Tag Archives: life

108. Personal belongings

The slow process of shedding skin. Not the sort that hides my skeleton, but the sort that defines me in another way. My stuff. My acquisitions. From the $150 dollar mattress I bought last year to the perfectly good chair I snagged from beside the dumpster behind my apartment building, mostly everything has to be gone.

“Has to” is an interesting way to put it, but that’s what it feels like. Sure there’s plenty of things I possess with cherished connections to my past… trinkets, books, pieces of art. I can’t even get rid of a sweatshirt I never wear because at one point it was my favorite article of clothing I’d ever owned. There are plenty of things I’ve removed from the “Everything Must Go” liquidation, but when I look around, I see my things as nothing more than that: things. And I’m not bringing many things with me when I leave, so the non-valued personal belongings have to be gone.

It is quite the sensation to whittle away at your personal belongings. It is incredibly relieving to put more than half of your wardrobe into bags for donation, to just look at the things you possess with real, sensible honesty. Do I need this? Do I wear this? Have I even touched this item in the last six months? Mostly, I know which things I’m absolutely not going to need in the next four months, and also what I definitely won’t be using in a wet, humid, hot-as-hell tropical climate.

We don’t get to do this very often. Usually we have our things and that’s that. It takes a dramatic life move to compel us to get rid of a few things. Some of the simplest of us still live very cluttered lives, and this isn’t including the bills we pay to afford these cluttering devices. I mean, this is just what happens. Sit still for too long and moss is sure to grow.

There is more to shed. There are the things I can’t get rid of.

It is hard to suggest for people to rid themselves of their personal belongings for no good reason. It is best instead to express how the act of getting rid of things you don’t honestly need or use is an empowering choice to make. Plus you can make a small profit.

Know when you’re not going to miss something, let it go.

When you don’t need much, you spend less, and somehow it feels like you have more. I am aiming now for the simplest life I can get. I want all my things to fit into a backpack.

After all, the important stuff is shelter, food, water, air, and companionship. You can’t get that from an oak desk, or a stack of videogames, or extra pillows. We spend so much on things that do nothing for our well-being. We collect nonessentials compulsively. It is simply the way of the world, for the most part. We’re all hoarders to some degree. We take the truly important stuff for granted, measuring our lives not by how fresh the air is that we breathe, or how strong our relationships are, but with trophies of social value, like premium cable, ten thousand dollar weddings, and sports cars.

I’m not sure what a life without personal belongings feels like. At a certain point, I’m going to be rendered homeless. I will have my backpack and the clothes on my person, nothing more. I imagine I will feel extremely light. I will have so little to ground me in any place, and no need to collect things, moving in a consistent state of appreciating what’s around me. It’s not for everyone, to go to this extreme, but I do suggest taking a good hard look at the things you own and wonder why you own them.

Are you using it?

Do you care about it?

Then shed it. It’s weighing you down.

 

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107. Ego

The ego is basically your middle man between the id and the super-ego, meaning it holds the ability to rationalize between internal instinct and external influence. The ego is your concept of reality.

Another spin on the word is to see ego as one’s perception of self. Your ego is an instinctive concept of who you are, a reflection you imagine when you’re not near a mirror. It’s who you think you are. And this is all the ego knows.

The ego is, in this definition, a representation of how selfish you are. It’s the definition I became accustomed to, having heard the libel about egoists, being egotistical, having a big ego, having a wounded ego, etc. The egoist wants to be right, wants to win, wants to tell people about it, wants to spread the news across the ocean of social media, and wants to get everything they want all the time every day.

The egoist is their ego, or they’ve at least given up the driver’s seat.

It’s often considered a thing, like a heart or a white blood cell or a rib. This ego is within us, in our minds, perhaps, just pulling our puppet strings.

I could’ve sworn I didn’t really have one, and if I did, because Freud said I did, it was not one I fed, monitored, considered, or was aware of. Sure it felt good to be appreciated or complimented, and yeah it felt bad when people accused me of things I didn’t do or challenged my character, but I’d grown deft at shrugging things off.

I always felt so calm. So collected. I never felt selfish. I never felt like I needed praise or wanted attention. I just existed and was happy enough with that, like a koi fish. Over time, I simply believed that the ego didn’t exist for everyone. Some of us were good as is.

Nope. The ego exists.

Even the ego in the deepest hibernation in the deepest cave can be poked with a long enough stick, and those deep sleepers usually have the deepest roar.

