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.

 

Hazy Lovers

Dear David,

I’ve been friends with this guy for about 7 years now, and we dated for awhile in high school. We go to the same college and we’ve been hanging out off and on and sometimes we make out or sleep together (no sex). Last month he texted me randomly after not talking for 6+months and asked me out to lunch. It went well and then I left to go hang out with some friends. He texted me later and asked me to hang out again. And we’ve been hanging out like once a week since then. The other day he came over and I gave him a blow job for the first time and then I had to leave for class. He told me to txt him and when I did he didn’t respond. His phone is kind of messed up/broken and he doesn’t receive txts and calls sometimes. I was waiting for him to text me back or to think, Hey this is weird she usually always texts me and my phone is broken, why don’t I text her?? But he didn’t… Does this mean he doesn’t really care about me? After a couple of days I called him and asked him why he hadn’t texted me back and he said that he never got them.. Do I have a right to be mad? We’re not together, but I was kind of having feelings for him.

Tiffany

Dear Tiffany,

“But I was kind of having feelings.” I believe this last line holds the key to all the preceding ones. What’s overwhelming me in your situation is a decided lack of clarity–lots of “kind of’s” and few “is’s” and “are’s”.

My initial–and cynical–reaction is that he kept you around until he had sex with you (or the Clintonian equivalent thereof). When he got what he wanted, the challenge and sexual mystery disappeared, he lost interest and he wanted out. I could be wrong. There could have been an issue with his phone, but the simultaneity of the blowjob and cell-phone breakdown seems a bit too convenient. Guys will find a way to be in touch with a girl they’re hot for. Continue reading “Hazy Lovers”

Relationships and Contract Negotiations

Image via forbes

Dear David,

I am a young professional living in Brooklyn and working in Manhattan. I am dating a wonderful guy who happens to be 15 years my senior (he’s 40), for a little over a year and a half now. We started dating casually but eventually fell pretty hard for each other.  After a few ups-and-downs, we moved in together last September.

Things have been going wonderfully, and we have spoken about marriage and having kids and he was on board, especially because he is older than me. Because our building is going condo and offering buyouts, the idea of buying a place of our own together seemed great. We were looking at properties and discussing options; and yes marriage was only a step after that.  Then things cooled down after we decided to take our time and not rush anything because of a buyout. Then one day I was joking about just getting married at city hall and it got very serious and he said he was scared to get married again (he dated a woman for 4 years, got married to her to keep her in the country and she left him for another man 6 months after). He’s afraid of me leaving him. After all the talks we had about getting married and how he was so excited to have kids, I was shocked.  After 3 days of flipping out in my own head, I told him straight out: I expected us to be engaged by the end of this year. He said he was being silly and I caught him at a bad time and he promised me we would be engaged by the end of the year.

Only now, he discusses things like kids and our wedding whenever he wants, but when I ask legitimate questions about our future like when he is thinking of really making an effort to get a new job (because without a new job, he won’t be able to afford an engagement ring), or if we can move into a new apartment together (I love our place but it’s small) or anything concrete, he freezes. He starts getting annoyed and blames my need to over-plan things and just says we’ll see. He is very independent and doesn’t like me “checking in” on him but I feel like these are normal questions to ask for a woman who is going to spend her life with another person. I want to know what his plan is, and it seems he has no plan.  Although this doesn’t stop him from seeing a beautiful cake and saying how nice a cake like that would be at our wedding, or randomly saying on a walk “lets have babies”.

I’m not quite sure what to do at this point.  I cant really get a straight answer out of him when I talk to him (one minute its babies, the next he is scared to get married again, and a minute after that he is sure I’m the one). Any advice?

K

Dear K,

It appears as though your guy wants to marry you and have kids, but I think he’s scared that he’s not good enough—for you, for the woman who left him, etc.  That’s why he spazzed out after the City Hall suggestion.  This fear of not being good enough makes him reticent to commit to you.

The first suggestion I have is assuage some of his fear.  Let him know that he is good enough (if you mean it, of course).  Tell him that you love him no matter what type of ring he gets you, no matter what type of dwelling you reside in.

By you writing about those details in your email to me, I suspect some of your love might be conditional on those things (however small an amount) and he might be buckling under the weight of that conditionality.  People fall in love with people, not their circumstances.  Let him know you love him for who he is.  When the love is established, you can get into the nuts-and-bolts.

First off, it’s not ridiculous to discuss conditions of a marriage and family.  Marriage isn’t merely a matter of loving someone.  It’s a contract.  And like all contracts, the terms must be laid out from the outset.  I do freelance writing which requires contracts.  My client and I first discuss the project, its terms and expectations, and then a contract is drafted, which is either signed or not.  Only when the contract is signed is the project is carried out.

