Is Your Life An Untested Theory?

Last May I wrote about how I got a job. I did not, however, say what the job was. It was with a company called LifeEdited, which, despite its literary name, involves little writing outside of countless emails and occasional copy-writing. We are constructing a new breed of American home, meant to breed a new way of American life. The first apartments are designed to test the idea that people can have everything they need from a home with a far smaller spatial and ecological footprint. The first unit, a 420 sq ft Soho apartment dubbed LE1, is extremely energy efficient, will have great indoor air quality, will be able to accommodate sit down dinners for 12 and sleep 4.

I don’t want to say I BS’d my way into the job, but I confess that when I pitched myself, I speculated, rather than pointed to, my abilities. They needed a Project Manager. I figured I had done stuff before, I had opened Excel spreadsheets, I wrote lists. How hard could it be?

It was a lot harder than I had anticipated. Turns out people go to school and get degrees for project management. Compounding this difficulty was my near complete oblivion of the design, architecture and construction industries.

My lack of skills weren’t my only problem. I knew I couldn’t do something I wasn’t aligned with philosophically. I was an under-qualified, idealist snob.

But I was undeterred by my handicaps. I needed a job pretty bad. I was getting married, running out of money and pretty done with the getting-by way of life I had been living.

And here was a job that had it all. It involved skills I believed I could possess in less than 6 months. It had a mission that brought all my literary aspirations–brevity, intelligence, purpose–into the design and architectural realms. It paid.

There was also an unanticipated benefit: it signaled a shift in my life from being an ideas-based person into a results-based one. I had always been able to construct ideas, but results–things you could touch or point to–were conspicuously absent.

I love ideas, theories and philosophies. Today, my ability to think surely exceeds my ability to make shit happen. But I now realize that tangible results are important–mostly because it’s where ideas, theories and philosophies are tested. Untested ideas, theories and philosophies are like trying to live in a blueprint rather than a home. A blueprint can look great, but unless it can be built, it’s useless (and yes, I know people don’t use blueprints nowadays).

9 months after starting LifeEdited, we are about to complete our first apartment. I’m really excited. To be a part of it, to convert an idea into a home, to make errors, to correct, to edit, to construct, has been an amazing experience, one that enriches and beefs up my thought life.

With these thoughts in mind, here are some things to consider:

  1. Where in your life do you linger too long in abstraction? Perhaps it relates to dating, your work, a spiritual/religious conviction, etc.
  2. Where are you avoiding testing your theory? In other words, where are you avoiding taking action surrounding your theory–e.g. actually dating, taking action to save the environment, being kind/sacrificing, etc.
  3. Start building. Take one action right now to test your idea, theory or philosophy.

 

The Importance of Being Right

When I was 14 I had a huge crush on Michelle Pockock. She was 5’8″, had black hair down to her butt, dark, button eyes and a small mouth with thick braces. At the time, I had no experience with women and was pretty much a nonentity in my high school’s social hierarchy. Despite these handicaps, I managed to invite Michelle back to my house one afternoon. I got her into my bedroom. I remember sitting there at the edge of my bed, talking about nothing. It was the perfect setup for a makeout session. And yet…I did nothing. I did not kiss her, touch her or even hint at the depths of my passions.

Later, she joined the debate team right after I did. You could say she followed me. We had many the overnight trips that lent themselves to secreting away. Michelle and I did none of that. Perhaps frustrated by my lack of initiative, she ended up hooking up with this short, pudgy-faced douche named Kirk–a Junior who boasted that he plucked her virginity to anyone who cared to listen.

Sure, I was clueless in a way common to 14 year-olds (though this cluelessness had a long half-life). Perhaps Michelle didn’t actually like me and that’s why we never hooked up. But I believe there was another phenomenon at play; a phenomenon that thwarts plans and intentions to the present day. I was being right. In this case, I was right that she was not interested in me. Had I not been so certain about my unattractiveness, had I entertained the possibility that she liked me–a possibility affirmed by countless actions on her part–I would have made at least one move. Sure, I might have been wrong. I might have made an ass out of myself. But I wouldn’t have wondered what would have been.

