Run! No One’s Stopping You

As my regular readers know, a little over a year ago, I was living in an unheated apartment, concluding my second, insanely frigid winter there. For “employment”, I was languorously managing a couple unpaid enterprises, subsisting on the last bit of dough from a once-plentiful savings account.

My life wasn’t bad in my Brooklyn igloo. I had friends, an amazing girlfriend, enviable relationships with my family, great health. But there were things that seemed like they would never change, and I had the premonition that those things would eventually thwart the natural progression of the other stuff–that not making money and flushing my toilet with collected rainwater would–to a prospective wife, for example–soon transition from quirky to pathetic.

A little over a year later, I have a wife, steady, rewarding employment, a replenished savings account, heat and–check this out–a child on the way! Right?

Things change. 

Here’s the bitch of it all: I was responsible for these changes. Of course, I had amazing collaborators. I may even have had divine intervention. But it’s my experience that divinity needs permission to work its magic. I gave it.

I say none of this to boast. I actually don’t want to take responsibility for any of it. As long as life is more accident than creation–something that happens to me–I’m off the hook. I can stay inert and afraid of the new things that seem like they’ll never change.

Personal responsibility is the greatest gift and burden one can possess. It shows us that we can transcend any situation. It also shows us that all our prisons–however real they seem–are self-made.

Today, consider:

  1. What if you were responsible for your life? You don’t have to believe it. Just consider.
  2. What story would you have to give up if this were true? That your parents, a shit economy, past relationships, poor health, etc. are preventing you from changing.
  3. What would be possible if you were responsible for your life? What unchanging things might you be able to change?
  4. Take one of those unchanging things and take an action to change it (preferably right now).  

The Bouncer at the Gates of Heaven

On this site, I talk about how to handle relationships, overcome challenges, fears and the like. I tell stories about how I deal and have dealt with these various situations. I paint the picture that I have prevailed and am prevailing in the face of it all. And if I can do it, you can too! I even give instructions how.

There are many peddlers of personal empowerment like me. We are not sages, just guys and girls who’ve discovered a modicum of personal freedom and want to share our experiences with the world. Our central tenants are overcoming fear, explosive self-expression and abundant living.

But there’s a trap with producing and consuming personal empowerment: it’s that freedom isn’t an end in and of itself, it’s a means.  We overcome fear, explosively express ourselves and start living abundantly so we can get lots of dates, be famous and make lots of money.

This is a sort of spiritual Chinese handcuffs: the more we focus on becoming free so we can achieve the goals that elude us, the more we substantiate our lack of freedom. We perpetuate the notion that free people don’t get nervous, they aren’t obsequious and they certainly aren’t broke. Until we are those things, freedom will be out of our grasp. Freedom and happiness forever remain something out there, in the future, when; not something here, now.

What if freedom became our ends, not our means? What if freedom looked a lot different than what we thought it did? What if it happened in a cubicle or looking at your flabby body? What if all our indicators of freedom were false? What if we could be free now with our never-going-to-be-famous, inhibited, broke-ass selves? How might that change our day? What excuses would that take away?

Run Like an Antelope (Out of Control)

I apologize from the outset to readers who are not–or were not–Phish fans. This post might be hard to comprehend. It’s mostly directed at people who, at some point in time in their lives, let Phish into their hearts; who know what it feels like to have nothing outside of Phish matter.

For me, this era lasted from 1993-1997, with its climax occurring during the Red Rocks shows in the summer of 1994.

For the show’s first night, I convinced my buddy Aaron to make the drive down to Morrison. We got a little buzzed on tequila and a couple bowls, and entered the largely empty amphitheater. The concert was mostly songs from their just-released album “Hoist”–an album that marked a steady transition into more conventional music-making. The night was great, but it wasn’t life-altering. That would be the duty of the second night.

The second show was an all day affair. I hooked up with a bunch of heads to tailgate. We had a keg of beer in the parking lot, then ate a bunch of liberty cap mushrooms shortly before the show.

