"What do you mean?" Sosa asks.
"I mean I always talk about how I never quit. But that's not true. I've quit things. I quit playing softball after high school. I used to be really good at it."
"Oh, well that's not really quitting."
"I quit playing the drums. Got bored and didn't want to anymore."
I look at him. "I quit trying to learn to Moonwalk."
"Oh that's right," he says. "You DID. I'll give you that one."
Bouncy Ball # 124 - Guy outside of Vons
I'm rushing to Vons in the few minutes I have between work and an open mic to grab some groceries for the week. As I pull in, I see a man in a wheelchair at the entrance holding a cardboard sign: "Anything helps."
Perfect, I think. I didn't give away my stupid bouncy ball yet today, so I can just buy this man some food. I buy two sandwiches and an orange and put them inside a small bag with a bouncy ball.
He watches me walk up without changing his expression. I suddenly notice he's not the only homeless man at this entrance. There are a few people across the street and an older man sitting on the concrete right next to us, watching our interaction with slight interest.
"Would you like some sandwiches?" I ask.
"Yeah, sure," he says. "Thank you so much. God bless."
Once I'm in my car, I hear the other guy ask, "What'd she give you?"
"Couple sandwiches. You want one?"
His buddy declines, so the man rolls back over to the entrance and lifts his sign, my bag of sandwiches resting on his lap.
It occurs to me then how far from noteworthy this little interchange has been. In my fantasy world, I'd believed that giving this man a bouncy ball with some food might make me feel a little more connected to the world around me.
But in reality, I don't feel connected - in fact, I couldn't have been less invested in this. I mean, I didn't even realize that there's more than one hungry person sitting here. I'm obviously not the only person that stopped to give him something today, but I'm the only one who stopped so I could have a thing to write about.
I'm the only one who saw a man in a wheelchair holding a sign begging for help and thought to myself, "Perfect."
Bouncy Ball # 71 Revisited - Dad
"YES, IT'S PRETTY NICE OUT!" I scream into the phone.
"What's that?" my dad mumbles on the other end of the line.
"I SAID IT'S PRETTY NICE. THE WEATHER. IT'S BEAUTIFUL." I turn to the group of comics gathered outside the entrance to the Improv and mouth an apology.
"Well, I'm running out of things to talk about," my dad says.
We've been on the phone for almost 30 minutes, most of it consisting of him asking me the same questions and me trying to offer a new answer every time at the absolute highest decibel of volume I can reach. Some highlights from our conversation are when I yell, "ADAIR IS HAVING A BABY! SHE'S IMPREGNATED! I'M SAYING THAT MY FRIEND HAS A BABY IN HER! MY FRIEND! A BABY! SHE'S HAVING A BABY! A MAN MADE HER PREGNANT!"
And then when I'm walking down Melrose, and my dad asks if I could "use some money."
"YOU DON'T NEED TO SEND ME ANY, BUT I COULD ALWAYS USE MONEY!"
"I SAID THAT'S THE STORY OF MY LIFE! I NEED MONEY!"
"What's the story?"
"I'M SAYING I'VE ALWAYS NEEDED MONEY. ISN'T THAT THE STORY OF YOUR LIFE, TOO?"
These are how conversations go with my dad. This is part of the reason why I haven't talked to him since January - because it's nearly impossible to carry on a conversation. He can't hear very well, he's speaking to me on a cordless phone from the 90s, and he has Parkinson's, so his voice is starting to give out, making it difficult for me to make out what he's saying.
I called him today because my uncle asked me to. Otherwise, maybe I could've gone forever without talking to him.
Bouncy Ball # 71 was supposed to go to him. In March, I put a bouncy ball in an envelope along with a story I wrote about him in 2010 for okc.net, a website I used to write for. The story was nice - it's about how I feel like my dad contributed to my sense of humor, how my penchant for telling stories and making people laugh comes from him. When okc.net published it online, I sent the link to my aunt and asked her if I should send it to my dad.
She told me not to send it. She told me he was old and hard of hearing and while maybe my intentions are good, he might get confused by it, or my stepmom might read it to him and take offense to the way she's portrayed, even though it's not about her.
So I didn't send it in 2010.
And though I had the best of intentions to send it back in March, it's still in an envelope on my night stand. Not because I'm afraid of what he'll think about it - because I know it doesn't make a difference one way or the other. He can't read it - I don't think he can see well enough to read. (Or he refuses to try. Not sure which is most true these days.) He can listen to it if someone reads it to him, but my aunt's right - my stepmom wouldn't want to read it out loud and probably would take offense to my portrayal of her.
I can't read it to him over the phone. That's obvious.
The only option is maybe I can read it to him in person, but I'm not sure it'll even get through in person, and that's another 400 dollar plane ticket that I can't afford. And really, why am I trying to fix things anyway? Why is this all on me? Why am I making yet another attempt to connect to someone who just stopped trying to connect to me?
