Don’t Tell Me Your Excuses, Tell Me Your Reason

People tell me all kinds of made up reasons why they can’t write every day. They are never because they physically can’t type out a few hundred words. Mind you, I am in no way cajoling or hectoring them into daily writing. People seem to have a list of excuses that nobody was seeking to hear in the first place. You do you. Besides, all of the excuses are fake. The reason most people do not write daily is the simple fact that there is no good reason for them to.

Overall, it’s not that hard to write something every day. I used to be too scared to do it though. My reason wasn’t strong enough yet. Sure, some days it is the last thing on my list of priorities but mostly it has become a normalized task like eating or bathing.

When I see someone running through the park who appears to have spent the last ten years locked in a gym, I’ll think “I need to work out more often.” Does that mean I have any intention of doing so? Nope. I have no reason to spend hours sculpting my triceps every week and depriving myself of chocolate. But still, the idea pops up and all the guilt along with it.

It might be nice if I did have a reason to do so, but often our reasons come from places of horror. Having a perfect physique could stem from crippling vanity or having an unhealthy relationship with your father who beat competitiveness (literally) into you. Or maybe you just come from a culture that values physical appearance more than other traits. The reason thus being fear of inadequacy. Perhaps you are a model or an athlete though and you provide for yourself, family, and society based on your physique.

Reasons can be positive or negative. Constructive or destructive. A reason is what we’re all seeking before we do anything. Consciously or unconsciously.

Sometimes we don’t like to admit the reasons for our actions even to ourselves for fear of the implications. A compelling reason can change your life structure and change is the opposite of security. And since security is a good marker of survival, it is damn hard to go against.

I don’t recommend that anyone write daily who has no reason to. I write daily because I want to be a writer. Ah, but why do I want to be a writer? Reasons can nest within reasons. I want to be a writer because I would like a creative outlet that keeps my mind active and can also pay the bills from almost any location I choose. Writing is stimulation, freedom, and survival. Ideally.

I’m not there yet. So, I work daily to get to my reason in the face of many logical excuses. And I don’t want to hear your excuses, tell me your reason. Better yet, tell yourself your reason and buckle up. It’s gonna get real.

The Calm Impossibility of Enlightenment

I’m not sure how enlightenment is attained. I’m not even sure what it is. The fact that you are reading this with a different set of eyeballs than my own ensure we will never completely agree on a definition.

For the meantime, use whatever definition you prefer because I’m not here to change your mind. That part is up to you.

Primarily, I wonder why enlightenment should be an ideal worth pursuing. Is it a ubiquitous desire? Probably not. Is it even attainable? Doubtful.

I would like to live a life much like any other person. Namely, one that contains as much joy, satisfaction, and fulfilling moments as possible while minimizing sorrow, pain, misfortune, and other icky feelings.

As far as I understand, enlightenment is the only path to maximize contentment through acceptance, not avoidance, of pain.

Bad things will happen. You live on earth. Those things will affect you. You will cause bad things to happen to yourself and others. It sucks. So what are you going to do with that knowledge? Wallow in self-pity, cast blame in all directions, or learn from it?

If you choose the first two, you’ll have lots of company and can commiserate with an unquestioning large tribe. Who doesn’t like belonging?! It’s like crack for our tribally wired brains. If you choose to learn from pain, get ready for a journey.

I’m no Buddhist, Stoic, Jainist, Christian Scientist, Episcopalian, Jedi Knight, or Dudeist. But, I do like to steal whatever I can that suits me in my journey towards enlightenment. Even the evilest among us has created beauty, if only accidentally. Make something useful from it and discard the rest. Much as you should do with misfortune in your own life.

Enlightenment is a path of introspection and acceptance. Each of us carries scars and sometimes open wounds from life, from our own actions or those of others. It allows for a more stable mindspace to view the world from. Not more correct or less so.  Impartial is the best way to view an enlightened mindset. But man, ‘enlightened’ is such a pretentious word.

I think anyone selling enlightement should be regarded with caution. The same goes for anyone who loudly proclaims themselves enlightened.

There is no such thing for humans. Enlightenment is the journey towards its attainment and finding calm in the acceptance of its impossibility.