It’s impossible to convey what happened that night. The band was in their experimental-tripped-out glory. The expanse of sky overhanging the prairies visible from the Red Rocks’ bleachers was punctuated by isolated thunderstorms; bolts of lightening seemed to crack on queue with Trey’s guitar. When “Tela” was played, huge gusts blew from beyond the mountains.

A bathroom stop turned into an epic journey in serendipity. In my incapacity, I lost my party and wandered into the upper seats, which were nearly vacant. A shirtless, dreadlocked dude was dancing his ass off with his old woman. Sensing my aimlessness, he said, “Welcome to our lair. Have some of our nectar.” He handed me a jug of fresh pulped strawberry nectar. I have never tasted anything as delicious before or since.

It was a time when anything seemed possible. When oneness with creation was a realistic goal. When 18 minute jams seemed too short. When I knew what they meant when they instructed “Run Like an Antelope, Out of Control.”

Subsequent “adult” experiences have dampened some of my wonder. I bottomed out on drugs and alcohol, oneness was not achieved in relationships, nothing seemed nearly fast enough for me, etc. But I don’t want to dismiss this era as meaningless. While I don’t eat mushrooms or dose anymore (or listen to Phish for that matter), I may have been closer to the truth then than I am now.

For Phishheads and non-Phishheads alike, consider:

  1. What beliefs have you discarded, believing them the products of youthful naivete? 
  2. What ‘adult’ experiences led you to dismiss these beliefs?
  3. Ask yourself: are the adult beliefs any more valid than the youthful ones? Remember, your experience is not an indication of the truth.
  4. Choose one of those beliefs to incorporate into your day.
  5. Take an action around that belief. 
  6. Run like an antelope, out of control.

 

 

Monday Morning Coffee

Monday mornings are not typically my strongest time. Rather than the week occurring as a vast ocean of possibility, it occurs as a barren creek, whose scant water is suffused with obligation and pains-in-the-ass. This perspective usually changes by Tuesday, when I see that no one is forcing me to do anything; that I signed up for all of my supposed burdens; that they’re not in fact burdens at all, but actions inside of a greater commitment; that I do and have created my life. But not Monday. And particularly not Monday morning. That time is reserved for doom.

Rather than jumping into action, I become overwhelmed and jump to have a second cup of coffee, which sends me into a state where I simultaneously do nothing while my caffeine-addled mind scorns my inaction with improved efficiency.

This disempowered state relies on a particular conceit: that who I am is a function of what I do. If I don’t do, I am not (worthy, powerful…alive).

But what if this is a mistaken conceit? What if there were nothing to prove? What if we were inherently valuable–that our existence didn’t hinge our abilities to check items off our Google Tasks widget? How would that free us?

This is not to say things don’t need to get done. When I finish writing this, I have a shitload of things to do. The question is how will we do? Will we do under the lash of obligation, maxing out our willpower to make things happen, doing to prove we are good enough, that we matter, that we exist? Or will action flow from our inherent worth and power–from a place of nowhere to go, nothing to prove? Both work in their own way–one just sounds a bit more enjoyable.

 

 

 

 

Resistance for Breakfast

It’s 6:58am. The sky is turning a lighter shade of gray. My coffee is drained. I’ve made a few trips to my Facebook Comment App page (still haven’t figured out how to properly integrate it). Despite a LinkedIn update being the most interesting thing in my inbox, I’ve checked my email a few times. I’ve stared at my computer screen for an hour. I’ve written almost nothing.

Why can’t this be easier? Didn’t I read my previous posts? There is no time but now. Start living. Share yourself. Inspire people into action. Write.

Then I ask, “What if it’s okay that it’s not easy?” What if the struggle–the blank looks at an empty page, the seeming desert of inspiration, the useless byways to far-flung websites, the accusations that my hyper-affectionate cats are preventing my literary greatness–were, if not essential, not abnormal. What would be possible if resistance wasn’t a problem?

Most of spend our lives looking for the easy way–for the path of no resistance. Perhaps this path exists. I’ve waited 35 years looking for it…maybe 36 will be the easy year. Or maybe if I spent a thousandth of the time acting with resistance as I did looking for ways around it, I’d get done what needed to get done. Maybe working with resistance is the easy way.

