Are You an Idea Junkie?

[Read below for my limited time offer of unaccredited idea-coaching!  Supply is limited (supply is one actually)]

Ideas I’ve bailed on:

  1. Bike racing
  2. High school debate team
  3. Biking around the world
  4. Become a chef
  5. Modeling
  6. Dramatic acting
  7. Comedic acting
  8. Stand-up comedy
  9. Personal training
  10. Starting an ecologically-minded catering company
  11. Several girlfriends
  12. Mortgage sales (this was a quick one)
  13. Blog journalism (despite the money!)

I was thinking about these ideas a few weeks ago as I watched a talk by Scott Belsky at an event I help run.  Belsky wrote a book called, “Making Ideas Happen.”  In it, he outlines the difference between ideas that come into being and those that don’t.

Belsky explained that when an idea is new, progress is swift because everything is novel, learning curves are steep and we have nothing to prove.  We are willing to work long and hard.  We are unencumbered by pride as there is no shame in screwing up.  We’re beginners and that’s what beginners do.

But then something happens?  We develop some competency and the honeymoon ends.  We are no longer just dating our ideas—we’re married to them.  That’s where the work starts and where most people bail.  Unfortunately, most of us bail before our ideas even have an opportunity to fail (or succeed of course).  Continue reading “Are You an Idea Junkie?”

32 Points to Freedom

In April of 1998, the two things I was most passionate about—whiskey and my motorcycle—produced an unfortunate, if predictable, collision.

I had just left a concert at the Fox Theatre in Boulder, Colorado, after a long day of partying—drinks and barbecue at my friend Todd’s before the show, several more drinks at the show.  I decided a feast of Taco Bell would be the perfect ending on this long, bourbon-soaked day.

I got on my bike and rode a block up 13th Street (the main drag for Boulder’s “Hill” section).  I took a left on College avenue and stopped at the light at Broadway, before taking a right onto Broadway and riding south toward Taco Bell.

I guess I only thought I came to a stop at the light, because a few seconds after turning onto Broadway, bright, unmistakable, blue-and-red lights lit up my backside.

In that moment, I saw two options:

  1. Pay the consequences.  Pull over and get a DUI.  In Boulder this meant plea-bargaining down to a DWAI (driving while ability impaired) because it was my first offense, taking alcohol education classes, doing 24 hours of community service and shelling out around $1500.  I knew these consequences because I was the last of my peers to get one.
  2. Escape.  Grab the clutch, downshift and get the hell away from Johnny Law.  No cops, no court, no money, no classes, no community service, no consequences.

With roughly a mile of straight and clear road in front of me, a motorcycle that could hit 60 in under 4 seconds and ample whiskey coursing through my blood, the decision seemed clear.

Continue reading “32 Points to Freedom”

Don't Look at the Dead Rat in the Living Room

My dead and rotting spiritual master.

I was hanging out at home the other afternoon when I noticed a distinctly rat-corpse-like form on my floor.  When I first noticed it, I was chatting with a friend.  I chose to table issue until he left.  As soon as he did, my fear was realized:  there was a dead rat with splayed guts on my floor.

I’m not particularly squeamish, but this freaked me out.  Rats are dangerous.  They carry disease.  They’re fast.

I was also confused.  While I’d had mice run through my place, a big rat, much less one with protruding and bloody innards, seemed anomalous.  It must have gotten in via the two floors above me, which have many entry points.  It’s guts must have burst open due to some disease, parasite or cannibalistic rat.

However it got there, I had to deal with it, which proved challenging as I could barely look at it, much less handle it.

I put on some full-fingered cycling gloves, got a large, stainless steel kitchen bowl, and neared the corpse.  With eyes averted, I slapped the bowl on top of the rat and scurried away, pulse high, breathing short.  At least I didn’t have to look at it anymore.

I worked up the courage to approach it again, getting a magazine and sliding it under the bowl to scoop the body up.  Fortunately, it wasn’t sticking to the floor, nor did it seem to be moving.  Part of my fear was that it was a zombie rat—half-alive, ravenous for human flesh.