I’m happy to report that I’ve come a long way in the last 21 years with my relationships to women. Though far from completely evolved in this area, I acknowledge a few possible reasons why, for instance, my wife finds me attractive.

Nonetheless, there are many areas where I cling to my righteousness. In fact, wherever I feel stuck or disempowered, wherever I fail to take action, wherever I suffer, somewhere underneath it is the determination to be right: I am being right that something is not possible; I am being right that a situation is untenable; I am being right that a person can’t change–a particularly malevolent influence when that person is me.

What if we could all be a little easier with our relation to being right? What if we could accept that all of our knowledge, the basis of righteousness, is inherently limited, and therefore an unreliable barometer for what is and is not possible? Often, this new relation doesn’t even necessitate action on our part, just a willingness to entertain possibilities outside the scope of our knowledge.

In the spirit of not being right, here are few things to think about today:

  1. Name an area where you are suffering or lack power.
  2. What do you know about this area that keeps you from taking action or finding peace?
  3. What would be possible if you were wrong about what you know?
  4. Practice being wrong. Take one action that corresponds with your newfound wrongness. Step outside the boundaries of your knowledge.

 

 

Seeing What is Possible, Dealing with Reality

Emily Dickinson: Possibility/Bedroom Dweller.

Emily Dickinson wrote the famous verse, “I dwell in possibility.”  Unlike the famous poetess, many of us dwell in limitation, using the past as our main referent for the future—i.e. because we’ve have never done it in the past, it will not happen in the future.

Possibility on the other hand allows for unprecedented realities.  Something that has never happened can happen simply because it’s possible.  We might not know how it will happen, but when we acknowledge the possibility, we are more likely to take the action corresponding to realizing that possibility.

For example, if we think being physically fit is impossible, based on the fact we’ve been unhealthy our whole lives, we won’t do the things necessary to be fit.  Conversely, if we believe being fit is possible, even if we don’t know how, we can figure out ways to realize that objective.

There is a dark-side of possibility however.  It’s what I call “the narcosis of possibility.” The easiest place to see this is at 12:15AM after a few vodka-sodas.  You invent a possibility, like starting a business.  You can’t wait to start making it happen.  The dude on the next bar-stool is going to design your logo.  Any-fucking-thing is possible!

You wake up the next day with a vague recollection of what was so great about your idea.  You try to muster the enthusiasm of the night before but are preoccupied by thoughts of coffee, eggs and Law and Order reruns.  You think of your lack of business skill, money, etc.  Fuck it.  It wasn’t that good an idea anyway.  Reality trumps drunken possibility once again.

This phenomenon is not limited to buzzed brainstorming.  Many sober minds have conjured great ideas that do not withstand reality.  We get psyched about a project, relationship, fitness plan, etc., but we fail to deal with things as they are in reality.  We don’t acknowledge our level of business training, our emotional maturity (or lack thereof), our state of health, etc.  Instead of developing these things, we become overwhelmed by the gap between possibility and reality, often doing nothing.  There are others who use willpower and force to bridge that gap—these people can make things happen, but generally at the expense of their health and happiness.

Sometimes we can’t admit that just because something is possible, it doesn’t mean we should do it.

Other times we create a possibility aware of the realities we’re dealing with.  It’s something we’ve considered well.  We have an idea and plan to carry it out.  But once the plan is in motion, we don’t ask ourselves often enough, “Is this working?”

Lest I be too abstract, I’m writing about myself.  I started this blog 6 months ago based on the possibility of writing for a living.  This idea was pure, uncut possibility.  According to the past, I had no reason to believe I would make it happen.

I love the writing part and the feedback I’m recieving.  I love processing my life and helping others process theirs.  But I haven’t been dealing with a couple nagging realities:  I don’t love not making money or working in isolation.  I’ve been trying to will these things out of my reality, but I can’t seem to do it.

Sure, it’s entirely possible I can make money if I refine my plan. I could find more ways to engage people.  I actively do both these things.

But the truth is I’m not dealing with reality.  I want to be better at working alone.  I want to be more of a self-starter.  I want to be one of these people—who seem so numerous on the internet—who through pluck and Twitter, amass great followers and fortunes.  But in reality I am not these things—at least not right now.

