Musings of an Irish-American

Sometimes I think about stuff, and then I write it here…

resolution

Thus 2014 begins.

This is the time of year where the fateful (and/or dreaded) New Year’s resolution comes to mind; some people take this very seriously, and legitimately see the turning of the new year as an opportunity to make a change (or many changes) in their lives.

Then there’s the rest of us: I resolve to (work out more/eat better/live every day to the fullest/read that book from high school I never finished/start that novel/learn an instrument/ask that person out/so on and so forth).

I almost laughed when a friend of mine asked me what my New Year’s resolution was. I’ve basically written it off as a yearly exercise in futility. It always seems to be some ridiculously large overarching goal that you’re excited about for approximately 3 weeks and then, by February, you go, “Well, didn’t get that done; oh well!”

It wasn’t until I looked deeper at the word “resolution” that I decided that I’d write this post.

Resolution has a pretty standard definition: a firm decision to do or not to do something. However, it’s the root of that word that truly intrigues me and excites me for 2014.

That root, of course, is “resolute”: admirably purposeful, determined, and unwavering.

We all make resolutions with the understanding that it’s a goal, or a hope, or a wish. What it really is, though, is a promise, a purpose, a vision. Look at what you want from this life; listen to that wisdom deep inside you that gives you your motivation, your inspiration, your spark. It’s from that point at which you make your resolution; your truest self, your inner strength, or, as James Blunt so wonderfully puts it, your bonfire heart.

When you listen to that voice, making a resolution is easy, because you can throw the entire core of your being behind it, and you’ll love every second of it.

Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t say that achieving that resolution would be easy. As I keep learning, anything worth doing on this rock isn’t easy; it takes sweat, tears, passion, love, support, effort and whole host of other things to work toward your goals. What I am saying, though, is that you can make a resolution that you are in alignment with, month after month, and go after with an admirable purpose, a gritty determination and an unwavering sensibility to do something amazing.

Last night, I rang in the New Year with a dear group of friends; we’ve all reached that point where, as one of them has so truly put it, we have to find our own traditions to put together so we can see one another. Just after midnight, I shared a poem by Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, excerpted here:

“Do not go gentle into that good night./Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

As this New Year begins, seek light, both your own and the one that burns within each soul you encounter. Be resolute in your life, so that others see and embrace that resolution in their own lives. Thomas was talking about the light of day; I encourage you to rage against the dying of any light, my friends.

A happy and healthy New Year; let’s make 2014 the best yet :-)

-MJH

learn to do good

Never has my blog’s domain name applied to my situation more than it does now; truly, this is a post about making sense of life.

A week ago today, I received a phone call from my friend & fraternity brother Matt to inform me that our dear friend & brother Chris had lost his battle with leukemia.

I was stunned; Chris’ initial diagnosis was surprising, because he was one of the fittest people I knew. He was an avid bicyclist, even after a ridiculous accident during the 2010 Little 5 race at DePauw where he suffered a concussion because of the recklessness of another participant. Over the last year and a half, Chris had battled against the odds, and he had kicked their ass.

Unfortunately, his body just couldn’t keep fighting a battle that he had been winning. Losing a friend who is your age is extremely difficult, no matter how old or young you are, because you knew them. You remember their quips and mannerisms, their likes and dislikes, their smile and demeanor.

I thought about in what way I could process this loss in this medium, when I found the most fitting tribute to Chris I could possibly share.

The age we live in is a very different one, especially because of technology. There was no Facebook in days of yore; when someone passed away, most of what was left was memories and letters. Today, there’s a digital imprint that lasts past your earthly existence; it’s an extremely surreal occurrence, as you look at pictures and posts that have been shared from this person that you no longer can share those moments with. It’s because of this occurrence, however, that I’m able to share this, to honor the memory of this wonderful friend.

On December 12, 2008, I shared a post about how a family friend, Sammie Williams, had passed away. A few days later, Chris posted this on my Facebook.

Image

I came upon this as I was with friends reminiscing about Chris, and I realized it spoke to the core of the kind of person he was. Chris read that post and was considerate enough to write to me about it. He didn’t have to do that, but he did it because that’s who he was. Chris was caring and compassionate without fail; he was always quick with a joke or a quip to lighten the mood and brighten your spirit.