It was now trapped between the bowl and the magazine, but I still had to deposit it in the garbage, which would require lifting the bowl and looking at it (I thought about doing the whole operation with eyes closed or blindfolded, but the prospect of missing the garbage and picking it up again was too much to deal with).

I also half-recognized that this might a great opportunity for growth.  It didn’t matter how the rat got there, it was there, and like all of my fears, it could either be addressed or ignored; either disposed of or left to rot under a bowl.  I wanted to be someone who went through life choosing the former route.

I took the trash bag near the bowl, breathed a few deep breaths, averted my eyes to view as little of the rat as possible, and lifted the bowl.  Before depositing it, I quickly noticed some strange details out of the corner of my eye.  First, the blood hadn’t smeared on the magazine.  The guts were still red, so it should have been running.  Next, there seemed like a distinct lack of detail to the rats entrails; it was more of a general mess than an exposed anatomy with intestines, kidneys and other organs.

The reason for these strange details was that the rat wasn’t real.  It was rubber.  A houseguest, my good friend Doug Campbell, had put it there as a joke that morning.  After a chuckle and a mock-angry text to Doug, I started to breathe again. Continue reading “Don't Look at the Dead Rat in the Living Room”

This Post Will Make You Happy

Panelists at PSFK's Good Ideas on Happiness Salon (L to R: Hill, Forbes, Dean and Rubin). Image via PSFK.

Growing up, no one sat me down and said, “David, this is what I’ve learned about living a happy life.”  The closest thing I got was a warning from my father:  “If it looks too good to be true, sounds too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true”—a sage tactic for avoiding unhappy situations, but not necessarily a strategy to get into good ones.

Without clear guidance, I tried to figure it out myself.  I looked around the house, but like I said they weren’t saying much.  Mom was boozing.  Dad was an every-other-week presence who dealt with depression much of his life.  Grandparents were pretty checked out.

I looked around the neighborhood, but the whole suburban, early-eighties, broken-home, lives of quiet desperation thing was all the rage, so that didn’t help much either.

That just left TV.  People on TV had problems like me, but they were, unlike my problems, settled in twenty-two minutes (unless it was one of those annoying “to be continued” episodes).  Happiness was the default setting for TV characters.  They started the show happy, faced conflict, overcame conflict, returned to a happy state of being.  The sitcom happiness arc was punctuated with commercials that brimmed with things to buy that assured happiness.

Out of this alloy of environmental inferences and TV-based philosophy, I had no clue how to live a happy life.  I spent my first eighteen years in near continuous depression.

I attended an event the other day by the organization PSFK.  The topic was happiness.   It was like an overdue version of the talk I never received as a child. Continue reading “This Post Will Make You Happy”

The Joy of Breaking Down

You don't get strong pushing a functioning motorcycle.
  1. Eighteen years-old.  I had just spent three months sitting in my folks’ basement continuously high, working out, watching TV, in near-complete isolation, interacting only with parents and pot-dealer.  Bleakness prevailed.  I thought learning how to play my dad’s old guitar might help.  I just needed $30 for a book so I could learn some chords.  I asked my dad for money.  He said no.  I broke down crying like a baby.  It had nothing to do with the guitar book.  I needed help.  I realized I had never asked for help before.  I asked for help.  I got help.
  2. Twenty-three.  I was in Munich, Germany, debauching my way through Europe after two years spent more or less continuously drunk.  All my waking hours were dominated by drinking.  My mornings—if I could get up in the morning—were pervaded by hangover-induced physical violence.  My early afternoons were spent in regret and physical recovery.  My late afternoons/early evenings were spent thinking about how getting a drink might not be a bad idea.  My nights were spent drinking, repeating cycle.  By Munich, I couldn’t handle it anymore.  My body was shutting down.  The myth of drinking to have a good time was being demythologized sip-by-sip.  I couldn’t go on.  I stopped.  I asked for help.  I went home.  I got help.  I got well.
  3. Twenty-six.  I finally broke up with my ten-year-senior, ex-stripper, adolescent-child-toting girlfriend after five unsuccessful tries.  I couldn’t seem to do anything right, even break up.  I was bouncing from job-to-job.  I had no purpose in life, no direction.  I was desperate.  I needed help.  I asked for help.  I got help.  I found direction.
  4. Thirty-two.  I was in a very unsatisfying relationship with a satisfactory woman.  She was the picture of who I thought I should be with:  pretty, successful, spiritual, worldly, etc.  And I was totally fucking miserable.  I had spent two years trying to make a connection.  I moved in with her.  She was under the impression that we were going to get married.  I knew better.  The weight of my lie was like an anvil bearing down on my chest.  I distrusted everything I said.  I went to bed early and got up late.  One night, we had a fight—the same fight we always had.  I saw the opening to get honest.  I was honest.  The relationship ended.  I moved out within an hour.  I had to rebuild my life in an instant.  I asked for help.  I got it.