Trust me. As someone who literally thought they were immune to intense emotional experiences, this experience, which I call an ego-attack, proves to me that the ego is a crucial, if terribly unpredictable, part of every one of us.

An ego-attack, nearly identical in mental catastrophe as a bad shroom-trip, is a situation where one (more specifically, one’s ego) feels completely cornered and targeted by the universe entirely, as if it were all about them, all for them, all against them.

Caused, for example, by a broken heart, the death of a relative, a lost job, or any number of traumatic moments that really shake you up, loosen those emotions, and stir awake the ego that was sleeping so soundly just a moment ago…

The first thing it does is blame everyone else.

It is the most selfish I’ve ever felt. The most derailed I’ve ever been. It felt totally out of my control. It felt like my skeleton was trying to break out of my skin, the ego wanting to burst free and fight the world. Trapped, it threw a tantrum in my temporal lobes and sent regular pain missiles through my heart, stomach, and shoulders.

I’m not sure if this violent metaphor relates to everyone who encounters their ego for the first time. Perhaps it depends on the circumstances. In my case, my ego received a heavy dosage of jealousy and heartache, combined with an immediate distaste for my work environment, resulting in a befuddled, misguided ego that didn’t know what else to do but garner and harbor massive amounts of disdain.

What I learned is that, when on the attack, the ego doesn’t  really care about your work performance. The ego doesn’t really care about eating well. Doesn’t care about friendships. Doesn’t care, doesn’t care, doesn’t care. What it cares about is winning.

That’s all. It wants that chalk mark under the W column, and nothing else, because winning is setting things back to how they were, or at the very least, forcing some kind of ramshackle imitation of normalcy to appease itself for the meantime.

I was terrified by this instinctual urge boiling out of me.

My initial reaction was to run. To take my awakened ego and hide it from everyone, because it had transformed me. It took over. Like a toothache or a stomach cramp, it boldly claimed ownership over my every waking thought. The crazy thing about it is how unnatural my behavior felt, yet how familiar that ego was, this cracked-mirror reflection of myself. Another part of me. Someone I hadn’t seen before, but knew all along.

I wanted to run. Quit. Close up. Shut down.

I’m not a mean person. I never will be. I’m not selfish, and I steer clear of those who are. I’m a genuinely happy guy. But the ego doesn’t care about “genuinely happy guy.”

The ego did what it thought it had to, and I’m glad I managed to get control of it again when I did, because it was really starting to bum me out. I like to laugh and goof off and be carefree. The ego took everything too seriously. The ego was basically the star of its own soap opera that no one watched.

What I learned from all of this, however, is that the ego is a part of me that I’ve neglected. As obnoxious and ridiculous as my emotional core has been behaving under leadership of the ego, it was a shock to the system that I think I needed. A lot of ideas were reaffirmed, a lot of life choices were given extra value, and in the end, the ego-attack proved useful, if not annoying and embarrassing as all hell.

I mean, even though I didn’t care much for the guy I became when the ego took over, he had some good points. 

I think the ego is always present, paying attention to your life and the things around you, this little concept of reality that you’ve come up with in your head. Think of your ego as one of those girls in the pool who predicted crimes in Minority Report, all chill until something goes down (or will go down, in some cases).

The moment the ego feels threatened, it will demand answers and retribution from those who awakened it. On the other hand, if the ego is pleasured by a compliment or good fortune, it can have a more outwardly positive effect, resulting in euphoria and confidence. Basically, the ego is either going to wake up wanting vengeance or a high-five.

I’m not sure how we can get to know our egos better. They are quiet operators, way more influential than you could imagine. Already, mine has returned to its depths like some electric eel that ran out of juice, heading home to recharge. At least now I know what to expect should I ever have another ego-attack in the future, and maybe I’ll be able to sit down for a moment with my ego over a cup of decaf coffee and find out what makes it do the things it does.

That would be the greatest knowledge of all, to not make sense of the world, but to make sense of why we care so much about keeping it all designed to our liking.

106. Us, the busy universe

There’s always something. Always a need or an unfilled want. Always. You can’t escape it. We have stuff that we have to take care of constantly and forever. Time doesn’t stop for anyone or anything. Rich or poor, fat or thin, human is human, and part of being human is being busy, because everything is busy all the time.

