Manhood 101

Understanding that I might court controversy, I feel obliged to spout a crazy theory about how–if you find yourself a man–you might optimize your manhood (from an emotional, not anatomical, perspective).

I give the disclaimer that I am not, nor have been to the best of my knowledge, a woman. My manly mandate may apply to women as well. To what extent, I can only report second hand.

But here it is, one of the most basics of basic manhood. Ready?

Men keep their word.

In the original “Godfather,” Vito Corleone talks to Michael about managing the Family and says, “Women and children can afford to be careless, but not men.” The Godfather might seem like a specious source of spiritual wisdom, but his remark has been borne out in countless situations in my life. A man has a special bond with his word that, if not treated with great care, has the capacity to unravel everything about him.

This is not to say that women are immune to the impact of not being word-as-bond. But it’s a different–not quite as hardcore–relationship. They can say things that, if said by a man, would be unforgivable. To illustrate: If a girlfriend says she hates her boyfriend, he’s expected to shrug it off. If he said that to her, the remark would never, ever, ever be forgotten or forgiven.

If a man is 2 hours late for an appointment, he won’t be forgiven because he looks nice in a sundress. He broke his bond. He’s a punk and a flake. Many women can glide through the same situation and be labeled “mysterious” and “ethereal,” rather than “weak” and “unreliable.”

It’s different.

One possible explanation for the difference lies in the David Deida idea that masculine energy manifests as steadiness and integrity, while feminine energy manifests as flow and change. The caveat is that some men have feminine energies and vice-versa, but that’s the general idea.

The feminine works best when grounded by masculine integrity and direction; without that energy, her behavior is like one of those sprinklers with the spaghetti hoses, shooting and spraying everyone in sight. Alternately, she might take on the role of the man, protectively shutting down her emotions so she can enjoy the emotional constancy she longs for.

The masculine works best when it is charged with the feminine’s ability to connect with emotion and feeling; without that energy, he is dead to the world, an emotionless automaton doing shit for the sake of doing it. Alternately, he might be a hyper-sensitive wuss, a self-medicating strategy for treating his feminine energy deficiency.

In relationships, when the man–or the masculine partner if same-sex–is not careful with his word (i.e. his integrity), the feminine partner feels unsafe. She becomes anxious and/or erratic in her behavior. Rather than looking at his part in the situation, a man might say something like, “Women are nuts.” While it’s hard to argue that some women are nuts, most men don’t do much to improve that situation, demonstrating the reliability of the Greek stock exchange.

Men will perpetrate this same blame-shifting on other victims: their bosses, governments, etc. Rather than looking at their carelessness and lapsed agreements, they’ll declare the other party FUBAR.

Are you a guy or someone looking to be more manly? Having issues in your relationship, work, dealing with the Man? Consider:

  1. Where are you not keeping your word? Broken agreements, unkept promises, etc.
  2. Where are you not taking responsibility for your carelessness and lack of integrity? Are you blaming your woman, your guy, your boss, Mitt Romney, etc. for all of your woes?
  3. Write out a list of all your lapsed agreements and broken promises. It doesn’t matter how long the things are outstanding. Maybe it’s something you said you would do last year and never did. Late is better than never.
  4. Do one thing from the list immediately. It could be doing something for your woman, guy, pet, boss, standing up to the Man, etc.–something that you said you were going to do and didn’t do for some lame reason.
  5. Pay attention to how your perspective on that situation changes. You are responsible for your life and how it turns out.

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.

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.

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.

Seeing What is Possible, Dealing with Reality

Emily Dickinson: Possibility/Bedroom Dweller.

Emily Dickinson wrote the famous verse, “I dwell in possibility.”  Unlike the famous poetess, many of us dwell in limitation, using the past as our main referent for the future—i.e. because we’ve have never done it in the past, it will not happen in the future.

Possibility on the other hand allows for unprecedented realities.  Something that has never happened can happen simply because it’s possible.  We might not know how it will happen, but when we acknowledge the possibility, we are more likely to take the action corresponding to realizing that possibility.

For example, if we think being physically fit is impossible, based on the fact we’ve been unhealthy our whole lives, we won’t do the things necessary to be fit.  Conversely, if we believe being fit is possible, even if we don’t know how, we can figure out ways to realize that objective.

There is a dark-side of possibility however.  It’s what I call “the narcosis of possibility.” The easiest place to see this is at 12:15AM after a few vodka-sodas.  You invent a possibility, like starting a business.  You can’t wait to start making it happen.  The dude on the next bar-stool is going to design your logo.  Any-fucking-thing is possible!

You wake up the next day with a vague recollection of what was so great about your idea.  You try to muster the enthusiasm of the night before but are preoccupied by thoughts of coffee, eggs and Law and Order reruns.  You think of your lack of business skill, money, etc.  Fuck it.  It wasn’t that good an idea anyway.  Reality trumps drunken possibility once again.

