Wednesday, June 7, 2017

I Am Your Neighbor 2 - CK Perez

Y'all I thought I had this Octogenarian thing covered, as I've spent a large chunk of my life hanging with people 20-40 years older than myself, as I truly dig my elders.  From teachers and grandparents to my parents' posse, to friends and mates I've custom-picked over the years specifically because of their accumulated worldliness and sophistication, I feel like I'm in tune more than most with the seniors.

I Am Your Neighbor CK Perez - ParentUnplugged - Stacy Snyder
Photograph by Adeline Sides
But CK Perez, this mighty mouse ball of physical energy that my co-host, Tammy Azzarello has known for over twenty years through the YMCA, took me by surprise!  While I expected from her a powerhouse of strength from years of swimming, lifeguarding, bodybuilding, dancing, rock climbing, and biking, I did not expect it to be backed by so much self-reflection and scattered life experiences.

Bottom line, after hearing about CK's impact on Tammy, I hoped for a neat little package of connected dots that all led to an end result of an 80-something-year-old human with life's purpose securely emblazoned on her chest.  Instead, CK showed me - through weeks of scouring our interview clips with her - that just doing for the sake of doing for yourself, is a perfect representation of chasing your happy, at any age.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

This Is How We Do It

Stacy Snyder - ParentUnplugged - This Is How We Do ItI made a rare appearance in church a few ago to attend my youngest daughter’s First Communion rehearsal.  My cradle Catholic wife, who took the sole responsibility of ushering our 8-year-old back and forth to CCD and church every Sunday for the last few years, was out of town for her new job training, so I filled in.  To be honest, I didn’t want to go.

Despite converting to Catholicism a few years ago after completing RCIA, I never found the immense comfort in the church and its rituals that my ‘growin’ up Catholic’ counterparts touted.  In fact, I still feel the exact opposite in mass…uncomfortable as an outsider.  My daughter’s excitement during the rehearsal and nervousness over the upcoming milestone reminded me of my purpose, though, and I relaxed and leaned into the pew.  

After the coordinator gave the specific instructions to the kids on how to act, when to walk, and where to sit, Father Grassi, our longtime pastor who is retiring at the end of this year, grabbed the mic and gave the parents some ‘helpful hints’ about how to make this event go down smoothly.

“Have your kids here at 9:30am.  Not 9:40, not 5 till 10, not quarter of, but 9:30am.  Parents, don’t make your kids suffer on one of the most important days of their lives because of your inability to be on time.  They need time to calm down, pray, and prepare for this monumental day in their lives.  Don’t put your schedule above their needs.”

Bam.  He told us.  And I heard him, loud and clear.  I’d never considered the ramifications of my own tardiness on my kids.

“And pictures, I’m going to talk about pictures.  They are not allowed during the mass.  Have some respect for the celebration and your child.  Take part in their special day by praying for them as they walk in instead of flashing a light in their eyes.  Be present.”

He went on to say that he would halt mass and ask people to leave if they take photos, which I thought was pretty awesome that he was so firm in his conviction.

The rehearsal ended, the real deal took place the following Saturday, and us parents all did as we were told and the first communicants entered the next phase of their lives with flying colors, and life resumed as normal.

However, Father Grassi’s words still stick with me and seem to apply in every situation I’ve encountered since.  Not the tardiness and the camera stuff, but the idea of taking the time to give the “this is how we do it” speech in a way that not only sets up an expectation, but also explains why said expectation is set.  

I told my daughter that it’s not acceptable to have her beau in your bedroom alone with the door closed, as it can create too much opportunity and blur the level of formality that a young relationship typically has, as well as give a very specific impression to others when done with a group of people around outside the bedroom door.  She needed to know.

While we can agree that kids need this for sure, I don’t think it’s really any different with adults.  We need to set boundaries and intention for others, as well as hear and acknowledge others’ expectancy.  Of course people don’t always meet our expectations, nor us theirs, but by spelling it out each and every time, there’s NEVER a moment when we don’t understand why something went sideways.