I had a great dad from when I was born to when I was 11 years old. And then my mom moved us to Oklahoma. And then my dad stopped putting in a lot of effort to see me. And then he got diagnosed with Parkinson's. And now we're here.
The truth is, I haven't talked to my dad since January because he hasn't tried to call me, either, and I was doing a little experiment to see just how long it would go if I didn't call him.
"You called me this time, so maybe next time I'll call you," Dad says before he hangs up.
"YEAH," I yell. "MAYBE!"
Bouncy Ball # 125 - Godzilla
"Close your eyes! Quick!" Sosa says.
I close them.
"All these people," Sosa says. "They have no idea."
He wants to save them all, but he's not the type of person who will yell out, "Close your eyes, Everyone! They show Godzilla in this Fiat commercial!" in a crowded movie theater.
Sosa saw the movie already yesterday, and his biggest complaint was that they showed Godzilla in a car commercial during the previews, ruining the suspense they built up about what he actually looks like with all the sneak previews, trailers, and during the film itself.
"You can open them now," he says.
And 45 minutes later, when I see Godzilla for the first time, I know I'm the only one in that theater to have that experience the way it was supposed to be.
Bouncy Ball # 7 Revisited - Jules
I can see her in my periphery, coming toward me with that stupid rolled up mat. I try and will my shoulders to touch the floor, but in the position we're in, I just can't get them down.
Jules leans her pregnant belly over my face while she places the mat underneath my head. "You're getting closer," she says, I'm guessing because she knows how badly I want to punch her right now. "Remember, it takes time."
Back in January, for Bouncy Ball # 7, I attended a free yoga class that my work offers to all our employees for the first time. I've attended every week since then, and during maybe the second week in, Jules told me I don't pull my shoulders back naturally, that I should work on that.
"Try to think about it," Jules had said. "Sit with your shoulders back just while you're typing. Once you're used to that, you can push your shoulders back while you're driving. And then you can gradually think about it more and more."
I don't do anything gradually - instead, I obsessed over putting my shoulders back, standing up straight. I DID think about it when I wrote emails. I DID think about it while driving. I think about it when I'm sitting. I think about it when I'm standing. I think about it a lot.
But for the past month, Jules has said the same exact thing to me. "You need to get those shoulders back."
A few weeks ago, I got flustered. "I'm trying," I said, but I really wanted to scream at her. "CAN YOU AT LEAST ACKNOWLEDGE THAT I'M TRYING?"
She'd nodded. "Yes, but remember, you're retraining your muscles to correct what's happened over years and years. It takes time."
Bouncy Ball # 126 - Kristin
"I didn't want to tell anyone about it," Kristin says. "I basically just told you and a couple other people."
"Yeah, I get it," I say, taking a sip of my water. "Comics are weird about things."
Kristin lives in Denver, but she's in L.A. for tonight's callback audition for the prestigious Just for Laughs festival in Montreal. She's grateful and shocked and nervous and excited all at the same time, and I'm glad I can be here to at least listen, if that helps.
"I know," she says. "And honestly, I can't even believe it. Leah, the night he called me, I was doing a show at a lesbian bar, and I went up onstage just not giving a shit. I mean, I wanted to make them laugh, but I didn't worry about what I was gonna say. So I had a really great set, and then I get this call about auditioning. I took it as a sign, you know? The fact that I was just having fun, and then this just happened for me without me looking to get it."
"I think it was a sign, too," I say. "I believe in signs. I think you're going into this the right way."
I can already tell she's much better off than me going into my first round audition back in April, Bouncy Ball # 87. She's looking at it like a bonus, a fun set that she gets to do rather than the end-all opportunity to prove that she deserves to be here. That's how you should look at things like this.
That's how I should've looked at it.
I give Kristin a bouncy ball for good luck even though I know she doesn't need it. Sure enough, the next day, she texts me that the bouncy ball was super lucky. But it's not the bouncy ball - it's her. She doesn't need bouncy ball magic because she has plenty herself. It's real, tangible, undeniable. She glows from it.
Bouncy Ball # 127 - Joe
"You're too quiet," the girl sitting across from me says. She doesn't move her face when she talks, so it looks like the words just fall out of a hole.
"You're too quiet. We don't know what you're doing."
"Oh." She's right. We're at my friend Joe's apartment in the middle of an intense game of Settlers of Catan. If you don't know the game, yes, it's nerdy, but not D&D nerdy - it's a game like Risk. Joe's been asking me to play for awhile, but I couldn't make it for the past few months.
I'm here tonight, at least physically. Mentally, I'm distant. Because I'd eaten a weed brownie before I got here, rendering me socially awkward and quiet in a game where I'm trading cards left and right without explaining what I'm doing to any of the other players.