At an event I host, a programmer named Amit Pitaru gave a talk about designing the best motorcycle to travel through South America.  He said that when asked, most people said they would want the most reliable motorcycle they could find.  The prospect of getting caught in the middle of Nowhere, South America is not an enticing proposition.

But he described the worst thing that can happen on a trip to see South America on motorcycle:  not breaking down.  When you break down, you have to ask for help.  You get to know the locals.  You create bonds through your interactions that would have never been possible zipping by on a problem-free bike.  You might witness a beautiful sunset fixing your clutch.  You might meet a great family or friend fixing a flat.

He went on to say that on your never-break-down-bike, you zip past little towns never interacting with anyone you don’t pay to help you (restaurant, hotel and gas station attendants mostly).  You attract thieves because your fancy bike probably makes you look like an easy target.  You move through the country efficiently, but detached.  You have no problems, but you have no meaningful experiences either.

His point:  life is not interesting without breakdowns. Continue reading “The Joy of Breaking Down”

Checking Out for the Holidays

A TV and child's reunion is only a motion away.

I call Chicago home because it’s the region where I was born and I identify with the midwestern, salt-of-the-earth character.  Midwesterners are like their terrain, earthy, solid and level.  They are less frenetic than the tirelessly ambitious east coasters, yet more resilient than the sunny-day-chasing west coasters.

The downside of this is earthiness is that midwesterners tend be fans of inactive activities:  watching sports, watching TV, sitting long periods, drinking, eating.  This inert disposition has many culprits.  The weather sucks most of the time—frigid in the winter, blazing in the summer, with a perpetually grey, gauzy sky all four seasons.  In Chicago, there are few compelling outdoor diversions aside from a lake that is swimmable for two weeks in August.  You have to drive to get anywhere interesting as the city is huge and public transportation stinks.  In the winter, when I typically go there, driving sucks too; you eyeball the heat gauge, waiting for the needle to go up so you can blast the heat; you then drive a half-hour to get to your destination, spend another fifteen minutes looking for parking, brave the cold again, only to do it all over again on the return ride home.  Oftentimes, the effort doesn’t seem worth it.  You figure you might as well stay home and watch Romancing the Stone for the umpteenth time. Continue reading “Checking Out for the Holidays”

The Plurality is Near

Man and machine merge.

In 1997 my dad bought me a desktop PC for school.  It had a 2 gig hard-drive because, he said, “I thought you needed something you could grow into.”  It had Microsoft Office and came with a disk for a web-service called Gowebway.

I remember unpacking the computer, anticipating all the things I could do with it, like word processing and…well I didn’t know what else.  I didn’t have any reason to make a spreadsheet.  I’d never emailed.  The web was an abstraction.  It was like Encarta apparently, but more so.

When my folks left my place, I started up my computer, loaded Gowebway, hooked up my phone line and within minutes, I was online.  A minute after that I was looking for porn.  A few seconds after that, I found porn, and lots of it.  Before the day was through, I had signed up for a $30/month subscription service (seemed like a deal), and had spent the whole night—and many days and nights after—having a one man bacchanal.  It was a fitting entree to my online life, which has been the mental equivalent of a lifetime’s supply of Cheetos.  Like Cheetos, online content is satisfying going down, but leaves you totally unnourished no matter how much you consume.