What Do You Think of Me?

Self promotion is a funny thing. While most of us are dying for attention and recognition for who we are and what we do, when it comes time to actually show who we are and what we do, we demure. We don’t want to be thought boastful or self-important. We want to wait until our work is ready to put ourselves out there.

The truth is we don’t share ourselves because we don’t want to be judged. We don’t want anyone to question our awesomeness, so we keep it to ourselves, pets and small children. We value maintaining a fragile sense of self–one that cannot withstand scrutiny and judgment–more than contributing something meaningful to the world.

In December, my wife and I got married. We had a novel approach to having a wedding and we wanted to share it. The NY Times covered it and it eventually made its way to Huffington Post and Gawker. The latter website deemed it, “The Most Obnoxious, Do-Good Wedding Ever.”  One Huffpo commenter remarked of the wedding,

It was grotesquely obnoxious. It was taking people who feel socially obliged to attend and shoving your pet ideology down their throats. If you think it was affirming, substitute right-wing fanaticism for this left-wing fanaticism.

You know what? Despite this vitriol, my wife and I are okay. We still got married. The people at the wedding still had a great time. We still believe we helped people rethink weddings and marriage.

Our time on earth is too short to withhold ourselves, guarding ourselves from judgment and scrutiny. The world is going to judge you no matter what. Neither you, nor your work are ready for public display. Fuck it. Show us anyway.

Are You Dead Already?

In my last post, I mentioned that I am visiting my father soon. His health is lousy.

My dad and I share many traits–our curiosities, skeptical and questioning natures, our reverence for life, our ability to cry in public. He is my best friend. I don’t want to lose him and scarier, I don’t want my child (due later this year) to be without a grandfather. My last few days have been shot through with paroxysms of grief.

Permitting grief is new to me. Historically, my default emotional response to hard emotional situations is go numb until a threat passes (the odd bouts of congenital sobbing notwithstanding).

I thought I was doing pretty great, breaking down as I was, allowing myself to feel. Feeling is good. It’s real.

While this emotional latitude was, in some sense, a breakthrough for me, it was also missing something: my dad is not dead. Sure, he’s going to die eventually–hopefully later than sooner. But so will I, my wife, every one of my friends…even you. I saw there were two foci I could apply to this terminal condition called life:

  1. Focus on death as loss. Think about the lousy time when we will all be dead, when we will no longer share each other’s company. It’ll probably suck and be really hard.
  2. Focus on life as opportunity. Sure, we have a finite time in these bodies (fraid’ I’m not a big believer in the Singularity stuff). So what? What are we going to do with the time we do have? As Ben Franklin put it, “Dost thou love life? then do not squander time; for that is the stuff life is made of.”

I realized there was life all around me. My wife is having a child. A good friend of mine got a great job. We got some wonderful news at my work. Yes, all of these triumphs will die, fading into memory and dust, but in the meantime there’s magnificence in witnessing the cycles of life as they occur.

I also realized that I could still call my dad, which I did. There will be a time when I cannot do that, but that time is not now.

BONUS ASSIGNMENT: IF YOU DIG MY WRITING, PLEASE ‘LIKE’ ME ON FACEBOOK PAGE. I’M TRYING ON THIS WHOLE SELF-PROMOTION THING; THE NY TIMES ARTICLE HAD ME ALL WRONG.

It’s Okay, Put it Off till Tomorrow

Statistically speaking, you will probably waste your day today. You will not work on that book or painting or business. You will not go to the gym. You will be rude and impatient with strangers. You will get furious at someone on the sidewalk or highway. You will stress about money. You will spend a lot of time in front of a glowing screen. You won’t take that walk in the park. You’ll get takeout for dinner. You won’t call that friend back. You won’t take chances.

It’s okay. You’ll do it tomorrow. You’re working on it.

I’m flying out Saturday to be with my father who has lung cancer. My stepmother, wife, brother and his family will be there. It’s one of those trips.

Tomorrow is not a certainty. Stop trying to live.

What is Your Untended Blog?