Do you guys remember Bouncy Ball # 102? Where I ate a weed brownie and froze onstage during The Workout Room, a show I run at my house? Do you remember that I "quit" smoking weed after that?
Well, I failed. I quit for two weeks, and I started again.
I attempt to explain my card shuffling. "I traded three bricks for a rock and three bricks for a wheat, and I'm buying a development card."
That might be all I say the entire night until right before we leave, when someone starts a philosophical discussion about the nature of free will and the possibility of a unifying force. I catch the end of a sentence, a sound byte:
"...the alternate version of me where I believe I'm a super hero..."
I perk up. "You believe you're a super hero?"
He stares at me, a little taken aback, probably because I interrupted him, and this is one of five sentences I've said all night. "Uh, yeah?"
"Oh," I say. But I'm thinking about how, not even two weeks ago, I used to believe that, too.
Bouncy Ball # 128 - Him
I meet him on a Monday night at the Coffee Bean where we used to go write. I'm surprised how agreeable he is about meeting there after all that went down, after we'd crushed our relationship and our friendship to a bloody pulp.
"I made this for you," I say. "You know, because of the connect-the-dot squirrel you always talk about."
It seems so dumb to me right now that I think he might laugh, but he doesn't. His eyes light up. "Thank you so much! I love it!" He stands, hugs me, kisses me on the cheek.
"Really? You do?"
"It's perfect," he says. "You made this?"
I shrug. "Well, I just put it together."
"I love that it has a bouncy ball in it. It makes sense."
It is perfect. It's both of our ways of finding meaning in life put together. Because to him, life is a connect-the-dot squirrel. When you're in it, you can't see the point of all the separate dots and events that happen, but at the end, if you look at it all together, it's a complete squirrel.
And to me, life is dictated by bouncy balls, and they appear in the Universe like separate dots to tell me to keep going, to finish my squirrel.
To finish the story.
Ok, guys. Real talk time.
I haven't been honest with you about a lot of things. In fact, I lied to you from the very beginning.
When I started this project, this is what I said:
"I'm not looking for meaning. I'm not looking for a common thread or theme to come out of this, though I'm open to the chance that I could find one. There's no big plan for the end, and I have no delusions that this is going to make me understand the meaning of life. When I turn 32 and finish this quest, I'll just be 32. The only thing I'm looking for are stories, and in those stories, tiny connections with other people."
When I wrote this back in January, I may have even convinced myself that it was the truth, but it's not. And for the past couple months, I've been lying to all of you, yes, but it's because I've been lying to myself, and it took me this long to face myself down and admit it.
The truth is, I WAS looking for meaning. I WAS looking for a common thread. I DID have thoughts about what would make a great end to this story, and even when I started writing it, I didn't think of it as a blog - I thought of it as a book. Still, I diligently set about completing this colossal task I placed on myself, and I would like to say, in my defense, for about two straight months, I did a new thing every single day, and it was expensive, and it was difficult, and it made me anxious and tired all the time, but I fucking did it.
After that, well, I did the things I wrote about doing, of course, but I stretched the limits of the plan I'd laid out for myself partly because I was exhausted, partly because I felt like I didn't have enough time for standup, and mostly because of him.
See, about a month into this project, I started talking again to the guy who'd broken my heart, the "him" I've referred to over and over in this blog. It was innocent enough. Not only had I been in love with him, but he was also my best friend in L.A., the person I'd spent all my time with, so I mistakenly thought a month was enough time that I could talk to him again. After all, I had so many stories to tell him. I'd had so many adventures already and so many more to come.
And we picked back up right where we left off. We were inseparable, best friends again. It was like magic - he seemed so impressed by my fortitude in starting the Bouncy Ball Project, he seemed so surprised at what maybe seemed like a transformation in me, that soon enough, just like that, he wanted to try a relationship.
And so we did. While I didn't foresee that happening, I think a part of me believed that I was starting this project as some weird attempt to get him back, and when he came back, I thought it had worked. And I really really thought I was magic. For a moment there, I had everything in the world at once, and I believed that bouncy balls made it happen.
It didn't work out with us. It ended almost two weeks ago. It's the reason my last blog is so sad. It's the reason this one is so late.
The actual story is nothing new - you've heard it before. If you're the kind of person who needs to know things like that (Steve), let's just say that I was very insecure in our relationship, and he was unsure if he really wanted a relationship, and those two things just can't ever fit.
Because while there were great times, while we got along so well and agreed about so many things, while in theory we should be good together, gradually the same problems that we'd had before crept back into our relationship because we never really dealt with them. We never changed anything. We simply said we changed and rushed back into things, hoping that the past would stay past.