Think about it in terms of a job.  We’re usually given a title and a job description and training on how to execute those tasks.  If you don’t meet the written expectation, there’s no surprise when you get written up or fired for lack of performance.  
Stacy Snyder - ParentUnplugged - This Is How We Do It
Photo of Father Grassi courtesy

How about as a spouse, a mother, a friend, a patient, or a mentor?  While these don’t traditionally come with a pre-printed playbook, they run a hell of a lot smoother when we take some basic stabs at formulating rules of play!

While most people subconsciously seek boundaries, even if for the sole intent to cross them, we  have difficulty dishing out those same rules of engagement.  Why is that?  Are we afraid of ridicule, or worse yet, rejection?

As an adult with a decent education and prolonged exposure to society, business, culture, diversity and their respective norms, I still need some schoolin' from time to time on something as simple as being late. That I can accept.  Yet it’s not as easy to draw out the lines of expectation for others.  

Can I ask someone to leave when they’ve overstayed their welcome?  Can I tell a client we can no longer work together over respect issues?  Can I chase a new passion even though I have not yet fulfilled the last?  

While these questions reek of discomfort, each is answered with a resounding YES when your hand has been laid out.

I’m tired and have a long day tomorrow so it’s time to wrap it up.  I can’t do my best work when I’m distracted by the way you treat everyone around you as less than.  I need to be heard in order to survive so I keep testing the mediums until I get it right.

It all comes down to my favorite topic, which is living in the world of reality versus adhering to the stories we tell ourselves based on our own insecurities.

My favorite author, Armistead Maupin of Tales of the City, says, “The world changes in direct proportion to the number of people willing to be honest about their lives.”

This is my mantra.  This is how I roll.  Thank you Father Grassi for teaching me a lesson while existing within my world. 

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Letting It Go

Stacy Snyder - ParentUnplugged - Letting It Go
Stacy Snyder - ParentUnplugged - Letting It Go
I had an episode at the gym a few month ago where I had a meltdown of epic proportion over a personal trainer that wanted to use the equipment I was using for her own client.  I've let the anger simmer for months, always on the verge of boinging over each time I enter the gym, to the point that I've wondered about the impact of gym anger while working out, as I sometimes feel like I'm going to explode when I'm there.

I finally decided that the increased heart rate and most likely high blood pressure I experience every time I go to LA Fitness is not worth the amount I pay in monthly fees, so I finally cancelled my membership and decided to do hot yoga for a while (Om on the Range fits the bill quite nicely).  After cancelling and breathing deeply, I felt so much better, and I decided to write a letter to the officers of the company to describe my experience and offer my suggestions for better customer service in the future.

I consternated over the letter for weeks, but finally a sense of relief washed over me as I mailed off the 3-page letter, complete with pictures of where the current roped-off training area resided and where the proposed spot should be moved. I was convinced that I had done my part to ensure the future betterment of LA Fitness while concurrently getting the anger off of my chest.  

Each time I went to the gym over the next few weeks until my last membership day expired, I wondered if anyone was looking at me funny because I had written that letter.  I imagined the CEO passing it down to the the Regional Operations Manager, who who convey its contents to the District Manager, who would share the wisdom with the Manager of the Lawrence Avenue club.  Surely the  implementation of my suggestions would take place before my last day of membership.

After work one day I retrieved the following pieces of mail from the entryway:

Stacy Snyder - ParentUnplugged - Letting It Go

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

I Am Your Neighbor 1 - Circus Guy Matt Roben

Episode 1 is ripe for the plucking.  Matt Roben lives the life we all fantasize about...the one that actually feeds his passions.  Check out his anything-but-vanilla world by clicking the arrow above.

Please let me know your thoughts on the show and ideas for upcoming shows or offer to help if you're so inclined (Tammy Azzarello and I currently need someone to help with filming and editing).  Get new shows delivered to you when they come out by following my ParentUnplugged blog or typing in your email address to the right under 'subscribe by email,' or by subscribing to my YouTube channel. Or just follow me on Facebook or Twitter and check in when you want.

