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Forgotten Birthday Prank

23 Jul

It is well-known that I am the prankster around the office…and beware the person that invokes my pranks.  However, it is I that got pranked this week with an amazingly executed classic:  The Forgotten Birthday.

EeyoreBalloonFor my boss Chris’s birthday I rigged his office chair with an airhorn.  My co-worker Karen we threw a fake party complete with streamers and crumbs since she took the day off.  Linda had her office so decked out with party favors she couldn’t get in the door.  For me…nothing.  Huh?  As a kid I dreaded my birthday because it was in July so I never got to have the cake party at school…I was part of that summer group where we all celebrated with one cake on a day near the end of school.  Sucked.  One summer I had a pool party with a handful of friends who were in town and it has remained in my memory since as epic!  As an adult, I have been out of town for my birthday almost every year, so I rarely partake in the office celebration of cake and ice cream around the conference table.  Til this year.

This year I was in town and Linda pulled me aside and said, “Ryan, you said if you were ever in town for your birthday you wanted one of those cookie cakes…is that still true?”  She remembered!  My heart swelled!  It was what all the cool kids with school-time birthdays got when we were kids and I always wanted one!  I nodded yes to Linda and the excitement grew, and grew, and grew til it was the Friday before my birthday.  Party time for sure!  Nothing.  No cookie cake.  No “Happy Birthday.”  Just, “Have a good weekend.”  So…I did.

My wife Kate and I played golf together on Saturday (my birthday) and she played fantastically.  It was extremely relaxing!  A new set of clubs had been the gift from my folks earlier in the year so it seemed fitting that they be used on the actual day…and I shot well.  Kate’s parents had got me a grill for Father’s Day / Birthday so after golf we grilled up chicken breasts, hot dogs for the kids, and corn on the cobb.  That night I got to rent a stupid action flick OnDemand and all seemed awesome.

Sunday I realized I got text messages from my mom, dad, and sister on my birthday…but no phone call.  I knew my sister was dead in the middle of a theater production and my folks were hosting guests so it made sense.  By the time Monday rolled around I was sure the office was going to throw me a party with cookie cake, my dad would call in to sing, and it would be fun.  Nope.  Nothing.  No one even asked me how my birthday went.  Down trodden and significantly older, I resigned to the fact that my office had forgotten about my birthday and my family wasn’t going to call.  I worked late, turned off the lights, and went home to cry in my beer.

Then, Tuesday I walked in the front door to this:

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Yup…the ole Forgotten Birthday Prank.  The office folks NAILED IT!  They got me with the party favors over the door, the confetti everywhere, and I checked under the chair…yup…a valiant attempt at the airhorn under the chair.  I removed the airhorn before sitting and made sure to set it off next to Debbie, Karen and Dee’s office to make sure they were awake (better than coffee) since now I had to vacuum up my desk.  Later in the day my childish wish came true and the office assembled to eat cookie cake with me…which incidentally dyed everyone’s teeth dark blue thanks to the food coloring in the frosting…just like in middle school.

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They had lovely cards for me in which they poked fun as if they had forgotten my birthday and I got a 24 oz box of peanut butter M&M’s wrapped in three layers of wrapping paper to keep me busy while they all laughed at me.  They…got…me…good.  So ole Eeyore brightened up and had a good time at the party…and ate his cake too…cookie cake.

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Stupid Anxiety

21 Jul

RockCentralWichitaA little over two years ago I had an anxiety attack at the intersection of Rock Road and Central in Wichita, KS as I pulled into the left turning lane on my way to work.  I’d experienced this feeling before in life but only for short confusing intervals.  This one was different…it didn’t go away.  In fact, it got more intense.  My fight or flight kicked in and I flew.  The days following were torturous as I could not leave my bed, the weeks following I improved to only being able to not leave my house, then I got to the point where I could painfully kind of go places, then I got pretty functional, and then…my CBT therapist’s office screwed up my bill and I said to heck with them and embarked on a year of self exploration to mentally toughen up and get back to “normal.”

If you want the full story you can go HERE.

