Why Decorative Lights Don’t Spread the Joy of Christmas

While they are beautiful to look at and give each home owner a sense of pride and that faux Christmas spirit, do they really spread the joy of the season?  Or could the money be better spent elsewhere?

What if instead of hanging those lights, you took the electricity costs and money spent replacing bulbs and instead put it toward doing good in your home town or the world?  What if you fed and bought clothes for children in need?  

Wired magazine stated last year that homes in the U.S. spent $233 million to power the lights on their Christmas trees alone!  That money alone could have fed every hungry mouth in North America.  Plus that is not even including the costs involved in powering your house decorations.  With the ever growing number of children hungry in the United States, not counting up here in Canada, wouldn’t it be the smart and generous decision to put that money to a better use?

Wouldn’t you rather your children know that instead of a glowing strings of lights decorating your house that you were helping other children eat well, have warm clothes for the cold months and a roof over their head?

So instead of putting a thousand shining points of light on your house this season, why not instead build a small lit sign on your front lawn showing your neighbourhood how your family has decided to opt out of the Christmas light rat race and instead wants to truly help make the world a better place.  Take the time and decorate the sign with your kids.  Put up stockings to show the number of families that your donations have helped.  Or take it to the next level and organize a neighbourhood nativity of Santa surrounded by images of elves for each child your neighbourhood will keep fed for the next year.

Be that role model for your children and be the guardian angel to those kids who can’t help themselves.  Teach them the true meaning of Christmas and maybe next year they’ll surprise you by asking for ways to help others instead of the latest gadget.

It’s a simple change that means less work for you setting up lights every year, a better bonding experience with your family and makes you the trendsetter in your neighbourhood.  So look at the statistics below and make up your mind to help eliminate hunger in your country today!

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The Soundtrack To Your Life

I’ve spoken before on how music and sound can affect the words you hear in casual conversations and about the power of the brain to fill in the gaps to those same conversations.  But it is also important to note how those same words and music can affect us emotionally and physically.

The soundtrack to our lives guide us through our days (or nights), they lift us up when we’re feeling down or motivate us to do foolish things and take chances.

For the majority of the 20th century it was the power of radio that provided that feeling of release.  It helped make time go faster while driving, to give us great songs to listen to that inspired us to keep on excelling.  Before television it gave us radio shows that inspired the brain with amazing stories that only our imaginations could visualize.  Without those radio shows we wouldn’t have had Star Wars or Indiana Jones.

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Then it changed.  With the invention of a device that became known across the world as a “Walkman” and became the defacto slang name for every portable music device until the invention of the .mp3 player.  Suddenly there was a device that could actually give your life a walking soundtrack.  Music to pass the time while you took the subway to work, biked to school, or had that second input jack so that girl you admired could listen to your latest mix tape.

It altered how we used music in our lives.  It became more personal.  Playlists became our generations mood ring and we now use those songs and movie themes to emphasize our daily lives.  Ringtones that resonate with our inner being.

For me nothing gets the blood pumping more than going for a nightly run listening to the score to my favourite horror movie.  A flicker of shadow or rustle of a plant in a dark abandoned city path can get your heart racing as your imagination fuels your base fears.  It pushes you to go faster, the pulsing beat of electronic terror.

Music guides your life.  It makes us dance.  It makes us cry.  It holds us back ,lost in key moments of our past, but it also drives us forward to explore new frontiers.

So what is the soundtrack to your life?

When You Become That Troll Under The Internet Bridge

It was just one of those casual facebook posts that flittered across my screen in the wee hours of the morning.  A link directing me to a gallery of animated .gifs of kids getting “owned” by various accidents around the house and yard.

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Now at the time I didn’t click on it.  Not that I think it’s mean to show kids being kids and having bad things happen to them.  After all, I was once a kid myself and experienced the same gentle shove of misfortune down the occasional flight of stairs.

Truth be told it was just that I wasn’t awake enough to guffaw and cringe to my maximum potential and I hate to not give something 100% of the attention it deserves.

So instead I jumped headfirst into the conversation below the link happening between friends and absolute strangers until I found the traditional response of a concerned parent.

“These aren’t kids getting owned, these kids are getting hurt.”