This was a difficult week for everyone whose life was touched by this vibrant soul. On Saturday, many people gathered at the funeral service to honor and pay tribute to Chris, and the Biblical passage from the worship aid still resonates with me.

“Learn to do good, search for justice, help the oppressed.” – Isaiah 1:17

We miss you tremendously, Chris, and I deeply believe that, if the everyone in the world was a bit more like Chris Alonzi, the world would be a much more pleasant and loving place.

-MJH

sharing our work

Another contribution made to the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre‘s blog; this time about the family we create as actors. So blessed to be sharing collaborative work with these talented folk.

-MJH

a cameo (if you will)

As a part of my work on A Christmas Carol at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, I’ve decided to be a guest contributor on their blog, providing fun insights and tidbits about the rehearsal process and whatnot. My first post there just went live; I’ll be linking from here when I do post over there (and hopefully create something “Musings”-specific in that period too!)

a job

2 things:

1) of course it takes me more than three months to write another post; just when I was starting to lessen that gap

2) five years ago (count it, FIVE), I started this blog…I thought WordPress was kidding when I was sent a congratulatory message saying I registered this site five years ago.

I felt motivated to write and post on here recently, so a brief recap is also in order as a little anniversary salute.

This school year, I’ve been working with a children’s theatre group known as Boom Troupe. We go to schools all over Chicago and the surrounding suburbs doing shows about anti-bullying, drug abuse, character education and the like. During one of our shows earlier this week, we did a brief talkback with the students, and one of them asked us if we had “jobs”. I decided to field the question to tell the student that we didn’t have traditional “jobs”, as they see them, but that performing was our job. I wasn’t so bothered by the question as I was by the teachers seated near the child, who all laughed quite heartily when the student asked the question.

Perhaps I’m reading too much into it, but I couldn’t help but be a little offended at their reaction. Sure, it was dang adorable, but their laughter was an implicit endorsement of the root of the question, that is, that what we were doing wasn’t a job, and that any good student should obviously aspire one day to have a “job”, and not anything else.

It highlighted to me the immense flaw that exists in our current education system: essentially, to quash creativity. Sure, the kids have music and art once a week, so that should be enough right?

No. The answer is always no.

By compartmentalizing education as such, and not encouraging students to explore their creativity, we create a culture of compliance. Am I saying that to comply is always bad? Absolutely not; there is so much to be said for the process of collaboration. But if we continue to teach our children that they need to learn the most about basic subjects, like math, science, history, English and the like, but never encourage them to seek any artistic or creative outlet, we will have a society of people who don’t know how to direct themselves. They’ll constantly be looking for opportunities to fit in and comply, rather than expressing the truest depths of their being.

I’ve recently read (and am re-reading) Ignore Everybody And 39 Other Keys to Creativity by Hugh MacLeod.  In it MacLeod offers up this point: “Everyone is born creative; everyone is given a box of crayons in kindergarten.” His point is that, when we have a creative urge, it’s that very primal part of us, the one we connected to in our youngest years, crying out for our crayons. The problem is, the way things are now, we move the box of crayons further and further away from our students and tell them, “Do it like this, or else.” It runs completely counter to the wisdom given to us by Kahlil Gibran in The Prophet: “If [the teacher] is indeed wise he does not bid you enter the house of his wisdom, but rather leads you to the threshold of your own mind.” Instead of telling students, “it must be done this way”, if we nurtured the various ways that they can create and solve in their own knowledge, we’d be empowering them to take ownership of their education and, more importantly, their lives.

A student asked me if I had a “job”; the implications are terrifying on a societal scale.

I recently watched this interview with Russell Brand; I can’t say I was a fan of his before I did, but he really won me over with his points. It also hit me in a personal place because he asks the interviewer if somehow his opinion is invalid because he’s an actor. It brought my experience at that elementary school full circle; I know that when I tell people I’m an actor, that I pretty much automatically lose a lot of credibility with them (which I eventually build back with my intellect, charm and, of course, modesty :-D). It’s enraging that that is what happens, because it’s an extension of the reason I originally posted this: that, for some rhyme or reason, because I don’t have a “job”, my opinion (or inner wisdom) must be invalid.