Sometimes it blows my mind how occupied we have to be. Even when we stand still, we’re busy little machines. Sometimes I wish I could just pause it all and let the moment last a little longer, a purely stationary sensation. I’d like to actually do nothing for a while.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the sense of accomplishment as much as the next guy. It feels good to finish things. It feels good to work for something. But I don’t remember signing up for a life of work.

I don’t want to sound lazy. To be honest, none of us are lazy. How can we be? Right now we’re hurtling through space at hundreds of thousands of miles per hour. We’re busy even if we’re just sitting down reading text off a computer screen. You think it’s easy to be a biological machine? We’re full of moving parts, and those parts need maintenance.

We have to take care of our bodies. We’re thrust into this world, given all the possibility for greatness, but required to monitor and care for our physical selves. That said, we ARE our bodies, not simply conductors, not puppeteers pulling strings. Part of life is being aware of your body and its process of birth, growth, and death. This thing doesn’t just drive itself.

And so I eat. I sleep. I don’t have a car or bike so I walk a lot. I look both ways before jaywalking. I have good hygiene habits, mostly. For this I still suffer from allergies and bad teeth. I have to tend to those concerns. We all do. The body does not sit idly even if we do. I have to shave. I have to suffer headaches. I have to stay hydrated. I’ll have to get health insurance, eventually. We’re machines from the get-go and all machines need constant maintenance, even the most well-oiled machines among us.

I’m not complaining. Get that thought out of your head right now. I love being alive. As Carl Sagan would put it, I’ve “humaned” from the universe and to the universe I give my greatest gratitude. Life is beautiful. It’s just… Mysteriously calculated.

Maybe this is a bit extreme, but imagine a world where everything was just fine how it was now. Imagine if nature in all its infinite wisdom came to the realization that everything was great. Why expand any further? Are we part of a giant masterpiece awaiting a final stroke of the paintbrush? Is there ever a final stroke? Like Valéry said, is the poem ever truly finished? At what point should we be content and take a break?

Thing is, I don’t think it can stop. There would be no NOW without an overarching cycle of Start and Finish. Even that idea of “Finish” is an illusion. Heck, even “Start” is an illusion. Things simply ARE, no matter what form they take. We imagine we are unique because we teach ourselves that this is true but when boiled down to the basics, we’re the same stuff as all stuff, we never “started,” we just continued from where we were to now in a different way, and there is no “finish line,” just another way of being the universe.

The universe cannot stand still because it knows nothing else. Everything is a circle, a cycle, a revolution, an orbit, a whirlpool. Everything is made so that it can spin apart and be made again. If we stopped things now, there’d never be anything new, and I think the universe likes to make new things.

I guess what I’m most baffled about is how puzzling it all is. There are no answers. No one knows what happens after we die. No one knows why the universe exists. No one will ever know. And this mystery is true about everything, not just us. I’m talking about the mystery of hummingbirds and galaxies. Are we just a swirling mass of recyclable space dust? Are we cogs in an even greater machine? Are we anything at all?

We don’t know.

But we act like we do. We act like there’s an answer waiting. The white light at the end of the tunnel. That’s good and all, but forgive me if it defies my personal logic that I have to wait until I’ve croaked to find out what it was all about. In acting like there’s an answer waiting, we have given in to the machinery metaphor. We are part of a greater plan. We are on a path. We are born this way.

We often compare ourselves to rats who expect cheese at the end of the maze. And yeah, I recognize that not everyone agrees with the rat idea. Rats are gross. I agree. But the cheese part is accurate. We have this great idea about what this cheese is. Even the most atheist of the rats sees the end of the maze, even if there’s no cheese there, there’s still a conclusion. For me, that’s not enough.

Maybe I’ve been listening to a little too much Carl Sagan lately, but that all feels so strange to me. We’ve never been separate enough from the universe to expect something next. What comes next is we keep being what we’ve always been, just through a different lens. We are the universe. We are a way for the universe to understand itself, like a mirror, and when we move on from this biological form, perhaps we’ll return as another mirror on another planet, or maybe we’ll just become the planet.

I think that’s kind of beautiful. Reminds me that our time as humans is temporary, but our role as the universe could be forever.

How it came that we personified that concept by anthropomorphizing an ethereal creator in charge of everything is a little silly. I like the idea. I mean, it still fits. God is the Universe, the Universe is God. Tomato, Tomatoh.

