talk about character building…

I remember talking to a good friend of mine a couple years ago and asking her if she thought it's possible to be taken advantage of if you know that you are.  My assertion was it isn't possible because your awareness allows for your choice.  It's only when choice is taken away that you become a victim of such behavior. 

Now that I think back on it, though, I'm reminded of the famous proverb, "Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me."  Perhaps it isn't so beneficial to spend time justifying someone else's actions, as it is to discern what kind of person you are for going along with them in the first place.

So…it's Friday, and I'm angry, and I don't like it. 

But the good news is I'm just angry at myself.  That means I can just tell myself to "go to hell," which then makes myself come back with, "No! I don't want to cuz then I'll have to be there with YOU!"  And then I retort back, "Then why don't you just stop being mad at me!"  And then I say, "Good idea. I'm sorry, Jeff."  And then I say, "No, I'm the one who's sorry, Jeff."  And then we kiss and make up.

Anyway, bad habit: Being too hard on myself.

Good habit: Stretching.  My hamstrings are way too tight.  Maybe I can meditate tonight in a wide second and kill two birds with one stone.  Poor birds…

I hold my breath.

It's always been a downfall of mine.  Artistically, physically, socially… sometimes I just forget to breathe.  I've never passed out.  It never goes that far, but it does keep me from being at my best.  Like tonight, I had to sing into a sound system that was kind of wretched, so I started holding my breath, not knowing how loud I should be.  The good Lord gave you lungs, dang it, use them!!

Today's Saturday, and I'm taking a look at my world.  It feels like the old one.  Not biblically, of course, more like the old one from two weeks ago.  Less spinning, familiar...  That worries me.  It should feel like a new one, shouldn't it?

Either way, I guess I'm grateful for a reprieve.

I relapsed.  

I returned to my bad habit from Thursday.  BOO!  I was in the middle of a conversation and had a thought to share, but was immediately interrupted by my own brain "scripting" what the other person might say in response, and so on and so on until finally the person with whom I was having a conversation asked what all the silence was about.  ugh–

In better news, though, I was reminded of something very important tonight.  Conversations aren't about right or wrong.  Relationships aren't about right or wrong.  Life really isn't about right or wrong. 

I mean, does anybody really ever get into a situation and think, "You know, I want to make the wrong decision here."  Even if they do, it's because they think for whatever reason that the "wrong" decision is more "right" than the "right" one.  So why do we put so much stock in that way of thinking?

Say you convince someone that they're wrong.  So what?  What do you get out of it?  The possibility of the other person feeling bad?  The knowledge that you're right?  Do these things actually make life more fulfilling?

Conversations are about sharing.  Relationships are about sharing.  Life is about sharing!   And regardless of how any of those things turn out, isn't it amazing to know you participated?  The joy is found in the selflessness of your participation.  It's so much more satisfying than walking away thinking, "At least I was right." 

So to review, here's a summary of the good and bad habits I discovered this week:

Bad Habits
  • Not Eating
  • Scripting Life
  • Being too Hard on Myself
  • Holding My Breath
  • Relapsing on Any of the Above

Good Habits:
  • Short Term Goals
  • Prayer & Meditation
  • Exercise
  • Audience Ettiquette
  • Stretching
  • Sharing

I'm happy with this list.  It looks like a good start for me.  There's power to be found here, and that's exactly what I need.  

Here's to "Make or Break a Habit Week."  May it continue for the next 28 days and beyond.  That way, it won't just be a list, it will be a life.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Things I'm Gonna Do This Week- September 2012

Lately I've been feeling like the world is spinning out of control.

It's not.

Despite my best attempts to convince myself otherwise, the laws of physics haven't been broken.  The time continuum is completely in tact, and the "spinning" that I've been so sure has everything to do with the Earth, has, in fact, much more to do with my own personal psychosis.

In short, I've decided to diagnose myself with "Drama Induced Vertigo." (DIV for short...)

Now, I'm aware that Drama Induced Vertigo sounds like just another hazardous bi-product of Actors, like Headshots and Self-Pitied Facebook Statuses, but I believe it's a good thing for everyone.  DIV is life's way of telling us it's time to take a week and figure things out.  Time to break a few habits, and make some new ones.

In what's left of this month, I'm dedicating September's "Things I'm Gonna Do This Week" to getting back on my axis.  I'm actually really excited about this...

Experts say it takes 21 days to form a new habit and/or leave a bad one in the dust.  Well, I'm going to do it in a third of that time!!

