Saturday, September 06, 2008

Implementing Plan B -- Maintaining Relationships 21st Century Style

A few days ago I hit the Send/Receive button to download email, a task that has become so ubiquitous in our lives, so obligatory, that one would assume that by now someone would have come up with some way to profit from it. After all if everyone and their brother is doing it, why not make some money from it. For all the would be entrepreneurs out there, the idea is yours. Take it and run with it. I'm too fucking busy. Which is the primary theme of today's rant. Indeed, anyone with half a brain should be able to think of some way to generate a decent and regular revenue stream just from attaching a product or service to anything that people do on a regular basis. Right before our eyes, sending and receiving email has turned into one of those tasks. Think of the possibilities in regards to other activities that we currently do on a regular basis. There's toilet paper. Someone is making money there. There is food in general. Not to mention the boundless collection of accoutrement that accompanies human beings' need to eat daily. Tissue paper is one of those "if only I would have thought of it products. Simple, brainless, cheap and easy to make. And yet something that will never go out of style; unless of course we eventually evolve to a point where we no longer require noses to breathe with. Shoes are another. Human beings leave their places of shelter on occasion and when they do they are accustomed to not walking around barefoot anymore as in times past. Make shoes, make money. Human beings walk on a daily basis. Create a cheap and simple product or service that attaches itself to human beings newest daily obsession -- sending and receiving email -- and a rich man you will soon be.

But alas that is not the point of this ramble. Consider it a freebie in case you are right at this very moment plum ripe and ready for a new idea to make millions with and let us move on. Spam be damned, there are at least on most occasions a few hundred emails that pour into our lives relentlessly, unceasingly, and without mercy each day, for some of us each and every God for saken hour, that are actually important and require our attention. When did it happen? Truth be told I don't think anyone really knows. Long gone are the days when email was a novelty. That was quickly replaced by email being a luxury. And then that was soon replaced by email being a downright necessity. And I may be slightly ahead of the curve on this one, or perhaps just as always three steps past eccentric and downright off the chart crazy. But I am done with email. I dug email when it was a novelty. It gave me a sense of belonging to a special elite that could get things done faster and more efficiently than most. And I relished the ease at which I could communicate with more people at a faster rate than one ever could with traditional phone, fax, and letter writing.

When it became less novelty and more of a luxury I still enjoyed it. Even appreciated it. It gave me the freedom to not have to answer the phone nor make calls anymore, nor even write letters or send and receive faxes. And we still accomplished more than ever before. But something changed. Pretty soon the whole world had email and our lives have turned into one giant button pushing nightmare. Worse yet, we have added yet another "thing to collect" to our already over-crowded lives. Thousands and thousands and more thousands of emails. Now that email has become a necessity, an annoying bastard of a necessity at that, right up there taxes and presidents and the United States Post Office, I am thoroughly entirely and adamantly over it.

My friends laughed when I first announced that I was through with email. They thought I was joking. A few days ago I hit that send/receive button just for the sheer fuck all of it -- I had no intention of actually doing anything after I did so. After all, I hadn't actually read an email since August 5th and here it was September 2nd. Don't get me wrong. I still download them into my inbox. I might glance at them. But with over 5000 unattended and unreplied to and 1300 of them still unread, there just isn't much I can do at this point about it. One thing I did happen to notice as I watched the little demons speedily pour into my inbox like rats into a half rotted corpse was the subject line of an email from one of my employees. It said something to the effect of "If you are not going to answer my emails!!!"

"Uh oh" I thought. Better click on that one and see what's up. He was mad as hell. Turned out that he was the author of at least two or three of those 1300 unread emails that had already invaded my overcrowded and overwhelmed life. I read his email. The majority of it comprised of his personal feelings regarding how dare I not even bother to reply to him. Truth was I explained to him I just wasn't doing email anymore. It wasn't a personal reflection of how I felt about him. It wasn't a conscious decision mind you. It was just sort of something that happened. I travel too much. Work too much. Play too much. And after some reflection on the matter I realized that at some point in the last few months I had already made this subtle transition to texting being my preferred method of communication. Again it wasn't intentional. It just sort of happened. Upon further reflection I came to realize as reported above that I had not actually read an email since august 5th. I might give them a glance now and then. But I just cannot bring myself to do anything with them. There are just too many of them, and how do you decide whose to reply to or not? It is all so overwhelmingly unfair seeming. So one day I just stopped.

I explained to my friend and fellow conspirator that if he needed to reach me for something that he could either text me, or Facebook message me. He already knew I didn't answer my phone, check my voicemail, or return calls. That had stopped just about one year ago to this day. So it was useless to suggest that. He knew better. So after really thinking about it long and hard I decided that if he had to email me, he could always Skype, Facebook message or IM, or text me to alert me to the fact that he had indeed sent an email that I needed to attend to. In the real world what else can we really do at this point? Email is just so 2006. And there is no way that one person can sort, handle, and reply to all the email they receive everyday. At this point each of us need at least two to three people to be doing this task for us. And then what would THOSE people helping us do about their own email? A challenging dilemma for sure.