Fast forward 2 years with leaps and bounds of progress and things are pretty darn good.  I still had anxiety but my ability to dissect it, analyze it, cope with it and move forward with my life was astounding.  Then I started asking myself if I should explore going off anti-anxiety medications and that opened up my internal discussion of what effectiveness they had or didn’t.  Am I better because of them or are they the crutch that got me mentally ready to move forward?  My gut says the latter since I spent 33 years without needing anything but realistically going off them is…well…its taking the crutch away.  So the debate built up in my head along with other things I have no control over and as I argued with myself, my anxiety plotted its triumphant return.  Sensing this I started seeing a new therapist (whom I love) and have come to realize that while I made major progress in the past 2 years…there is not a finish line in life, just a constant track to run on.  Whether it is uphill, downhill, or even is what I have some control over…but I cannot stop.

NWBayIt was about Midnight the second week of July when my first anxiety attack in a while hit me.  I was piloting a boat on Lake George and had just rounded the Northwest Bay buoy and was heading north into dark waters and a shoreline miles away without lights when I felt the overwhelming feeling of not knowing where I was.  I knew where I was…but not exactly.  It has been a year since I drove the boat at night and this was a new boat with different blind spots, gauges, and sounds.  It is understandable to get spooked in the middle of the dark doing 25 mph on the lake and realizing you are not 100% sure of where you are.  Your eyes play tricks on you at night.  Distance is hard to read and boats don’t have headlights.  I was overwhelmed with the fear that I would not be able to find the dock I was driving to and that my wife Kate would have to take the wheel, or worse:  Talk me down from an anxiety attack in the middle of the lake with no cell reception.

Cell reception.  Seriously?  I used to do everything in my power to get away from cell reception.  I used to adore being alone.  I used to love impossible situations.  Add fog, rain, waves higher than the boat and I would have stayed calm the whole way and loved the thrill of it all.  Now?  I just don’t want to be alone…I want shared responsibility.

KelloggCentralWichitaToday it hit me again, and this one struck a chord.  At the intersection of Rock Road and Kellogg the light turned red as I went to cross the highway…a long light.  As I pulled into to the left turning lane I became acutely aware of how “trapped” I would be and started playing the “what if” game.  “What if I panicked right now?”  What if I just ran the light?”  What if…”  The game became the “what is” game.  I watched the car in front of me slow to a stop (silver Civic), I saw the car in the rearview pull in close behind me (beige Buick sedan), I looked right and saw the truck boxing me in (blue Tundra), and as I began debating making a U-Turn to the left out of the double turn lane a silver Kia pulled in next to me and I found myself with nowhere to go…and I panicked…bad.  The sunglasses came off my face and I started talking myself down but it was no use, I was deep in it and could feel my body wanting to ditch the car and run off screaming. Not an option!  I told myself as I dialed my wife who picked up on the fourth ring.  Before she could finish saying hello I told her, “I’m stuck and I need you to help talk me down!”  She asked where I was and in the time it took to tell her and explain what was going on the light turned green and I proceeded through the long overpass intersection and was “fine” again.

My hands are still shaking a bit.  It was too similar to my initial attack 2 years ago just 2 blocks away.  The only difference is 2 years ago I walked away from the incident asking what was wrong with me and if I’d ever be okay again.  Today, all I can think is “stupid anxiety!”  Seriously.  Stupid f**king anxiety.  I’ve given up trying to understand why this is happening to me and just started accepting that it does happen to me.  I’ve clearly got some crap bubbling up to the top again right now and need to find a way to release the pressure valve…but honestly, I think I just need to find a better way to silence my brain.  My brain is like when you get stuck on a single song lyric and it plays over and over and over and over again in your head.  Sometimes I just get stuck.  Writing helps…and here we are.  All I know is I am fighting a battle between what my gut is telling me to do and what I want to do.  My gut wants me to avoid life, especially the situations where it could suck to have anxiety…but I want to live life to the fullest.  There’s the rub and maybe the best lesson I’ve learned in my life:  Things are not going to get easier – but I will get better at overcoming obstacles if I keep trying.  No one who ever achieved greatness in life was faced with no hardship.  I doubt people will remember me in history books, my name is not in lights, and my triumphs are small in the eyes of others…but every day I get out of bed and find the will power to keep fighting my instincts so I can do what seems natural to so many others.  I’m striving to be a good person, a good father, a good husband, and most important:  Happy.

