Fortunate for my readers, I have finished watching the PBS documentary about the Mormons, but not without a comet’s tail of inspiration from these hardworking, family-oriented, non-drinking, upright Utahans.
Many know that the two most important figures in Mormon’s founding were Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. Smith was the guy who found the gold plates, wrote the Book of Mormon, wedded quite a few damsels and was killed in Carthage, Illinois by an angry mob (apparently a not-too-uncommon way to go back then). He was the proverbial charismatic leader: surefooted, sweet-tongued and good looking. Like Jim Morrison or Tupac Shakur, his glamorous legacy was embalmed by an early death.
Young was the stalwart—more of a Randy Newman or Tom Petty figure. Stolid, long-lived, awkward and not-so-easy on the eyes (see pic above). After Smith’s murder, it was the corpulent Young who led the Mormon’s slog across the plains and over the mountains to Salt Lake City. If Smith was the hare, Young was the tortoise.
In the fall of 2003 I was pretty lost. I had just been spit on by my recent ex-girlfriend—an emotionally unstable, 10-year-my-senior, ex-stripper with an adolescent child—having finally broken up with her after 5 unsuccessful tries. I was calling myself an actor and model, but would go on a casting or audition once a month at best. I was trying personal training to make money, but that didn’t seem to be going anywhere either; I hated the work environment and didn’t feel like I was helping anyone get fit. Everything I did seemed to turn to shit.
My main pastimes at this point were walking around Chinatown looking for interesting food and hanging out on the steps of Union Square. I was doing the latter activity one day when an acquaintance named Rob walked by. Rob was a perpetually tan, shaved-head Texan who seemed to dress exclusively in clothes from Barney’s Co-op—clothes that were meant to look downtown cool, but you knew cost $1200. Though I thought his taste in clothes garish, I liked Rob. He had a cool, slow southern demeanor. He always seemed to be doing things like Muay Thai boxing and feeding starving children in Africa. I thought, “Maybe Rob knows what I should do with my life.”
I asked Rob and he said I needed to go to Dallas. I’d never been there, so I listened on. He said that all of the results in his life came out of workshops run by an organization called Millennium 3 Education. He claimed the workshops would get me in touch with the roadblocks in my life, of which I had many. I don’t recall him telling me anything specific about what would happen in the workshop other than an assurance that it would change my life. I said I’d think about it. Continue reading “Transform Your Life for $550 (or not)”
Right now I’m reading the autobiography of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and watching a PBS documentary about the Mormons. Aside from mutual obsessions with the afterlife, you’d probably assume that these two parties have virtually nothing in common. The Swiss doctor, famous for writing “On Death and Dying” lived a free spirit, constantly eschewing conventional female roles, disobeying an autocratic father and becoming an iconoclast in the annals of modern psychotherapeutic theory. Conversely, Mormons as a group, are models of conformity, preaching a blind devotion to their scriptures and prophets. In one of the documentary’s interviews, an LDS (latter-day saints) elder says that Mormons should not question their leadership even if that leadership is clearly in error.
Yet reading and watching the accounts of these two parties, I found some overlap. The first was a clarity of purpose. Coming of age after WWII, Kübler-Ross couldn’t wait to serve refugees in war-ravaged Europe. She fed the hungry and nursed the sick in concentration camps and decimated villages all over Europe. One can assume that her purpose is to meet the needs of others. Likewise, the Mormon’s ostensible raison d’être was and is to be like Jesus. Though some of their tactics like conversion (pre-and-postmortem) might seem questionable in their utility, others like an internal welfare system and disaster relief are not. Like Jesus, the Mormons clothe the naked and feed the hungry. In other words, their purpose is to meet the needs of others. Yes, yes, they’ve made some glaring missteps—Mountain Meadow Massacre, the exclusion of black people until deep into the 20th century—but I don’t think these missteps applied to a collective body are necessarily worse than those of an individual. I’ve done some pretty stupid, harmful stuff (no murder fortunately); if there were a few hundred thousand of me, my stupidity and harm would be that much greater. Continue reading “Are You an Individual or a Follower?”
Yiddish: Mentsch tracht, Gott lacht.
English: Man plans, God laughs.