Well the old boy got the message and chose to Skype my phone with a text message relaying the content of his concerns. It worked like a charm. I was able to then Facebook message him the information he needed and all was well that ended well.

But it did get me thinking. I had been formulating a little something I had been referring to as "Plan B" over the last few months and just had not as of yet had a chance to officially implement it. What I had noticed was the following: There were more people I loved and cared about on the planet than I had time to engage with on a regular basis. Blogging certainly helps with that. So does YouTubing. Both vehicles allow us the opportunity to communicate with large numbers of our friends and fans in one go, at least just to say hello and fill them in on our latest goings on.

Texting is also a good way to do this. I have found that after a long day I might sit for ten to fifteen minutes and text ten to twenty people a hello and anything else that might be relevant to our respective relationship. Just to touch base or to pass on needed information. Facebook -- thank God and pray that he saves and preserves the sacredness of this beloved miracle app -- is also another great way to keep tabs on and stay in close proximity to our closest friends no matter how many miles separate us. The reason that the clean, pure, simple, and elegant Facebook so quickly gobbled up the cluttered, heavily commercialized, dragged down, messy, sloppy nuisance once called MySpace was that Facebook -- at least as of this writing -- actually helps us accomplish something -- quick, efficient, authentic and sincere communication with those we work with or love or care about. The interface is simple and clean and they keep the advertisements to a minimum. There is also the tendency for those of us who live and die within the confines of that beloved app to only make friends with those who we are actually friends with. No competition for who has the most friends nor the obligation to accept friend requests from people we don't know. Facebook is not about a popularity contest. It is about real communication with real people that we actually know AND care about. Let us pray it stays that way, or I can guarantee that the whole lot of us will be off that bandwagon as quickly as we jumped off of MySpace.

But still I did notice that in the last year my life had become so busy so quickly that I was letting my life get in the way of my living so to speak -- so much so that there were many, many people who I just was not finding the time to communicate with as much as I would have preferred.
They would call and I just always felt that I never had the time to answer. They would leave messages and again I just never had the time to check voicemail, let alone actually return calls. They would email, and by the time I saw the email months had passed. I found that I was missing out on one too many invitations to things and even more disturbing I was no longer connected to the outside world much at all. Not even to my own family or closest friends. Life had become more of a marathon. A mad dash so fast-paced that it turned weeks into feeling like days, and days that seemed to only last hours.

I first observed this when a close friend mentioned to me that she and the crew didn't bother inviting me to things anymore because I was so busy that they felt guilty inviting me out because they didn't want to make me uncomfortable by always having to decline the offers which she said I almost always invariably did. This made me sad. A few days later I learned that another friend was due to be married in less than a month and that I had completely missed the announcement and invitation. (I had stopped reading regular post mail about six months prior, choosing instead to just let it pile up in gigantic stacks all over the floor around me. So people already knew not to bother to send me anything by post.) A few days after this, one of my favorite friends -- a man I refer to as a brother and feel truly honored to do so -- gave me a real bitch slapping over the phone about how many times he had called me and not received a call back. He actually went so far as to warn that if I didn't make more effort in regular communication with him that he was going to write me off. I was obviously aghast. Shaken AND stirred. I loved The King. There wasn't much use in being The Ambassador without The King by my side. And lest we forget my mom's assertion that she felt that there was simply "no sense in calling you anymore. You never answer or call back. I just assume you are too busy and I just hope that you will still come home for Christmas." Sad really.

But the truth was and still is that I, being (at least in name) the so-called Ambassador, absolutely love people. Especially my close friends and family, of which I am lucky to have many. But I was quickly recognizing that if I didn't do something about this information and communication overload that had led me to this state of tuning out from the civilized world, that pretty soon there wasn't going to be anybody in my life to tune out.

I also noticed something else. I wasn't the only one in this disturbing predicament. I noticed that there were plenty of people in my life who were also feeling the time crunch and not taking calls or replying to emails anymore. As much as I wanted to be mad and lay down some guilt speech on them, I simply could not because I was probably the worst of all of us. And for good reason. We are all just too damn busy these days. Especially those of us who live in big metropolitan cities with too much to do and not enough money to clone ourselves yet.

