Are You Arguing with Reality?

ah, the good life.

I spend the majority of my days in front of a glowing computer screen. Though my job involves building, I am a facilitator of building rather than a builder myself. My fingertips are more calloused than my palms.

My situation is far from unique. Most professionals nowadays, regardless of profession, are stationed in front of glowing boxes. I also work from home, so the majority of my face-to-face interactions are Skyped or with clerks at the grocery store.

I often romanticize about what it’d be like to get back to the earth, living off of foraged lingonberries and caribou meat; maybe start a farm growing tubers and chard. Streaming would be limited to water (FYI, I’m from the suburbs and grew up in with a remote in my hand).

It’s possible that a wholesale withdrawal from society is the answer–that there’s some sort of fundamental flaw with the trajectory of humanity and a modification of the status quo is insufficient to restore balance to the planet’s ecosystems, much less my inconsistent levels of sanity.

Then again, my fantasies might have different causes. I have a tendency to make reality wrong and fantasy right. For example, if only I were tilling the earth instead of typing on a computer, I’d be happy; if only I had a new carbon fiber road bike instead of my heavy, steel one, I’d be happy. And so on.

There are a couple delusions inside these fantasies:

  1. That the current thing/person/state/activity is the problem.
  2. That the ‘instead-of” thing/person/state/activity will solve the problem.

I know this because I’ve been quite happy typing on a computer and riding a heavy, steel road bike, and I’ve been miserable in the country and riding a sweat new carbon fiber road bike.

The real function of these fantasies is that they allow me to shirk responsibility for being happy right now. Because there is something in the way of my happiness (be it a job, possession or person), I don’t have to do anything. It’s their fault.

What if we all let go of the certainty that reality–the here and now and all that entails (including who we are)–is wrong? This is not to say the world isn’t falling into an intractable psychological and environmental tailspin [couldn’t resist the opportunity to editorialize], but rather that our happiness need not depend on things being any way other than the way they are. Happiness never comes later, when. It happens now, with.

With these thoughts in mind, consider:

  1. What fantasies are you holding onto that prevent you from being happy now?
  2. Ask yourself, “If I had that thing/was that way/etc.” would I really be happier? Prove it without resorting to memory or assuming based on ideas promulgated by US Weekly.
  3. Ask yourself, “How would I be and what would I do if nothing were wrong with things as they are?” 
  4. Stop waiting for things to change or get better and start living. 

 

 

 

 

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.

No Shit Dating and Relationship Advice (Part IV)

Photo by Jim Newberry

[This is going to be the final installment of this series.  It pretty much sums up my whole view of relationships, though the preceding installments are useful for more tactical approaches to dating and relationships.]

Be the person you want to attract and be in a relationship with

It’s never, ever, ever, ever about the other person.  Not even that one time.

This is the sad and good news.  Sad because accepting this holds us responsible for all of our failed relationships, courting nightmares and people we attract.  Good because nothing is wrong with the universe.  There is no shortage of good men or sane women.  Our childhoods did not irreparably damage us.  We are the problem and solution.  We hold the key to your pasts, presents and futures.

An easy way to demonstrate this is by looking at how we often seek qualities in a partner that we do not possess ourselves.  I know scores of fat, out-of-shape guys who deride women for not being pretty and thin enough.  I know scores of women who complain about men being irresolute and uncommitted yet engage in relationships with these same men, even though the women know they are not what they want; in other words, they are irresolute and uncommitted about what they want.

Focusing on other people’s faults always seems to make ours disappear.

If you want a fit partner, exercise.  If you want a more worldly partner, travel.  If you want a partner who listens, listen.  If want more mature partners, be mature.  If you want greater commitment, commit to what you want.

Perhaps you think you are the things you seek.  You think you are responsible, healthy, or whatever trait you’re looking for in a partner.  Yet you attract irresponsible, unhealthy, etc. partners—or none at all.  Instead of asking yourself if you might be the problem, conceding that you may have blind-spots about yourself, you blame the other party.  You sooner declare a global drought of suitable partners than look at what it is in you that continually attracts and creates what you seemingly don’t want.

I write “seemingly” because we always get what we want, even though it seems like we don’t.  The problem is what we want unconsciously trumps what we want consciously.  Our want to feel important, look good, be comfortable, be right, secure, not change, not be alone and so on, trumps and undermines our want to be happy, healthy, generous, etc.  Don’t believe me?  Look at your relationships and who you attract into your life.  They are the evidence that this is true.

Many of us will point to our families and friendships as evidence that we aren’t doing anything wrong.  Because they work so well, it shows that we know how to be in healthy relationships.  The only logical conclusion is that there is a good-man or sane-woman shortage.