Whatever you do, do it because you love the show, not because someone told you to do so, including me.  As maid Aibileen told baby-girl Mae Mobley each morning in The Help, "You are kind. You are smart.  You are important."  Take that and run with it and live life the way you want to live it, as you don't need to fit into any mold, blend in with any group, or seek accolades from any society.   

Be bold.  Be strong.  Believe in yourself.  It's enough.  

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

I Am Your Neighbor Introduction

On the 4th of July in 2016, I met a new neighbor in my 'hood and instantly thought, 'we should create a talk show together.'  Over cocktails and fireworks, a loose idea was born for I Am Your Neighbor.  Tammy Azzarello and I crafted the concept of tracking down and chatting with people that live authentically, without trying to do so, as we feel that completely represents who we are.  We realized that between the two of us, the only similarities we share are natural curiosity, loud mouths, and thick black books overflowing with acquaintances that would qualify for our Chicago-based show.  We are your neighbors.

Having worked in radio as a producer and talk show host 20-some years ago in Chicago and Indianapolis, I know how to put a show together.  I've tried over the years to do my own gig, partner with old co-hosts, and even sent a Stacy Snyder demo into the OWN network, hoping for my big break into television.

None of those things worked, but they all taught me loads of lessons.
  1. I don't need a job that pays me to be a talk show host.  I can simply do it if I want to.
  2. I don't need credit after credit under my belt to be taken seriously.  I love what I do and I will be taken into account by those whom I affect, byline or not.
  3. Every thing I've done up until now has led me here and this place will lead me to the next, such as:
      ParentUnplugged - I Am Your Neighbor - Stacy Snyder
    • watching Oprah haul the 67 lbs of fat onstage in a wagon on The Oprah Winfrey Show
    • getting fired from the only job I ever LOVED, LesBiGay Radio
    • moving to Dallas to be close to family
    • losing a baby boy mid-pregnancy and processing the grief with a lack of financial stewardship
    • fleeing Dallas in an attempt to avoid becoming that which I despised
    • actively choosing a life that matters to me instead of chasing the one I think others think I should live, which only resides in my jacked up brain
    • trying and failing at getting my book published, Y'all are Gay?  How I Made it Out of Texas Alive  
    • keeping track of, i.e. sometimes stalking, every friend that has ever means something to me in my life and not giving up till they tell me to back the freak off
Today I'm happy as a lark.  I don't need anything from this show, I just want to do it and it matters to me:  simple as that.

This is the introduction.  Stay tuned for regularly updated shows, each featuring at least one Chicagoan living life to the fullest by doing what comes naturally, pursuing a passion that may or may not have relevance to any other human being!

ParentUnplugged - I Am Your Neighbor - Stacy Snyder

Please let me know your thoughts on the show and ideas for upcoming shows.  Offer to help if you're so inclined (do you know it took over 20 hours of video editing for me to come up with 5 minutes of airtime?).  Follow my ParentUnplugged blog where I write when I cannot speak effectively one-on-one, subscribe to my YouTube channel and/or follow me on Facebook or Twitter.

Whatever you do, do it because you love it, not because someone told you to do so, including me.  Know that you are worthwhile just as you are.  You don't need to fit into any mold, blend in with any group, or seek accolades from any society.   

Be bold.  Be strong.  Believe in yourself.  It's enough.  

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Same Thing Only Different

Same Thing Only Different - ParentUnplugged - Stacy Snyder
Traveling through England for the first time in my life I ran into so many well-wishers that asked me what I wanted to see while I was there.

“Not much,” was my standards response.  “I’m not a classic culture seeker.  Museums, art, and history are not my best companions. I really just want to see how other people live.”

As I circled back at the latter end of my trip to some of the lovely new friends I had encountered early on in my English travel, the question repeatedly came up, “What did you think?”

