T.I.L.T. #142 — Costume Changes

Last night I had the pleasure of watching my talented wife perform on stage in a play. She was playing a queen in a fairy tale. The role seemed to come naturally for her. This shouldn’t be surprising, though, since she is of course the Queen of our daily home life. Depending on the day, I get to be the King or the Fool.

When she first walked on stage, I had a surprise moment of recognition as I admired her costume: she was wearing her wedding dress. Now before you imagine some large, lacy, puffed up, peacock-in-white like image, and wonder how that would possibly look on stage as a queen in a fairy tale, let me say my wife had a very simple wedding dress. Actually she had two simple wedding dresses since we had two weddings. Actually we had four weddings if you want to get technical. One in an amphitheater up on a mountain in Colorado dressed up like cowboys; one in a Romanian Orthodox church dressed up like good Christians; one in the local city hall of Bremen dressed up like law-abiding citizens; and finally one in TheaterSpace wearing a combination of the previous costumes to celebrate with those who missed the first three chances and where we promised to never get married again!

So when I first saw her onstage in wedding dress number one, a simple, flowing, creme-colored gown, I was transported back to the joy of the moment when I first saw her on our wedding day when she was a vision of radiance. But here the dress was suddenly serving a new purpose in a new combination. Since the play was done in an anachronistic style because there was no budget for real period costumes, she also put on a black suit jacket to give her queen character some ruling class, business edginess atop her overall elegance. A small, sparkling headband she wore from our last never-again-wedding in TheaterSpace made her look appropriately regal.

Seeing this reminded me of an age-old truth of how costume changes can have a dramatic impact both on stage and off. You’ve probably heard the adages, ‘You have to dress the part’ or ‘Dress for success’ or ‘Dress for the job you want, not for the job you have’. Like it or not, the clothes we wear, our daily costumes, project images to the outside world that people will associate with one thing or another. It’s why uniforms exist. How else would we recognize who is a policeman or a fireman or the fry guy at McDonald’s?

I’ve worn many costumes in my life. In addition to all the theater fun I’ve had over the years where I’ve had the joy of wearing tights and wigs and ludicrous outfits of all kinds, I’ve had forty-seven different jobs in my life, all with their own particular needs in terms of what I had to wear for functional and identification purposes. There are world’s of difference between being a stage hand or a vegetable vendor or a lady shoes salesman. Yes, I sold ladies shoes, which also taught me just how much a pair of high heels can transform a woman from feeling frumpy and fat to sexy and stylish.

See it’s not just about how clothes change the way the outside world perceives us, more importantly, it changes how we perceive ourselves. I have an interesting job right now running the non-academic life of a university campus, overseeing a wide array of extra-curricular activities as well as the overall residential system. Everyday is different, and sometimes I find myself changing costumes multiple times during the workday to make myself feel right for the various parts I play during the day. I have a closet in my office where I have a couple of stock items at the ready: a nice dark blue blazer if there’s a more formal meeting with external guests; a casual sports coat for internal meetings with colleagues where I feel the need to have some business-like formality; a collegiate hoody with the university logo for informal activities and meetings with students where I want them to be at ease and not see me as ‘a suit’. The challenge is making sure I wear the right shirt and trousers each day that I can mix and match as needed with the various tops. Will there be an important meeting where a ironed and collared shirt would be most appropriate? Or will I be just working with my team and students and can wear a fun t-shirt?

In addition to this I keep a pair of dress shoes in the closet which I pop on and off as needed based on the level of formality. Over in the theater scene shop I have a set of grubby workmen’s clothes I put on to literally get my hands dirty as I continue to build the venues with students. In short, sometimes I dress to impress, sometimes I dress to make a mess. The trick is to not see the change of costumes as a burden, but the chance to reinvent yourself for a bit, to play another part on the world’s stage. It can actually help motivate you if you approach it right.

Don’t feel like going to the gym or jogging? Well just put on your sports costume and running shoes and see how that makes you feel. You’ll be surprised how quickly the person who didn’t feel athletic, will feel an increased heart rate and adrenalin and run right out the door.

Now it’s time for me to get out of my lazy Sunday afternoon writing costume and get ready for some dinner guests. Hmm, how formal shall I be this evening? I guess I’d better ask my Queen.

T.I.L.T. #141 — Change Your Underwear

I’ve come to realize more and more lately that change, in its endless variety of forms, has always been a central theme in my life. I’ll bet its true for many people whether they realize it or not. Hence, I’ve decided to focus T.I.L.T. for the foreseeable future on the processes and challenges and rewards of change.