Of course my cynical and logical brain, before its minimum caffeine allotment,  spurred my fingers into action before the rational thought of “maybe my big mouth should not tick people off on a kid related argument” could stop it.  So hastily I smacked down that voice of reason with the desire an easy fight.  Within seconds my logic trap was set with a simple statement:

“Technically getting owned IS getting hurt, be it emotional or physical.”

So like anyone spilling a barrel of oil on the freeway I did what any semi-narrsictic human being would do – I walked away on my merry way knowing that someone would lose traction and crash into my words.  It was the internet and I was patient, and hungry, so I left for a nice breakfast of french toast and bacon.

Hours later, satiated and totally forgetting why I walked away in the first place, I returned to this sole response:

“Etymologically getting owned is being put in your place, be it through the loss of a verbal argument or competition, humiliation often being a key factor. A toddler ending in tears because they’ve cracked their head against the pavement… Ouchage- not necessarily own age.”

Well I couldn’t argue that the definition given was anything but sound.  Except there was an exception to the rule, especially when you’re feeling like a troll.

“Gravity totally owned that poor kid,” I replied.

The mother relented, agreed and the troll won the day.

P.S.: #9 is Hilarious.

Papilliographics: If you could taste the internet, would this post taste like irony?

It seems that technology is advancing to try and capitalize on all five of our senses.  In this article by Lauren O”Neil they talk about a new technological breakthrough that would allow you to taste flavours generated by the device.  While they talk about using this technology to benefit diabetics, by allowing them to taste sugar products, or for people undergoing chemotherapy, to make food taste better, it could have a much further reach into our lives.   By combining this technological advance with our online behaviour, social media experiences and love of brands and consumer goods it opens the door to a myriad of possibilities.

Would this create a new style of programming?  Would blog posts have the ability to add textures and taste to their subject line?  It would bring a whole new meaning to flavour text.  Now while that’s a pretty bad pun, it is also technically true since it would also create a whole new area of public relations study.  I like to call it papilliographics, a study of determining your target audience by their taste breakdowns (sweetness,sourness,saltiness,bitterness and umami).  It could theoretically be a database where computers would calculate the percentages of those five categories modified by the average number of taste bud receptors in a target demographics mouth.  While I won’t bore you with an in-depth analysis of papilliographics (although feel free to contact me), it’s just a taste of what would happen next.

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Suddenly internet sites would be trying to lure people in by the added flavour factors.  Who wouldn’t make it part of their day to visit Cinnabon for that daily taste sensation, especially if you were on a diet.  Imagine the cornucopia of flavours your Twitter feed would become.  How would that change your following habits?  Would the new social mavens be revered for their taste palette as well as their unique style?

Of course the coin has two sides.  Imagine stumbling across new sites on the internet for that random flavour factor – a button clicking game of Russian roulette.  Or when hackers could change an unprotected sites flavour or when you accidentally step into a forum full of trolls and you get that sewer taste of hate and disrespect in your mouth.  How many synthesized coffees would that take to get out?

It would also be a challenge to match companies to the flavours that make them unique.  Especially with a limited palette, like all new technologies have.  Would internet search engines have to be vanilla or would they get daring and go outside the basics?  After all could you imagine the taste of Google Chrome?

It would also be great for companies looking for a cheaper source of brand market research.  Starbucks could field test new flavours and gauge their reaction without having to brew one single cup.  You could taste the menu of your favourite restaurant without leaving your home.  There’d be a whole new type of taste media devoted to this.  Tasteogram anyone?

Then again how long would it take to burn us out completely from wanting to taste things in the internet and in real life?  Make us reluctant to try the unknown, make a dinner that could be burnt or have soggy vegetables, without trying them on our computer first.  

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Perhaps one day when they figure out texture and make it an exact science that might happen.  Companies could stop making real world products to save production costs and focus solely on the online experience.  They could also bring back items that haven’t existed in the marketplace for over fifty years.  Who wouldn’t want to taste that Malted Milk chocolate bar from their childhood.

It’s an interesting concept to think that one day we may be able to “taste” the internet.  It would be the next game changer for the marketing, public relations and advertising industries.  But like all new technology and how its perceived and accepted – until it happens it all comes down to word of mouth.  And with that bad pun I think i’ll end this on a sour note.  

