Anesthetic Ecology 101

"Honey, doesn't watching TV just make you feel so alive?" "Yes!" Image via goodhousekeeping.com

When I got home last night, I split an acorn squash in half and pealed a head of garlic that I put it into a crock filled with olive oil.  I put both the squash and garlic in the oven.  I made some honey-mustard dipping sauce with mayonnaise, maple syrup (didn’t have honey) and mustard.  I turned on “The Godfather,” which I started watching the night before.  I watched the movie while I ate raw broccoli dipped in syrup-mustard sauce waiting for the squash and garlic to cook.

When the squash and garlic were done, I put them on a plate and smashed the garlic, olive oil and a heap of salt into the squash’s flesh.  I also put some Trader Joe’s tater-tots into the oven so I could continue eating after the squash.  By the time the tater-tots were cooked, I ate most of the squash and was uncomfortably bloated.  I ate the tater-tots anyway.  The glut of food directed all of my body’s energy toward my digestive tract, making my theretofore racing mind docile.

I watched the end of “The Godfather” (which I’ve seen at least a dozen times before), and because it was early and I’d watched all of my Netflix DVD’s and I had no internet signal and didn’t want to read, I put in “The Godfather II.”  I watched that for less than a half-hour before my food coma fully took hold.  I managed to meditate for 15 minutes, my posture kept upright by an overstuffed intestine.  I read a few pages of the book “Ishmael” and went to sleep around 11:00.

This is a rare glimpse into what I call my “anesthetic ecosystem.”  It’s a solitary world that flourishes on weekday nights when I have no plans.  It’s where I go when I don’t want to deal with shit.  When I don’t want to maintain relationships.  When I don’t want to overcome fear.  When I don’t want to clean messes.  When I don’t want to help anyone but myself. Continue reading “Anesthetic Ecology 101”

Are You a Wuss?

Sometimes you just need to man up.

When I was two, my parents divorced.  My mother received custody of me and my brother, making us a single-parent home.  Mom became the woman and man of the house, and dad an every-other-week presence with an ill-defined sexual role.

I learned little about being a man from my mother’s hermaphroditic parenting outside of the inference that if mom could take on both roles, men and women are probably pretty much the same thing excepting some anatomical differences.

Most other notions about what a man was came from TV.  BA Baracus and Hannibal from the A-Team and Magnum PI seemed like real men.  They got shit done.  They drove fast, bedded women, solved problems and fired cabbages at bad guys.  Unfortunately, they provided no instruction.  For that, I just had mom.

If you want to guarantee a boy never becomes a man, hold up a woman trying to be a man as a role model.  You don’t make the boy a man.  You make him a wuss. Continue reading “Are You a Wuss?”

I’ll Do It, But I’m Not Going to Like It

Dan and the cart in warmer days.
Dan and the cart in warmer days.

Yesterday, I was playing Battleship with my cousin’s 5 year-old son. The game started well enough but as soon as I started getting ahead (I’ve got 29 years of strategic thinking on him), he started whining.  He wanted to play, but apparently didn’t want to do it if it meant losing.  His whining got me thinking about my own recent behavior.

My friend Dan Paluska started an art/media project called “Brooklyn Mobile.”  It’s a cart he takes around downtown Brooklyn, asking people if they would like to make Youtube videos.  The intention of the project is to create a case-study in democratized news; the cart allows people on the street to be news-creators as opposed to the questionably motivated Fox News, CNN, CNBC and others.  The reality of Brooklyn Mobile is a lot of teenagers giving shout-outs to their peeps.

I often help Dan schlep the cart around Brooklyn.  The two of us hawk passerby’s asking, “Would you like to make a free Youtube video?”  We make a funny pair:  two tall white dudes with a ramshackle cart asking a primarily black and latino downtown Brooklyn population is they’d like to be on the internet.  It’s a blast.

Anyway, a film company took interest in Brooklyn Mobile and wanted to film it as part of some lame public relations campaign for a behemoth multinational corporation.  Dan is in Costa Rica, so he asked me if I wanted to do it.  Because working the cart is fun and I’m vain, I said I would. Continue reading “I’ll Do It, But I’m Not Going to Like It”

46 Days to Overcoming Your Addiction to Hope

“Hi, I’m David and I’m Hope-aholic.”

“Hi David!” roars a big crowd.