How we let religion turn into violence is baffling, a very human thing to do. I do not want to be associated with a religion that has killed anyone, and this is why I feel more connected to the universe I literally came from, not the creative impulse of an omnipresent being. We made religion then let religion turn us against each other. There is death in the universe, as well, but when a star dies it’s not because the star believed in a different universe. It’s because it was time for the star’s energy to become something else. When I die, I don’t want it to be because (or for) my belief. I want it to just be another moment in an infinite string of moments of being a small piece of my bigger self, the Universe.

Anyway, it seems like the only seed of truth that’s permeated the collective chaos that is our religious disagreement is to love and live true.

Love and live true. Yet, we complicate things.

We complicate humankind when there’s already so many other things to take care of first, not just our biological bodies but the fallout of forming society. From birth defects to taking care of our ill to feeding the hungry to stopping violence due to inequality. Major problems. As humans, we’re pretty screwed up.

You don’t see a herd of lions forming a jury to convict someone of vehicular lionslaughter.

Society is such a fascinatingly wonderful and equally terrible idea. It’s this partially agreed-upon role-playing experiment that persists on a daily basis by sheer luck alone. I know that’s edging away from what Carl Sagan would say about everything being stupid chance, but I guess what I’m trying to say is there’s absolutely no need for people to have conflict, yet we never seem to learn. We’re basically the universe having a temper tantrum with a part of itself it’s not very fond of. We’re the acne of the universe and we’re being popped like zits.

We can do better. We don’t have to be a blemish.

I think we’re stressed out. I think we’re taking ourselves too seriously. We’re complex enough without all this additional weight on our shoulders. We’re lucky. We got the cool brains of the animal kingdom and we’ve built rockets and vaccines and hot water faucets. We have kick-ass language skills. We’re goddamn awesome with these brains. And they take care of a lot of stuff for us without us even thinking about it. We eat when we’re hungry and sleep when we’re tired, but for the most part our brains have things under control. We forget that. We treat ourselves like we’re vessels carrying souls, not bodies being bodies. Imagine living internally rather than externally. Try to think with your whole body, not just your brain. It’s hard to do. We’ve removed ourselves from our bodies, removing ourselves from the universe itself (or at least attempting to), and it’s stressful to go it on your own, isn’t it? Here we are, humans, floating alone in the river of time. Rather than being part of the shore, we invent a figure to stand on the shore and judge us from afar. Why add that burden to an already skewed sense of reality?

I’m stressed out just thinking about it.

We’re using our brains in such strange ways. Sagan said we are a way for the universe to know itself. Yeah, we think about the universe a lot, but usually we’re just thinking about how our hair looks. I think we’ve let ourselves get distracted by the most bizarre things, like cats chasing lasers. Stranger still, we rarely take a step back to consider these things from other points of view, like the cat who knows it will never catch the laser but scurries after it whenever it flashes near.

This thought was about wondering why the universe doesn’t stop. This is a big question. Comparatively  it’s like asking the snail why it doesn’t go any faster. It’s restricted by the laws of its form. The universe is restricted in the same way. So are we. The universe can’t stop and I know this. Birth and death and renewal is all the universe knows. Anything that comes to be in its image will know this pattern. This is the way of things. I suppose what I’m wondering is whether or not the universe can control itself.

If we are the universe thinking about itself, than we’ve had plenty of deep thoughts like this. We’ve seen out into the universe, into ourselves, with telescopes and microscopes, and we’ve likely only scratched the surface of the complexity of it all. Maybe we just don’t know enough. Maybe we’re not going to be the species that gives the universe its answer. Maybe we’re not even close.

When–and if–we ever get there, I wonder if the universe will stop growing. I wonder if the cycle would stop. Kind of like how when you see the secret of a magic trick, you can’t stop seeing the hidden wires. Through all this violence and foolishness, however, I hope the end is worth it. I hope humanity turns all this bloodshed into a profound lesson, like a Tarantino movie with a Wes Anderson ending.

Imagine not worrying about your immune system. Or drinking enough water. Hard to do. We’re born into a biology we can’t control and we make the best with what we’ve got. We shouldn’t expect anything else, really. To be born is to die. There can’t be an alternative. If the universe didn’t work the way it did, it wouldn’t exist, not in the way we understand it now, that is. Our brains are galaxies and galaxies spin out eventually, too. We can’t picture a non-universe in the same way we can’t picture being a non-human. Who knows? Maybe the universe has headaches, menstrual cramps, growing pains, and self-esteem issues like the rest of us. We’re all one, after all, and that’ll never stop.