Few things are sadder than untended blogs. Unlike unfinished manuscripts stashed in a drawer, the blogger’s defeat is public. You see the transition from inspiration to resignation. You see expanding intervals between posts, and finally one that starts like “sorry I haven’t written here a for a while.” It’s like the last wringing from a towel once loaded with inspiration and possibility.

Of course untended blogs are my thing. For you, it might be an unfinished canvas, screenplay, charity project, business plan, whatever. It’s that thing you started with rocket fuel in your veins and finished with lead in your shoes.

When we start things, we are usually driven by a combination of authentic inspiration and fantasized reward.

Authentic inspiration is about our gifts. I believe writing is the gift I have to give. It’s my calling. It’s an act that’s interchangeable with who I am. If that were the only reason I wrote, I would be in good shape.

Fantasized reward is where I get in trouble. When most of us do things, we fantasize our best-case-rewards. I fantasize my packed book tour appearances. Actors fantasize their acceptance speeches at the Oscars. Entrepreneurs fantasize their IPO. While inevitable, these fantasies are not very helpful; when they are not achieved in what we consider a suitable time-frame, we think ourselves failures. We begin asking ourselves, “Why bother? This isn’t going anywhere anyway.” We either stop writing, painting, networking, meditating, whatever, or do it so joylessly, we question why we started in the first place.

What if we were to do the things we wanted to do because they are extensions of who we are, not because they were the ticket to get to someplace we wanted to be? What if there was no place to get to, no reward to reap, no ceremony to attend? Would you still do this thing? I would. I write when no one is looking. If you are doing something only for the reward, or you don’t have a thing, I suggest finding something.

If you fall into the inspiration-but-stalled-or-stopped camp, consider:

  1. What is that unfinished/untended thing in your life?
  2. What fantasized reward are you holding onto that is stalling or stopping your work? E.g. your book deal, first client, etc.–the external affirmation that this is what you’re supposed to be doing. Note: it’s not your lack of time, money, etc. If you knew you were receiving $1M for doing this thing, you would find a way to do it.
  3. Give up hope for a reward. It’s probably not going to happen anyway (or it won’t be the reward you anticipated).
  4. Take one action now around that thing. Do it because it’s who you are and what you do.

 

Maybe Someday, Somehow, Someone Will Find Your Treasure

I am at the library, finishing a paper on my laptop when a routine Windows Update pops onto my screen. I am hungry, so I decided to load the update, let it install and reboot while I grab something to eat. I get lunch and when I return the screen is blue–known by many as the “blue screen of death.” Everything was gone: my photos, my paper, my music.

The most devastating thing lost was my creative writing. There was some pretty hot shit on that hard-drive: short stories, personal essays and poems that were very well received on the university workshop circuit. I would submit them one day. Maybe a literary journal would publish them. Collectors would find these early works and see them as the harbingers of literary genius that they were.

But they were never submitted. They were never read outside a classroom. They died a quiet death that day, only the embers of my professors’ praise to indicate their existence.

Some things survived the crash. I had published some stuff for the school’s literary journal and some freelancing jobs. These were the lone records that I had ever written anything. All of my someday-fantasies of being published in the Paris Review were contrasted with the reality of articles published in Exhibit City News, a rag for the trade show industry that my mom had set me up with. It wasn’t glamorous, but it was something.

I learned several lessons out of this incident:

  1. Back up. Duh.
  2. There is no right time or opportunity to put yourself out there. Many of the things I wanted to submit were waiting for me to revise or make them just right. They were ready. I was just scared that no one outside the workshop table would like them. I regret not sharing. Also, while Exhibit City News an the Columbia Observer aren’t the New Yorker, they were something. They were what was available at the time and they were fine. If I had taken more such opportunities, perhaps my writing would have developed faster and been read more widely. Sometimes we forsake many small opportunities laid at our feet for big ones that never comes.
  3. If something is precious, we must give it away. The only things I wrote that survived were the things that were published. The only surviving photos were the ones I gave to others. Giving things away extends their lives. Holding onto things results in atrophy and decay.
  4. Use a Mac.