I think everyone in the world should take an improv class in their lives. You know why? Because the first rule of improv is to always say yes to your partner. It puts you in a place of agreement and allows you to build your scene. The life implication that nobody seems to take from it, however, is that it forces you to listen to your partner. If you know you have to agree with it, you damn well better listen to what it is when you agree with it. If we spent more time trying to agree/listen, instead of creating invalidating frameworks based on assumptions or societal conventions, the world would be a better place. Period.

Rant concluded.

Let’s check back in with me from five years ago and see where I am:
1) well, I didn’t start teaching after graduating from DePauw; self-fulfilling prophecy? Maybe. Am I happy I am where I am? You’re damn right I am. I have stopped being 10 steps ahead of myself in a constant effort to be living here and now.
2) Still listening to smooth jazz in the Fall. Enjoy!
3) Haven’t watched Boy Meets World in quite a long time; curious as to what Girl Meets World might look like. Still aspire to be like William Daniels, however :-)
4) Queen and Toto still apply (and, out of context, that sentence seems very strange).
5) I haven’t dropped the blog! I’ve just been terrible about keeping it up regularly. Perhaps that will change (especially since Mr. MacLeod suggests blogging in his book as well; glad I was a little ahead of him on my journey there). Who knows? There are many projects on the horizon!

Happy five year anniversary, with this 92nd post, some 7200+ clicks later! Thanks for being on my journey, now use this for its intended purpose and interact!!

And go grab a box of crayons.

-MJH

you’re not alone

Alright, less than three months between posts this time around (I’m getting better about this, I swear).

Since last we met, I closed one show, and opened and closed another one at Oil Lamp Theater. Tons of fun playing two different characters (a lost and confused 30 year old mathematician and a mid 20s up and coming Broadway star and, incidentally, a murderer). I’m excited to be starting my next venture, working as an understudy and completing an apprenticeship at First Folio Theatre in Oakbrook, IL. Not only will I be receiving weeks as an Equity Membership Candidate (thereby making Equity auditions much less of a nightmare), but I’ll also be challenged in a capacity I’ve never tackled before as an understudy. I’ve come to realize to embrace these challenges as they come into my life, since there’s not really much point in fighting against a difficulty in our lives.  If I’ve learned anything from the writings of Dan Millman, it’s that we have to learn to become as adaptable as possible, flowing with life’s changes, rather than being inflexible to them.

I also recently completed another year of Teen Service Week and a trip to Toronto with a friend of mine to visit another friend of mine. All of these occurrences led me back here to write a bit about where I am and where I am ideally headed. During Teen Service Week, I was blessed enough to spend the week with 39 other people to dedicate a week to serving others, living in community, forgoing some of life’s luxuries and reflecting on how all of this impacted our lives. On Monday morning of the week, I led the group in prayer to prepare them for the coming day. My primary focus was on the concept of self-love. Now, self-love is not you rolling out of bed in the morning, walking up to the mirror, doing the winking-finger gun combo and saying, “Who loves ya, baby?” I mean, it could be that, but that’s kind of the most superficial sense of self-love possible. I’m talking about the concept of being able to show love to yourself, first and foremost, especially given the fact that you are the person spend the most time with (if you’re not, this is not for you; in fact, if you aren’t spending the majority of time with yourself, you should probably contact some sort of professional). If you think about it, we’re usually our own worst critic about everything. Developing a healthy sense of self-love allows us to temper that voice that cuts us down.

It was during my planning for this prayer and the idea of self-love that I came upon a fun little mnemonic device to help along the way. It’s as easy as ABC.

Acknowledge
Breathe
Create

To begin to develop this sense of self-love, we first must acknowledge the difficulty or criticism we face in that moment. This is not to fight it, or to judge it, but to simply say, “I know this is here, and I am aware of it.” Next, we do what all humans must do to survive; we breathe, so as to bring our awareness into that moment, as it is the only moment we have any influence over (for any Millman fans out there, this is definitely a “you are here, the time is now” idea). Finally, we create a new moment; a positive thought, idea, word, anything that brings a smile to your face.