Family, friends, co-workers and other non-romantic relationships show us who we are, but not in the way romantic ones do.  If relationships are like mirrors for who we are, then family, friends, etc. are like a mirror you pass in the hallway—useful for straightening up and checking yourself out.  Romantic relationships are like those cosmetic mirrors, where every pore and imperfection stands out.  Our romantic partners and prospects show us what we really think about ourselves, what we are really willing to accept out of our lives—not some intellectualized concept we talk about with friends.

This close-viewing is the promise romantic relationships hold.  It’s hard to find out so much about ourselves without this level of intimacy.  Living a life filled with only friends and family, it’s easier to stop short of full self-knowledge.  The level of closeness inherent in romantic relationships forces people to do one of three things:  confront themselves, impose an uneasy stalemate or abandon ship.  If you’re ready to take a deep look at yourself and really free yourself, few situations are more conducive to that than romantic relationships.

Also realize that just because our partners and prospects don’t match up with the misbegotten notions we have about ourselves, this inconsistency need not be a deal-breaker.  We need people to work our shit out with.  It’s preferable to do it with someone who’s more-or-less on the same page.  It’s delusional to think you’re going to find someone without problems.  The key is to find someone with complimentary problems and wants to work them out with you.  This is actually the best part of my present relationship:  we both have shit, but we use each other to work that shit out.

This is all a long-winded way of saying keep the attention on yourself.  Like everything, courtship, dating and relationships are inside jobs.  The perceiver and the perceived are the same thing.  You want to attract a great partner?  You want a great relationship?  Be a great person.

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”

Anesthetic Ecology 101

"Honey, doesn't watching TV just make you feel so alive?" "Yes!" Image via goodhousekeeping.com

When I got home last night, I split an acorn squash in half and pealed a head of garlic that I put it into a crock filled with olive oil.  I put both the squash and garlic in the oven.  I made some honey-mustard dipping sauce with mayonnaise, maple syrup (didn’t have honey) and mustard.  I turned on “The Godfather,” which I started watching the night before.  I watched the movie while I ate raw broccoli dipped in syrup-mustard sauce waiting for the squash and garlic to cook.

When the squash and garlic were done, I put them on a plate and smashed the garlic, olive oil and a heap of salt into the squash’s flesh.  I also put some Trader Joe’s tater-tots into the oven so I could continue eating after the squash.  By the time the tater-tots were cooked, I ate most of the squash and was uncomfortably bloated.  I ate the tater-tots anyway.  The glut of food directed all of my body’s energy toward my digestive tract, making my theretofore racing mind docile.

I watched the end of “The Godfather” (which I’ve seen at least a dozen times before), and because it was early and I’d watched all of my Netflix DVD’s and I had no internet signal and didn’t want to read, I put in “The Godfather II.”  I watched that for less than a half-hour before my food coma fully took hold.  I managed to meditate for 15 minutes, my posture kept upright by an overstuffed intestine.  I read a few pages of the book “Ishmael” and went to sleep around 11:00.

This is a rare glimpse into what I call my “anesthetic ecosystem.”  It’s a solitary world that flourishes on weekday nights when I have no plans.  It’s where I go when I don’t want to deal with shit.  When I don’t want to maintain relationships.  When I don’t want to overcome fear.  When I don’t want to clean messes.  When I don’t want to help anyone but myself. Continue reading “Anesthetic Ecology 101”

Tollbooth Operators, Crossing Guards and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Mother Theresa has nothing on this woman. Image via blog.freepeople.comLongboat Key, Florida, where I hang out with my family every winter, is about an 1 1/2 hours from the Tampa airport.  On the drive, we pass through 2 tollbooths.  Growing up in suburban Chicago, these types of long, tollbooth-speckled drives were normal.  I decided as a child that working in a tollbooth would be the worst imaginable job:  performing a repetitive, mindless task while inhaling exhaust fumes.

My childhood assumptions have been replaced by an adult observation:  tollbooth operators seem inordinately happy—not just in contrast to my preconceptions, but happy in a standalone sort of way.  They are almost universally cheery, smiling and courteous.  This is not just a Florida phenomenon.  The Holland and Lincoln Tunnels, the GWB, Midtown Tunnel and other Tristate toll plazas are filled with damn happy folks.  Sure, there’s a surly cop manning the booth every now and again, but for the most part they are courteous, pleasant and cheerful.

I walk 3/4 of a mile every morning to work through my fancy Brooklyn neighborhood.  I typically do it around 8:15AM, right as children are going to school.  My walk down Clinton Street takes me past a couple crossing guards.  Like the toll operators, these women (and they’re all women) seem preternaturally happy.  They know most of the names of both parent and child.  They seem untroubled by the weather, which is pretty damn cold right now.