Similar to the classic response of the waitress at a Chinese restaurant I visited fifteen years ago that has been in my lingo rotation every since, when I asked the difference between #22 and #23 on the menu, "Same thing only different."

My theory is that people everywhere are essentially the same.  We all have different customs, nuances, barriers, freedoms, languages and dictions, yet inside we’re all people just trying to make some sort of connection with life.

I’m always looking for the connection with people.  I need to interact with others, whether it be with words, activities, gestures, or even just direct eye contact, which to me, is the acknowledgement of I see you and you are just as integral a part of the world as I am, no matter the differences.’

The differences often are debunked upon closer inspection. Take, for example, the blokes my girlfriends and I encountered in a Manchester pub.  While sharing boisterous conversation over wine and lagers at our own table, 3 gents, each pushing 70 and standing in a cluster at the bar in the next room over, decided to add perspective to our girls’ night exchange.  One of the men made what appeared to be a goofy-as-all-getup come-one line toward my friend.  Another made a big deal about us four of us being gay, and all three of the joes razzed us relentlessly about Trump.  Our initial impression equated to chauvinistic, albeit it jovial, drinking mates, trying to strike something up with the womenfolk. Before we began our natural ladylike habit of writing them off as assholes, the most outgoing of the three men made an attempt to relate to us by acting as the mediator between his rather outspoken top dog group leader throwing out Trumpism after Trumpism, and our revulsion at his suggestions.  After a few runs at it, the rusty middle man developed a common ground for all of us….practicing tolerance of one another.  

Same Thing Only Different - ParentUnplugged - Stacy Snyder
He discovered I resided in Chicago and pointed out that his other buddy, who was sporting the Neil Diamond look, had children living in Chicago. I tried to bridge the gap with Forever in Blue Jeans by initiating a conversation about his grown kids - where did they live, what did they do, how old were they, etc.  While his shirt was unbuttoned half way down his chest, his spirit appeared to be zipped up tight.  He wouldn’t make eye contact with me and seemed unwilling to talk about his offspring in Chicago at all.  As a last ditch effort, I asked him if he’d visited them there, and he said no, that it would never happen.

“”Why?  Do you all not get along?” I probed.  “It seems like a perfect opportunity to spend time with family with all of them in one city that you could visit in one trip.”

“They come to visit me every so often.  That’s enough,” he snapped.  End of story.

“You should visit them,” I pushed forward against his stonewalling, “I bet they would love it.”

“Oh rubbish,” he swatted me away.  “I don’t want to.  I’m a 68-year-old man. What am I going to do going in Chicago?  They have their own lives, they don’t need me.”  Bingo.  The truth of the matter.

I stopped pushing and shared with him what I guessed to be a similar situation with my own father in which he doesn’t find it necessary to come visiting to Chicago, even though it’s just a few hours drive for him from Indianapolis.  

“We don’t see eye to eye on anything,” I laughed.  “His 75-year-old opinions on politics and religion and almost everything else in life makes me often wonder if I was raised by a pack of wolves, as it so acutely juxtaposes my own 45-years-in-the-making value system.” 

But he does visit and it’s meaningful.  It feels good to be acknowledged by a parent during a visit as a grown person with my own life, even if it doesn’t overtly overlap his at all.

I left Song Sung Blue and hit it to the bathroom, thinking about how we all share the bullheadedness of convincing ourselves that the fictitious stories we create in our minds to address those things in life that we’re fearful of, is real. 

Guessing he won’t be coming to America anytime soon, I thought to myself.

As I headed back to my own girl group of four, Solitary Man held up a picture on his phone and asked me to take a look.

“This is my daughter,” he beamed as he gazed at the lighted screen showing her social activity from Facebook.  “It says she’s at Sheffield’s in this picture. Have you heard of it?”

So happens it’s a mile away from me in Chicago.  Susanna is his daughter’s name.  She’s beautiful and used to be married to an English chap and now lives the single life with a girlfriend in the states.  His boys are close by and enjoyable company.  He shared the bare minimum with me; he connected.