On Christmas day, I left for Florida to hang out with my family for a week. It’s something I’ve done for the past 20 years. My dad and stepmom’s side of the family congregates at a place called Longboat Key on the mid-western gulf coast. Days are typically spent hanging by the pool, eating, going to the beach, eating, playing with my cousins’ kids and eating some more.
The hub of activity is a couple vacation condominiums my aunt and uncle own. My dad usually books me a condo in the same complex. This year was no different except that my girlfriend was joining me.
The condos in the complex are all bright and sunny duplexes, filled with tacky overstuffed floral print couches. There are vases filled with plastic flowers for ambience. It’s upper-middle-class vacation property chic—not decor you’d live with all year, but clean and comfortable for a week.
We picked up the keys for our unit, 580CW, the night we arrived. My aunt and uncle offered to drop us off at the unit. We wended through the parking lots, but 580CW was nowhere to be found. Finally, I got out a map that the management included with the keys. Written in a Sharpie pen was the outline of 580CW. It was not in the main complex, but on the road directly outside of it, Companion Way (CW). Strange, but not immediately alarming.
We drove out of the complex onto Companion Way and after a couple passes found the unit. It was a converted trailer. Strange, but no biggie. I’ve lived in trailer parks before. They can be nice. Really.
We entered the linoleum-floored trailer and were immediately assaulted by the smell of cleaning solvent and damp, cigarette-permeated upholstery. This was disconcerting at first, but our alarm was mitigated by fatigue. We had been traveling all day and the preceding days were spent making sure everything was cool before we left. We were too tired to complain and after all we were there because of my father’s generosity. I felt it a bit ungracious to refuse free accommodations.
We got into the bedroom and plopped down on the bed. To call the bed a pillow-top mattress is like calling Mt. Everest a speed-bump. It had a foot or so of cushion, presumably covering springs deep below the surface. Sleeping on our sides put our bodies into a V-shape where our hips sunk into the mattress and legs and torso projected upward. The same thing happened lying on our backs or stomachs—our pelvises sank while our heads and feet were sent vertical. The bed’s comfort made moving to the cold linoleum floor seemed like a viable option.
Sometimes we find ourselves doing, and enjoying, things that totally oppose our sense of aesthetic congruity. For me, this happens every Tuesday at spin class. Once a week I enter a glass-enclosed studio where 20-or-so of us pedal stationary bikes, showering sweat, while our instructor Elgin, a fun, femmy, tall and lean, dreadlocked dude, pushes us to exhaustion as top 40 music—Lady Gaga, Kate Perry, Rihanna (music I fortunately hear at no other time)—blares in the background. It’s the human equivalent of a hamster wheel. Lots of exertion and movement in a completely artificial environment.
The class is broken up into several portions that include hills, sprints, breakaways and flats. Last night I felt good. I was able to exert myself harder than normal. This hamster pushed the wheel really fast. Continue reading “We Are All Going to Die!”
“Between stimulus and response is our greatest power—the freedom to choose.”
Quotes like Covey’s are like spiritual Sweet-Tarts, sugary rushes of wisdom lacking real nourishment. Who hasn’t gotten inspired by Goethe’s “whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.” My root chakra tingles just writing it. I want to do all the things I’ve been too much of a puss to do.
But what happens after the axiomatic rush? Doesn’t it always get subsumed by habit? No matter how clever or true, few quotes can match the power of habit. Habits are our neurological earthmovers. We can hear and believe that love is the answer and that our bodies are temples, but if we are in the habit of being hostile to our parents and eating McDonald’s, those axioms mean nothing—they are spiritual marshmallow fluff.
I subscribe to Covey’s quote about choice in principle, but often find myself veering from it in practice.
“Seventy percent of success in life is showing up.”
Woody Allen quotes
After opening my computer to write this morning I read emails for 10 minutes, typed a couple replies and emails for 10 minutes, searched for a vacuum cleaner for 30 minutes, searched for parking lots around LaGuardia for another 15 minutes, searched for a new pair of cycling shoes for 10 minutes, made several pitstops on Facebook for a total of about 15 minutes, read a blog post about Raghava KK for 3 minutes, watched his TED talk for 18 minutes, took a crap for 5 minutes. After nearly 2 hours of extraneous mental activity, my mind felt totally sapped of inspiration. I didn’t want to write the words you are reading.