Several of my recent T.I.L.T.s have actually been about change if anyone was paying attention. Not that I was, I was too busy changing!

Looking back even further, the essence of T.I.L.T. has always been about change, about seeing things from a different perspective, be it living as an outsider in London or in Germany. Change is inherent in the word ’tilt’ which means to adjust in one way or another in comparison to the world around you, be it standing on a ship in a storm or wearing a new pair of shoes to a ball. Maintaining your equilibrium in body or mind, means to tilting and changing all the time. If you don’t, you’ll get seasick and be a lousy dancer.

To mark the occasion of what I hope will help T.I.L.T. hone its message and find its niche, please note that today is not Friday, the day T.I.L.T. has traditionally been published, but Sunday, traditionally a day of rest. However, Sunday is also the day when some of the best columns in the world get published in the New York Times, where obviously T.I.L.T. belongs if the Times had better editors. But even though I’m not published there yet, I may as well move T.I.L.T. to Sundays so I can get used to what it will feel like when those bozos finally do get in touch and thank their lucky stars they discovered the thrilling world of T.I.L.T.!

Another reason to move to Sunday is to change my writing schedule. Cranking out T.I.L.T. during the week has always been challenging due to my day job which often expects me to work nights. And let’s not forget making time for my daily and nightly wife!

In short, there’s more time on the weekends to find the circa three hours it takes to produce T.I.L.T. each week for your reading and listening pleasure. Who knows, maybe you’ll have more time to enjoy T.I.L.T. on the weekends as well.

Now, let’s get down to the business of change and today’s main message. About twenty years ago an amazing actress I worked with taught me one of the most valuable lessons about change. Simply put, she told me, “You can change your thoughts as easily as you change your underwear.”

At first I thought she was making a joke. But she was serious. She was adamant that all our thoughts and feelings could be taken on or off as easily as we put on fresh panties whenever we feel the need.

This was a radical idea to me at the time. The thought that I could control my thoughts, my feelings, rather than my thoughts or feelings controlling me was very hard to get my mind around. Where do thoughts and feelings begin or end? Can we really control them? What about instinct? What about emotions? If someone sneaks up behind me and screams, “Boo!”, won’t I jump and be scared?

On a primitive, biological, fight-or-flight level of thinking, we’re programmed to survive. But for the vast majority of modern life’s stresses, it really is all in our heads. This can be seen in how different people react to the same situation.

You’re in the kitchen and you knock a glass off the counter. Crash! It shatters on the floor.

Do you get angry and upset at the mess and loss? Or do you laugh and think that shards bring luck? Same story, two different endings. Why? Because we have free will. Everyone will jump the moment the glass shatters, but once the primal reaction passes, and any real threat is gone, we can choose how we react to pretty much anything.

For the actress who taught me this, being able to control her thoughts and feelings and reactions was the everyday business of her profession. But she’d learned to apply it to her whole life. Does this mean she was pretending all the time? Not being honest? Not at all, the contrary was true. The more she learned to control her reactions, the more she could live in a manner that she wanted to, free to be the kind of person she really wanted to be. She was always feeling good about herself and her underwear.

For twenty years I’ve been working to get to that level of mental liberty. Sometimes I’m too wrapped up in things to stop and tilt my mind and check my balance. My thoughts and feelings run rampant, taking me on a roller coaster ride of my own creation. Other times I’m able to step off the roller coaster and have a good laugh at whatever life is throwing at me. Humor has always been my favorite weapon to combat life’s stress. I just have to remember to stop, tilt my head, choose to smile, and change my underwear.

Until next Sunday, faithful fans. May all your underwear always be fresh.

T.I.L.T. #140 – The World’s Shortest To Do List

For those of you wondering why I failed to T.I.L.T. last week, I officially blame my Slow Watch which has joyfully helped me lose track of time ever since I got it. Unofficially, I was too wrapped in my daily life trying to take care of way too many to dos on my seemingly infinite to do list both at home and at work. Along the way, T.I.L.T. got lost in the shuffle. Sad, I know. I mean, where are my priorities?

That’s why I’ve decided to do away with all the traditional to do lists I am drowning in. I’m going to boil it all down to a Slow List similar the Slow Watch. Rather than overload myself with details of due dates or categories or automated reminders for everything, it will just be a list of the five most important tasks I need to get done. All of the other countless tasks vying for my attention will remain hidden until I can cross off one of the top five. Then I can add one more to make a new top five, and maybe, just maybe, I may make a lot more progress on important things than wasting time on tasks which are neither important or urgent and really should never have ended up on my to do list in the first place.