Recipe For Ecstasy

Does it ever seem like your life is dull? Though, I suppose to think such a thought you would have some baseline for comparison. Maybe it’s the fact that other people’s lives seem much more exciting and fulfilling than yours. Or perhaps your life used to be much more thrilling but for some reason is lackluster as of late. If the former is true, stop that. You are not them. If the latter is true then what the hell did you do wrong? Why isn’t your life cool anymore?

Here’s the thing, you are living the only life you have. Let’s start there as a truth. We’re pretty sure you only get one of these. Your last heartbeat is gone with the others preceding it in the procession towards your demise. Happy Friday! But really, it doesn’t have to be depressingly morbid.

The perception of your dingy existence is entirely up to you. As Dale Carnegie pointed out long ago, the clinically insane person who believes she is the queen of England is, in fact, the Queen of England in her mind. I’m not saying you should go insane to experience an enjoyable lifestyle, but perhaps a smidge wouldn’t hurt you.

I don’t toy lightly with insanity. Mental stability has always freaked me out though I’ve never had to deal with it personally, I think…knock on wood. But closely related to losing your mind is losing your preconceptions.

We all have been inculcated with beliefs that may no longer suit us. Perhaps it was a parent, teacher, or friend group growing up that laid out the unconscious rules of a meaningful life. Whether it is money, fame, pregnancy, or any of the other common trappings of a successful life, without them we can feel like inadequate boogers crusting the nostril of the world.

I’m not here to tell you to reevaluate all of the expectations others have incepted you with (though you should). For the sake of succinctness let’s assume you are more or less determined and capable of disciplined work. Still, sometimes your life feels like a conveyor belt of monotony. Why aren’t you flying to Aspen this weekend like your coworker? How come you haven’t been invited to any social events lately? When was the last date you went on?

There are three reasons.

  1. You actually don’t want to do all the ‘exciting’ things with others you think you want to do. Meaning you are probably more of an introvert than you realize. Which is fine. Roll with it. Read a book and join in a much more exciting world.
  2. Plan something already. Set aside the activity, invite the people, and follow through. Hike, picnic, frisbee, drink, eat, whatever you think is exciting.
  3. Maybe your life does suck. Stop hating your job, spouse, routine, whatever it may be that is an existential sword down your throat. It’s ok, you’re allowed to enjoy life.

If none of those steps seem feasible and you’re still internally bitching about how you want your life to be an exciting story then internalize this. The average life is less than 2,365,200,000 seconds. It seems like a lot, but you just wasted 217 of them reading this. Thanks for that. You lose 2,880 each night you sleep. Which actually cuts the number of waking seconds down to 1,773,900,000. Anyways, I’m not trying to use number fear to cajole you into action. Numbers are cold and fairly ineffective ways of persuasion. I actually don’t need to persuade you at all.

If you are content to look out the window of your life in passive regret then so be it. But doesn’t that sound like a really shitty way to spend all your life seconds? To be fair most of those seconds will not be in ecstasy. An educated guess would say that out of the billion or so seconds, only 698 of them will be ecstatic. I’m still waiting for the results of the lab tests on that though…

Still, knowing that most of life won’t be at the peak of joy doesn’t mean you can’t be at the peak of something else. Learning, crafting a skill, creating art are all fulfilling and often thankless and invisible to the world. But it’s your internal world that will become richer.

If you’re only looking for external proofs of a rich life then I’m not sure how you got here or why you read this far. Go get pregnant or become a lawyer or something.

The real secret to an exciting life is creating a rich world inside your mind. It will inevitably spill out and link up with the others’ stories if that is your desire.

Go! Get out of here! Create!

A&D Abhors A Vacuum

Does anyone else feel like there is a strange amount of people who are talking about stoicism, meditation, and mindfulness in general? Perhaps it may be my narrow life-view bias but it seems that there is a groundswell of people attempting to discipline or at least be aware of where their mind is at. I know Tim Ferriss, Ryan Holiday, and others in their cohort are to credit for a lot of the massive marketing and current public awareness. But, this has happened in waves through recorded history.

