It’s A Process To Process.

The internet has taken our processing time for a national tragedy and reduced it to nothingness. We find out about an event; a shooting, a bombing, an earthquake, a hurricane, and all the devastation that is left in its wake. And then we talk about it. Almost immediately. In fact, the medium through which we find out about the tragedy and the place where we talk about the tragedy are one and the same. I don’t go to CNN for regular updates. I only go to The New York Times for arts news. Frankly, because it’s too depressing to me to check it on a daily, or hourly, basis like some people do. I go to social media instead. Social media will filter all the news that is relevant to me and put it in one place, along with my friends, my family, and even some people I don’t really like but can’t seem to delete because I’m too invested in their virtual life. Social media is a freaking miracle. It’s an amazing tool and a wonderful place…until it’s not.

When a tragedy strikes (Paris, Roseburg, Boston, and far too many more) social media goes nuts. We all know this. I’m not stating anything new. We start talking about the tragedy before we even know all of the details. I’m 24 and I barely remember a world without the internet. However, I can imagine that many years ago, in the 1990’s, when a tragedy struck thousands of miles away, it wouldn’t be until the nightly news or the next morning’s paper that you heard about this specific piece of news. And then it would be a few hours to a full day until you were able to engage with another person, who was not your immediate family, about this situation.

Today, Social media has removed any and all processing time. We are talking about the event AS IT IS HAPPENING. We are talking about our emotions the minute we feel them. We are expressing the sympathy, the empathy, the hurt, the pain, the fear, and every other emotion immediately as we feel it.

I was in Boston for the Marathon bombings. I was a senior at Emerson College and I was in tech for a show in a theater seven large city blocks away from the attack. I was completely safe and I’m grateful for where I was on that day. And then the city shut down to find the suspect. That’s when I really got scared. That’s when I really started to lose myself to this engulfing feeling of fear. I was staying at a friend’s apartment in the North End because I couldn’t bear to be alone. It was nothing short of my personal nightmare. Let me say again that I was always perfectly safe during this entire situation, but I was still experiencing the collective fear of the city along with my own personal fear about my individual safety. I posted a status on Facebook. I don’t remember the specifics, but it was something along the lines of “I’m really freaked out, will this situation ever end? When are we going to be safe again?” Moments later, a friend private messaged me asking me to take the status down because it perpetuated a state of panic already very prevalent on Facebook and we didn’t have all the information yet. I took the status down, not because I thought he was right (though in retrospect he probably was) but because he helped me realize that the status was made entirely out of pure fear without taking time to process.

I tell you this story because social media is such a direct channel for emotion these days. During the bombings, when I didn’t have anyone to reach out to and talk to about my fear, I wrote online. It wasn’t a helpful response. It probably wasn’t a healthy response. However, it was my raw response for what I was feeling in that specific moment.

Can we attempt to look at our own fear in the moment and evaluate it more logically before posting so hurriedly from a place of raw emotion? Can we attempt to acknowledge the fearful and the hate-filled responses on social media with an awareness that the person might just be reacting out of pure, visceral emotion?

I’m not asking you to accept the people who respond to hate with hate. I’m not asking you to accept the people who respond with reactions that are racist, sexist, hurtful, or harmful. I am going to ask that you accept that people respond individually, immediately, and often very emotionally. Please realize that people’s first reactions may not be their true beliefs and their true feelings. It might just be what they are feeling in that moment. They may be reacting out of fear for the world. They may be reacting out of fear for their own safety. I just ask that you be patient and let people process. I also ask that if you have a habit of posting emotionally, like I often do, to take a moment and process on your own before posting on a public forum. We all have individualized ways of dealing with terror. It’s a tragedy that tragedy happens so frequently in today’s society. So let’s try to make the world a little kinder by taking time to process in our own private ways and also by attempting to understand those people who need to get their feelings out in a very public forum.

