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.

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”

46 Days to Overcoming Your Addiction to Hope

“Hi, I’m David and I’m Hope-aholic.”

“Hi David!” roars a big crowd.

“I’ve been struggling with my addiction to hope for years, going in-and-out of the rooms of HA [Hope-aholics Anonymous].  I’ve spent countless years hoping that someone or something will make me whole.  It started when I was a kid.  I hoped that the approval of other kids would do it.  When I was a teen, it was girls and popularity.  Nowadays, it’s having a healthy relationships, a good professional life and material security that occupy my hopes.  These things sound reasonable enough, but I know that deep down I am setting myself up.  I know that as long as I hope things will be different than what they are, I can’t be okay with now.  I know that if I’m looking for something external to make me whole, who I am, as I am, will forever be insufficient.

The other night I almost relapsed on hope.  A friend had invited me to an introduction seminar for a yearlong course on how to grow my business.  I knew it was a bad idea to go.  I read on the website that there would be an open-bar of hope from 7-8. Continue reading “46 Days to Overcoming Your Addiction to Hope”

Failure Is Always an Option

I think this might be my new logo.

I’ve been thinking about marketing a lot lately.  Good marketing is what will compel readers to read what I’m writing.  When that happens I will maximize my contribution to the world and make a bit of dough along the way.  That’s my working definition of success.

The question I’ve been asking myself is, “How should I market myself?  What market demand might I fill?”

In answering these questions, I’ve surveyed successful contemporary spiritual and self-help writers (the market I see myself occupying).  I looked at their brands and asked how their approaches might be incorporated into my marketing and brand strategy.  Here are some examples:

  1. Eckhart Tolle.  Author of “The Power of Now,” he provides his readers a glimpse of reality from an enlightened perspective.  I like what Tolle says, but I can’t claim the enlightened qualification he does.  Unlike the finely-tuned Tolle, the exhaust note of truth I make sputters more than purrs.
  2. Deepak Chopra.  Author of such books as “Perfect Health” and “7 Spiritual Laws of Success,” this doctor provides a fusion of Vedic wisdom and pop science, applied to things like emotional and physical health.  My highest degree is a BA in English, so I’m of dubious academic authority.  And Chopra draws from the deep well of his Indian cultural wisdom.  I’m from the suburbs, where wisdom flows in inverse proportion to the amount of time spent in front of the TV (i.e. all the time).  My emulation of Chopra would surely flop.
  3. Pema Chodron.  Author of “When Things Fall Apart,” she delivers a Buddhist nun’s perspective to everyday problems.  In contrast to the ascetic nun, I live a pretty decadent life.  I’m sexually active, overuse Netflix and love Trader Joe’s tater tots bathed in salt.  Her angle is a no-go too. Continue reading “Failure Is Always an Option”

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)”

Make 2011 The Most Processive Year Ever!

What are your resolutions? Image via The Onion.

Yiddish:  Mentsch tracht, Gott lacht.
English:  Man plans, God laughs.

On Christmas day, I left for Florida to hang out with my family for a week.  It’s something I’ve done for the past 20 years.  My dad and stepmom’s side of the family congregates at a place called Longboat Key on the mid-western gulf coast.  Days are typically spent hanging by the pool, eating, going to the beach, eating, playing with my cousins’ kids and eating some more.

The hub of activity is a couple vacation condominiums my aunt and uncle own.  My dad usually books me a condo in the same complex.  This year was no different except that my girlfriend was joining me.

The condos in the complex are all bright and sunny duplexes, filled with tacky overstuffed floral print couches.  There are vases filled with plastic flowers for ambience.  It’s upper-middle-class vacation property chic—not decor you’d live with all year, but clean and comfortable for a week.

We picked up the keys for our unit, 580CW, the night we arrived.  My aunt and uncle offered to drop us off at the unit.  We wended through the parking lots, but 580CW was nowhere to be found.  Finally, I got out a map that the management included with the keys.  Written in a Sharpie pen was the outline of 580CW.  It was not in the main complex, but on the road directly outside of it, Companion Way (CW).  Strange, but not immediately alarming.

We drove out of the complex onto Companion Way and after a couple passes found the unit.  It was a converted trailer.  Strange, but no biggie.  I’ve lived in trailer parks before.  They can be nice.  Really.