On the walk I pass many well-dressed people on their way to work.  Perhaps they betray a different affect at work, but going there they look pretty miserable.  Few smile.  Most have sad or anxious eyes.  If I smile or look at them, they don’t seem to know what to do and look away rather than smiling back.  Most of them wear headphones and/or are tapping away on their phones, sending texts or emails; their fixation punctuated by obligatory glances at the sidewalk.

I just finished reading an article by David Brooks in the New Yorker called “Social Animal.” The subheading is, “How the new sciences of human nature can help make sense of life.”  The article uses an imaginary case study of a couple’s courtship and all of the neurological mechanisms that inform its development.  I can’t do justice to Brooks’s article, nor his argument (you should definitely read it), but I’ll tell you what I got from it.  It’s the same thing I get from seeing the smiling tollbooth operators and ebullient crossing-guards, people whose job is to interact with other people:  humans want and need to connect with one another. Continue reading “Tollbooth Operators, Crossing Guards and Martin Luther King, Jr.”

Does A 14-Year Old Run Your Life?

Based on this photo my one and only high school dance could have been worse. Image via Metromix Chicago

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?”

The 168 Hour Work Week and the Case for Irony

You too can flex in the mirror. Image via NY Times.

Here is a passage from the NY Times book review of Timothy Ferriss’s new book “The 4 Hour Body”:

He can use without irony…lines like: “I was enjoying French food and a bottle of Bordeaux with a 25-year-old female yoga instructor new to San Francisco, fresh from the Midwest.” This poor woman lets slip that she’s unable to have an orgasm. Mr. Ferriss, as any humanitarian would, makes it a point to fix this problem for her. “I was able to facilitate orgasms,” he writes, “in every woman who acted as a test subject.”

I started writing a diatribe about Ferris’s passage, but I stopped myself.  After all, I haven’t read the book.  Despite what I might think about this passage, I wish him and his readers the hardest bodies.  May his words heal the masses.

But I think the Times reviewer nails it.  It wasn’t so much what Ferriss wrote, but the way he wrote it, i.e. “without irony.”  As Oscar Wilde put it, “A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal.”

The world is bloated with sincerity.  Look through most newspapers and all you see is sincerity and its evil cousin, seriousness.  We read headlines about Wikileaks and oil-spills and crazed gunmen and we absolutely know the world is screwed.

But what if the answer to all the world’s woes isn’t more sincerity, more seriousness, more knowledge?  Knowledge dooms.  Knowledge is a record of what has been, and what likely will be.  We know we are screwed because we have been.  Knowledge seldom permits what could be, because what could be cannot be known.  It hasn’t happened yet.

What if instead of more sincerity, seriousness and knowledge, the world needed more irony?  The Greek root of irony is “eirōneia,” meaning simulated or feigned ignorance.  What if even the small act of pretending to not know has the power to loosen our grip on the doomed nature of reality?  What if irony was the key to transformation?

Let me explain what I mean in a very sincere fashion. Continue reading “The 168 Hour Work Week and the Case for Irony”

Transform Your Life for $550 (or not)

I don't know what this image has to do with this post, but I thought it was cool. Via sfist.com

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)”

This Post Will Make You Happy

Panelists at PSFK's Good Ideas on Happiness Salon (L to R: Hill, Forbes, Dean and Rubin). Image via PSFK.

Growing up, no one sat me down and said, “David, this is what I’ve learned about living a happy life.”  The closest thing I got was a warning from my father:  “If it looks too good to be true, sounds too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true”—a sage tactic for avoiding unhappy situations, but not necessarily a strategy to get into good ones.

Without clear guidance, I tried to figure it out myself.  I looked around the house, but like I said they weren’t saying much.  Mom was boozing.  Dad was an every-other-week presence who dealt with depression much of his life.  Grandparents were pretty checked out.

I looked around the neighborhood, but the whole suburban, early-eighties, broken-home, lives of quiet desperation thing was all the rage, so that didn’t help much either.

That just left TV.  People on TV had problems like me, but they were, unlike my problems, settled in twenty-two minutes (unless it was one of those annoying “to be continued” episodes).  Happiness was the default setting for TV characters.  They started the show happy, faced conflict, overcame conflict, returned to a happy state of being.  The sitcom happiness arc was punctuated with commercials that brimmed with things to buy that assured happiness.

Out of this alloy of environmental inferences and TV-based philosophy, I had no clue how to live a happy life.  I spent my first eighteen years in near continuous depression.

I attended an event the other day by the organization PSFK.  The topic was happiness.   It was like an overdue version of the talk I never received as a child. Continue reading “This Post Will Make You Happy”