I posted this Kurt Vonnegut quote the other day, but it’s what I turn to in moments like this. Here it is again:

“Hello babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. On the outside, babies, you’ve got a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies-“God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.””

So let’s be kind and compassionate, yeah? Ok. Cool. I’m glad we agree.

This Is My Serious Face.

Do: Take the work seriously.

Don’t: Take yourself seriously.

This is more important than I initially realized. Work hard on your dream, but also realize that life is absurd and find the humor in that. I’m done being so serious about my life. Laughter is a beautiful thing.

The Trouble With Restaurants

Let’s talk for a sec about the restaurant industry, ok? I just got back from a corporate training and I’m a little fired up.

I have a lot of opinions about the restaurant industry and I will happily share them with you over many, many drinks. However, what I want to talk about today is the restaurant industry’s over-emphasis on accommodation. Having worked in restaurants for 3+ years now, I’m getting pretty sick of the mantras and slogans slung around by the general managers and corporate figureheads. Some of my favorites over the years have included “The answer is yes, now how can I help you?” Or the old classic “The customer is always right.”

I’m not here to complain about the restaurant industry, I’ve done that plenty of times in the past and I will probably continue to do so in the future. I do however want to propose the idea that the overemphasis on accommodation of the customer puts a de-emphasis on morale and in the long run, service. Yes, I’m talking to you restaurant mangers/owners/CEO’s, your emphasis on accommodating the customer is hurting your service overall.

I’m going to start by saying that I don’t have research or scientific studies to back this up. I just have personal experience from the front lines of the battlefield that is waiting tables. And it is a battlefield. Once, at a mandatory all-staff meeting, we went around and said what we enjoyed about the restaurant (this was requested by the boss, of course). One server spoke up and said “I like that we all work together in going to war every night.” Yes, war. You know, that thing where thousands of people die. It’s a little melodramatic, but I don’t disagree with her.

To say that the customer is always right is to say that the restaurant has no boundaries toward accommodation. If the restaurant has no boundaries, then the customer is king. If the customer is king, then the customer is the boss. If the customer is the boss, then the customer owns the restaurant. If the customer owns the restaurant then the server works for the customer. If the server works for the customer, the customer decides how to treat the server. Do you see the problem here?

I’ve been at many corporate trainings where figureheads try to hammer in the idea that “They are not customers, they are ‘guests.'” And I absolutely agree. However, we seem to have a cultural (corporate?) disagreement of what the word ‘guest’ means. Let’s look at two hypotheticals: If I invite you over for dinner to my private residence, you are a guest in my house. Likewise, if I own a restaurant and you come to eat at my restaurant, you are a guest in my restaurant. If you eat at my house and I serve you and the soup is cold or the main course takes too long, would you yell at me? Get agitated? Demand something else? No, probably not because you’re not paying for it. It is assumed we have a personal relationship because you are my guest. If you come to my restaurant would you likely to do the same in the same scenario? I don’t know you personally, but the chances are much, much higher that you might get upset with a server, bartender, busser, etc., and say something nasty to them or tip them terribly. And why is this different? You are still a guest in my restaurant. I believe it is strictly because of two things: You’re paying for the experience so you feel entitled to perfection, which by definition is unattainable. Secondly, because you don’t have a personal connection with the staff, you feel it is ok to treat them as if you have direct authority.

Look, I don’t care if it’s the person next door or the person on the street. That person is a human with a life and that life is good and bad and everything in between. That server might have a kid or three. That busser might be going through a terrible break-up. This might be your bartender’s first shift back to work after breaking their arm. And you act as if it is ok to treat them as if they are your personal butler that you can boss around? That’s unfortunate. In actuality, you don’t employ the people of that restaurant. Yes, you probably help pay their wages because the gratuity system is fucked and should be abolished, but that’s a topic for another day. You are just one customer, in a sea of customers, and if you hate it, please politely leave and go somewhere else. Chances are you probably don’t even tip that well anyways. It is never ok to treat another human being as less than, you are paying for service and food, not the opportunity to unleash your demons on another person.