OK, not really, but I'm going to start.  AND I'm going to keep a journal about what happens every day that I will post here next week.  Not something I usually do, but I feel it's my responsibility... for sufferers of DIV everywhere!

Tune in next week and see the results of "Make or Break a Habit Week."  And in the meantime, try not to get too dizzy.

View the results of Make or Break a Habit Week

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Key Lime Pie

My first experience with Key Lime Pie was the happiest time of my life...or was it just at the happiest place on Earth?

I remember I was in Epcot Center at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, eating a big lunch with my family that, now looking back on it, probably cost more than my entrance pass.  After finishing that meal and declaring I couldn't possibly eat one more bite, my mom graciously suggested I get some Key Lime Pie for dessert.  And though I wasn't quite sure if I'd get it down, I once again fell victim to my weakness of saying "no" to free food.

Now I don't know if it was because some pixie dust had found its way into this particular piece of pie, or because we were in Florida, home of Key West and key limes, but when I took my first bite, I was in heaven!  I had never tasted anything so light and delicious.  It was like I was eating nothing at all, and yet my taste buds were singing the "Hallelujah Chorus."

From then on, I was hooked.  Apparently everyone else was too because it seemed like my grandma started bringing her own Key Lime Pies to a lot more Sunday Dinners.  They were never quite like that first one, but they were the next best thing.  In fact, her Key Lime Pie recipe became the new standard.  If it wasn't Disney's, then it better be Grandma North's.

Bemini Key Lime Pie

1 can (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk
1 pkg (8 oz) cream cheese softened
1/2 to 3/4 c key lime juice
1/2 t vanilla
1 9" graham cracker pie crust
Whipped cream for topping

Place milk, cream cheese and lim juice in blender or food processor.  Process on low speed until smooth.  Add vanilla. Pour into graham cracker crust.  Chill in frig until set 3-4 hours. Top with whipped cream.

When I recently got a hold of Grandma's recipe, I was surprised by its title, "Bemini Key Lime Pie."  I decided to figure out what it means and where the recipe originally came from.  As it turns out, "Bemini" is not a word.  The Bimini Islands, however, are located in the Bahamas and are famous guessed it: Key Lime Pie.

Despite the unfortunate typo, I have not changed the way I feel about this family tradition.  In fact, I've decided to keep "Bemini" as a hallmark of the recipe's origins.  You see, I'm afraid there's much more Bemini in this Key Lime Pie than Bimini.  Sweetened condensed milk, cream cheese, and a graham cracker crust are not exactly the most exotic ingredients, but what it lacks in native authenticity is made up in just plain deliciousness.

This pie, unlike it's Epcot predecessor, does not feel like you're eating nothing.  It's creamy like a cheesecake and tangy like a key lime.  It's also cold and refreshing, and most importantly, doesn't require you to use the oven on a hot day.

So give Grandma's Bemini Key Lime Pie a try.  It may just turn out to be the family vacation you've been missing.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Not-So-Guilty Mormon Pleasures

If you had asked me a week ago whether I thought I'd ever learn something new about my religion from the Huffington Post, I'd have told you to go bathe in the Jordan River a couple times.  And yet, that's exactly what happened to me the other day when I read the LDS Church had announced that drinking caffeinated soft drinks was not against it's health code known as "the Word of Wisdom."

While this no doubt brought a sigh of relief to my brother in law and his eternal companion, Mountain Dew, I'd be lying if I said my reaction was anything more than a chuckle.

In fact, the whole "announcement" seemed to be geared more towards the media than the actual members of the church.  You see, contrary to popular belief, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints doesn't tyrannically dictate the lives of its members.  On the contrary, it warns against being "commanded in all things."  In short, we tend to hear more about the teachings of Jesus Christ on Sundays than the dos and don'ts of Diet Coke.

Still, there are plenty of members out there who, by looking at the exclusions of coffee and tea in The Word of Wisdom, came to the conclusion that caffeinated soft drinks should be avoided as well.  And with all the publicity and speculation the church has received lately due to a certain presidential candidate, all it takes is one overzealous lady to piously proclaim to the national media that not a drop of Coke has touched her lips, and suddenly the organization responsible for 22 million dollars of humanitarian aid last year has to make a statement concerning soda pop.

