Are You Dead Already?

In my last post, I mentioned that I am visiting my father soon. His health is lousy.

My dad and I share many traits–our curiosities, skeptical and questioning natures, our reverence for life, our ability to cry in public. He is my best friend. I don’t want to lose him and scarier, I don’t want my child (due later this year) to be without a grandfather. My last few days have been shot through with paroxysms of grief.

Permitting grief is new to me. Historically, my default emotional response to hard emotional situations is go numb until a threat passes (the odd bouts of congenital sobbing notwithstanding).

I thought I was doing pretty great, breaking down as I was, allowing myself to feel. Feeling is good. It’s real.

While this emotional latitude was, in some sense, a breakthrough for me, it was also missing something: my dad is not dead. Sure, he’s going to die eventually–hopefully later than sooner. But so will I, my wife, every one of my friends…even you. I saw there were two foci I could apply to this terminal condition called life:

  1. Focus on death as loss. Think about the lousy time when we will all be dead, when we will no longer share each other’s company. It’ll probably suck and be really hard.
  2. Focus on life as opportunity. Sure, we have a finite time in these bodies (fraid’ I’m not a big believer in the Singularity stuff). So what? What are we going to do with the time we do have? As Ben Franklin put it, “Dost thou love life? then do not squander time; for that is the stuff life is made of.”

I realized there was life all around me. My wife is having a child. A good friend of mine got a great job. We got some wonderful news at my work. Yes, all of these triumphs will die, fading into memory and dust, but in the meantime there’s magnificence in witnessing the cycles of life as they occur.

I also realized that I could still call my dad, which I did. There will be a time when I cannot do that, but that time is not now.

BONUS ASSIGNMENT: IF YOU DIG MY WRITING, PLEASE ‘LIKE’ ME ON FACEBOOK PAGE. I’M TRYING ON THIS WHOLE SELF-PROMOTION THING; THE NY TIMES ARTICLE HAD ME ALL WRONG.

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.

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.

Forgettable…In Every Way

Happy freakin' birthday to me.

I decided to celebrate my 28th birthday at a West Village bar a friend worked at.  I envisioned a casual celebration, where from 6-9PM a steady stream of friends and acquaintances would play tag-team for my attention as I held court on my barstool thrown.

It turned out that my kingdom was not as mighty as I thought.  The first hour no one showed up.  Nor the second.  The third, my friend George showed up with a nice little notebook and pen gift.  A couple other people showed up near the end of my time window.  No more than 4 people showed up throughout the evening.

A realization became clear sitting there those lonely hours:  I was a person people didn’t show up for.  How did I know this?  Because no one showed up.

There were 2 options for handling my realization:

  1. Blame others for my misfortune.  I could have accused friends of being unkind, unreliable, dishonest, etc.  It wasn’t me.  It was them.
  2. Take responsibility for the results in my life.  I could have looked at what it was about me that was so easy to easy to ignore.

Fortunately, I chose option #2.  I saw people didn’t show up for me because I didn’t show up for them.  I saw that I gave up on people.  That I used friends for favors and to stave off loneliness.  I seldom actively took an interest in their welfare.  I rarely went out of my way to help them.  I wouldn’t have shown up for me either. Continue reading “Forgettable…In Every Way”

Surrendering is Not Giving Up

I’ve been sick for the last week, which is tough for someone who identifies with being a hot and healthy dude.  No, I don’t make a lot of money (or almost any).  I live in a dump.  I lack accomplishments, awards, degrees beyond a bachelor’s (and it took me a while to get that), but gosh-darnit, I’m healthy.  I get sick maybe once every 3 years (and it’s usually mild).  My bowels move freely.  My nasal passages blow like wind over a Himalayan ridge.  My skin is clear.  My midsection is taut.  My limbs are long and strong.  My fingernails are hard and free from bites or dents.  Random people frequently tell me things like, “You look like you take good care of your body.”  So when that body shuts down—even partially—it fucks with my identity.

The first thing I do is go into diagnostic mode.  What caused this?  Was it hanging out with all those kids?  Was it mold in my apartment?  Was it my recent penchant for eating loaves of white bread (this is my #1 theory)?  Was it negative thoughts and fear?

While I don’t think it’s a bad idea to examine why I got sick (especially when it happens so rarely, making it easier to discern the cause), once sick, the cause becomes less urgent than recourse.  With sickness, as in all things, there are 2 ways of dealing:

  1. Resist it. I can get pissed off at all the things I can’t do.  Maybe I try to labor through these things, pretending as if everything is cool, meanwhile protracting my recovery.
  2. Surrender to it. I can accept that my body is still vulnerable to sickness.  I can accept that all of my plans and designs for taking over the world are subject to the vagaries of nature.

While I don’t want to overstate the significance of my sniffles, my health can be likened a bit to the Japanese tsunami.  Both illustrate how the best plans and precautions can be unexpectedly and completely undermined by forces of nature.  After all, I’m not some sedentary layabout.  I ride my bike everywhere.  I do pilates.  I make sure to eat raw vegetables every day.  I get adequate sleep.  I freaking meditate.  And I still got sick.

Japan wasn’t Haiti.  It had a modern infrastructure.  I’m sure it was as prepared as any highly-populated, seismically-active, island nation could be in dealing with an 8.9 submarine earthquake.  And it still got its shit rocked.