I got the idea from learning about how Warren Buffet, one of the most successful men in the world, sets and achieves his goals. Try this: Sit down and write the top twenty-five goals in your life. Anything you want. No matter how big, no matter how small. Be selfish. Be selfless. Whatever makes your heart sing. Then figure out which five things are the most important ones to you. Take your time, be really certain about it. Compare one to another. Which one is the number one goal compared to all the others? Which one is number two? See if you can number them all the way to twenty-five. Seriously, it’s a great exercise. Try it and learn something about yourself.

Now here’s where it gets interesting: the top five are the most important ones because these are the only things you should spend your time on. Everything else on the list is your Avoid-At-All-Costs List. The things on that list are obviously important to you, they may make you feel productive and alive, or they’re just really fun. But, if you really want to achieve your top goals, you need to focus on them exclusively. In short, if you stay busy on all of your top twenty-five goals all the time, the odds of you achieving any one of them is very small.

I did the above exercise and found it extremely helpful to remind myself of what I really want out of life. I then sorted my infinite to do list based on my top five goals. If any of the to dos did not fit into my top five goals, it got eliminated. Unless it fell into a sixth category I call Daily Life. Warren Buffet may have the luxury to not have to put things on his list like vacuum the house or clean the windows, but alas, I’m not there yet.

After that, I sorted my lists into the top five tasks for each of my top five goals. I then made a list of the number one tasks for each goal and voila, my to do list has only five items on it now. The most important items I should do to achieve my goals. The rest can wait.

Except the Daily Life list of course — unfortunately dishes don’t wash themselves yet. But if you are going to spend your time doing something other than the most important things, then at least you know it’s something you really need to do anyway rather than something that is maybe really not as important as you might like to think it is.

Best of all you can really enjoy yourself when you’re not working on your to do list, such when you are spending valuable and important downtime relaxing with family or friends or enjoying some leisure activity. You can let go of worrying about all the things you ‘should’ be doing because you know that when you are working on your to dos, they’re actually important, they will bring you closer to your real goals, and hey, it’s a really short list. I mean, how hard can it be to get one out of five things done after you finish washing the dishes?

At least that’s my theory I am now trying to put into practice. The funny thing is that none of my top goals are connected to my day job. That ought to tell me something, eh? Still, paying the bills is part of Daily Life, so hi ho hi ho it’s off to work I go, but I am going to try and apply the same approach to my job. If I only have a list of five things to do at work each day, I think I’d find it much less stressful, and maybe just maybe, I wouldn’t fail to deliver T.I.L.T. on time again in the future since publishing is one of my top goals.

Until next week, T.I.L.T. fans, I hope you all can figure out what to do without me. I’m off to spend some time now with wifey who is, of course, above and beyond all to do lists. I mean there are goals and to dos and Daily Life, but nothing quite as important as my Daily Wife!

T.I.L.T. #139 — Slow Down For A Good Time

LISTEN TO THE PODCAST – JUST PUSH PLAY!

Something interesting has been happening recently in my life. I’ve been relearning how to live at a slower pace. You see, the last few years my brain has felt more and more cluttered, fractured, and pulled in 1001 directions at once. In short, in this infinite information age, I have come to suffer from information overload.

I could blame technology. The rise of computers and then the internet and now handheld devices of all kinds connected to the all-knowing cloud have made a mobile feast we can all gorge ourselves on all day, all night, all the time. If we so choose. And that’s where my own culpability comes into play. I buy the gadgets, I turn them on, I tune into the various screens that are all around me in my professional, public, and personal life. I take a walk in a beautiful place with my gorgeous wife and I’m somehow more interested in making sure I take a good ‘selfie’ of us to document and share with the world that, hey, we were there, than just stopping, slowing down, and enjoying being there with the most important person in the world to me.

I wasn’t always this way. I remember visiting the Grand Canyon about twenty-five years ago. I didn’t have any gadgets then. Not even a camera. It was just me and my eyes and my brain. And you know what? I remember it really well. I have to because it’s the only record I have of that experience. As I was standing there, admiring one of the most amazing views I have ever seen, a group of Japanese tourists showed up, chattering away, and taking countless photos. One guy had a big VHS cassette video camera — ultra high-tech at the time. He had his one eye closed and his other glued to the viewfinder. He walked up to the edge of the canyon and exclaimed, “OH! AH! OH!” and panned his camera left and right, and zoomed this way and that, and then turned and walked away.