 

Wish in Progress: How San Francisco made @Batkid Triumphant and Made a Nation and World Proud

The basic truth is this:  the Make-A-Wish Foundation has outdone itself once again.  Not just the scope of the event – which as you can see below was groundbreaking.  It is just the simple fact that through the power social media, they managed to create an inspiring campaign that gathered 10,000 volunteers to help make Miles dream come true, while also being watched by the entire world as it happened live.  After all, when the President of the United States takes time out of his day to send Miles a congratulatory video just to add to the glory he felt being Batkid, you know it is a job well done by everyone in San Francisco and at the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

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The entire event single-handedly raised the spirits of countless countries, wiping away some of the negativity in both U.S. Politics and up here in Canada.   But to talk about that Toronto topic takes away from the adventures of Miles, the caped kindergartener, so let’s continue on.

With Twitter feeds from the major villains leading up to and during the event, their jibes and banter with the world audience, and with Batkid, fleshed out a personality to equally match their comic book personas.  The world got villains they could despise and that added layer made it more realistic for all involved.

The crowds lined up to show their support while Batkid, escorted by Batman, rescued a damsel in distress.  Without fear he disarmed a Riddler trap to free her from certain doom, before racing away to capture the Riddler at the scene of the real crime.  Then in the afternoon chasing down The Penguin in the Batmobile to rescue Lou Seal, the San Francisco Giants mascot.  Topping it all off was a flash mob singing Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing (sorry wish I had a video of the flash mob to attach) while Miles, ahem sorry, Batkid, ate lunch between caped crusades.

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The resilience of this five-year old to accept the mantle of the bat and strive to live up to the ideals of his hero amazes me.

Just as it amazes me the turnout from the world to give one child the best memory of his life.  But in return that child returned the favour tenfold and gave the world an everlasting memory of its own.  That is the true magic of the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the magic inside young Miles himself.

Which is why in the end he isn’t just the hero we need, he’s the hero we deserve.  If only more of us showed the stoic courage, spirit and determination to help others as Miles showed the world yesterday.

He deserves this and a lot more.

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Should Social Media Have a Speed Limit?

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In my recent discussions with a variety of PR professionals we have talked about the rise of social media and how it has revolutionized how public relations, media and global communications as a whole.  The speed from which a story can be witnessed, recorded, published online and watched by someone across the globe is spectacular.  Long gone is the 24-hour news cycle.

Just today I got a tweet on my feed from @NASA talking about a live spacewalk that was taking place 354 km above me.  So with a click of a button I was watching an astronaut, well technically a cosmonaut, perform repairs up in space live on my computer screen.  I could hear him communicating with mission control while a NASA announcer guided those listening to the feed through what was going on.  It was captivating that technology has jumped this far in such a short span of time to be able to see, and feel a part of, something like that.

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But has it become too fast?  

With no controls the reputation of a person or business can be destroyed with false information, intentional or not, and a simple click of a button.  Within an hour that video, or mis-tweet,  can go viral and cause emotional, physical or financial damage before the truth can catch up.  

Using events that happened in the news today, I saw online debate on two separate companies who were fending off potential PR disasters due to bad tweets.  

After all, anything that you send out into the internet can never truly be erased.  Delete them all you want but somewhere, somehow, someone has a screenshot or backup of your professional or personal screw-up.  

That in my opinion is the reason why we need to accept a speed limit on social media.  An acceptable right lane where people can coast along in safety while those who dare race ahead and risk crashing in their own personal or corporate blaze of glory.  We, as a global society, need to make sure that speed isn’t of the essence, that patience will persevere and people will take that extra time to make sure accuracy overwhelms being first.

One can dream.

However, while social media is a great tool that can help those whose voices wouldn’t normally be heard, and whose causes need support, it will also attract those who seek to destroy things.  That is the double edged sword of human nature.  Again I have digressed a little from my original subject – it’s late so it tends to happen.

One of my biggest concerns of social media’s growing speed is the simple fact that it makes society more gullible and willing to accept what they read.  This goes hand-in-hand with the damage social media can cause to people and businesses.  We’re so used to breezing through fifty things flying at us through out phones that we latch onto the things that interest us and don’t give a second thought to whether they are true or not.  We’ve been trained to believe in the basic trust that what we’re being told is the truth.  Truth in what we learn in school.  Truth in what we’re told by our parents.  So naturally we see truth in what we read on the internet.