Continue reading “The Plurality is Near”

An Anal Awakening

What went wrong?

George B. Armstrong Elementary was about a mile from my house on Chicago’s north side.  In sixth grade I came down with an intestinal disorder that seemed to be triggered by my walk home.  I felt fine when I started, but within a block of leaving the school, my stomach starting hurting.  As I got closer to home, it felt like someone was continually jabbing me with a broom-handle.  And then I would get to the three flights of stairs up to our place.  I would struggle to scale them, barely able to stand upright, as if I had an “L” made of daggers in my intestine.  This went on for most of the school year.
My mom took me to the doctor.  He didn’t see anything wrong.  I thought it might have been dietary.  I packed lunches instead of eating the school’s.  I tried not eating.  I tried eating more.  The pain persisted.
It didn’t go away until I made a discovery.  I realized that the pain subsided after I took a shit.  The reason my stomach was hurting was because I was holding a shit all day.
I decided that shitting at school was not an option because Armstrong had no doors on its bathroom stalls.  I also feared the ridicule of early-adolescent boys, teasing me that my shit stunk (I knew it didn’t).  So I held it in.
I am not a psychoanalyst, but I think I might have been displaying anal retentive tendencies.
Now perhaps that was the last of my anal retentiveness, but I wonder if there are vestiges of this need to control?  And I wonder what other places my inability to release control might be causing me pain? Continue reading “An Anal Awakening”

On Doing, Being and Picking Up Chicks

My onetime Bible

Five years ago I downloaded an ebook called “Double Your Dating,” by a guy named David DeAngelo, who explained his patented “cocky-funny” technique for picking up women.  He said a man should be simultaneously cocky and (you guessed it) funny when approaching women.  This state conveys to women carefree confidence.  A cocky funny man can make fun of himself, because he has nothing to prove.  He can make fun of a girl, because he doesn’t need to impress.  He does all of this with a shit-eating grin, and suddenly becomes very desirable.
I was working DeAngelo’s game to good effect for a few weeks when Neil Strauss’ book “The Game” came out.  Strauss, a longtime investigative journalist went on a mission to infiltrate the pickup artist subculture, only to find himself one its gurus a couple years later.  The book chronicled his journey.
Both books opened my eyes for different reasons.  DeAngelo’s book was helpful in giving general information about how to conduct oneself in specific situations.  Taking his advice took the seriousness out of going out.  I started having fun flirting with women for the first time in my life.  Strauss’ book included techniques and general information like DeAngelo, but also told the story of how an AFC like me (average frustrated chump. The pickup culture is filled with acronyms), with training and perseverance became a mPUA (master pickup artist).  What both books did was change my internal narrative from “whether” I could have more success with women to “how.”
Now before you judge me, please ask yourself, whether you are man, woman, straight, gay, bi, transgender, whatever, have you ever had problems meeting a romantic partner?  Have you ever had difficulties communicating to a potential partner?  Have you ever felt unlucky in love?  If you haven’t felt these ways, please, judge me at your pleasure.  If you have felt this way, you know why I turned to this questionable counsel. Continue reading “On Doing, Being and Picking Up Chicks”

Killing My Inner Child

That was supposed to be me up there.

My first and last bike race started with a clatter and ended with a whimper.  I was fourteen and had entered the Illinois state road championships months before.  This would be my first outing on my coveted and crinkled US Cycling Federation category-four license.
The race would mark my ascent to cycling greatness.  Soon I would be among cycling legends:  Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault, American Greg Lemond, who had just won his second Tour de France by eight seconds that day.
In preparation for the euro racing circuit, I dressed like top pros for my premiere race, wearing my PDM jersey (then the most powerful cycling team in the world) and a “hairnet,” a leather and soft-foam head covering that offers about as much protection as its food-service namesake.
My older brother, who also had an interest in cycling, drove me to the event in his beat up 83’ Toyota Celica.  My race started at 8:30 in Bloomington, a Podunk town two and a half hour drive from our place in the south suburbs of Chicago.  We arrived around 8:25. Continue reading “Killing My Inner Child”