“I’ve been struggling with my addiction to hope for years, going in-and-out of the rooms of HA [Hope-aholics Anonymous].  I’ve spent countless years hoping that someone or something will make me whole.  It started when I was a kid.  I hoped that the approval of other kids would do it.  When I was a teen, it was girls and popularity.  Nowadays, it’s having a healthy relationships, a good professional life and material security that occupy my hopes.  These things sound reasonable enough, but I know that deep down I am setting myself up.  I know that as long as I hope things will be different than what they are, I can’t be okay with now.  I know that if I’m looking for something external to make me whole, who I am, as I am, will forever be insufficient.

The other night I almost relapsed on hope.  A friend had invited me to an introduction seminar for a yearlong course on how to grow my business.  I knew it was a bad idea to go.  I read on the website that there would be an open-bar of hope from 7-8. Continue reading “46 Days to Overcoming Your Addiction to Hope”

The World is Your Dutch Oven

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BI23U7U2aUY

Have you ever been sitting alone in a public space letting off stinky farts?  On the one hand, we might feel comforted by the fact that we are alone.  Somehow smelling our own farts doesn’t bother us as much as smelling other peoples.  Personally, I am strangely curious about my farts’ particular flavor profiles.  Sometimes they’re highly sulfuric, sometimes they have a rotting vegetable thing going on.  They have a certain compelling dissonance, like Schoenberg or a Michael Haneke film—you want to cover your ears or look away, but something draws you in.

On the other hand, our solitary comfort is an uneasy one.  Since it’s a public space, we don’t want anyone to enter our orbit until the smell goes away.  We do quick, dog-like sniffs, monitoring the rate of dissipation, hoping that when someone does inevitably come by, the fart’s intensity will have mellowed.  But what if they come at the peak of its intensity?  We fear what people will think of us, when they know we are capable of such odoriferous atrocities.  We fear being scorned.  Maybe they’ll walk away and avoid us in the future, affixing a scarlet F to our blousons.  Maybe no one will like us when they know our acrid insides.

Self-expression can be a bit like farting in a public space.  We feel compelled to emit something, to share our unique funk, but we are afraid of what will happen when other people are exposed to it.  What will they think of us when they smell, see, hear, touch or taste the things that lurk inside of us?

Here are some questions to ponder today:

  1. What is the fart you are trying to conceal from the world? What are you holding back, hoping no one knows about you?
  2. Are you content to worry in isolation about your fart being smelled?
  3. Or are you willing to invite people into your Dutch Oven? Are you willing to be known inside and out, giving people the opportunity to appreciate your particular funk? 

11 Ways to Make Your Bed in Time for Cartoons

Remember when waking up was fun? Image via crystalcomments.com

You wake up.  You peel yourself from bed.  You pee.  You make coffee.  You think about the day ahead.  You wonder how you will face the challenges in front of you.  You eat breakfast.  You check email, Facebook, glance at the news.

You get in the shower.  You let the warm water soothe you.  You are aware of the concerns and responsibilities that await you on the other side of the shower-curtain.  The relaxing shower makes them seem manageable.  You get the thought that today will be your day.  You will do something different today.  You will work out today.  You will eat only raw vegetables.  You will ask your boss for a raise.  You will ask that cute girl out.  You will flirt with that cute boy.  You will tell your girlfriend/boyfriend/husband/wife how much he/she means to you.  You will break up with your girlfriend/boyfriend/husband/wife.  You will read for an hour instead of watching TV tonight.  You will handwrite your grandma a card.  You will go dancing.  You will work on that novel.  You will do things differently.  You will do all the things you know you are meant to do because life is precious and short.  Carpe-fucking-diem.

You get out of the shower.  You get dressed.  You leave the house.  You get on the subway or into your car.  You pull out a magazine or your ipod or turn on the radio.  The enthusiasm you felt in the shower begins to be displaced by the thoughts that hit you when you woke up.  You get to work.  You check email again, start work, deal with whatever needs to be dealt with.  You become too absorbed in your work to ask boss for that raise.  You’ll do it tomorrow.  You go to lunch.  Raw veggies don’t sound filling enough so you get a Turkey sandwich and a cookie.  You see that girl or guy, but are too preoccupied by work and other concerns to talk to him/her.  You want to shoot your girlfriend/boyfriend/husband/wife a loving note, but think it’ll seem weird.  You return to work a bit sleepy.  The day drags.  You don’t feel productive.  You wonder what you’re doing with your life.  You get off work.  You’re too tired to work out or go dancing.  You’re not feeling inspired so the novel will have to wait.  After looking at a computer monitor all day, reading seems like a chore, so you order Thai takeout and turn on the TV.  You watch TV until 11 or so.  You go to bed, a bit disheartened but confident tomorrow will be different.  You do this for forty or so more years and die.