Hopefully, by doing this, we can string together many moments of positive, healthy self-love. As we do this, we kindle our own flame, which we can then use to help light that flame in others.

I’m hoping that, by writing about it, I can help bring some practical application to some of the concepts and ideas I’m currently using in my own life to yours. The way I see it, we’re not alone on this journey; we’re all on our own paths, trying to find meaning in whatever way we can, and it’s up to each of us to help one another on the way.

I leave you with a song I came upon recently by Marie Miller, entitled “You’re Not Alone”. If you’re reading this, thank you for doing so.

Until next time,
MJH

creative

As is the case on here, April is more than halfway over and I’m making my first post of 2013. I can attribute this to a whole amalgamation of circumstances, but let’s just put it down simply to investing myself creatively in my career as an actor. :-)

Since my last post, I’ve closed two shows and am currently being featured (quite happily) on stage at Oil Lamp Theater, which has become quite the creative home for me in the past year. This, along with private tutoring and working up at Immaculate Conception parish in Highland Park, has kept me quite busy, but has continued to feed into the quandary of my career as an artist.

I refer to it as a quandary because I can confidently say that I am much, much happier than I was a year ago. I have made significant forward progress in my life & career that I’m unsure I could have even conceived of this time last year. This, however, is accompanied by the inevitable issue of financial stability that comes with a career in the arts.

So, am I here to bemoan my fate as an actor and performer who’s not making boatloads of money? No, I’m certainly not. I’m here to take that challenge head on in the framework of creativity.

No matter what your background, we’re all here to create in some way, shape or form. Every moment of our lives, we’re called to be creators, of our lives, our world and our universe. The unfortunate difficulty we face is that we begin to forget this. We get bogged down by our ideas and impressions and responsibilities and forget the crucial fact that we, no matter the circumstance, create all the opportunities we have in our lives.

This is the point at which a great bunch of detractors come out of the woodwork and say, “Hey, Mr. Pie-in-the-Sky (yes, these detractors are from the 1940s), there are some things which we can’t control, so deal with it!”

Here’s the dirty little secret: you control everything in your life. It’s just up to you to 1) decide you’re going to do something about it and 2) follow through on that decision. If you’re unhappy where you are right now, here are your choices: 1) do something else that you know will make you happy or 2) stop being unhappy about it. Change your life or change how you feel (of course, these two are deeply connected and, essentially, one in the same). When you go to sleep at night, tell yourself, “I lived my life today, and tomorrow is a new opportunity to do it again”, then, when you wake up, look at the beautiful, insightful creator you see in the mirror and begin again. If your alarm goes off and the first thing you think is, “Ugh, another day”, stop, find something positive to say, and begin your day. If you start off your day with a negative thought, how can you possibly expect to progress from there?

If you have a creative outlet you’ve forgotten or moved away from, re-discover it. Write, draw, sing, act, love, play, for the love of God, LIVE. Reclaim being a creator in your own life so you can create happiness for yourself. Do this so you can help ignite that flame in others. If we each see ourselves as bearers of our own creative flame, ready to light and inspire the worlds of those around us, our capabilities are endless.

And that’s pretty friggin’ amazing.

-MJH

challenged

I recently had a friend describe my recent run of successes in terms of acting and singing as “blowing up”, which, to say the least, was very encouraging, but also gave me quite a bit of perspective on how I’ve been feeling lately.

Last Friday, on a whim, I decided to put my name on standby to audition for The Second City Training Center’s Conservatory program. Like quite a few people in my current Improvisation for Actors class, I had forgotten to sign up for a spot when registration opened, although I also hadn’t been chomping at the bit to get into the Conservatory like a lot of them had expressed as a desire at the outset of our time in this Improvisation for Actors class. By some form of providence (there she is again), I managed to get a slot with the first group going in (in fact, I ended up taking the spot of the very first person in that group); I consider this providence because 1) I might not have had a chance to audition at all from being on standby and 2) I had set a personal deadline of 4 PM because I had a show to go perform in that night, and did not want to make myself late for the show that is paying me for the sake of an audition that, even at its best outcome, would cost me something financially. I went in and felt alright about what I had demonstrated, not terribly overwhelmed, but just alright.

