“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.
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?”
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?”
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.
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.
“How would you live if you lived 100%?” This was a question I posed to myself in a dream last week. I woke up seconds later contemplating the question’s implications. What was I waiting for? When are you really going to invest in your dream of being a writer? When are you going to stop being a miser with your money? When are you going to tie up all the loose ends in your life? Do I think there’s a better time than now? Am I waiting for circumstances to improve? Don’t I know better than that? I got out of bed resolved to start living 100% then and there.
Before I started living 100%, I had to pee. After peeing, I had to meditate. Then I needed coffee and toast. I couldn’t very well live 100% without showering, flossing and brushing my teeth. By the time I had left the house and performed my automaton-like morning routine, my resolve to live 100% got knocked down to 68%. After a typical day of email correspondences, some writing, web-surfing, Facebook, eating, and other mundane tasks, resolve dipped into the upper 30’s. I will live life 100%, but later. Continue reading “Thought of the Week: Life Never Happens Later”
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.
A Swiss-born artist named Clarina Bezzola has a performance piece called “Judgment Day.” In a video of the performance, she wears large mitts that look like fingers, and strolls through Manhattan, pointing at things with the fingers, proclaiming her judgments of all she sees.
Bezzola begins her journey enthusiastically. She states the good (farmers market, dog run, outdoor cafe) and the bad (a big Ralph Lauren ad, Fresh Direct, church). But as her negative judgments turn into a frenzy, she loses steam. She judges, but without verve. Her pointing fingers drag. Judgment, the viewer can surmise, is hard work.
Bezzola’s performance is suggestive of the Hamletian maxim that “nothing is either good or bad, but thinking [or judging] makes is so.”
Her’s is not a novel concept (Hamlet was published around the turn of the 17th century and I think a few others have stated similar conceits). But it’s a nice illustration of how most of us go through the world: creating collages of positive and negative judgments. We like ice cream, social justice and Ira Glass. We don’t like Wonder Bread, the industrial military complex and Glenn Beck. Continue reading “Judgment Day”