This phenomenon is not limited to buzzed brainstorming.  Many sober minds have conjured great ideas that do not withstand reality.  We get psyched about a project, relationship, fitness plan, etc., but we fail to deal with things as they are in reality.  We don’t acknowledge our level of business training, our emotional maturity (or lack thereof), our state of health, etc.  Instead of developing these things, we become overwhelmed by the gap between possibility and reality, often doing nothing.  There are others who use willpower and force to bridge that gap—these people can make things happen, but generally at the expense of their health and happiness.

Sometimes we can’t admit that just because something is possible, it doesn’t mean we should do it.

Other times we create a possibility aware of the realities we’re dealing with.  It’s something we’ve considered well.  We have an idea and plan to carry it out.  But once the plan is in motion, we don’t ask ourselves often enough, “Is this working?”

Lest I be too abstract, I’m writing about myself.  I started this blog 6 months ago based on the possibility of writing for a living.  This idea was pure, uncut possibility.  According to the past, I had no reason to believe I would make it happen.

I love the writing part and the feedback I’m recieving.  I love processing my life and helping others process theirs.  But I haven’t been dealing with a couple nagging realities:  I don’t love not making money or working in isolation.  I’ve been trying to will these things out of my reality, but I can’t seem to do it.

Sure, it’s entirely possible I can make money if I refine my plan. I could find more ways to engage people.  I actively do both these things.

But the truth is I’m not dealing with reality.  I want to be better at working alone.  I want to be more of a self-starter.  I want to be one of these people—who seem so numerous on the internet—who through pluck and Twitter, amass great followers and fortunes.  But in reality I am not these things—at least not right now.

I have to assess where I’m at, based not on the narcotic effect of possibility, but on the sober truth of reality.  From there, I can create a new possibility.

The new possibility I’ve created is to continue to develop my writing, but with more human contact and steadier income.  There’s an ancient tradition I am going to employ to remedy this situation.  It’s called a job.

Maybe if Emily Dickinson took a similar approach, she would have left her bedroom.

It’s important to note that deviating from an original possibility is not killing it.  In fact, sticking to the original plan would kill it.  My new possibility affords me self-expression through writing, supported by the stability and relationship building of a job.

Here are some things to consider for yourself:

  1. What possibility in your life is being thwarted by reality? In other words, name a dream—one you may or may not be taking action on.  Within that dream, what realities are compromising your ability to take action or enjoy acting?  For example, you want to date, but don’t do so because you have trouble being open with potential partners.
  2. What new possibility could you create if you dealt with reality as it presently exists? Using the above example, based on your lack of skill, you could create the new possibility of being supported, getting a dating coach or asking someone who is romantically fulfilled to find out what he or she does.
  3. Take one action that based on this new possibility right now.

You’re Not a Late Bloomer, You’re Just Avoiding Shit

Take if from me, nothing gets better.

I visited my grandma when I was 20 in her nursing home in San Pablo, California.  She moved there after my grandfather, whom she had spent 58 bickering years with, died.  She was sliding downhill from the effects of Parkinson’s disease, which put her lucid mind at the mercy of a rapidly disintegrating body.

One night while visiting her, we went to a Chinese takeout restaurant down the block from the home.  The walk was painfully slow and long.  My once solid and tall, German-born grandma inched her walker to the florescent-lit, formica-tabled destination.

After we ordered, my grandma revealed her hidden agenda.  She brought up the memoirs my grandpa self-published shortly before dying, in which he made ample and glowing references to his first love (not my grandma).  It was well-known in the family that he maintained an affair with this woman for many decades.  Meanwhile, he included a few passing and indifferent references to my grandma.  She was destroyed by this and wanted to let her grandson know.  Moreover, she believed there were hidden chapters of the memoir where he expanded on his love for this other woman.

My 84 year-old grandma sobbed and pleaded, petitioning me to get my dad to giver her these chapters.  I knew nothing, nor wanted to.

She had spent nearly 60 years carrying around resentment and hurt toward my grandfather.  Now, at the end of her life, there was no redemption, no healing, no resolution—just an embittered old woman with a crippled body weighed down by a huge chip on her shoulder.

Time heals nothing.  It just gives our problems wrinkles.

Most of us walk around like there’s a good time to get started on something, to address something that bothers us, to communicate something important.  We wait around for the right time.  When this time strikes, our lives will begin.  We’ll grow into the majestic creatures we know we were meant to be.  We think we’re late bloomers.

It’s bullshit.  We’re not late bloomers.  We’re procrastinators.  And most procrastinators die never having done the things they wanted to do, never addressing that which was important, never communicating that thing that had to be communicated.

There is no right time other than now.  Just a reminder.