And do you know how we fix this? It starts with the restaurants. If owners backed up their employees, if servers were able to stand their ground against a terrible customer within a reasonable limit, maybe we would have the beginnings of a better system. I think that maybe, just maybe, we’ve been training terrible customers…I’m sorry…’guests’ for years and years. Maybe the extra training and work doesn’t fall upon the servers. Perhaps, we start with training the customers. I almost got fired once for telling an angry customer that I thought the manner in which he was speaking to me was disrespectful. Servers should have the ability to stand up for themselves respectfully, without fear of getting fired or losing out on money they need to feed themselves. We have to, have to, have to stop breeding an atmosphere of submission to the every whim of the customer. If restaurants can’t start with that, then they’re going to have much, much bigger problems down the road as our economy moves more and more towards that of autonomy and self-direction.

I have met some really amazing people in my time as server. People who have seen me for the person I am and recognize that this job is a means to an end until I can pursue my creative endeavors full time and make a living doing so. I realize that if you’re reading this, you’re probably somebody who already treats servers as if they are real human beings (which they are). I applaud you for that. If you know of someone who acts poorly towards people in a service capacity, share this this with them. If you’re a server and you have a boss who insists that the customer is always right, even if it’s at your expense, articulate this idea to them.

Maybe then we can begin to breed a positive system where both the guest and *gasp* the server are satisfied.

That was a lot. I hope this makes sense. Let’s start an open discussion below. Post any comments below. Let’s get a conversation started.

Finding Your Karass

This blog is for me and not for you but also for you if you want if you want it to be.

The other day I went and saw Elizabeth Gilbert speak. Yes, you read that correctly. I, Brock Bivens, a 24-year-old straight male (and what is identity anyways? we all contain multitudes) paid real American Dollars to go see Elizabeth Gilbert speak. I was perhaps the youngest man there in a sea of women. And you know what? It was incredible.

I first came upon Eat, Pray, Love last summer during the midst of a bad break-up. And then I read another of her books. And then I watched her TED Talks. And then I re-read Eat, Pray, Love. Are you familiar with that distinct feeling of when you read the work of one author, or see the paintings of one painter, or watch the films of one filmmaker and their body of work resonates with you on such a profound, personal level? Like it just feels like being beside a nice warm fire? Or on a super comfortable memory-foam bed? Or like riding on a mythical creature through a magical forest? That’s how it felt. I feel the same way about Buddhist author Pema Chodron and actor Tom Hanks and comedian Marc Maron and the late author Kurt Vonnegut and many, many others. I have never met these people (well, I met Tom Hanks once, but that’s a story for another day. NAME. DROPPED.) but I consider all of these people to be mentors in my life.

Speaking of my buddy Kurt Vonnegut, he made up an extraordinarily wonderful word in his quintessential novel, Cat’s Cradle. That word is Karass and here is the definition he gives: “humanity is organized into teams, teams that do God’s Will without ever discovering what they are doing. Such a team is called a karass.” I love that definition. I love that there are people you may never know personally, but together you are all working toward a common goal. I love that those people may change your life for the better, without ever knowing that they changed your life at all. In short, they are your mentors.

When I think of qualities I share with the people I listed above I think of a few things: Empathy, a desire for creativity, a struggle with the self, an attempt to be a good person, and a sense of humor about the absurdity of life (Just your daily reminder that we’re all gonna die someday. Loveyoumeanitkisses.). Now, you may be saying “Brock, you don’t know these people, how do you know you share these qualities?” I don’t. I only have my perception and my personal experience. I think that’s ok though. We’re taught so much these days to use logic and science to explain everything, but I’m a real big fan of feelings. And I just have a feeling about this. That’s all. Now maybe that’s too Hippy-Dippy Oregon for you (and let’s be real, I’ve smoked a lot of that LEGAL weed lately), but I dare you to feel deeply. To feel connected to those around you and those you may never know. I think the world needs it.