Now you can argue with me on this, that’s your right, but look at the simple fact that there are news organizations whom every day who reprint the faux stories posted on The Onion as real news solely because they see the words and trust them to be correct.  The fact they want to be first in reposting it to their audience overshadows the time they should be taking to make sure what they are printing is correct.  These are professionals who are forced to keep pace with and because of that they end up that driver in the SUV that just blitzed by you going 150 kph on your right side and almost taking off your mirror when they cut you off.

So should social media have a speed limit?  Slide into autopilot and chime into the debate.  After all it truly is an important issue that should be addressed before technology advances to the point where it’s beyond our control.

When the communication of the heart goes from a two-way street to a two car pileup in only two words flat.

We’ve all been here before.  One minute you’re having a casual conversation with someone you like and suddenly one innocuous word or sentence is taken the wrong way.  Without warning your two-way conversation starts to veer into oncoming traffic.  From her reaction you’ve said something horribly wrong, but for the life of you really can’t place what exactly that something is.  All you know is the horns of oncoming traffic are honking and your gut instinct is screaming “Danger Will Robinson, Danger!”.

So you do what you think is best: you immediately slam on the brakes and yank the conversation back onto your side of the road.  Metal screeches as the impact dings your fender and the guardrail, sparks flying, scrapes some paint off of your burgeoning relationship.  Unbeknownst to you that was a big mistake even before you thought to fix things.

Congratulations Einstein she now thinks you meant what you said.  Innocuous words no more.

Oblivious to your errors you are now reacting on pure instinct and have entered full blown damage control mode; so you ignore her glare as you step out to assess the damage.  Your foot hits the pavement of life and suddenly all you can hear is a solitary click underneath.  Was it a twig or a landline arming?  You don’t know but now you’re officially worried.  So you ask for some help but as she steps out you can see the look on her face.  You know that look and my friend you are in deep trouble.  So your worry now escalates into full-blown fear because you know in your heart that she is willing to push you over even if it means everything blows up in both your faces.

She has now got your full attention.

Now that itself is a rarity for us guys since normally we’re distracted by well pretty much everything; especially if it’s wearing a little black dress.  However in this moment the conversation becomes crisp and clear as you start to replay it in over and over in your mind.  Amazingly, it’s flashing in front of your eyes like it’s your last few seconds alive – which may well be true since that light at the end of the tunnel is obviously the six o’clock express to Lonesome Town.  So you shut up and look back at the words that caused this mess, searching for some Scooby Doo clue that could yank the mask off this mystery.  That is when you realize that all of this happened because she mistook two innocent words, in a conversation about some t-shift place, as a casual insult to her intelligence.  Part of you now hates that t-shirt company as internally you damn it for all eternity, but because she loves it you’ll always have to force a smile and sing its praises – just because you care about her.

So you exhale, drop your shoulders in defeat, and accept all the blame even though you were actually right this time.  You’ll hop on that grenade in hopes that there still might be a way to pound the dents out of that fender.  And no that’s not innuendo, so get your mind out of the gutter and back to the situation at hand.  So you plead your case like you were Perry Mason, Denny Crane and Matlock all rolled into one magnificent beast.  You tell her the truth, that you value her intelligence, that you’d play fortunes fool for all eternity just for her forgiveness.  And at the end you still can’t meet her gaze to gauge her reaction out of fear that you’ve blown it.  A few seconds pass in silence before you can hear the sounds of her laughter.  Out of the corner of your eye you think you catch a smile on her face, so with renewed faith you decide to give in and lift your foot ready for final explosion to knock you off your feet.

Nothing.  It was just a twig.

With a sigh of relief you realize that you might be safe, until you hear that car door slam and can only watch as the car roars away down that highway of life, leaving you behind in the darkness being pelted by rocks and dirt.

Guess you’re walking home.

It’s Not a Perfect Day

It’s not a perfect day.  Honestly i think i’ll go drink some Sangria in the park.  And then later when it gets dark, i’ll go home.

It’s not a perfect day.  Wish I could cheer myself up and feed animals in the zoo.  Then later catch a movie too and then home.

It’s not a perfect day.  Since we won’t get to spend it with you.  Oh, such a lousy day.  Your songs keep us hanging on.  Your songs keep me hanging on.