After some quiet and sincere contemplation of the situation, and a few discussions with others about the matter I came to understand that one of the driving forces behind this new found isolation and lack of feeling free enough to even be able to take a phone call from a good friend was this subconscious feeling we were harboring that stated that "it has been so damn long since I have talked to so and so that when we DO finally talk it will have to take a long time and I just simply don't have the time to catch up with them right now. So I won't take their call right now, but I will call them "when I have the time."" The problem with this belief is that "when I have the time" never comes around. So we simply avoid reaching out because we are afraid that we "don't have the time." Before we know it, a year passes by. We wake up one day and realize "My God, I haven't talked to so and so in over a year. How could that be? Where did the time go?"

Well once I got clear on what the real problem was I decided that something needed to be done about it. This was the impetus of what I began to refer to as Plan B. Seeing that Plan A -- regular and consistent communication with our friends and loved ones through traditional means -- just wasn't working anymore. A few weeks ago I was deep in the mountains and forests of the Great Northwest taking some much needed time off from my regularly hectic life in a literal oasis of a destination spot overlooking a giant hundred story waterfall and river. That place is called Snoquami falls by the way and I recommend it to anyone who needs a week to shut down and recharge. I received a call from our good friend and sister whom we call Tuesday here in the Diaries. She was in shock that I answered the phone. "I can't believe you answered the phone! I thought I was just going to leave a message! If you're mailbox wasn't full that is..."

"Well Tuesday, welcome to Plan B," I replied. "What's Plan B?" she asked. "Simply put Tuesday Plan B states that we are all way too busy, overwhelmed, and overbooked these days and none of us are taking enough time in our days to even say hello to those most dear to us anymore. And this is a problem. Life is moving faster than it ever has it seems and one day I'm just afraid we are going to wake up and realize that we haven't spent enough time with those we love."

She agreed and we both had a good laugh acknowledging the strange tendency, for New Yorkers especially, to take pleasure in making plans to lunch, dine, see a movie, or just hang out with each other and then cancel at the last minute. If one doesn't live in New York they might find this hard to understand. But it is a very common trend amongst New Yorkers and one that many of us take for granted. Absolutely nothing is off limits in this game we all play with one another. Tuesday and I talked about the reasons for this new trend and decided that making the plan was enough to still give one that sense of security and friendship but that due to our hectic lifestyles that we actually gained more pleasure and satisfaction from being able to cancel and just get some quiet time than we would if we trekked off to some meeting or dinner with someone. Odd yes. But very common here in the big apple. It is not uncommon to book one's entire week both day and night with one thing or another to the point of jam-packed and overflowing and then cancel more than half of the things you agreed to attend. It's just the nature of life in the big city where there is always more to do than one can possibly fit in unless one has at least one to three clones to stand in for them for various different activities. (Note to the scientists out there: get working on cloning will ya! We need it!)

After our near hysterical laughing subsided, I proceeded to explain to Tuesday the details of Plan B and invited her to share it with others, spread it virally as quickly as possible, and also to actually partake in it with me so we could in fact see each other more than once a year. Remember this is Manhattan. None of us live more than a mile or two from each other. And yet it is very easy to go an entire year without actually hooking up. My hot and sexy, smart, cool and sassy pseudo-cousin Samantha and I were just Facebook IMing today and to our horror came to discover that we have not actually seen other face to face in three years and yet we live exactly 1.3 miles from each other. That is just so New York. If it weren't so goddamned typical it would be downright tragic. But neither of us reacted at all negatively, but rather just found it hilarious. We made plans of course to have dinner next Sunday but I'd be a fool to assert that I truly believe that either of us will actually make it to that dinner. "Next Sunday" might as well be 2010 as far as New York living goes. God knows what will happen between now and then. But it sure was good making the plan. That in and of itself is a big step. Just committing to an actual day and time (which we didn't actually do).

But living breathing life forms on planet earth must inevitably adapt and evolve in order to survive. And this is where Plan B comes into play. It is an evolvement in order to do nothing less than secure our very survival. Remember the old adage yours truly once one-offed in a loud, noisy, crowded bar to an uproarious response of high fives and laughter from his friends and lovers: "Your net-worth is equal to your network." Meaning, the more people you regularly communicate with the more successful and wealthy you will be. It is a simple matter of mathematics and one of the foundational principles of networking and success. Plan B is a desperately needed emergency strategy to guarantee not only our continued wealth, happiness, and success, but also our very survival. Without friendship, love, the care of others, and real sincere human contact, we have nothing.

Simply put Plan B states this: Life is too short not to spend time and regularly communicate with the people in our lives that we love. But as we have already covered we are all just too busy and deathly afraid that if we take the time to reach out that it will require too much time that we feel we don't have in any one moment to "catch up." So we subconsciously avoid reaching out or even answering the phone and worse yet we are now reaching a stage where even email has become too burdensome and time-consuming. So it is time to implement Plan B. If you think of someone, call them, or at the very least text them. Don't put it off. It doesn't have to be a long conversation. Let go of the need to feel that we need to "catch up." Catching up is yesterday's fashion. Give it away to Goodwill. Those of us who are living life to its fullest just don't live in a world where we have time to "catch up" anymore. Just pick up that phone and say "hello, I was just thinking about you. Listen, I don't have a lot of time. But how are you? I miss you."