I have to assess where I’m at, based not on the narcotic effect of possibility, but on the sober truth of reality.  From there, I can create a new possibility.

The new possibility I’ve created is to continue to develop my writing, but with more human contact and steadier income.  There’s an ancient tradition I am going to employ to remedy this situation.  It’s called a job.

Maybe if Emily Dickinson took a similar approach, she would have left her bedroom.

It’s important to note that deviating from an original possibility is not killing it.  In fact, sticking to the original plan would kill it.  My new possibility affords me self-expression through writing, supported by the stability and relationship building of a job.

Here are some things to consider for yourself:

  1. What possibility in your life is being thwarted by reality? In other words, name a dream—one you may or may not be taking action on.  Within that dream, what realities are compromising your ability to take action or enjoy acting?  For example, you want to date, but don’t do so because you have trouble being open with potential partners.
  2. What new possibility could you create if you dealt with reality as it presently exists? Using the above example, based on your lack of skill, you could create the new possibility of being supported, getting a dating coach or asking someone who is romantically fulfilled to find out what he or she does.
  3. Take one action that based on this new possibility right now.

Celebrate Dependence Day

We're whole together. (Full disclosure: I couldn't think of a relevant image for this post).

No home, a big duffel in hand, a bigger backpack on back, I headed to the uptown 1 train to crash on my buddy’s couch.  My body felt like a plucked tuning fork.  I heard every car honk, every splash when wheel hit puddle, felt every distant train rumble, smelled the dankness of cold-moisture and curbed garbage, saw every glimmer off the pavement, every swirl in the florescent lights in the train-stop.

The train arrived.  I sat and pulled out my notebook.  I had just broken up and everything was still and clear.  What had brought me to this place was clear—all the lies, all the needs I suppressed.  I was done.  I had needs.  I wrote down what I needed.  Someone who listens.  Someone who likes reading in bed (or at least appreciates that I do).  Someone who is openminded.  Someone who cares about the environment.  When I rattled off a couple pages of these things, I wrote out a declaration that for everything I listed, I would be willing to deliver the same thing.

I arrived at the 116th street stop.  A light glaze covered the bricks of Columbia’s campus walk.  I gulped in air.  I hadn’t breathed in a while.

I called my mom and told her what happened.  I apologized for lying to her (something I would do a lot of in the coming days).  Dishonesty cannot be not contained.  Lying in my relationship made it easier to lie to friends and family.  Since talking about my relationship was dooming it, I quit talking or showing up.

I got to my friend Chikodi’s place.  It was 1AM.   We talked for a couple hours—about what happened, what went wrong, what was possible now.  2 years of dammed energy were released.  There was no way I was going to sleep, so I pulled out computer and started to write.

Dear…
It’s almost 5 in the morning, I can’t sleep.  I just broke up with _____.  I’m laying on a friend’s couch.  I’ve very little idea what’s next—just a clearer idea of what will no longer be [doing my best imitation of Neo at the end of the Matrix]….I was just thinking about you.  How I’d love a lover who I would be excited to have you meet.  _____ was never that, and I’m sure it drove a fissure in our relationship….I’m sure there was an invisible but palpable toll on our connection, that everything had to be filtered through the lies that maintained my appearance of emotional and spiritual health.  It just wasn’t there…the health that is.
So to long health in a short life.
Love
David

I needed and wanted people in my life.  I was totally dependent on them. Continue reading “Celebrate Dependence Day”

A Funny Thing Occurred to Me While Tripping on Acid

Drugs were an unspeakable evil as a child growing up in the 80’s.  The “Just Say No” campaign bludgeoned me with fear.  Many of my mom’s friends experienced coke-fueled implosions.  Shane fell off the bridge and got brain damage on Degrassi High.

But my adolescence was an unspeakable evil too.  Without drugs, I was like a cold Chihuahua, thin, shivering, plaintive eyes, tail between my legs.  I walked around certain that no one liked me, unpopular with both sexes.  I offered guys no competition.  I offered women no confidence.  Most of my nights in high school were spent alone watching reruns of Quantum Leap.