During the sixties and seventies, mindfulness movements also erupted across the land. Partially fueled by mind-expanding drugs but also the Beatles discovery of  Maharishi (and their use of mind-expanding drugs) and the back to earth movement (think Kevin Kelly and the Whole Earth Catalog).

But what is the rhyme and reason of these peaks of mindful awareness?

What is the problem?

The problem is ever changing in its form but I think it can be summarized in two parts. The first is an obsession with the future. We’ll call this anxiety. The second is an addiction to the past. AKA depression. A&D. Man, I love distilling massive concepts into three characters.

A&D is the root cause of all unhappiness. A strong statement but I think I mean it.

The Stoics had different worries than the hippies and the millennials but they share in the strife of worry. Worrying about the harvest of a crop or being drafted to a napalm-laced paddy seems pretty heavy compared to having too many niggling Instagram notifications, however, there is a balancing force at play.

True, famine or death by communist are mostly worries of the past (in this country) but A&D does not mind. It despises a vacuum. If it cannot fill your life through boulder-sized problems it will fill it with truckloads of sand.

The sheer amount of effort that goes into distracting us at every second of our day is unprecedented.

Emails, social media alerts, the 400 apps on your phone, the score on that computer game, trying to find a true friend in our disposable culture, Changing the music in your headphones, paying 50% of your paycheck to rent, not having any retirement fund, access to tragic news, wanting to feel fulfilled by your work, poking that extra ten pounds around your waist, parking tickets, the economy, the IRS, driving a car, living in a city in general, ALL OF THE STIMULATION, your bad posture from your job, trying to sleep, being woken by your phone! AHhh!

Sorry. Take a breath. Hold it.

Let it out…

There we go. Yes, there is a lot of shit we have to be aware of these days. It can lead to crippling coping mechanisms, breakdowns, or living in your parent’s house. Or all three.

This is why the resurgence is occurring. Mindfulness trends upwards with collective A&D. The current trend exists for a reason. If that loaded paragraph above made your blood pressure spike, then I suggest looking into it. Whatever form that takes. Vipassana or Transcendental meditation. Walking alone often. Listening to some quiet music while staring out the bus window. Cutting vegetables for 15 minutes. Or just good old navel staring.

All that matters is not stuffing distracting inputs into your mind and seeing where it goes. It may travel to anxiety, let it. It could wander to the thing that girl said in 10th grade, so be it. Now, let it go. It’s harder than it sounds. But the goal is no to become perfect at it. The goal is the practice itself. The only thing that matters is the fact that you are breathing here and now. And being aware of it. Congratulations.

What We’re Here For

Sometimes there’s no solution for apathy better than lacing up your shoes and walking out the door. No destination in mind beyond the frame.

Sure, it would be nice if you had a concise list of necessary tasks to get you on track. But this is not how the world works for most people. There will inevitably be moments, days spent in torpid fever. The ideas won’t flow and logical action has evaporated like dew on the window sill. If you’re not careful existential dread could settle over you like flakes of coal ash. It might even cause you to write ponderous sentences with excessive and abstract similes.

So, if you note any of signs of stagnancy and do not have a plan of action to remedy your symptoms, just go. Do it. Pick up your pen and write. Anything. Go outside with no destination. Begin a journey that might be wrong for you in the long run. All that matters is the process of starting.

Learning to start something in the face of nothingness trains your mind to open up and recognize patterns around you. A walk down your block, might lead you past the grocery store could spark that memory of a recipe you’ve been meaning to cook. Cracking open that book on anthropology and being bored to tears could remind you that you’ve been meaning to read that Kurt Vonnegut book on your shelf instead.

The key to this is remembering that starting something is not a compelling reason to finish it if a better project comes along. Don’t be a sunk cost sissy with a scarcity mindset. Think of your initial impetus as a necessary stepping stone to get you to where you need to be. There is no wasted action in something so winding and mysterious as a human life. All that matters is beginning. Be wrong 2,000 times if that is what it takes to find the one right pursuit. You’ll know it’s right when you forget you were ever searching. You’ll be too busy making interesting things.

And that is what we’re here for. Which reminds me of this quote from Howard Thurman I’ll leave you with.

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

Oh jEusus

Oh Jesus, I have one minute before the end of the day!