So once the love is established (basically saying that you want to work with him), you can discuss what you both want out of a marriage specifically.  This is the negotiation stage of contract making.  When I proposed to my girlfriend, it was after we had established our love for each other and discussed what we both wanted for our futures—values, family, lifestyle, etc.  If there was a huge rift with these things, I might not have asked.  As it was, we were in alignment and we agreed on the contract (or agreed to formalize the contract in the near future).

Keep in mind that discussing the terms and entering a contract is not the same as fulfilling on them immediately.  Like any contract, many of the items discussed won’t be fulfilled on for some time.  It’s just an agreement about what you both want out of your contract.

I think if you’re willing to accept him as he is, understanding that he might not immediately fulfill on all the terms, he will probably be more inclined to propose a contract.  He might even be more motivated to get into action when he knows you’re okay to be where he’s at.  That’s what happened for me:  my fiancée allowed me to be where I was at, with my not-so-enviable circumstances.  Her love and acceptance gave me space to start moving toward what I wanted, rather than feeling inadequate for not being where I “should” be.  It was only after I proposed that I got the ring she wanted and the job that would make our contract work.

If he’s not willing to talk about the terms of a marriage specifically, if he’s dismissive, lackadaisical or unwilling to make plans, then you might want to ditch him.  Give him an opportunity to step up, but if he doesn’t take it, it’s probably an ominous sign of things to come.  I haven’t been married before, but I imagine it requires a lot of stepping up and uncomfortable discussions.

Lastly, you mentioning his age reminds me of the fiction-writing adage:  “if you’re going to write about a gun, it better go off.”  I don’t want to overstate this as an issue.  It sounds like you guys are into each other.  But if you are going to marry this guy, be super clear that this is your guy.  It’s not so much that he’s older and all the issues that entails—different peer groups, different physiological issues, etc.  What’s more disconcerting is that he’s exhibiting behavior appropriate for someone in his mid-twenties.  If he’s not cool with committing by this age, if he is not willing to have tough conversations and make plans with you for the future at the age of 40, when will he be ready for those things?  60?

Coming from this 35 year-old, 25 is not that old.  Don’t feel the need to rush yourself because he’s getting older.  This is an important contact.  You want to be sure both parties are committed to fulfilling on their agreements.

Hope this helps and many blessings to you both.

 

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.

Will You Help Me Make My Dreams Come True?

6 months ago I set out to start my dream career as a personal development writer.  My idea was to create an alternative to the Deepak Choprah’s and Dr. Phil’s of the world.  It wasn’t that I thought those guys were harmful—it was that they didn’t speak to me and my life.  I was not brought up studying Vedic texts in India.  I am not a middle-aged Texan in a suit.  I’m a suburban-born, TV-fed, English major trying to grow up.

I also felt like few were talking about my problems.  I’ve dealt and deal with some heavy shit—family turmoil, drugs, alcohol, broken relationships, career, troubled relationship to technology, etc.  Stuff most of my friends deal with too.  I wondered why few personal development writers were talking about these issues directly.

Through various emotional and physical practices, much of the aforementioned heavy shit has been wiped away as if by transformational toilet paper.  My writing is meant as a way to offer you the same toilet paper squares that were offered to me.  I also want to offer it in a way that is neither intellectually, aesthetically nor aromatically repellent.  I want to speak to the masses who don’t need butterfly and lotus flower visual motifs to denote personal transformation.  For a career and life’s purpose, there is nothing I’d rather do.

Last week I had the most traffic I’ve had in my 6 months of keeping this blog owing to a series of posts about relationships and dating.  It’s popularity made me wonder:  What the hell do people like to read about?  What do they want to see?  How might I better serve The?

So I have an open request for suggestions.  Will you please answer one, some or all of the following questions about me and my writing:

  1. What works?  For example, do you like personal narrative or more instructional stuff?  Do you like longer or shorter pieces?
  2. What doesn’t work?  Is my stuff too long, too wordy, too pedantic, too vulgar, etc.?
  3. What are you favorite topics?  Relationships, goal-setting, beliefs, etc.
  4. What would you like to see that is not here?  Some ideas I’ve had include short instructional videos, guest interviews and an advice column.  Do any of these sound appealing?  Do you have other suggestions?
  5. How would you suggest I improve my outreach and increase readership?
  6. Who do you think are the most helpful figures in personal development, spirituality and self-help (beside me of course)?  What do you like about them?
  7. Do you have any skills or resources you’d like to lend me?  Perhaps you want to do a branding experiment with me.  Perhaps you are a writer who wants to engage a dialogue.  Please let me know what you have to offer (I’ll be happy to help you in any way I can).
  8. Etc.  Something I’m not asking.