The Best Excuse Ever Told

I heard it once said, “Most people consider a good excuse and no result to be a result.”  Some examples of this adage:

  1. I was late because the subway was down (late + difficulty = I’m reliable)
  2. I didn’t talk to that girl because the bar was loud (no phone # + loud bar = I’m bold)
  3. I didn’t finish that painting because work got in the way (no painting + busy job = I’m an artist)
  4. I’m single because there are no good men/women out there (alone + lack of suitable partners = I’m a good partner)
  5. I didn’t lose that weight because of the holidays (fat body + social eating = I’m healthy).

A well-thought out excuse makes otherwise crappy results acceptable.  It maintains a peace—however uneasy, with whatever impact—between what we do and what we say we want and are committed to.  We say we want to be reliable, bold, creative, in a relationship, healthy, but because of subway delays and Stovetop Stuffing it’s okay that we behave differently.  The impact of the excuses is that friends and colleagues wait (or tire from doing so), we live afraid of talking to women, we feel creatively unexpressed, we live cut off from prospective mates and inhabit unhealthy bodies.  But it’s okay, we have a good excuse.

Excuses obscure a dark truth:  that we might not be committed to the things we say or think we we are.  A person who is committed to being punctual will be on time regardless of train repairs; he’ll get out of the train station and take a cab if he needs to.  A person who is committed to being in a healthy relationship will figure out what’s in her way of achieving that.  She will not blame a sparse dating pool.

Assuming we want to line up our commitments with our actions, we have to stop excusing our behavior.  We have to acknowledge results as they are:  that we were late; that we didn’t talk to the girl; that we didn’t finish the painting; that we are alone; that we are fat.  It’s not that these results are bad.  It’s that they don’t accord with what we want and are committed to.  In fact, the excuses verify that our results are not want we want.  If they were those things, we wouldn’t need to excuse our behavior; it and our commitments would line up.

All of this came into relief for me after a frank talk last night.  My friend bludgeoned me with the contradictions between what I say I want and am committed to and what I’m doing.  I say that I want and am committed to being a personal development author and speaker and that I want to make my living doing it—a living that could support a family.  What I’m doing is writing away without clear direction, much less remuneration.  I’ve been pitching a book idea to literary agents, but even that has been only half-thought out.  I didn’t do market research.  I didn’t run it by the people in my life.  I didn’t do the things necessary to make sure I fulfilled on my commitment.

My excuse has been confusion:  that I don’t know how to do the things I want to do.  I’ve reasoned that I will figure it out soon.  This excuse doesn’t not ameliorate my rapidly emptying pockets.

This leaves me with a pit in my stomach.  The pit is the turd of commitment, wondering whether it’s going to be released or if I’m going to get off the can upon which I sit.  Will I act now (the only time a committed person can act) or salve these contradictions with another, more elaborate excuse?  (I’m leaning toward the former route).

With this in mind, here are some things to contemplate for your life:

  1. What do you say you want or are committed to that you are not doing?
  2. What is the impact of not fulfilling on this commitment? Wasted time, dejected friends, unexpressed desires, poor health, etc.
  3. What excuses make your lack of results surrounding your commitments acceptable? Lack of money, time, a tough childhood, a rough time in your life, an unsupportive environment, etc.
  4. What are your excuses hiding? For example, that you are not in fact committed to the things you say you are, that you are afraid you won’t be able to fulfill on them, etc.
  5. Write out a list of the results in your life that contradict your desires and commitments. Write them undiluted by excuses.
  6. Commit to one thing for next week to fulfill on a desire or commitment.  For example, commit to meditating 10 minutes every morning without fail.  Note your excuses when you don’t want to fulfill.  See how these excuses stop you in every area of your life.

Tired is a Story, Stories are Tired

From ages 8 to 23, I was an insomniac.  I would lay in bed for countless hours wishing for sleep.  My body would be exhausted, my eyes heavy and burning, but my mind would be alert and racing.  I usually passed out around daybreak, only to wake a few hours later.

I tried to treat body and mind.  I drank chamomile tea. I took melatonin. I had a white-noise generator.  I went to a therapist.  I played games like “stop thinking for a minute.”  I created elaborate fantasy worlds with serial plot-lines to pass the hours in bed and still my anxiety.  When I was 16, I started smoking weed.  Later, Jim Beam became Mr. Sandman.

When I sobered up at 23, my biggest fear was not how I was going to have fun or what people would think of me.  I feared not sleeping.

Fortunately, that fear was unfounded.  By no longer annihilating myself and addressing my underlying emotional problems, I ended up with pretty normal sleeping patterns.  I fall asleep easily and stay that way the whole night through most nights.

While my difficulties with sleeping are gone, my story about sleeping continues to be an issue.  This became apparent to me the other night.

I was helping some friends out and what we were doing was running longer than I had anticipated.  It was about 10PM and I decided I wanted to go home.  The thought “I’m so tired” entered my mind.  I started to yawn repeatedly.  My eyes started to close and burn.

I told the people around me that I was tired as well.  I wanted everyone to comprehend my situation. Continue reading “Tired is a Story, Stories are Tired”