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.

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.

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”

Have an Unispired Week!

Waiting for inspiration is like waiting for Shaq to grant you three wishes.

“Seventy percent of success in life is showing up.”
Woody Allen quotes

After opening my computer to write this morning I read emails for 10 minutes, typed a couple replies and emails for 10 minutes, searched for a vacuum cleaner for 30 minutes, searched for parking lots around LaGuardia for another 15 minutes, searched for a new pair of cycling shoes for 10 minutes, made several pitstops on Facebook for a total of about 15 minutes, read a blog post about Raghava KK for 3 minutes, watched his TED talk for 18 minutes, took a crap for 5 minutes.  After nearly 2 hours of extraneous mental activity, my mind felt totally sapped of inspiration.  I didn’t want to write the words you are reading.

In the summer of 1997 I rode my bicycle from Boulder, Colorado to Seattle, Washington to Portland, Maine.  I started the trip physically unprepared, getting exhausted after riding a few hours.  This would have been easier to endure if the weather hadn’t been so shitty or if there were any people in Wyoming, the first state I passed through.  Instead, in addition to an incessantly throbbing body, I contended with temperatures in the 40’s, grey skies presaging frequent bursts of freezing rain, epic winds and desolate roads leading to few towns, whose populations seemed indifferent to my arrival. Continue reading “Have an Unispired Week!”

Diary of a Mad White Man: Addendum to Yesterday's Post

Madea and David Friedlander
Don't mess with me or Madea.

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.

When I got to her place, I asked if I could read it to her.  She said of course.  I read it aloud and after the first few paragraphs I noticed something that I didn’t reading it to myself:  the author sounded really pissed off. Continue reading “Diary of a Mad White Man: Addendum to Yesterday's Post”

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”

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”