How will I fulfill my promise to write something every day for a year?

Perhaps I will simply write something.

That sounds like sound fulfillment. Does it not?

I’d love to talk about my 3rd grade Japanese penpal from Hiroshima or the woods of my childhood, but that’s another day.

Clicks and Ire

Sometimes I wonder why what I write here isn’t more contentious. It’s not as though I don’t have beliefs that would curdle the yogurt the average North American. And boy, that contentious content sure picks up clicks and ire quicker than anything else.

Luckily, my goal here is not widespread notoriety and debate. It’s not even for you to be reading this, but thanks for your time. I am here writing this for the sake of writing this. Everyday. It’s my medicine.

People don’t take penicillin to offend anyone. And, if someone (I’m sure they exist) were offended by penicillin usage, well, good for them. Ideally, someone does get offended and writes a logical retort thus enhancing the knowledge of all parties involved. I feel like this is how things used to happen around the times of Ben Franklin, though sometimes they would skip logic and go straight for the dueling pistols…

Anyway, besides practicing their pistol aim, authors of controversy had to practice exploring their own beliefs to find the faults and protect against them. This meant interacting with ideas that may have been unsavory parlor-room discussion. Not only listening, but responding. Civilly.

I don’t think manners are necessary, but they do reveal how intelligent you are. Not on some arbitrary scale of social intelligence. The ability to be offended and not respond like a bucking mule in a tin shed reveals a depth of thought. It means that the beliefs you hold are not so tenuous as to be threatened by the passing ideas of others while you consider them.

Fear of different opinions pervades our American society. We see the backlash daily as people interact on Facebook like rabid dogs in comment threads. They can’t drop the bone and don’t even notice they’re being tugged out into the rushing traffic of public idiocy.

Or we make neat, little padded rooms for ourselves by blocking everyone who lives a different sort of life. Interacting with the three people we know are pure of thought.

So when a new and flagrant source of controversy pops up online or in life, people lose their minds. You become a fascist or a snowflake immediately. There is no middle ground to savor the differences and understand the minutia of what makes you right or perhaps, god forbid, reevaluate your stance.

I know it’s probably a lost cause for most people over the age of 25. We have successfully inbred the information and ideas that we encounter. Which is partially why I don’t bother trying to shake the branches of our idea tree on purpose. I know that most people read what they want to read to gather more ammunition with their particular caliber on it just in case an idea war breaks out. This is why all the clicks go to the most inflammatory content.

If you’re producing ideas like atom bombs your blast radius will absorb the most trauma and attention while marginalizing any nuance of idea.

I think it’s preferable to approach ideas more like a ball-peen hammer on an anvil. Chipping and chinking away as the metal is shaped. Sometimes the idea must be thrown back in the forge to reshape entirely when the hammering has become too myopic and finicky.

If you’re looking for headlines that say “Abortion is an Abomination” Then go right ahead, but you won’t find it here.

But if want to hear the sounds of metallic tinkering and feel like you’re reading the equivalent of tooth-picking, then this is your place.

There Oughta Be A Law

There oughta be a law against people saying there oughta be a law.

There also oughta be a law against people who contradict themselves.

What the punishment will be I cannot know for sure, but death seems the most likely. Very little gray area when mortality is on the line. It is perhaps the clearest binary we know of as humans. On and off. Then again we have no idea what happens when that off thing happens.

Many people wear silly hats and speculate what it means to have your mortality shut off. I walked into the Carmel-By-The-Sea (the person who named that town definitely deserves capital punishment) mission church yesterday accidentally right when mass started. There was definitely some silly hat antics going on and waving around of framed pictures. Who was in the picture I could not tell, but I assumed there was a point. And I assumed the point was to threaten people about what happens when they’re turned off.

This particular mission was more interesting than the vague and morbid threats issuing from the hat-wearers. Apparently, the alter over which the old hatted man preached contained the remains of none other than Junipero Serra himself. Which, probably means nothing to you. Short history lesson.

Senor Junipero was a monk who founded many of the early mission in California including one in San Francisco in 1776 that is the oldest standing building in town. Technically he is a saint now. John Paul II decided to canonize him back in ’88. I’d like to think that a few faxes were sent to make this happen.