Stupid anxiety.

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Happy Birthday To Me: Looking Back At The Year

19 Jul

Today is my birthday and I’ve turned a mere 35.  However, it seems like so much has happened in the past year and instead of trying to recap it I’m just going to post a gallery of photos in chronological order that capture how much fun life can be.  Cheers!

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Firewater Good – 3.2 Beer Bad

8 Jul

Beer!For the week of July 4th my wife Kate and I took our boys back east to Lake George.  We needed to stock the house so we headed to the grocery store where we were immediately reminded that we were back in New York, not Kansas, and you can buy beer in the grocery store.  Depending on what state (or country) you live in this may seem strange but in Kansas …you can’t buy beer from the grocery store.  You can buy 3.2 beer.  3.2 beer is a “beer” containing 3.2% or less alcohol per volume.  Its a small step above non alcoholic beer and a constant reminder that Kansas has the strictest liquor laws in the United States.

Basically, Kansas was so wild during the days of Cowboys & Indians that the knee-jerk reaction was so massive to the firewater in Kansas it is almost laughable (just not jovial drunken laughter).  Kansas prohibited alcohol in 1880.  When the nationwide repeal took place in 1933 Kansas waited til 1934 to repeal and began the sales of 3.2 in 1937. Then in 1948 Kansas banned the sales of alcohol til 1987.  1987!!!  Kansas attempted to ban any sales of alcohol on Sundays but it was deemed unconstitutional by the Kansas Supreme Court in 2003.  2003!!!  In 2012 bars were allowed to start having happy hour.  That was 2 years ago!  Seriously Kansas?  Seriously?  For the full story, read here.

Okay…I just had a drink to calm down.  Long Trail.  Vermont beer purchased from a New York grocery store.  Mmmmm…grocery store beer.

With all that in mind, you can imagine the look of joy on my face when I saw real beer in the grocery store!  Beeeeeeer!!!  Now, New York has its own issues and can’t sell beer in liquor stores.  Kansas, you have to get your beer from the liquor store.  When I travel to Oklahoma for business they give you 3.2. beer at the bar…meaning you’re paying full price for N/A beer!  As an avid beer-drinker, that to me is unconstitutional.  Shouldn’t it be half price?  My father has told me stories about how airlines would suspend beverage service when planes flew through Kansas airspace…the “Air Capital of the World.”  The park by my house has a sign prohibiting “Cereal Malt Beverage” which I always thought was hilarious but now know Kansas has deemed Cereal Malt Beverage (CMB) as anything above 3.2% alcohol by volume.  So…beer.

Who knew?  I’ve been drinking cereal malt beverages all my life.  I have a cereal malt beverage belly.  Its cereal malt beverage o’clock.

Kansas is where I chose to raise my children because (if you are a constant reader) of “good dirt.”  With the wonderful people of Wichita, access to great lifestyle amenities, and the Kansas prairie right out my back door…there also comes sacrifices.  My politics differ, my religious beliefs differ, and my belief that  if Kansans have the right to openly carry guns I should have the right to buy beer from the grocery store any day of the week at any hour.  In New York I could buy beer from the grocery store or bodega any time.  California I bought 92+ rated wines from the corner store along with beer, candy bars, and sunblock.  Kansas…3.2 beer, meat and cheese.

Colorado is next door selling weed and we can’t sell beer?

Firewater! Firewater bad!!!

No…firewater gooooood.  Beer gooooood.  Maybe Westboro Baptist Church would calm down if they could just buy beer from the grocery store.  Probably not but we can dream, right?  Maybe Governor Brownback just needs a beer?  Anti-gay bill issues?  Straight up beer in the grocery store!  So as my New York family sets off fireworks in celebration of Independence Day with their grocery store bought beers while my Colorado neighbors smoke legally sanctioned pot with their Rocky Mountain craft beers…my Kansas friends sip 3.2 beer and have their cereal malt beverage rights infringed upon.  Seriously Kansas…can we just have a drink?  1880 is over and Carrie Nation died over 100 years ago.  Let’s start with baby steps.  Firewater good…3.2 beer bad.

Its Cereal Malt Beverage O’clock somewhere.  Bottoms up!