I just heard the news of the passing of Lou Reed and the first image that popped into my head was of a younger version of myself sitting in Buen Retiro Park in Madrid (Spain) drinking sangria and feeding the birds.  I remember it like it was only yesterday.  It was a warm and sunny Saturday afternoon and for the first time in over a week of hectic backpacking and city exploration I was finally taking the time to relax and let loose the sloth in me.  I had just put my old battered .mp3 player away so I could enjoy the sights and sounds of Spain as hundreds of likeminded people took a breather from their hectic everyday lives to enjoy their own Sangria and packed picnic lunches.  Couples kissed.  People sunbathed on the stone stairs at the water’s edge of the Monument to Alfonso XII.  It was almost magical.

A smile crept onto my face when, out of nowhere, I suddenly found myself quietly singing Perfect Day in that park as I watched the world work its wonder around me.  For those brief moments his words made me forget myself and have fun.

It was a good day and one I will always remember.

Rest in Peace Lou Reed.  Your contribution to music will never be forgotten.

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All Hallows Eve

Woe to the spirits beyond for I call upon you!  Your time has come to once again creep upon this mortal plane and to strike fear into the hearts of all man and womenkind!  Send your children out into fading light to appease the gods of old and to beg for tokens of candy to keep them from harm!

Okay, so Halloween is on the way and i’m a little overdramatic.  Can you really blame me?  After all this is the one time of year you can get away with scaring the living daylights out of people – unless you’re in a rural area and then most likely you’ll be shot just like during any other time of the year.  But that’s just common sense.  For the most part you can scare the living bejeezus out of everyone – especially kids.  You’ll be considered creepy (or might make it on some blog about child predators) any other day of the year, but on Halloween you’re golden!  It’s open scare season!  So feel free to jump out of a bush to frighten them as they step on your garden or disguise yourself as a scarecrow and sit on the porch to frighten them when they least expect it – That’s my personal favourite.  Just make sure to try and grab as much of their spilled candy as they fleet as a trophy to the old gods.  But as much as scaring kids can be a hoot, nothing is better than making a grown adult scream in terror.  You can have all the Christmas fruitcake and eggnog you want but give me a taste of sweet terror and fear and that is worth my weight in coal that Santa will be giving me in December for my sins of All Hallows Eve.

“But Stormlight how does this relate to relating with people?”

Ye gods man (or milady) will thou not let me have fun at least once per year and allow me to rant like a demon possessed?!?  After all this time of year has EVERYTHING to do with relating to people.  Because with all the ghouls and ghosts and tykes and tricksters that come to your door on All Hallows Eve you have to be on your best of behaviour; or else be on the receiving end of a trick that might result you in cleaning egg of your windows at 3am.  All that because you thought it prudent to not give that last bit of candy you were saving for yourself to those rather large and badly costumed “kids” who knocked on your door at nine.  You remember them?  The ones that tricked or treated on your steps in those break-y kind of voices that could only be puberty or a bad batch of helium.

Then again it could a case of Halloween role-reversal with you be out there.  A 30-something slouching in a badly thrown together ghost costume – you know the bed sheet with the mismatched eyeholes because you had to cut it in the dark in the closet.  That closet which you happened to be hiding in because if your wife or fiancé actually caught you putting holes in those guest sheets you “borrowed” you’d be sleeping on a couch for a week.  All that so you could score some bonus candy because she wouldn’t let you take your fair share from the kids, or the bowl you were handing out treats with at the door.

Anyways I digress. Samhain is my favourite time of the year.  It is indeed my favourite time of the year.  And not just because of everything I just said before this (especially the parts about scaring people).  As sweet as the candy, costumes and frights the current incarnation of Hallowmas brings to our October’s end;  It is the history of the night itself which I truly love the most.  A festival for the dead at the time of year where the door to the Otherworld has opened to allow faeries and ghosts a chance to return to our world and communicate with the living.   The celebration also marked the end of harvest season and the start of a darker time of the year where the nights would start to grow longer and humanity would be forced to spend more time indoors hiding in the comfort of their fires.  Of course the celebration also meant a large feast and almost every historic Samhain story involves copious amounts of alcohol being consumed by the celebrants.  And who can really argue with that.