Shortly after moving to Boulder, Colorado when I was 16, I was introduced to marijuana.  I was working at a bike shop.  One night after we closed, “Shorty,” a buzz-cut, army-fatigue-wearing, 6’5” Wisconsan, who grew skunk-smelling, crystal laden kind-bud (I’m not sure if they still call it that) lit up a bowl.

I took one puff of Shorty’s weed and was sent into paroxysms of coughing.  When the coughing subsided, I spent the rest of the night in the bike-storage room hallucinating that my parents were at the front of the shop. It was not an auspicious start.

Undaunted, I worked past this initial foreboding experience.  No feelings of near-death and extreme terror were going to deter me from squashing my depression.  Throughout that summer, I learned to love marijuana.  When I started my high school, that love blossomed.

Nancy Reagan lied.  Drugs were great. I spent the next few years continuously high. Continue reading “A Funny Thing Occurred to Me While Tripping on Acid”

Support Local Inspiration

I wish I could be like Bieber and is that Kanye West? I want to be like him too. Image via justinbieberneversaynever.com

Justin Bieber has a new movie called “Never Say Never,”  whose website promises, “Find out what’s possible when you never give up,” and gives this synopsis:

Justin Bieber: Never Say Never is the inspiring true story and rare inside look at the rise of Justin from street performer in the small town of Stratford, Ontario to internet phenomenon to global super star culminating with a dream sold out show at the famed Madison Square Garden in 3-D.

Seeing the Bieb’s movie made me think of a funeral I went to last night for my friend Clemente.

Clemente died about a week ago.  He was only 50 or so, but had been dealing with numerous ailments for a while.  Though his death was well within the realm of possibility, it was still a shock.

Clemente was a complicated figure I knew through a 12-step community. He was an outspoken advocate for taking newly sober people swiftly through all 12 steps.  He ridiculed the “easy does it”/“don’t drink and go to meetings” approach to getting sober, thinking it homicidal for someone who needed real relief from his demons.  His rhetoric was not hollow.  He practiced what he preached.  In the 5 years I knew him, I saw him repeatedly give his time and energy to countless men and women, many of whom seemed like lost causes.  Many of these people have stayed sober to this day.  Clemente saved lives.

His charity didn’t buffer an edge about him.  He was a pissed-off man.  He thought other people were doing things wrong and he let them know.  He was controlling and unyielding.  He felt misunderstood and ostracized and carried a major chip on his shoulder; this disposed people to misunderstand and ostracize him.   He was pedantic and self-righteous.  When he got deep into Roman Catholicism in the last couple years, his righteousness was turbocharged.

Yet in all his complexity, in all his abrasiveness and anger, Clemente was an inspirational figure in my life.  Unlike the Justin Bieber’s of the world (or his more sophisticated equivalents), he wasn’t an abstraction or a snapshot.  His trajectory to greatness was not linear or nicely packaged.  He wasn’t handsome.  He made weird grunting sounds due to his medical conditions.  He lived with his mom and got fired from his last job as a doorman because he was supposedly overheard saying he hated rich people (he confessed to me that he thought that, but never said it).  Yet more than most people, he “never said never” when it came to giving himself to those in need.   He was a pissed off Puerto Rican who showed me what is possible when you never give up. I’ll miss him.

I like to keep my inspiration local.  I’ve got many people like Clemente in my life—highly flawed people who kick ass anyway.  Many of these people, like Clemente, are not young, handsome, pretty, rich, famous or charming.  And yet it is through my intimacy with them—through knowing the specifics of their challenges and how they surmount them—that my admiration grows.  It is the reality of them that inspires me, not the fantasy.  I don’t need movies or magazine profiles to show me that people can overcome obstacles.  I’ve got phone numbers.

With this in mind, here are some things to consider:

  1. If your primary source of inspiration comes from people you don’t know, get off it. It’s easy to love people from afar.  Go local for your inspiration.
  2. If you don’t have many inspirational people in your life, don’t ditch your friends, start inspiring them. You’re probably a downer, so start sourcing inspiration.  You’ll attract inspiring people and help the people already in your life.
  3. Start looking for inspiration in the people in your life. Everyone’s doing their best.  Find that best in them and acknowledge it.