We entered the linoleum-floored trailer and were immediately assaulted by the smell of cleaning solvent and damp, cigarette-permeated upholstery.  This was disconcerting at first, but our alarm was mitigated by fatigue.  We had been traveling all day and the preceding days were spent making sure everything was cool before we left.  We were too tired to complain and after all we were there because of my father’s generosity.  I felt it a bit ungracious to refuse free accommodations.

We got into the bedroom and plopped down on the bed.  To call the bed a pillow-top mattress is like calling Mt. Everest a speed-bump.  It had a foot or so of cushion, presumably covering springs deep below the surface.  Sleeping on our sides put our bodies into a V-shape where our hips sunk into the mattress and legs and torso projected upward.  The same thing happened lying on our backs or stomachs—our pelvises sank while our heads and feet were sent vertical.  The bed’s comfort made moving to the cold linoleum floor seemed like a viable option.

These physical contortions were exacerbated by sheets that smelled like an ashtray doused with a Glade air-freshener.  Continue reading “Make 2011 The Most Processive Year Ever!”

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!”

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?”

The Joy of Breaking Down

You don't get strong pushing a functioning motorcycle.
  1. Eighteen years-old.  I had just spent three months sitting in my folks’ basement continuously high, working out, watching TV, in near-complete isolation, interacting only with parents and pot-dealer.  Bleakness prevailed.  I thought learning how to play my dad’s old guitar might help.  I just needed $30 for a book so I could learn some chords.  I asked my dad for money.  He said no.  I broke down crying like a baby.  It had nothing to do with the guitar book.  I needed help.  I realized I had never asked for help before.  I asked for help.  I got help.
  2. Twenty-three.  I was in Munich, Germany, debauching my way through Europe after two years spent more or less continuously drunk.  All my waking hours were dominated by drinking.  My mornings—if I could get up in the morning—were pervaded by hangover-induced physical violence.  My early afternoons were spent in regret and physical recovery.  My late afternoons/early evenings were spent thinking about how getting a drink might not be a bad idea.  My nights were spent drinking, repeating cycle.  By Munich, I couldn’t handle it anymore.  My body was shutting down.  The myth of drinking to have a good time was being demythologized sip-by-sip.  I couldn’t go on.  I stopped.  I asked for help.  I went home.  I got help.  I got well.
  3. Twenty-six.  I finally broke up with my ten-year-senior, ex-stripper, adolescent-child-toting girlfriend after five unsuccessful tries.  I couldn’t seem to do anything right, even break up.  I was bouncing from job-to-job.  I had no purpose in life, no direction.  I was desperate.  I needed help.  I asked for help.  I got help.  I found direction.
  4. Thirty-two.  I was in a very unsatisfying relationship with a satisfactory woman.  She was the picture of who I thought I should be with:  pretty, successful, spiritual, worldly, etc.  And I was totally fucking miserable.  I had spent two years trying to make a connection.  I moved in with her.  She was under the impression that we were going to get married.  I knew better.  The weight of my lie was like an anvil bearing down on my chest.  I distrusted everything I said.  I went to bed early and got up late.  One night, we had a fight—the same fight we always had.  I saw the opening to get honest.  I was honest.  The relationship ended.  I moved out within an hour.  I had to rebuild my life in an instant.  I asked for help.  I got it.

At an event I host, a programmer named Amit Pitaru gave a talk about designing the best motorcycle to travel through South America.  He said that when asked, most people said they would want the most reliable motorcycle they could find.  The prospect of getting caught in the middle of Nowhere, South America is not an enticing proposition.

But he described the worst thing that can happen on a trip to see South America on motorcycle:  not breaking down.  When you break down, you have to ask for help.  You get to know the locals.  You create bonds through your interactions that would have never been possible zipping by on a problem-free bike.  You might witness a beautiful sunset fixing your clutch.  You might meet a great family or friend fixing a flat.

He went on to say that on your never-break-down-bike, you zip past little towns never interacting with anyone you don’t pay to help you (restaurant, hotel and gas station attendants mostly).  You attract thieves because your fancy bike probably makes you look like an easy target.  You move through the country efficiently, but detached.  You have no problems, but you have no meaningful experiences either.

His point:  life is not interesting without breakdowns. Continue reading “The Joy of Breaking Down”