Samhain, at it’s core, was a time where people firmly believed they could communicate to their dead loved ones, or ward off their spirits from roaming the land looking for revenge.  Of course that all changed when Christianity took over every pagan holiday on the calendar and replaced them with their own versions, so over the course of time Samhain became All Hallows Eve which in North America became the Halloween we know today.  Which I am okay with since even at the core of the revised day of celebration they still worship the kernel of it’s former glory, and that is fear.  Fear of the unknown.  Fear of the growing darkness.  Fear of something coming back from the dead… unless his name is Jesus.  Then if he’s not wanting your brains for a snack you might want to consider giving him a pass out of respect for your Christian neighbours.  We pagans are nice like that.

So unlock your doors and pray your pumpkin wards and offerings of candy corn and chocolate will keep the demons from your steps.

After all one of them might be a certain blog writer in some bad ghostly disguise and we both know that if he doesn’t get a good treat from you then you’re going to get a bad trick in return – one which will likely involve you having to wake up at three in the morning for a little post-Samhain housecleaning followed by me sleeping on a couch until Christmas for putting eye holes in the guest sheets again.

Happy Halloween Everyone!

Overcoming Fear

There is nothing more terrifying that seeing a person engulfed in flames.  Watching them stumble around, arms flailing, until gravity finally wins and they fall to their knees in front of you submitting to their inevitable fate.  It’s something you never forget – even when it’s just staged on the set of a movie.

While a primal part of you is in awe at the fearsome sight of it, that same primal part has you recoiling in fear.  That’s because deep inside of you, your instincts know that even in the most controlled of environments the danger is still real.  One wrong move or forgotten layer of protection and the worst still can happen, even if you’re a stunt performer.

The hardest part is to be able to overcome fear and panic and remain calm during the chaos.  Stay levelheaded while others are losing theirs.  Now that doesn’t mean that you will stop feeling fear after a while, that’s the worst thing that can happen.  It’s good to be afraid, it’s healthy.  What I mean is that over time you learn to control it instead of it controlling you.

I find that one of the best ways to do this is to challenge yourself on something you’re afraid of, even if it’s minor.  Personally I’m deathly afraid of heights.  Now that fear of heights is also a primal instinct, some would call it a genetic memory, hailing from our primitive ancestors where like the monkeys of today we’d reach the top of a tree and realize there was no branch above to support us.  It’s that fear which seizes your stomach and begs you to grab ahold of something fast, hug it tight for all it’s worth and to not let go.  Kind of like love, just as dangerous but that’s  a different primal instinct.  So do I let that grip of fear control me?  No, not any more.  Over time i’ve challenged myself enough to be able to push back and maintain a rational calm while it tries to scream in my ear that “This is a really really bad idea!.”  After years of pushing myself the peak of overcoming my fear of heights came on a trip to Spain where I came across a metal pole that had been imbedded into a rock on a mountain edge for over 50 years.  It was a great view that I knew I couldn’t pass up so I grabbed onto it and leaned over the edge of that cliff.  It was scary yet liberating and I wish I had the photos to show that amazing view and the shot of me holding the metal bar while leaning over.

These baby steps work.  Even if two hours later I almost slipped and fell to my doom on that same mountain.  Note:  It took a week to get that dirt out from under my fingernails from stopping my slide over the edge and pulling myself back up onto that icy mountain path.

Now in a real crisis level event, no matter how much you’ve challenged yourself there is always a chance you will still freeze.  We’re only human and every person has something that their brains just won’t be able to handle at a certain time and moment.   So don’t be too hard on yourself if it happens.  After all in times of war sometimes the strongest men and women crack under the pressure only to be held together by that person who was afraid of their own shadow until the proverbial crap hits the fan.  It’s those moments that truly define you but luckily i’ve never seen true war and I hope I, and yourself, never have to.  Not that I haven’t felt the force of explosions and come close when a blank once misfired and ricocheted over my head (that’s why you never point guns at people, especially on a film set).

But in the scope of our everyday lives it can help you.  So climb that tree.  Ask that attractive woman with the tattoos out for drinks.  Grit your teeth and swallow that fear because you can control it even when you’re watching wooden shrapnel fly around you after some actor kicks open a door with enough force to shatter it (and you can’t make a sound or else you ruin the take).  Trust me.  And don’t let that attractive woman try to talk you into getting any random tattoos – At least not until she at least buys you a few drinks first.