Are You Arguing with Reality?

ah, the good life.

I spend the majority of my days in front of a glowing computer screen. Though my job involves building, I am a facilitator of building rather than a builder myself. My fingertips are more calloused than my palms.

My situation is far from unique. Most professionals nowadays, regardless of profession, are stationed in front of glowing boxes. I also work from home, so the majority of my face-to-face interactions are Skyped or with clerks at the grocery store.

I often romanticize about what it’d be like to get back to the earth, living off of foraged lingonberries and caribou meat; maybe start a farm growing tubers and chard. Streaming would be limited to water (FYI, I’m from the suburbs and grew up in with a remote in my hand).

It’s possible that a wholesale withdrawal from society is the answer–that there’s some sort of fundamental flaw with the trajectory of humanity and a modification of the status quo is insufficient to restore balance to the planet’s ecosystems, much less my inconsistent levels of sanity.

Then again, my fantasies might have different causes. I have a tendency to make reality wrong and fantasy right. For example, if only I were tilling the earth instead of typing on a computer, I’d be happy; if only I had a new carbon fiber road bike instead of my heavy, steel one, I’d be happy. And so on.

There are a couple delusions inside these fantasies:

  1. That the current thing/person/state/activity is the problem.
  2. That the ‘instead-of” thing/person/state/activity will solve the problem.

I know this because I’ve been quite happy typing on a computer and riding a heavy, steel road bike, and I’ve been miserable in the country and riding a sweat new carbon fiber road bike.

The real function of these fantasies is that they allow me to shirk responsibility for being happy right now. Because there is something in the way of my happiness (be it a job, possession or person), I don’t have to do anything. It’s their fault.

What if we all let go of the certainty that reality–the here and now and all that entails (including who we are)–is wrong? This is not to say the world isn’t falling into an intractable psychological and environmental tailspin [couldn’t resist the opportunity to editorialize], but rather that our happiness need not depend on things being any way other than the way they are. Happiness never comes later, when. It happens now, with.

With these thoughts in mind, consider:

  1. What fantasies are you holding onto that prevent you from being happy now?
  2. Ask yourself, “If I had that thing/was that way/etc.” would I really be happier? Prove it without resorting to memory or assuming based on ideas promulgated by US Weekly.
  3. Ask yourself, “How would I be and what would I do if nothing were wrong with things as they are?” 
  4. Stop waiting for things to change or get better and start living. 

 

 

 

 

Is Your Life An Untested Theory?

Last May I wrote about how I got a job. I did not, however, say what the job was. It was with a company called LifeEdited, which, despite its literary name, involves little writing outside of countless emails and occasional copy-writing. We are constructing a new breed of American home, meant to breed a new way of American life. The first apartments are designed to test the idea that people can have everything they need from a home with a far smaller spatial and ecological footprint. The first unit, a 420 sq ft Soho apartment dubbed LE1, is extremely energy efficient, will have great indoor air quality, will be able to accommodate sit down dinners for 12 and sleep 4.

I don’t want to say I BS’d my way into the job, but I confess that when I pitched myself, I speculated, rather than pointed to, my abilities. They needed a Project Manager. I figured I had done stuff before, I had opened Excel spreadsheets, I wrote lists. How hard could it be?

It was a lot harder than I had anticipated. Turns out people go to school and get degrees for project management. Compounding this difficulty was my near complete oblivion of the design, architecture and construction industries.

My lack of skills weren’t my only problem. I knew I couldn’t do something I wasn’t aligned with philosophically. I was an under-qualified, idealist snob.

But I was undeterred by my handicaps. I needed a job pretty bad. I was getting married, running out of money and pretty done with the getting-by way of life I had been living.

And here was a job that had it all. It involved skills I believed I could possess in less than 6 months. It had a mission that brought all my literary aspirations–brevity, intelligence, purpose–into the design and architectural realms. It paid.

There was also an unanticipated benefit: it signaled a shift in my life from being an ideas-based person into a results-based one. I had always been able to construct ideas, but results–things you could touch or point to–were conspicuously absent.