Are You an Idea Junkie?

[Read below for my limited time offer of unaccredited idea-coaching!  Supply is limited (supply is one actually)]

Ideas I’ve bailed on:

  1. Bike racing
  2. High school debate team
  3. Biking around the world
  4. Become a chef
  5. Modeling
  6. Dramatic acting
  7. Comedic acting
  8. Stand-up comedy
  9. Personal training
  10. Starting an ecologically-minded catering company
  11. Several girlfriends
  12. Mortgage sales (this was a quick one)
  13. Blog journalism (despite the money!)

I was thinking about these ideas a few weeks ago as I watched a talk by Scott Belsky at an event I help run.  Belsky wrote a book called, “Making Ideas Happen.”  In it, he outlines the difference between ideas that come into being and those that don’t.

Belsky explained that when an idea is new, progress is swift because everything is novel, learning curves are steep and we have nothing to prove.  We are willing to work long and hard.  We are unencumbered by pride as there is no shame in screwing up.  We’re beginners and that’s what beginners do.

But then something happens?  We develop some competency and the honeymoon ends.  We are no longer just dating our ideas—we’re married to them.  That’s where the work starts and where most people bail.  Unfortunately, most of us bail before our ideas even have an opportunity to fail (or succeed of course).  Continue reading “Are You an Idea Junkie?”

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”

The Plurality is Near

Man and machine merge.

In 1997 my dad bought me a desktop PC for school.  It had a 2 gig hard-drive because, he said, “I thought you needed something you could grow into.”  It had Microsoft Office and came with a disk for a web-service called Gowebway.

I remember unpacking the computer, anticipating all the things I could do with it, like word processing and…well I didn’t know what else.  I didn’t have any reason to make a spreadsheet.  I’d never emailed.  The web was an abstraction.  It was like Encarta apparently, but more so.

When my folks left my place, I started up my computer, loaded Gowebway, hooked up my phone line and within minutes, I was online.  A minute after that I was looking for porn.  A few seconds after that, I found porn, and lots of it.  Before the day was through, I had signed up for a $30/month subscription service (seemed like a deal), and had spent the whole night—and many days and nights after—having a one man bacchanal.  It was a fitting entree to my online life, which has been the mental equivalent of a lifetime’s supply of Cheetos.  Like Cheetos, online content is satisfying going down, but leaves you totally unnourished no matter how much you consume.

Continue reading “The Plurality is Near”

On Doing, Being and Picking Up Chicks

My onetime Bible

Five years ago I downloaded an ebook called “Double Your Dating,” by a guy named David DeAngelo, who explained his patented “cocky-funny” technique for picking up women.  He said a man should be simultaneously cocky and (you guessed it) funny when approaching women.  This state conveys to women carefree confidence.  A cocky funny man can make fun of himself, because he has nothing to prove.  He can make fun of a girl, because he doesn’t need to impress.  He does all of this with a shit-eating grin, and suddenly becomes very desirable.
I was working DeAngelo’s game to good effect for a few weeks when Neil Strauss’ book “The Game” came out.  Strauss, a longtime investigative journalist went on a mission to infiltrate the pickup artist subculture, only to find himself one its gurus a couple years later.  The book chronicled his journey.
Both books opened my eyes for different reasons.  DeAngelo’s book was helpful in giving general information about how to conduct oneself in specific situations.  Taking his advice took the seriousness out of going out.  I started having fun flirting with women for the first time in my life.  Strauss’ book included techniques and general information like DeAngelo, but also told the story of how an AFC like me (average frustrated chump. The pickup culture is filled with acronyms), with training and perseverance became a mPUA (master pickup artist).  What both books did was change my internal narrative from “whether” I could have more success with women to “how.”
Now before you judge me, please ask yourself, whether you are man, woman, straight, gay, bi, transgender, whatever, have you ever had problems meeting a romantic partner?  Have you ever had difficulties communicating to a potential partner?  Have you ever felt unlucky in love?  If you haven’t felt these ways, please, judge me at your pleasure.  If you have felt this way, you know why I turned to this questionable counsel. Continue reading “On Doing, Being and Picking Up Chicks”