And the same goes for when that phone rings. If you don't recognize the number, let it go to voicemail. There is no harm in that. But if you look down and it's someone that you know and love, or someone that you work with, or someone who would be good for your career, take the call. Let them know you're busy as all hell but you love them and miss them, or that their call is important to you, and you just didn't want them going to voicemail. Spend a minute or two touching base and let that be that. No need to harbor the illusory belief that you two need to spend an hour on the phone. Just chat for a minute or two, support each other, positive talk each other, sincerely communicate together, and let it be. When Tuesday and I were hammering out this plan we both wholeheartedly agreed that we would rather talk three times a week for five minutes each than once a month for an hour. And I feel that way about so many people. We both agreed that email just doesn't cut it. Email has now been relegated to where letter writing and receiving used to be. It's a necessary evil. Not a place where our friends belong. Nope. The sweet voice heart and soul of our friends belong in our ear, if not in front of us face to face. Or at least in a text message at the least.

So far it has worked like a charm. Since implementing Plan B in my life over the last two to three weeks I have noticed my "missed call" log reduce by hundreds of calls. I just simply pick up the damn phone. Today I spoke with Weather Girl for all of three minutes. But that was fine. We talked. She got the message that I was busy, but she also got the message that I cared about her. That her calling was important to me. Today I sent a two-line email to a dear elderly woman who has acted as a mentor and godmother to me for decades now. Didn't have a lot of time but I made the time to just write "Hi there, I've been thinking a lot about you lately. How are you? I hope well. Please always feel free to call me if you ever want to talk or if you need anything. Ok. I love you." And that was that. That's Plan B in a nutshell.

You know I bet after some time that many people will come up with more ideas to add to this new method for staying connected to our friends and loved ones 21st century style. If you are one of those people, please feel free to post a comment with your idea(s). Don't expect me to comment back of course. LOL! But please know that at some point I actually do read all comments. It just might take me a few years. But let's all make this a new habit. A New Years resolution right smack dab in the middle of the year. Then again, knowing how busy YOU are, you might not actually be reading this till New Years anyway. Well regardless, let's do it. We owe it to ourselves. Life is good. It's a blessing and then some if there ever was such a thing. But life is even better when it's filled with friends and family and lovers and real honest to god sincere and authentic communication with the people we love.

Here's to Plan B. Let's do it.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

When in Doubt, We Remember These Words by Martin Luther King Jr.

When in doubt as to whether or not I should stand up for or defend something I believe in when it appears it may pose a threat or a challenge or be controversial, I remind myself of the words below by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who wrote this speech at the same age I am now. I am humbled by his willingness to act and press forward compared to my own tendencies to retreat and take no action even though there are times when I know I should.

For better or worse our lives here on earth at this time in our history are filled with examples of injustice and inequities. They are all around us; though I do not believe it will always be this way. The measure of each of us, of the very lives we were blessed with, is whether or not we make the most of what we were given to make things that much better for all while we are here. Sometimes this is as easy as a smile, a hug, a phone call, a thank you note, a donation, a sponsorship, or a helping hand to someone in need. Other times standing up for what we believe in can appear much more daunting and challenging, even frightening or life threatening.

There is not one of us who is not faced with this dilemma on an almost daily basis. But let us all as friends and lovers and associates and coworkers be inspired that the path has already been forged for us by others as the speech below reminds. And let us each commit to one another in our hearts in silence or aloud that before we pass that we will each do our absolute best. Together there will be no stopping us from creating a truly enlightened world for ourselves and for those who will come after us. --Ed Hale

“I say to you, this morning, that if you have never found something so dear and precious to you that you will die for it, then you aren’t fit to live.

"You may be 38 years old, as I happen to be, and one day, some great opportunity stands before you and calls upon you to stand for some great principle, some great issue, some great cause. And you refuse to do it because you are afraid.

"You refuse to do it because you want to live longer. You’re afraid that you will lose your job, or you are afraid that you will be criticized or that you will lose your popularity, or you’re afraid that somebody will stab or shoot or bomb your house. So you refuse to take a stand.

"Well, you may go on and live until you are ninety, but you are just as dead at 38 as you would be at ninety.

"And the cessation of breathing in your life is but the belated announcement of an earlier death of the spirit.

"You died when you refused to stand up for right.

"You died when you refused to stand up for truth.

"You died when you refused to stand up for justice.”

-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
From the sermon “But, If Not” delivered at Ebenezer Baptist Church on November 5, 1967