“Maybe I could still make the trip over,” he considered.  “What time of year is best to visit?”

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Becoming That Which You Despise

ParentUnplugged - Stacy Snyder - Becoming That Which You Despise
During this time of year, I hear so many wondrous stories of generous souls performing good deeds, like donating money, lodging, supplies, or friendship to those in need.  I pay more attention to people paying it forward, as in buying coffee for the person behind them in line or picking up another table’s tab at dinner and notice more individuals and groups spreading general good cheer.

The end of the year also seems to highlight those less touched with the holiday bug though, doing their best to bah humbug everyone around them, like the driver honking relentlessly at the Holiday Bus and the people getting off of it to get out of the way.  Maybe it’s the person throwing a huge tantrum in the return line at Target or a client demanding unrealistic results by the end of day “or else.”  Oftentimes, those examples of people not being their “best selves” as Oprah likes to call it, are the ones that stick in people’s minds the most.

“What an asshole,” I find myself automatically thinking about that person acting badly, even a day or two later when I’m describing the situation to a family member or friend. Such judgement I reserve for him or her, for being so unkind to the store clerk, or belittling to the receptionist, or obnoxious to a family member.

And the next thing I know it’s me throwing the fit.  It’s me in the gym at the membership table demanding to be provided “separate but equal” workout machines to offset the ones I use on a daily basis that have now been roped off for personal training clients only.  It’s me looking at 5 salespeople, all eyeballing each other wondering who’s gonna take the bait, who’s gonna go head to head in order to fix this situation, or at the minimum pacify me.  It’s me having a valid complaint, one that would have been much better addressed after my workout, when I could have addressed the issue in a rational, across-the-table sort of conversation, but choosing instead to present it in the height of adrenaline, 20 minutes into my workout because I was pissed that a young trainer had asked me mid-set to move off the equipment so she could use it with a training client.  It was me making the scene because I refused to leave the equipment until I’d finished my set (go big or go home) at which point she said she’d have to call a manager.  I was the asshole.  I’m the one people won’t be able to get out of their heads!

My point is this:  every one of us occasionally, some more often that others, acts, thinks, or behaves in a way that is the opposite of ‘practicing greatness.’  Neither a public fit nor a video-captured recording of ill-intent is necessary to acknowledge that every one of us has our ‘below the line’ moments.  Owning up to that fact helps me feel closer to every human being, because it reminds me that we’re all just a hair away from being in another person’s shoes.  It also helps me practice compassion toward others. 

My “what an asshole” thought when I see someone in the heat of an unsavory moment is usually followed by, “I wonder what’s going on in that person’s world to make them react in that fashion?”  To be fair, sometimes that second thought takes minutes, hours, days, or in some cases, months later to emerge, but once considered, there’s usually more to any situation than meets the eye.

For example, what if the honking guy was trying to get to the hospital to see a parent before they passed?  What if the Target lady didn’t have the money to buy her child the coat she desperately needed for winter without the exchange money from the return?  What if the client was going to be fired from his job if he didn’t fix the situation by the end of the day.  There’s usually some sort of fear ruling the behavior.  

Even in my case at the gym, if I really have to break it down, I was fearful of not being able to have enough knowledge to perform the workout I need on another machine.  The salesperson that drew the short stick with me, calmly acknowledged there is no other machine in the gym like the one they had roped off, but asked me to describe what I usually use and how.  She then took the time to show me every other piece of equipment in the gym that could be used for the same type of workout, but with just slight adjustments in usage, as well as those machines and exercises that would “bump it up” a bit or offer an alternative.  This lady took my problem and made it a non-issue within 2 minutes.  There’s no way she could have done that without putting herself in my shoes.  I found myself apologizing to her for getting fired up unnecessarily.  

It’s easier to dig our heals into scorning someone else’s choices in a difficult situation than to consider how we might handle or have previously handled similar situations ourselves.  It’s at that brave moment of recognition, though, when each of us imagines oneself in the conflict, that tolerance grows.