I am committed to making this dream take form, but it will not happen without your support.  I urge and invite you to take a few minutes to help me (leave suggestions in comments below or email me at df [at] davidfriedlander [dot] come).

What’s in it for you, you ask?  The answer is that you affirm that you live in a supportive world.  This is not merely a self-serving answer.  If you don’t take action to help others realize their dreams, who will do it for you?  For my part, there is a standing offer to help you in any way that my talents and time permit.  Let me know.

What Do You Want?

Tell me what you want, what you really, really want.

I had coffee with a new friend the other day.  He asked me the dreaded question—the same question I ask when I encounter someone who is experiencing confusion, powerlessness or frustration with his life.  Answering this question can threaten the delicate balance of the answerer’s emotional and physical ecosystem.  The question is, “What do you want?”

I was flummoxed.  I thought I knew, but things had changed since the last time I wrote out what I wanted.  You see, every now and again I list out what I want for my life.  I get as detailed as possible, creating a material and emotional blueprint for my life.  The more detailed I get, the more likely I am to move in specific directions and ask specific questions.  Here are some examples of things I currently want:

  • To develop my writing such that it supports me and a family materially and spiritually in abundance
  • To start a family by the end of 2012
  • To live each day joyfully and filled with love

My wants exist as possibilities.  They are often unprecedented and have little relation to my past experiences.  The trouble is if my past dictated what I want now, I would content myself with a heated home and a girlfriend who doesn’t shoot heroin.  Not a particularly inviting future.

The most unsettling part of the question is what stating my desires entails.  If I want this, then what do I have to do?  Who do I need to be?  What if the actions I need to take and the person I need to be are different than what I’m doing and how I’m being?

Well they are different.  How do I know?  Because my current actions and states perfectly ally to produce what—and only what—I currently have.  In other words, I do what I do and I am what I am and that gives me exactly what I have.  These actions and behaviors are manifestations of unconscious desires (looking good, comfort, etc.), which are fine, but not necessarily gratifying in the long run.

If I want things other than what I have now, I need to supplant my old actions and ways of being for new ones.  For example, in order to make my living off of writing, I need to be bold, disciplined, organized, etc.  These new actions and states might not jive with last night’s engorgement on grass-fed beef and sweet potatoes while watching Deadwood on DVD.

I answered my friend’s question as best I could.  I’m not totally clueless as to what I want.  But I also saw the need for refining what I want.  It’s easier to chart a course with a map.

With these thoughts in mind, here are some exercises I’m incorporating into my life and suggest you do too:

  1. What do you want? Get as detailed as possible—emotional state, health, profession, relationships, living environment, etc.  These desires should be authentic—i.e. they are your desires, not ones shaped by the past or someone else’s conceptions; do your best to keep what your parents’ or a multinational corporation’s desires for you out of your answers.  Feel free to co-create with the people in your life; for example, make sure what you want aligns with what your wife or business partner wants.  Don’t butt desires.  Write them down and keep them somewhere you can see.  Be willing to amend if you’re wrong about what you want.
  2. Who do you need to be to get what you want? This step is aligning yourself emotionally with your desires.  For example, if you want to be a professional singer, but you’re too timid to audition, you will need to be courageous.
  3. What do you need to do to get what you want? Once you believe that what you want is possible, you will have to take certain steps—go to that audition, write that novel, quit that job, etc.
  4. Every morning, ask yourself “what do I need to do and who do I need to be to get what I want?” Write out your answers and let them inform how you conduct yourself in the world.  See what happens.

 

You Will Never Get a Break

In the summer of 1997 I rode my bicycle from Boulder, Colorado to Seattle, Washington to Portland, Maine.  It was an epic journey.  I hated almost every minute of it.

The problem was that I wanted to say I rode across the US more than I wanted to ride it.  This dubious motivation made me want the trip over before it began.  I wanted the medallion of cross-country tourer.  Most of the countless hours in the saddle were spent listening to the nagging mantra, “Am I there yet?”