In the summer of 1997 I rode my bicycle from Boulder, Colorado to Seattle, Washington to Portland, Maine. I started the trip physically unprepared, getting exhausted after riding a few hours. This would have been easier to endure if the weather hadn’t been so shitty or if there were any people in Wyoming, the first state I passed through. Instead, in addition to an incessantly throbbing body, I contended with temperatures in the 40’s, grey skies presaging frequent bursts of freezing rain, epic winds and desolate roads leading to few towns, whose populations seemed indifferent to my arrival. Continue reading “Have an Unispired Week!”
Yesterday I wrote a post about Peter the bore. It was essentially a diatribe about his inauthenticity, his desire (and resultant failure) to impress, his lack of interest in those around him, and so on. It was a warning to all the boring people in the world to straighten out and fly right.
I was pretty proud of myself for such lucid thinking, deconstructing the aggregates of boringness. I thought I did a real mitzvah to all the bores or potential bores of the world. They could read my post and reflect on and alter their behavior.
Last night, I headed over to my girlfriend’s where we were to have dinner with a couple friends. I printed out my post, eager to serenade her with my mellifluous excoriation of the intolerable.
Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.
Oscar Wilde, De Profundis, 1905
Last night I ran into an acquaintance at a holiday party. I will call him Peter. Peter is tall, muscular and handsome for his age (I’d clock him at 45). He’s an artist. He’s a mountaineer with several major expeditions to the world’s highest peaks under his belt. He’s into MMA (mixed martial arts for you sissies). He’s lived in New York City for most of his life, but has traveled throughout the globe. Peter is also a complete bore.
For a guy who has so many interests, he talks about nothing. All of his monotonic ramblings were about the accessories of his lifestyles—the real estate deal for his new artist’s studio, his pickup truck, the gear for his expeditions. He divulged almost no information about himself, about that which was being accessorized.
Peter also did something called “qualifying.” This is basically when someone gives reasons why you should find him or her interesting. The reason I know about his rarefied art, his heroic expeditions, his down-home pickup truck and his manly mixed martial artistry is because he talked about them. But he didn’t talk about them in an organic way. They didn’t just come up as if they were extensions who he was. They came up as if each interest was a part needed to construct a specific impression. Continue reading “Are You a Bore?”
Before I write the next statement, you must promise not to pity me. I am a very happy person. I have beautiful friends and a wonderful romantic partnership. I enjoy great physical health. I’ve got a full head of hair and health insurance.
But I do not have heat in my apartment.
Yup, it’s motherfucking cold. I walk around the place looking like I’m about to scale Everest. My fingers rarely have feeling while there. I sleep under a flocks worth of goose down.
It’s my second winter there. I considered the first year a spiritual test—the test was whether I chose to fight or surrender to the conditions around me. For the most part, I surrendered. I remember one morning waking up, the condensation-fog of my breath clearly visible. I said to myself, “You can either choose to accept or reject the cold. Both ways have obvious, associated states. Which is it going to be?” I jumped out of bed, put on a few sweaters and had a great day.
But this surrender was mitigated by a couple things. One, I had some heating implements. I used space heaters…until I ran up a $600 heating bill one month. There is also a crude, oil-fueled furnace in the building. Because there was another person living in the building last year, turning on the furnace seemed justified. But the furnace heats all four floors of the sieve-like building or none. This year, with only me in the building, that justification vanished.
The other thing making things more bearable was the thought that it was only going to be for one year. I knew that the next year would bring fame and fortune, and I would get a properly heated apartment.
The fame and fortune were not forthcoming and as winter 2010 drew nigh, I knew it was either get the hell out or bundle up.
I love the place. It’s ramshackle and cluttered by my landlord’s “antiques,” but it’s also a sprawling and beautiful 19th-century townhouse in a great neighborhood where I can live by myself for a pittance of what most people pay. It is special enough to be featured in a (slightly misleading) NY Times feature. And while last winter was long and hard, after a while I developed ways of coping with the cold.
I hunkered down and chose to stay.
Everything had been going smoothly this winter until last night.