I love ideas, theories and philosophies. Today, my ability to think surely exceeds my ability to make shit happen. But I now realize that tangible results are important–mostly because it’s where ideas, theories and philosophies are tested. Untested ideas, theories and philosophies are like trying to live in a blueprint rather than a home. A blueprint can look great, but unless it can be built, it’s useless (and yes, I know people don’t use blueprints nowadays).

9 months after starting LifeEdited, we are about to complete our first apartment. I’m really excited. To be a part of it, to convert an idea into a home, to make errors, to correct, to edit, to construct, has been an amazing experience, one that enriches and beefs up my thought life.

With these thoughts in mind, here are some things to consider:

  1. Where in your life do you linger too long in abstraction? Perhaps it relates to dating, your work, a spiritual/religious conviction, etc.
  2. Where are you avoiding testing your theory? In other words, where are you avoiding taking action surrounding your theory–e.g. actually dating, taking action to save the environment, being kind/sacrificing, etc.
  3. Start building. Take one action right now to test your idea, theory or philosophy.

 

You Give Me Reason to Shower

In 2010 and 2011, 2 of the coldest years in New York City history, I lived in a house with no heat. When I got home at night I put layers on. My around-the-house uniform included long johns, fleece pants, double wool socks, a t-shirt, fleece pullover, heavy wool sweater, parka, a scarf or two and a hunter’s cap. I slept in the same outfit under a sheet, a fleece blanket, a light cotton blanket I never bothered removing from the summer and four thick, down comforters.

In an incident I chronicled in this blog, my pipes froze, forcing me to perform midnight, 30-degree, water-cascading-from-the-ceiling household triage. Shortly thereafter, my landlord (a very loose designation) shut the pipes off. It had become so cold that the water in the toilet froze, forcing me to concoct creative waste removal operations. Because there was no drinking water, I walked around with jugs to fill when I had access to running water.

I lived this way partly because I was convinced that I was being spiritually tested. I was proving that I could find peace and meaning in the face of really uncomfortable circumstances. And I achieved that. I developed a physical and spiritual toughness, cultivating an ability to cope–and occasionally thrive–in harsh conditions.

But it was uncomfortable. Without so much as a fireplace, I was living in conditions that a neanderthal would probably find intolerable.

So why did I do it?

There was the spiritual thing, which had more than a trace of truth to it. Though the spiritual test conveniently coincided with diminishing savings and nearly nonexistent income.

The other reason is this: People can put up with some pretty lousy shit if they believe their behavior only impacts them. I can be miserable when I believe I’m the only one who’s subjected to it. I can live in a freezing home if I’m the only one who has to bundle up. I can let my personal hygiene fall off in tragic ways if I’m the only one smelling it.

What changed–the reason I type without gloves on a January night–was that my life became about more than myself. I got a girlfriend, girlfriend became wife, wife will one day be a mother. The guy who was okay porting collected rainwater from the roof to flush the toilet had little or nothing to do with being a great boyfriend, husband or father. It’s not that one is wrong and the other right–they’re just two different people.

In an ideal world, my motivation would be purely intrinsic, the voice of God would speak through me, divining me an intuitive wisdom that shows me the way of strength and goodness. Every so often, that’s how it goes.

More often, my motivators are extrinsic–something I cherish outside myself compels me to step into a bigger role. I want A, but A is not possible as long as I’m being B.

Let me clarify one point: I’m not promoting betraying oneself. The changes I’m referring to are aligned with who we are (our intrinsic motivation). The guy who got a job, a heated apartment and wanted to take care of others is more aligned with who I am than my previous incarnation as Nanook of Brooklyn Heights.

With these thoughts in mind, consider:

  1. Name an extrinsic motivator in your life. Preferably this is something you want to have or have but are not feeling fulfilled by (e.g. relationship, job, goal).
  2. What way of ‘being’ is preventing you from having this situation work? For me, I was being lazy and proud. Lazy about creating income and too proud to admit that I didn’t enjoy hanging around a sub-zero living room.
  3. What impact are you pretending doesn’t exist by holding onto this way of being? For example, saying you don’t care about something or want something when you really do.
  4. What way of ‘being’ could make the situation work? In my case, I had to grow up–or ‘be’ responsible.
  5. Take one action today inside of this way of being.