You might also be saying “Brock, those are all just general human qualities that you said you shared with them.” Good. You understand my point.

Now, I want to know. Who are the mentors in your life that you have never met? What do you share with them? Let me know below. And if you’re unsure, then just dive into a book you love, watch a movie that makes you smile, walk around your favorite art gallery. You might just find your Karass.

P.S. Read her new book, Big Magic. You won’t regret it.

We can choose to say: This is the way I am. Take it. Deal with it. This is just me.

Or we can choose to say: This is the way I am and I’m working to get better.

The difference is slight, but one is set in stone and the other is willing to change.

Bring It Back Again…Again.

I’m back to blogging again. Why? Because I need somewhere to write. Oh sure, I can write on the computer or in my notebook and then leave it there, safe and alone for no one to see. Writing though, is not exactly what I need practice with. Well, yes of course, I need practice with writing. I will ALWAYS need practice with writing. I practice writing a lot though, between my comedy duo Former Fat Kids Society and my other personal projects on the side. What I really need practice with is putting my work out there.

It is one thing to write a body of work, to create mass amounts of work that hone in on your voice, and generally practice a craft. It’s a completely different thing to put your work out there: imperfect, flawed, beautiful. To say “I have written this and now I give it to you, Universe.” To embrace imperfection, mistakes, flaws, and learning. That’s where the beauty is anyway.

To be honest, this feels like a lackluster post to me. I’m not sure what I want to say. But I’m going to put it out there because it’s a beginning. Or a re-beginning if you will. It’s time to turn on the faucet and run the tap so that the murky brown water can run out and we can get the clear, cool, refreshing water instead. Metaphors.

I’m going to write daily. I can’t guarantee it will always be good, but I will guarantee that it will always be me. Some days it may be a sentence. Somedays it may be a sketch. It’ll be SOMETHING.

I still believe in my original tagline: Better Humans Make Better Art. Actually, I think I believe it now more than ever. So let’s all work at being good, kind humans and continue the pursuit of creating our own art. Sound good? Cool. Glad to have you along for the journey.

Brock

P.S. You should watch this:

Fly On The Wall

I had a really awesome, super cool, downright amazing experience the other week. I got to read stage directions for a brand-spanking-new, first time being read aloud, star-studded workshop of a new musical. It was fantastic.  I got to reconnect with a few creative professionals I’ve worked with in the past, and meet new awesome people who are working at one of the highest levels in the industry. I am so grateful to this experience. To be honest, 16-year-old Brock would shit his pants if he realized the awesome stuff he’d be doing at 23.

However, after being a fly on the wall, I want more. Reading stage directions is great from an observational standpoint, but creatively it provide very little juice. And I want to create. I want to act. I want to go for it. I want to make great things and terrible things and awesome boundary-pushing things and indie things and commercial things and beautiful things.

And I had to stop for a second and think…why am I not doing this? Why am I not attempting to do this?

Our old friend and foe, Fear, motherfucking Fear.

I’m doing too much or I’m not doing enough or I’m too eager or I don’t want it enough or they can sense I’m too desperate. I’m not writing enough. I’m not acting enough. I’m not auditioning enough. I’m not meeting new people enough.

You are enough. You are where you’re supposed to be. So create something, and share it with someone. That’s all you can do. One motherfucking thing.

“Don’t lament so much about how your career is going to turn out. You don’t have a career. You have a life. Do the work. Keep the faith. Be true blue. You are a writer because you write. Keep writing and quit your bitching. Your book has a birthday. You don’t know what it is yet.” – Cheryl Strayed.

That’s one of my favorite quotes. Live it. Love it. Chill the fuck out (that’s most to myself, not you). Enjoy your life. Don’t overthink it. Greatness will come when it’s supposed to. Just be ready for it.