The only times I enjoyed myself were during the hardest moments.  There were a few mountain passes in the Washington—Rainy, North Cascades and Sherman—where I scaled 20-plus mile passes in rain and 40-degree temperatures.  The conditions were so consuming that I couldn’t focus on the fact that the ride wasn’t over.  As cliche as it sounds, when I became absorbed by the journey, not the destination, I actually had a good time. Continue reading “You Will Never Get a Break”

Man-Child Manifesto

About 7 years ago, I was training to be a personal fitness trainer.  My gym assigned prospective trainers like me to “floor shifts.”  If you belong to a gym you see floor-shifters shifting around the gym floor.  They are supposed to help out, get towels and schmooze with customers.  These workers are paid peanuts, have little to do during their shifts and usually open the gym at ungodly hours until they get their training certificates and can take on clients.  The crappy pay, work and hours is meant to separate the wheat from the chaff—the people who really want to train and people who just want a job.  I was chaff.

I had good reasons why I quit the gym:  I made much more money at my other job (I did); their training method was stupid (it kind of was); gyms promote superficial fitness, not health (they do).  But another reason for quitting revealed itself.  It didn’t matter what I was doing.  I always found reasons why something sucked.  Personal training, acting, modeling, cooking, school, girlfriends, friends—I quit all of them for good reasons.  It wasn’t an episodic issue, it was a systemic one.  I was a quitter.

I realized that I wanted to be more than a quitter and a dabbler.  After the gym episode, I started a program of recovery from quitting, carried out in a pretty straightforward way:  I stopped quitting things and finished many things I had started (I got geeked out on transformational workshops for a while too).

But that recovery took time.  It took a while before the old evidence was displaced by the new.  I had to show up to relationships, jobs and other commitments for a while before I was able to fully experience myself as a committed person.  With any major change, there is a period between letting go of what you don’t want and creating what you do.  Which brings me to the present.

Most of my “adult” life has been spent primarily living for myself.  Sure, I’ve shown up and committed to relationships and institutions, but I always made sure I had enough emotional or physical distance that our needs weren’t completely intertwined.  I wasn’t going to let anyone or anything drag me down with them.

I’ve had great times living this way.  I’ve been mobile and flexible.  I’ve slept well and gotten plenty of exercise because no one impinges on my schedule.  Since I have minimal material needs, I haven’t needed to make much money or work too hard.  I’ve been able to change my life instantly without all that messy explaining one must do in close relationships.  For example, I can go vegan overnight because no one else is eating from my fridge.

But something happened 9 months ago.  I met a girl.  I like the girl.  The girl wants a family.  In order to be with her for a while, I had to be on board. Continue reading “Man-Child Manifesto”

My Shittiest Blog Post Yet

In the 5 or so months I’ve been writing this blog in earnest, I’ve churned out some pretty shitty stuff.  My first posts were definitely the worst—long, meandering, pointless or multi-pointed.  There’s this one called “Advanced Fonzametrics”—so bad.  I tried to cram 20 years of life-lessons into one 2K+ word post.  There have also been some not-so-long-ago posts that seem to equally stink.  I think my mom was the only person who read yesterday’s post.

I was pondering my ineptitude while reading the blogs of the luminaries in my chosen genre (personal development, I guess) last night.  Many of their posts felt like they were going through the motions.  I could see the author staring blankly at his or her computer, thinking, “What the hell am I going to write today?  I guess I’ll write about that thing my kid does.”  It got me thinking that there might not be such a wide gulf between those who are making it and those who are struggling to do so.

It’s tough for those of us who haven’t gotten into a positive feedback loop to believe that what we’re doing is worthwhile.  No one is asking us to do what we’re doing.  We put ourselves out there—whether we’re writers, painters, singers, entrepreneurs, activists, whatever—unsure if anyone beyond our family and friends gives a shit (and we suspect we might soon exhaust their enthusiasm).

We wonder how we can be more like “successful” people.  How do we crack the code?

Sometimes there is a code.  There is such a thing as skill.  For example, I’ve written posts that resonate with readers more than others; I can try to figure out what qualities people respond to and imbue future writing with similar attributes.  But I would never learn these things if I hadn’t put out some pretty crappy stuff first.  In other words, the “code” might just be a willingness to put ourselves out into the world consistently.

It makes me think of Adam Sandler.  There were a few years when you couldn’t take a piss without seeing his movies.  Yet I never thought he was very funny.  Happy Gilmore, The Waterboy, Little Nicky—Sandler was an inanity machine.  But the guy put himself out there.  He wasn’t deterred by my criticism.  If I didn’t like his movies, I didn’t have to watch them.

So in the spirit of Adam Sandler, I’m going to keep writing shitty blog-posts. I might even make a shitty video or two.  I’m going to promote myself in ways that might be disproportionate to my talents.

It’s not my intention to churn out shitty writing or related media products.  I have no desire to waste my time or yours.  I want inner peace to flow from my words to your heart.  Seriously.  But in the process, I might miss the mark.  My apologies in advance.  I  genuinely appreciate your support and hope you enjoy what I write.

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?”