The Importance of Being Right

When I was 14 I had a huge crush on Michelle Pockock. She was 5’8″, had black hair down to her butt, dark, button eyes and a small mouth with thick braces. At the time, I had no experience with women and was pretty much a nonentity in my high school’s social hierarchy. Despite these handicaps, I managed to invite Michelle back to my house one afternoon. I got her into my bedroom. I remember sitting there at the edge of my bed, talking about nothing. It was the perfect setup for a makeout session. And yet…I did nothing. I did not kiss her, touch her or even hint at the depths of my passions.

Later, she joined the debate team right after I did. You could say she followed me. We had many the overnight trips that lent themselves to secreting away. Michelle and I did none of that. Perhaps frustrated by my lack of initiative, she ended up hooking up with this short, pudgy-faced douche named Kirk–a Junior who boasted that he plucked her virginity to anyone who cared to listen.

Sure, I was clueless in a way common to 14 year-olds (though this cluelessness had a long half-life). Perhaps Michelle didn’t actually like me and that’s why we never hooked up. But I believe there was another phenomenon at play; a phenomenon that thwarts plans and intentions to the present day. I was being right. In this case, I was right that she was not interested in me. Had I not been so certain about my unattractiveness, had I entertained the possibility that she liked me–a possibility affirmed by countless actions on her part–I would have made at least one move. Sure, I might have been wrong. I might have made an ass out of myself. But I wouldn’t have wondered what would have been.

I’m happy to report that I’ve come a long way in the last 21 years with my relationships to women. Though far from completely evolved in this area, I acknowledge a few possible reasons why, for instance, my wife finds me attractive.

Nonetheless, there are many areas where I cling to my righteousness. In fact, wherever I feel stuck or disempowered, wherever I fail to take action, wherever I suffer, somewhere underneath it is the determination to be right: I am being right that something is not possible; I am being right that a situation is untenable; I am being right that a person can’t change–a particularly malevolent influence when that person is me.

What if we could all be a little easier with our relation to being right? What if we could accept that all of our knowledge, the basis of righteousness, is inherently limited, and therefore an unreliable barometer for what is and is not possible? Often, this new relation doesn’t even necessitate action on our part, just a willingness to entertain possibilities outside the scope of our knowledge.

In the spirit of not being right, here are few things to think about today:

  1. Name an area where you are suffering or lack power.
  2. What do you know about this area that keeps you from taking action or finding peace?
  3. What would be possible if you were wrong about what you know?
  4. Practice being wrong. Take one action that corresponds with your newfound wrongness. Step outside the boundaries of your knowledge.

 

 

Hazy Lovers

Dear David,

I’ve been friends with this guy for about 7 years now, and we dated for awhile in high school. We go to the same college and we’ve been hanging out off and on and sometimes we make out or sleep together (no sex). Last month he texted me randomly after not talking for 6+months and asked me out to lunch. It went well and then I left to go hang out with some friends. He texted me later and asked me to hang out again. And we’ve been hanging out like once a week since then. The other day he came over and I gave him a blow job for the first time and then I had to leave for class. He told me to txt him and when I did he didn’t respond. His phone is kind of messed up/broken and he doesn’t receive txts and calls sometimes. I was waiting for him to text me back or to think, Hey this is weird she usually always texts me and my phone is broken, why don’t I text her?? But he didn’t… Does this mean he doesn’t really care about me? After a couple of days I called him and asked him why he hadn’t texted me back and he said that he never got them.. Do I have a right to be mad? We’re not together, but I was kind of having feelings for him.

Tiffany

Dear Tiffany,

“But I was kind of having feelings.” I believe this last line holds the key to all the preceding ones. What’s overwhelming me in your situation is a decided lack of clarity–lots of “kind of’s” and few “is’s” and “are’s”.

My initial–and cynical–reaction is that he kept you around until he had sex with you (or the Clintonian equivalent thereof). When he got what he wanted, the challenge and sexual mystery disappeared, he lost interest and he wanted out. I could be wrong. There could have been an issue with his phone, but the simultaneity of the blowjob and cell-phone breakdown seems a bit too convenient. Guys will find a way to be in touch with a girl they’re hot for. Continue reading “Hazy Lovers”