I don't regret it. I would do it over and over and over again because I got to know what it feels like to be in love with my best friend, and that's so rare, I'm lucky to have experienced it at all. I've never had that before. I don't know if I'll ever have it again. But I do know that I'll never settle for anything less.
So you guys, I'm admitting to you right now - this has been about a man. I don't like that it's the truth, but I can't lie to myself anymore. When it ended, that's when I realized that I'd been lying to you and to myself. That's when I realized that what went wrong in our relationship really points to a bigger problem - what went wrong with ME.
See, even though I spent a good part of the time doing new things, meeting new people, I didn't actively change the things about me that need changing, the things I've carried around inside that I need to either address or let go, the things that stop me from being the comedian, writer, and human being that I want to be. I didn't address these problems, but instead sat passively by waiting for magic to happen to me. It's easy to sit back and read the symbolism around you. It's easy to read magic into things and let the Universe tell you what to do. It's expensive and time consuming and exhausting, but easy nonetheless.
What's hard is to change your reality, and as far as I can tell, the only way to do that is to act with intent, with purpose.
I read a book on screenwriting called "Save the Cat" that broke down the parts of a movie into structured sections. If this Bouncy Ball Project were a movie, then this week's blog would be the part that the book calls, "The Dark Night of the Soul." It's where the main character hits bottom. It's the point where everything seems hopeless, right before the beginning of Act Three.
Interestingly enough, when I Googled "dark night of the soul" to make sure I knew what I was saying before writing this, I found that the phrase is a spiritual term that crosses the boundaries of several religions, and it means, "a lengthy and profound absence of light and hope."
I read several mystical websites that describe what it feels like to be in the dark night of your soul, and they all described exactly what I've been going through for the past month with my relationships, with writing, and with standup. Several things struck me about this concept. For example, TheMystic.org (yeah, yeah, I know, eat a dick) points out, "The dark night occurs after considerable advancement toward higher consciousness." The site goes on to explain that it's the necessary last state before a final transformation where "In a sense your ego recognizes itself - in the dark night - to be the disease."
I have been the disease. I have been my biggest problem.
The dark night of the soul exists in movies and in real life, and it means the same thing in both. I've thought many times over the course of my life that it's "like a movie," but now I realize that OF COURSE it's like a movie. Or more accurately, movies reflect real life. They're structured, pared down, shorter versions, but they ring true, even if they're unbelievable. And unbelievable things happen in real life. Bouncy balls appear.
So, you guys, I'm going to finish. In the last five weeks of this project, my Act Three, I'm going to first try and clean up all the messes I've made in these past five months. That means that maybe I'll be able to fix some things (I have a few ideas already), that means I'll again try to learn to Moonwalk, but it also means that I'll need to accept that there are things I cannot fix, let them be the way they are, and move on.
After I do that, I'm going to work on bettering the negative things about myself that I've let eclipse all my positive qualities. That means that maybe I'll have to change my way of thinking - for example, I need to re-evaluate the me that is always me, and the person I am when I'm in a relationship and get lost in it.
But that also means that I'll have to embrace some of the qualities I have that I've thought were bad and recognize that they're not bad at all. I'll have to figure out how to let my weirdly romantic overly passionate heart keep going because while it causes most of my suffering, figuring out how to harness that intense passion and aim it in the right direction could be the difference between being good and being great.
I have a hunch that my passion, my fight, and the intensity with which I love are not what I thought they were - huge weaknesses. In fact, I think they might be quite the opposite. I think these things might be my super powers.
And finally, after I work on myself, I'm going to try and tackle just a few of the injustices I see in the world around me. I know I can't change these things, but I think coming at them from a genuine place rather than a place of "I need to find something to write about" could make a tiny difference and return me to my original goal, which was to connect to other people.
I will write about my progress and post it weekly for these last five weeks until my birthday, July 8th. If you'd like to continue reading, please do. If you feel tricked by me, and you don't want to read anymore, I understand. Please just know I'm so grateful that anyone has read this at all - none of you had to. They're long posts, so much longer than 140 characters.
If you've contributed a bouncy ball story, please know that you helped me immensely. If you have a bouncy ball and haven't yet found a story, please know that I'm still here waiting whenever you're ready to send it in, and if you're never ready, that's okay, too.
But also know this: I'm not going on for you. I'm not going on for "him." I'm going on for ME. I'm doing this for me.
I promise to you that there will be adventures ahead and lots of references to super heroes.
And yes, there will be bouncy balls.
Bouncy Ball # 129 - Sosa
I put all the stuff he left at my house in a plastic grocery bag. I don't know when I'll talk to him again, but I know it can't be anytime soon. Because even though he's the person I most want to tell my stories to, he's the person I most want to hang out with, and he's my very best friend in Los Angeles, I love him, and I'm devastated that it didn't work between us.
Because Sosa is "him." They are the same person.
I put a bouncy ball in the bag and hang it on my front gate.