Word came down Monday that I had not made the cut (in the interesting form of “The audition did not allow us to admit you at this time.”). I wasn’t very disappointed, considering that, on Wednesday of the week before, auditioning hadn’t even crossed my mind. However, I knew going into class this week that I would be working and interacting with folks who had gotten into the program, and I wondered how much that would affect me in class.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t that particular aspect that affected me in class; in fact, it didn’t affect me at all. I found myself very happy for the people who had made it, because I knew they were quite deserving of it by what I had seen them do week in and week out in our class. What ended up affecting me most in class was the presence of a substitute instructor, who really challenged the class throughout the session. I have no personal beef with this person for how it all went, but I had what was, at least for the first time in a while, an almost cathartic experience from it all.

The instructor was getting after us for establishing information in the first 30 seconds of the scene, especially to make our objectives as characters as specific and apparent as possible. Each time I went up to do a scene, I found myself getting more and more frustrated about the process because I knew, intellectually, exactly what he was talking about but, no matter what I tried, I could not communicate much of it in my scenes. I reached a point where, after performing a three person scene with two of my classmates, the instructor called scene and asked how it went, and the first words out of my mouth were, “I have no idea what I’m doing.” Instead of doing what I find myself doing frequently (and sometimes successfully) by trying to talk myself out of a situation, I decided to own up to exactly what I felt at that moment. The instructor then responded quite curtly about how he didn’t appreciate improvisers judging the scene they just did, especially so negatively. I tried to verbalize to him that I was not expressing frustration or judgment about the scene, but about the fact that I felt I didn’t have a solitary idea in the world what I was doing in the scene at all. All he got from it was that I was judging the scene, which was the last thing on earth I was doing. In judging the scene, I would have been assigning blame to my partners or to the premise or to the whole exercise for my frustration. What I was doing was expressing my frustration about my seeming inability to take what he had been expressing to us and to apply it in some way. I felt so strongly about my frustration that I could actually feel the tears welling up in my eyes; here I was, a grown man, about to burst into tears in front of a group of people I barely knew. THAT was how frustrated I was.

The instructor could tell that we were all taking this pretty hard; maybe not as hard as I almost did, but mostly everyone expressed some form of discouragement when he asked about how people felt things went. It wasn’t until I sat down and had a chance to settle myself that I began to realize what was going on: dammit, I was learning. The frustration I was feeling (along with everyone else) was a plateau in progress that, in its primary form, looked like unwavering discouragement but, at its core, was really where the growth happens. As I have been told multiple times in my life, nobody learns anything when they’re succeeding; it’s the moment they fail, that they fall flat on their face, that forces them to go, “Wait, what the hell was that, and why did it happen?”

So, why the anecdotes about “blowing up”, not getting a Conservatory spot and almost crying in a class?

Because it’s all about perspective: I may not have gotten a spot in the Conservatory, but that’s because I have progress to make. In the meantime, I have more than enough to keep me on my toes: involved in a production currently, working on another, and recently being hired as a tenor section leader/cantor at a parish in Highland Park, IL. And I can either choose to let that frustration boil over and become a mess of a person, or I can relish in the process of getting to the point where I’m not going to turn into a pile of mush and know that, dammit, I’m learning, and I’m going to make it count.

-MJH

Her whole livelihood

Now Jesus sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people put money into the treasury. And many who were rich put in much. Then one poor widow came and threw in a couple of coins, amounting to a few cents. So He called His disciples to Himself and said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury; for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood.”

-Mark 12:41-44

I honestly can’t believe that I have only made one blog post this year thus far; it’s been quite the blur from the end of January until now.