I believe that what is good for now is good for later.  This principle holds true for every system.  Taking care of my body has immediate and longterm benefits.  Cleaning my house provides a nice place to live now and keeps it from deteriorating later.  But at some point and time even the best systems fail, whether that system is respiratory or solar.  It’s what the Buddhists call impermanence.  All phenomena arises and disappears (and I dare any reader to provide an exception).  Rather than trying to ensure that our various systems never fail and getting pissed off when they do (i.e. resisting), wouldn’t it make more sense to learn how to handle this essential failure?  This is not giving up, it’s surrendering.

Giving up is when you stop washing the dishes in your sink because you think, “Why bother?  Everything is going to shit anyway.”  Surrendering to their impermanence is happily washing those dishes, knowing they will one day break, but content with the brief satisfaction they bring you now (and you’d just assume have a clean eating surface).

Be Fearless Like Me!

Let's look at the eye of the f'ing tiger (or lion as the case might be) .

I marvel at my power.  I am an unstoppable force, crushing inner and outer obstacles with the aplomb of a samurai facing battle.  For me, fear is a foe met and conquered.  Behold some of the areas where I have mastered my fears:

Staying home alone. I do not hesitate when it comes to isolating in my apartment.  I will watch one Netflix movie after the next with unshakable placidity.  I don’t even fear watching movies I’ve seen many times before—I have seen both the Godfathers I and II at least 10 times each with the steadiest of nerves.  Nor do I fear consuming foodstuffs purchased at Trader Joe’s while watching these movies.  As unbelievable as it sounds, I can simultaneously eat tater-tots dipped in barbecue sauce while watching Lord of the Rings without a vestige of timidity.

Shutting down my emotions. Yes, I know it’s hard to believe, but I have no fear of withholding how I feel.  Whatever the situation may be, whether it’s expressing how I feel to my girlfriend, family, friends, acquaintances, strangers, I can shut down my emotions with lightening quickness.  My mastery is such that I can stuff my emotions down until I’m virtually incapacitated.  I can smother my needs, suppress how I honestly feel, even withhold my concern, with Herculean strength.

Not putting myself out for scrutiny. While many people have difficulty withholding their gifts and talents from the world, such is not my lot.  I have years of experience withholding who I am.  I have library’s worth of unread writing.  I have fearlessly dodged scrutiny and judgment innumerable times.  I know what you’re thinking:  “How do find the strength to withhold all that?  Where do you store all your undistributed gifts?”  Frankly, I don’t know sometimes.  Perhaps this fearlessness is just another one of the innate talents I keep to myself.

Surfing the web, emailing and text messaging.
This one might sound the most improbable, but it’s true.  I have nary a shred of fear wielding these electronic sabers.  I can surf the web for hours, check Facebook links, scour the news, refresh my email inbox, and rattle off pithy texts on my phone, all without churning my stomach with fear.  I suspect I could even approach a woman online if I didn’t have a girlfriend.  That’s how little fear these things cause me.

Not asking for help. I can go years without addressing a need, stewing in pain and toil, never succumbing to the urge to ask for help.  This is made more impressive when you consider that help is all around me much of the time.  I seem to have been born with an indomitable pride that precludes me surrendering to even the most dire needs.

Wasting my precious life. This feat is almost beyond belief.  I know this life is extremely fleeting.  I have had people close to me die or undergo serious health issues.  I know that this window I have here, with all physiological cylinders firing, is a very short.  And yet I appear to no little fear squandering the hours of my days, stewing in resentment, asking for shit I don’t need, looking for my ego to be stroked, not loving those around me, not helping those in need, not sharing my gifts or engaging my world.  My strength is beyond comprehension.

If you too want master your fears, I urge you to keep reading my blog.  It may not be an overnight matter, but with time, determination and assiduous devotion to my instructions, you too can live as fearlessly as I do.

Even the Most Unique Snowflake Melts

At a rate of 1 number per second, it takes 31 years, 251 days to count to one billion.  Since there are 6.77 billion people alive today, it’d take about 214 years to count to that number.

At the end of the film Synecdoche, New York, the protagonist, theater director Caden Cotard, labors through his magnum opus.  The play is held in an enormous warehouse where thousands of individual scenes unfold simultaneously, each unmindful of the drama next door.  Toward the end of the film, Cotard utters the lines, “There are nearly thirteen million people in the world. None of those people is an extra. They’re all the leads of their own stories.”

I woke up this morning with a text message on my phone from my mom.  She wrote that my brother’s best friend was killed in a car accident.  He was 38 with a wife and 3 young children.

If you knew that today was your last day, how much of that time would you want to spend worrying about yourself—about how special and significant you are?  How much energy would you devote to resentments, worrying about money, approval-seeking and other fears?  How much time would you spend on Facebook, checking your email or in front of any screen?

If today were your last day, might you start thinking about the other people 6,776,999,999 other people out there?  Might you get off your fears and anger?  Might you start thinking more about giving than taking?  Might you be willing to give up your lead role for a supporting one (or at least take direction)?

You are not that significant.  You are one of billions.  If you give a shit about one or more of those billions, show it.  If your fears and anger are preventing you from showing it, get off them now.  Your life, and the lives those around you, might end at any second.  Unlikely things happen all the time.