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The Online Disinhibition Effect

27 Jun

Broken LaptopWhen I used to teach (nowadays I mentor), I would talk to my students at length about the online disinhibition effect and its potential ramifications on social interactions and deindividuation.  Basically, people act like idiots online because their inhibitions are out the window with the guise of anonymity through a computer or mobile device…so they say and do things online they would most likely not do in person.  For example, in the comment section of a post of mine from 4 years ago about circumcision (a heated online topic) many of the pro-circ crowd used lewd phrases and mocked people who were not circumcized while the anti-circ crowd used internet-based information to convey hearsay as fact and used lewd phrases as well.  In those comments I was accused of wanting to have homosexual sex with my unborn son, was called a barbaric mutilator who should be locked in jail for the rest of my life, and I received multiple death threats.  Many of the comments were so shocking I had to remove them.  The question I had posed was simply to gather people’s thoughts.  This is the online disinhibition effect.  No one in their right mind would have said some of the things they posted had they been face-to-face with me.

In debate, these tactics are referred to as intellectually dishonest.  I find many people think they are great at online debating when in fact they are great at flaming or trolling social media.  Silencing your counter debater with slurs, attacks, subject changes, hearsay, and irrelevant logic is intellectually dishonest…though they are the foundation of online conversation, the result of deindividuation, and the tools of disinhibition.

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Boba Fett

The other day I engaged in some fun online banter that quickly took a turn (as to be expected) to dishonest debate as my counter debaters (A) changed the subject, (B) used sarcasm to deflect the subject, (C) used irrelevant logic, (D) used hearsay as fact, (E) questioned my motives as a deflection tactic, and (F) presented logic that plays to the fantasies & fears of the group participating.  So I bowed out of the conversation and the counter debaters marked it as a victory.  That’s how most conversations go online.  That’s how most US politicians debate.  That is how debate and critical dialogue is devolving.  Now, I’m guilty of this technique as well and use it quite frequently on my friends when tipping beers and debating trivial topics like if Boba Fett is really a badass bounty hunter or an idiot who got knocked into the mouth of Sarlacc during the Battle of the Great Pit of Carkoon.  It is also great for poking fun at Doug Gottlieb via Twitter when he openly attacks the city of Wichita and then deletes all his tweets in an attempt to not look like an idiot.  However, this form of debate online isn’t always jovial fun…it is dangerous.

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Harley Brown for Governer

As I mentioned, in the comments about my circ post and by email an anonymous user threatened my life…which is a criminal offense.  Would that person have committed such an act had he or she been standing in front of me in a public forum?  Do we not see how public online conversation is?  I ask myself this question all the time and remember my father’s advice to me when I was in middle school:  I was a scrawny kid interested in art at a school where everyone played football.  I was bullied daily.  Then I grew 8 inches in a year and learned how to fight…and beat up all my bullies and threatened any kid who even looked at me wrong.  (In so, I became the bully)  My dad had told me to ignore the bullies.  He told me to ignore the slurs and eventually they’d get bored and leave me alone.  He told me to learn to walk away from bad situations…and that is not an easy thing to do.  In intellectually dishonest online “debate,” I have found leaving the conversation is often the best tactic…the intellectually honest tactic.  In debate you are taught to (A) argue the facts and know what you are talking about, (B) be honest in your arguments, and (C) point out errors in your opponent’s logic and/or facts.  Online, you are most likely debating an old friend on social media and all of their like-minded friends or a complete stranger.  Due to the online disinhibition effect you have to ask yourself: “Are you willing to risk losing your friendship over the subject matter?”  “Are you willing to waste your time on a flaming/trolling stranger?”  In my case, I found the answer to be “no” as I value my friendship and and left the conversation before it went from poking fun to heated commentating.

So, as you browse the internet and chat with friends, friends of friends, and total strangers…ask yourself if you are accurately representing yourself as “you” online or if you have created a more confident version of yourself, who – through deindividuation – acts in a way the real “you” would abhor in a face-to-face interaction.  The rules of debate don’t apply in the real world but they are the foundation of critical dialogue, conversation of differing opinions, and the remedy for the online disinhibition effect.  Be sure you represent yourself online in a way you would in person.

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