The rundown: my efforts in graduate school auditions were altogether successful, as I had interest (and admission) from quite a few institutions. However, I concluded that the amount of money I would have to incur to get that training would not be worth the training I’d receive. Although I still sometimes come back to that decision, I believe that, at least in this moment, I have made the right decision. In June, I decided to give my two weeks notice at the casino, as I found the hours and lack of advancement for my own career pursuits to far outweigh the security of making a regular paycheck and working with people who I still miss. Within the week of finishing at the casino, I was cast in my first professional theatrical production at Oil Lamp Theater, playing three characters out of six one act plays to debut their new space in Glenview, IL and where I got to work with a wonderful group of people who I am so deeply glad to say are my friends. After that closed September 1, I was privileged enough to assume the role of Chief Francis O’Neill in “Music Mad”, which began its run in May, and was with them until the end of last month. Since then, I’ve been fortunate enough to be back at Oil Lamp as part of their holiday production, “It’s  A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play”, playing characters from a film that is very dear to my heart. I have also been cast in a production at Citadel Theatre Company in nearby Lake Forest, IL, where I’ll be playing Alan in Yazmina Reza’s “God of Carnage”.

So, my life, especially as of late, has been quite the flurry of activity, but I can’t imagine myself doing anything else. I, to at least some extent, am beginning to fulfill my dreams of doing what I love for a living; I can only hope that this incredible run I’m on currently continues on.

This all leads me back to the quote at the top; it’s from today’s Gospel reading. When I heard it today, I felt motivated to come back here and write about it, especially in light of where I am in my life right now, and how recent events have somewhat played into my inspiration.

About two weeks after I finished at the casino, I started working as a barista at an Argo Tea store at O’Hare International Airport. To keep my afternoons & evenings open for rehearsals, I worked opening shifts, where I had to be at the airport by 4:30 (and later in my tenure, at 4:00) in the morning to help open the store. I also got hired as a test prep tutor for a company based here in Chicago. I started teaching classes for them about 6 weeks ago. My classes are on Sunday mornings, Monday afternoons and Tuesday afternoons, each class being 2 hours. I’m also in an Improvisation for Actors class at Second City on Wednesday afternoons. So, I started having days where I was getting up around 2:40 in the morning, working until noon, teaching  a class from 3 until 5, and then going to rehearsal from 7 until 10. Wash, rinse, repeat the next day. I was, quite literally, running myself ragged. It wasn’t until I had a series of conversations with different people in my life that I realized I was trying to do everything: work a full time job, a part time job, take classes and be involved in a production. I started to wonder where I was focusing my energy, and I realized that I wasn’t really focusing it anywhere. So, I just recently finished my tenure at Argo Tea, as, out of everything I was doing, I was putting the most effort into that, mostly by having to adjust my schedule so drastically for that, only to get ultimately very little satisfaction out of it. It also stemmed from a conversation I had with a colleague of mine, who pointed out to me that, by pursuing being an actor and performer as a career, I’m taking a leap of faith, and, to an extent, that faith has been somewhat rewarded. It was some kind of providence, a sign from some power beyond my understanding, that I was cast in my first production within a week of leaving the casino; the time frame and the way in which it all happened tells me far too strongly that it can’t just be chalked up to coincidence. I have to believe that, otherwise I’m in the completely wrong profession. However, after that first sign, I started building these frameworks to keep myself safe, to avoid being perceived as not “doing something” with my life. So, here I am, focusing my energies on acting and performing, taking a bet on myself.

So, what in the world does this have to do with the quote?

In trying to do everything, I was attempting, in this analogy, to give in the abundance of my time, instead of taking the leap of faith that I need to. I will not stop until I know I have given this a complete shot, and I can’t do that until I give fully of myself to this endeavor. So, in essence, I’m seeking to not give of the abundance of my time to do what I love, but seeking to give all of myself to make this work, to use what talents God has given me to do what I honestly believe He has put me here to do.