Now personally, I tend to avoid soda, particularly the caffeinated kind.  While they're meant to be delicious, they're also meant to be addictive.  They're also one of the few things you can consume that has absolutely NO nutritional value.  Like less than a Twinkie!  I'm also very cheap, though, so by ordering water at restaurants, I automatically save three bucks off my bill.

What I absolutely don't do, however, is avoid soda because I think God will love me more, and the sooner we can accept that a majority of Mormons feel the same, the sooner we can get back to the teachings of Christ and humanitarian aid.

That being said, I would like to indulge myself for a bit, and say that due to the recent "Mormon Soda Liberation," there is one thing out there that I will now be able to consume without a guilty conscience:

Coca Cola Slurpees!!

When I was serving as an LDS missionary in Texas, a bunch of us went to 7-11 after a leadership meeting to get Slurpees.  (Classy, I know.)  Standing in front of the famous machine with my cup in hand, I began to dispense my traditional mixture of Coca Cola, followed by Cherry, followed by Coca Cola, and so on...

A fellow missionary, who I will anonymously refer to as Elder Poo-poo-head, saw what I was doing, and disappointingly whispered to me, "Elder Parsons. Come on, man."

I was very surprised by his reaction and asked if there was a problem.  He told me that I wasn't setting a very good example by getting the Coca Cola Slurpee because it had caffeine in it.  This was news to me!  I thought they were just "flavored" with Coke.  At that point it was too late not to pay for it, so I did.  And though I shouldn't have, I spent the rest of the day feeling completely guilt-ridden because of my dumb little Slurpee.

Well, I would like to take this very non Christ-like opportunity to tell Elder Poo-poo-head that he can now officially take my Slurpee and shove it so far down his throat that he gets a brain freeze that lasts as long as I felt guilty about enjoying this simple little treat every once in a while.

And now that I've got that out of my system, I'll see you all at church…and maybe 7-11…but not on the same day.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

When to Ask "Why?"

A parent and child are in a living room covered with Lego bricks and miniature hair brushes.  The parent tries desperately to strap some shoes onto the child's flexed feet while the following conversation unfolds:

Adult: We need to put your shoes on.
Child: Why?
Adult: Because we're going to the store.
Child: Why?
Adult: Because we need to get food.
Child: Why?
Adult: Because we have to make dinner.
Child: Why?
Adult: Because we have to eat.
Child: Why?
Adult: Because God made us that way.
Child: Why?
Adult: Because he's God.
Child: Why?

Sound familiar?  If it does, then most likely you've been around a child at that magical age when he or she discovers "why" and subsequently creates an existential crisis for every adult within earshot.

"Why" is easily one of the most powerful words we have.  When we use it in the form of a question, not only are we more likely to win Jeopardy but also to make some of the greatest discoveries in history: from science and medicine, to art and spirituality, and everything in between.

But "why" can also be distracting. Asking it too much can lead us around in circles, forever returning us to a starting point without the satisfaction of crossing a finish line.

Which is why I believe this three-letter word is one that only gets more complicated as we get older.  What starts out as a gateway to empowerment when we're little can grow to feel more like a waste of time as we gain both knowledge and experience.  It becomes easy to start wondering, "When is 'why?' worth asking?"

As a teenager, my little community was rocked pretty hard when a close friend of mine was killed from injuries in a car accident.  I remember the Sunday following his death, I was sitting in a church meeting with other teenage guys sharing thoughts about why his life had been cut so short.  With the most faithful of intentions, we talked about him being "called to another purpose" and proposed it was "just his time."

At that point, our ecclesiastical leader spoke up and bluntly stated that maybe the reason he died was because he didn't wear a seatbelt.  I was initially a little offended by the harshness of his words.  Where was the comfort to be found in that?  All these years later, though, I think I understand what he was saying.

Sometimes we ask "Why?" in our lives, not to find an answer, but more specifically to find an answer that makes us feel better.  And sometimes when looking too hard for it, we miss the opportunity to learn a lesson (The power of choice, for example, when you choose not to wear a seatbelt).

So maybe "Why?" is only worth asking when we're ready for an answer and not just a hug.  It's worth asking when it won't distract us as much as not asking.

Living by faith doesn't mean we're entitled to an answer simply because we trust it exists; it means we trust it exists despite not knowing it yet.  Only then can we truly be prepared to learn a lesson.  Otherwise, we'll find ourselves searching for the "why's" of our past more than the "what's" of our present.  And in the face of that much distraction, there's only one thing to ask...

Yep. You got it. J