Give up hope of things ever getting better materially or spiritually.  They won’t.  Give up hope that there’s a good time to act.  There isn’t.  We can do something right this moment, and I don’t mean buying or eating something (for some reason, these 2 things represent a lot of people’s ideas of seizing a moment).  We can express our love, write a letter, go to the gym, meditate—whatever your truth dictates.  What matters is that it’s done now.

Stop reading and do something you’ve been waiting for a good time to do.  Do it now.

Failure Is Always an Option

I think this might be my new logo.

I’ve been thinking about marketing a lot lately.  Good marketing is what will compel readers to read what I’m writing.  When that happens I will maximize my contribution to the world and make a bit of dough along the way.  That’s my working definition of success.

The question I’ve been asking myself is, “How should I market myself?  What market demand might I fill?”

In answering these questions, I’ve surveyed successful contemporary spiritual and self-help writers (the market I see myself occupying).  I looked at their brands and asked how their approaches might be incorporated into my marketing and brand strategy.  Here are some examples:

  1. Eckhart Tolle.  Author of “The Power of Now,” he provides his readers a glimpse of reality from an enlightened perspective.  I like what Tolle says, but I can’t claim the enlightened qualification he does.  Unlike the finely-tuned Tolle, the exhaust note of truth I make sputters more than purrs.
  2. Deepak Chopra.  Author of such books as “Perfect Health” and “7 Spiritual Laws of Success,” this doctor provides a fusion of Vedic wisdom and pop science, applied to things like emotional and physical health.  My highest degree is a BA in English, so I’m of dubious academic authority.  And Chopra draws from the deep well of his Indian cultural wisdom.  I’m from the suburbs, where wisdom flows in inverse proportion to the amount of time spent in front of the TV (i.e. all the time).  My emulation of Chopra would surely flop.
  3. Pema Chodron.  Author of “When Things Fall Apart,” she delivers a Buddhist nun’s perspective to everyday problems.  In contrast to the ascetic nun, I live a pretty decadent life.  I’m sexually active, overuse Netflix and love Trader Joe’s tater tots bathed in salt.  Her angle is a no-go too. Continue reading “Failure Is Always an Option”

Tollbooth Operators, Crossing Guards and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Mother Theresa has nothing on this woman. Image via blog.freepeople.comLongboat Key, Florida, where I hang out with my family every winter, is about an 1 1/2 hours from the Tampa airport.  On the drive, we pass through 2 tollbooths.  Growing up in suburban Chicago, these types of long, tollbooth-speckled drives were normal.  I decided as a child that working in a tollbooth would be the worst imaginable job:  performing a repetitive, mindless task while inhaling exhaust fumes.

My childhood assumptions have been replaced by an adult observation:  tollbooth operators seem inordinately happy—not just in contrast to my preconceptions, but happy in a standalone sort of way.  They are almost universally cheery, smiling and courteous.  This is not just a Florida phenomenon.  The Holland and Lincoln Tunnels, the GWB, Midtown Tunnel and other Tristate toll plazas are filled with damn happy folks.  Sure, there’s a surly cop manning the booth every now and again, but for the most part they are courteous, pleasant and cheerful.

I walk 3/4 of a mile every morning to work through my fancy Brooklyn neighborhood.  I typically do it around 8:15AM, right as children are going to school.  My walk down Clinton Street takes me past a couple crossing guards.  Like the toll operators, these women (and they’re all women) seem preternaturally happy.  They know most of the names of both parent and child.  They seem untroubled by the weather, which is pretty damn cold right now.

On the walk I pass many well-dressed people on their way to work.  Perhaps they betray a different affect at work, but going there they look pretty miserable.  Few smile.  Most have sad or anxious eyes.  If I smile or look at them, they don’t seem to know what to do and look away rather than smiling back.  Most of them wear headphones and/or are tapping away on their phones, sending texts or emails; their fixation punctuated by obligatory glances at the sidewalk.