Anyways, his dead body was hanging out in that church yesterday. Hopefully, all he believed would happen to him came true after being switched off. Sainthood, monikered high schools, and old buildings are great for us still around, but what did he want for his spirit 200 years after his death?

I’m not going to read his diary to find out but I assume that he wasn’t after luxury. He probably just wanted to hang out with Jesus and talk about the bible for eternity. Not sure if that’s heaven or hell. I’m no theologian.

There oughta be a law against people who are flippant with the memory of the deceased. Especially if they have a high school named after them.

If they take me out for any of my transgressions, I know what I want.

A cabin on twenty acres, a pack of mutts (humans, dogs, or both), and some sort of word processor with copy/paste capabilities. Maybe some steak and eggs too if it’s not too much.

There oughta be a law against people who ask for too much from the afterlife.

There oughta be a law against someone writing so much nonsense and publishing it. But, it’s too late. The damage is done and now we’re in this together.

Good night.

Nemesi

I kind of wish I had a nemesis sometimes. Having an external personification of all that is disagreeable would make life more manageable. When things go awry and malevolence occurs, it would be nice to point to a clear figure as the source. Too often though we are without culpable nemesi besides ourselves. But it’s not fun to blame yourself.

Either you go too far and fall into a loop of shame, or you avoid self-blame to a point of non-learning. Supervillains are great because they remove the internal conflict within each of us much like excising a festering splinter.
Life is not Indiana Jones however. There is not an arrogant Nazi or Frenchman to outsmart and win over. It’s just you in that big fancy gourd of yours. Better learn how to make friends.

Town and Country

Here it is. Universal wisdom for the ages. Or maybe just a tirade against people some inane aspect of reality. Like people who don’t push their chairs in.

It’s hard to decide which route to go every weekday when I can barely feed and clean myself before 10 pm.

Today feels like a wisdom day. Which means I have a semblance of free time before entering the next gauntlet of this demanding city.

But I act like the country life is free from worry. This is patently untrue.

Life in the sticks requires a lot more driving for supplies, land/house management tasks (assuming you’re the owner), helping neighbors with large projects, and still feeding and cleaning yourself. Oh, and somehow making money which usually involves long days of manual labor.

However, the country life is always painted with a golden halo in much of our culture. The pastoral ideal is nothing new. Romantics really began the great hinterland proselytization during the peak of the industrial revolution in the 1800’s. And for good reason. Cities were gross back then.

People were shitting and dying in the streets. Rivers would set on fire. The air would choke you if you lived in the wrong neighborhood. And the water was so bad that beer was preferable. Along with the beer came all the other infamous vices of man including lust, murder, gambling, misogyny, and communism.

So yeah, the country was painted in pretty pictures and lacy poetry by the dirty city slickers who may have been fortunate enough to afford country homes. Let’s not forget though that while many would extoll the virtues of the pure country, the population was massively shifting to the urban side. In the “more” developed countries nowadays 74% of humans live in cities. Compare that to “less” developed countries where only 44% of humans live in the urban zone. This publication said so, so it must be true.

My point is, cities are inescapably efficient for humans, however much we like to bitch about their stank. And even our modern cities with all their feces and stabbing, are luxurious compared to Pittsburgh just 100 years ago.

The countryside has shifted too. Suburbs surround and cut through swaths of woods and scrubland. Massive unnecessary agriculture (corn subsidies) blanket entire states and provide jobs that will surely evaporate with the subsidies. The entire Midwest will be mostly devoid of people in twenty years, at least until remote tech employees start realizing they can buy a four-bedroom house for 80K and keep their lucrative jobs.

But this is all a bit too macro. What about the pleasure of just waking up and looking out your window across your window to the edge of the forest?

Hard to quantify and difficult to afford these days, but more accessible than many would like to admit.

While the city is excessively expensive and daunting for the average person, the country is just as difficult to justify. It is cheaper, but not by that much, and how do you work a job that doesn’t require Carhartts and a chainsaw to afford it?

The answers are out there. I can say this for sure. Those who think it is impossible to live where they want will certainly make it so.