I can only hope that I’m on my way :-)

-MJH

Chuck

First post in 2012, mostly because the end of 2011/the beginning of 2012 has been a whirlwind of activity, whether it’s been working a ridiculous amount, or preparing for graduate school auditions, I find myself wanting to post here because of what I’ve been up to, and where I’m headed. So, let me tell you a story…

On September 24, 2007, I was a Freshman at DePauw. I had about a month under my belt there, and I was just starting to settle in and really feel comfortable about the place I called home for a total of four years. The reason I write about that day now is because how it began a journey for me that just ended tonight. That night, I sat down in my dorm room and turned on the TV to watch one of my favorite shows at the time, “Heroes”, the (once) popular NBC show about people with amazing abilities because of their DNA makeup. Now it’s just a footnote to me because it led me to why I’m writing this post now; I remembered that “Heroes” was on at 7 back home (Chicago being in the Central timezone and DePauw being in the Eastern timezone), so I turned on the TV at 8 PM. Much to my surprise, “Heroes” was not on at that time, but, instead, the pilot of a show simply entitled “Chuck”. I started watching the pilot and was simply floored; the premise was ridiculous and hilarious: a 20-something college dropout working at a big box electronics store has government secrets uploaded into his head without his permission and finds himself having to work with spies for the U.S. government because of an inability to immediately extract those secrets from his head. It was on that night that I became an avid fan of “Chuck”, whether it was the truly ridiculous situations Chuck and his government handlers would find themselves in, Zachary Levi’s amazing sense of comic timing and endearing nerdiness, Yvonne Strahovski’s incomparable beauty and ability to complement Levi’s nerdy clumsiness with an effortless suaveness, Adam Baldwin’s ability to use grunting as a form of communication and play the dual role of tough guy enforcer and watchful eye over Chuck or the silly antics the employees of the Buy More would be up to while all this spy silliness was going on around them.

Over the course of five seasons (and multiple threats of cancellation), the creators and writers of “Chuck” managed to create this lovable band of misfits, imperfect characters that were perfect in certain ways and lacking in others, and developed them into people. No matter how outrageous the plot seemed (although there were plenty of times that the mythology of the show itself impressed me as well) the characters seemed like real people, who struggled with the same problems everyone does (not getting the girl, hating your job, having secrets, expansive government conspiracy…well maybe not that last one). Throughout that course, there were a few basic tenets that emerged: 1) family, no matter how much you may disagree with them, will always be there for you and, accordingly, 2) you damn well better always be there for your family, 3) you’re always better off with friends than you are alone, because the power of knowing somebody loves & supports you is infinitely more powerful than your own sense of bravado, 4) sometimes changes come from the most unexpected places and, finally, 5) no matter what, no matter how bad you think things are, you, ultimately, are in charge of your fate; yes, there may be decision makers in your life that control certain aspects of what you do, but, at the end of the day, you’re the only person who can look in that mirror and assess whether or not you’re happy or satisfied.

So, as I watched the two-hour series finale of “Chuck”, I went through a vast expanse of emotions, but I realized exactly why I did as the series closed. On one very basic level it was because I loved the characters and the show and was very sad to see it go, as with many of my favorite shows. However, on another, very different, level, it was because this show had (albeit extremely inadvertently) brought the last four and a half years of my life full circle. When I turned that TV on in September of 2007, I was a very different person, just as Chuck was in the pilot and as the show came to a close this past Friday. I was an insecure Freshman in college, unsure of where I was headed or what I was doing and still not completely comfortable with where I was. Today, although I do face uncertainty about where I’m headed, I’m able to do so with a sense of confidence that what I’m doing is right for me, and that, as long as I keep my perspective open and I remember to breathe, things are going to work. Finishing this emotional journey with what is, at its surface, a TV show has given me a sense of renewed vigor toward this next chapter in my life. For the longest time, I bemoaned my fate of having to finish my undergraduate college experience, and then it ended; then I complained that the majority of my friends were not around because college was over, and that accomplished nothing. Somehow, “Chuck” and its series finale provided the needed metaphor for me to be able to love that experience but to also have to put it aside; I and “Chuck” had some good years, but now it’s time to move on to more good years in a different way. For “Chuck”, it’s for a fanbase to make their individual minds up what happens to those characters once that screen goes dark. For me, it’s time to take a deep breath, open my eyes, heart and mind, and show the world what I’ve got.

Always sincerely,
MJH

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