I just finished reading an article by David Brooks in the New Yorker called “Social Animal.” The subheading is, “How the new sciences of human nature can help make sense of life.”  The article uses an imaginary case study of a couple’s courtship and all of the neurological mechanisms that inform its development.  I can’t do justice to Brooks’s article, nor his argument (you should definitely read it), but I’ll tell you what I got from it.  It’s the same thing I get from seeing the smiling tollbooth operators and ebullient crossing-guards, people whose job is to interact with other people:  humans want and need to connect with one another. Continue reading “Tollbooth Operators, Crossing Guards and Martin Luther King, Jr.”

Does A 14-Year Old Run Your Life?

Based on this photo my one and only high school dance could have been worse. Image via Metromix Chicago

When I was 14 a girl named Liz asked me to the Turnabout Dance (aka Sadie Hawkins Dances, where the girl invites the boy to be her date).  I jumped at Liz’s offer.  I was new to my high school and completely incompetent with girls.  I missed Homecoming and the Winter Ball, relegated to staying home alone, searching for nipples in the scrambled images of the Spice Network.

Fate and genetics conspired to have Liz pull me out of my dungeon of isolation.  Like me, she was a gangly 14-year old.  She was 6-foot and I was a couple inches taller.  This specious bond constituted sufficient cause for partnership.

I bought a corsage and was dumped off by my brother at Liz’s place before the dance.  Her father, a 6’7”, barrel-chested, grey-buzzed-haired monster with a voice as deep as the Marianas Trench, greeted me upon arrival.   Despite his appearance, he didn’t intimidate me.  I had no devious plans with his daughter.  I wasn’t attracted to her.  Ours was a relationship of mutual beneficence:  I would serve as a date she didn’t tower over and she would get me on the first rung of our high school’s social ladder.  Liz, being a field-hockey player, was far more popular than I was.  Though she wasn’t terribly cute, she was well-liked.  A glaze of associative affection couldn’t help but improve my nonexistent social sheen.

Her dad drove us in his Lincoln Town Car to the Tivoli restaurant in Chicago Heights, the south suburbs go-to joint for octogenarians and pre-formal dancing teenagers.  We had an innocuous dinner before being driven to the dance.  I had never danced before, so all I could muster were a few awkward turns during the slow dances.  The night went as well as could have been expected, until the end. Continue reading “Does A 14-Year Old Run Your Life?”

The 168 Hour Work Week and the Case for Irony

You too can flex in the mirror. Image via NY Times.

Here is a passage from the NY Times book review of Timothy Ferriss’s new book “The 4 Hour Body”:

He can use without irony…lines like: “I was enjoying French food and a bottle of Bordeaux with a 25-year-old female yoga instructor new to San Francisco, fresh from the Midwest.” This poor woman lets slip that she’s unable to have an orgasm. Mr. Ferriss, as any humanitarian would, makes it a point to fix this problem for her. “I was able to facilitate orgasms,” he writes, “in every woman who acted as a test subject.”

I started writing a diatribe about Ferris’s passage, but I stopped myself.  After all, I haven’t read the book.  Despite what I might think about this passage, I wish him and his readers the hardest bodies.  May his words heal the masses.

But I think the Times reviewer nails it.  It wasn’t so much what Ferriss wrote, but the way he wrote it, i.e. “without irony.”  As Oscar Wilde put it, “A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal.”

The world is bloated with sincerity.  Look through most newspapers and all you see is sincerity and its evil cousin, seriousness.  We read headlines about Wikileaks and oil-spills and crazed gunmen and we absolutely know the world is screwed.

But what if the answer to all the world’s woes isn’t more sincerity, more seriousness, more knowledge?  Knowledge dooms.  Knowledge is a record of what has been, and what likely will be.  We know we are screwed because we have been.  Knowledge seldom permits what could be, because what could be cannot be known.  It hasn’t happened yet.

What if instead of more sincerity, seriousness and knowledge, the world needed more irony?  The Greek root of irony is “eirōneia,” meaning simulated or feigned ignorance.  What if even the small act of pretending to not know has the power to loosen our grip on the doomed nature of reality?  What if irony was the key to transformation?

Let me explain what I mean in a very sincere fashion. Continue reading “The 168 Hour Work Week and the Case for Irony”