He never took his eye away from the camera. He never stopped and opened both eyes and simply admired the view. He never actually saw the Grand Canyon. And even though he may have captured an impression of it for posterity, he has no memory of it like I do.

I thought it was pathetic to be honest. I judged him a fool for not paying attention to what was around him. Ha, ha, ha. Judge not lest ye be judged, right? Fast forward twenty-five years and voila, here I am glued to gadgets and failing to pay proper attention to all sorts of things.

Professionally I take my laptop to meetings because it is more ‘efficient’ to put tasks or notes directly into the IT systems I use to manage my numerous work projects rather than take notes on paper and then have to transfer them manually later—

Wait. Sorry. I just got interrupted. My phone is vibrating in my pocket. Someone wants my attention. Let’s see who it is. Would you believe my wife is texting me from the bedroom? Seems I missed a couple of calls from her too. No, I’m not making this up. This actually just happened. Be right back – I’d better go see what she wants.

Hello, I’m back and it’s five minutes later. Wifey is enjoying sleeping in today and wanted some cuddles and affection. Which is perhaps one of the best reasons to use technology to get my attention, but when I asked her why she didn’t just use her voice to call me since I’m just twenty feet away in the living room and certainly would have heard her, she blinked for a moment as if the idea had never even crossed her mind. Her first instinct was to use the phone.

And I guess that’s very fitting for today’s T.I.L.T. since my point is that we have let gadgets creep into our lives and take over. As I was saying before, in meetings I take my laptop in the name of efficiency but in the end I’m distracted by my endless task lists and calendars and the inbox telling me I’ve got mail. I end up not really listening and missing out not only on information, but the pleasure of human interaction.

In public I always have my smarter-than-me phone in my pocket which I cannot help but want to take out and play with every few minutes. It doesn’t matter if I’m on public transport or in a restaurant or out in a park. For some reason I constantly feel the urge to check 1001 important things like Facebook, the Weather Channel, or Google News. Or better yet, I take any chance I can to ‘look something up’ on Wikipedia since God forbid we might actually have enough information in our heads already to have a stimulating conversation with one another without having to read verbatim from websites to each other.

In short, we spend more time with our gadgets then engaging with our surroundings and our fellow-man.

I was in a café by myself recently and was on my phone perusing Amazon. I stopped to sip my coffee and glanced around. The place was full. And everyone was staring down at their smart phones. Even people who were not there by themselves. Some were having conversations but were looking at their phones rather than at each other. It was kind of terrifying. If a naked gunman wearing nothing but a machine gun and a ski mask had walked in, no one would have noticed. If they had, I bet their first instinct would have been to start filming in hopes their deaths would go viral on YouTube.

In private, well, we’re texting each other from within the same apartment. Sometimes even in the same room since it’s somehow more amusing than just talking to each other.

Don’t get me wrong, I love technology and access to information and learning about all kinds of things in the world any time I want, but somewhere along the way it feels like we took a wrong turn down a very slippery slope. The constant feeding frenzy of info at our fingertips seems to have made us forget to slow down and just enjoy the real world around us.

To help with this, wifey and I have decided to slow down a bit by changing some of the technology around us. For her birthday I bought her a record player which plays real albums. Not only is the sound quality better with a broader range tones, but the act of having to remove an album from its cover, place it on the player, clean it, then push an analog button with a nice click which engages the turntable to spin and the arm to slowly raise and place the needle into the groove of the first track, is really an enjoyable and satisfying experience. And then in about five songs or so, you have to get up, flip it and start the process over. The act of listening to music has become active and alive again rather than the passivity of endless playlists on all our digital gadgets.

The other thing that really captures the idea of trying to slow down is a new wrist watch my wife gave me as a surprise gift. It’s called a Slow Watch. It only has one hand and a 24-hour clock face. See the photo above. It essentially does away with seconds and minutes and only offers fifteen-minute increments as the smallest denominator. Your view of time becomes more about the day as a whole and encourages you to take your time and slow down and engage more with the world around you.

A few months ago I was all curious and eager about the Apple Watch since it’s supposed to revolutionize what we think a watch can be, but I can tell you now that I have no intention of getting one anymore and really like the opposite revolution suggested by the Slow Watch. Yes, I’m going to slow down and enjoy doing things in more old-fashioned ways when the pace of life was based more on human speeds than internet speeds.

Hmmm, maybe I should replace my laptop with a typewriter. But then how would I get my T.I.L.T. out into the internet information flood?

Hey, wait a second . . .

Hmmm.