104. Paths

I’m having one of those moments.

You know of them. They come in different shapes and sizes, but they feel relatively similar. They possess the power to derail your everyday thoughts, insisting instead that you look a bit further into the future, like Frost and his two roads.

The interesting thing about those two roads is how we’re constantly choosing between paths without being aware of it. Our routines and patterns are choices, yet after time it just feels like normal, so we don’t question those choices like we used to. And for a while, things are good. You’ve picked your road, either the one less travelled on or the other. In the end, they start to feel like the same thing.

Yet every so often you come to a spot where two paths diverge and it stuns you. You weren’t ready for it. Thing is, there’s no way to backtrack. The curse of time is that it only moves forward. There will always be moments in life when two paths present themselves when you weren’t ready to change course, and your only choice is to choose.

It seems more exciting to take the road less travelled on. It seems wiser to follow a path beaten smooth by many footsteps before you. I suppose it comes down to how much of your life you want to improvise.

I suppose there is a third option. Rather than picking between the two diverging paths, take a hard look at the spot where you’re standing. Think about how you got there, what inspired you, who you met, what you’ve learned, who you’ve become. Sometimes we’re so busy driving forward that we forget to acknowledge the driver. It’s been said a thousand times but there’s really nothing quite like stopping to smell the roses now and again. We’re more than just Pac-Men chasing dots. We fascinate ourselves with our free will so much that we become slaves to it.

The third option says: “Stand still. Take a deep breath. Change is good but not a necessity. When you come to two paths, don’t forget that the first step in any direction comes from within. Remind yourself of what brought you to this moment of choice and try to recognize if, perhaps, you’re creating paths for the sake of creating paths. Maybe everything is okay. Maybe you just forgot.”

103. Slides

I counted two hundred and forty-two steps from bottom to the top; 242 wet, cement steps that lifted me from the wading pools to the mouth of a water slide at the top of a giant metal tower. From up here I could see the whole park. Birds were flying by at eye-level. Far off, the freeway, the hazy horizon, and an airplane that looked like it was flying low. Behind me were a hundred other kids on summer vacation looking to ride the tunnel back to earth. A college kid with a lifeguard t-shirt called me over and told me to get ready.

Ten years later, I’d be at that same spot, only I wouldn’t have anyone telling me to get ready. No one would tell me when to slide. But there I’d be on this precipice and the only way forward would be down, so I’d recall my sixteen-year-old bravery and take the ride.

There are no regrets. The ride was great. Now that’s it over, I’m thinking back on the ascent and descent of the past two years of my life, the climb and the slide. I’m all the more aware of the tentative steps I’m taking away from that slide, my feet still drying in the sun. You take with you the lessons learned on that slippery staircase and the sensation of a controlled fall.

With a slide, you know where it’ll spit you out. In the real world, experiences never come with predictable outcomes, so you close your eyes and take a risk.

The nervous unknowing is still the same. The suspense is there. You spend all this time climbing up towers to experience the thrill of a new ride, and some will be good and others will be bad, but regardless of the ride you end up at the bottom and you head out into the park to find another tower to climb. The slides always feel so short. It’s the searching and climbing that takes forever.

School is a slide. Work, slide. A vacation is a slide.

You have ideas of where it’ll pop you out, but who knows for sure. Sometimes a slide is all tower and no thrill, like waiting at the DMV to register your car. Sometimes climbing the tower is more fun than the slide, like acquiring debt versus paying off the debt. Sometimes the tower is defective and you never make it to the slide. Not your fault. Just keep climbing.

Relationships are slides, perhaps the most exhilarating type of slide there is.

242 steps up a tower could equate to months of suggestive flirting, and the slide might only last for a week. You could spend an hour climbing a tower with someone new and know already that this is the slide that you’ve been looking for all along, and maybe that ride goes for a year, maybe it goes forever. Either way, the fact is we never know how this will end, but we climb new towers regardless because it is in our nature to seek new vantage points.

This thought came to me today because I’m climbing an unfamiliar tower. I look around at people climbing with me and some of them are ecstatic, some of them are a little depressed, and everyone’s a little bit scared. We’re creatures born of the ground, so trusting the towers and water slides around us can be a daunting mental exercise. Fear is normal. It’s easier to stay in the cave but it’s more difficult to ignore curiosity, thus we always find ourselves eventually at the top of a tower we never expected, standing next in line for a water slide we can’t see the end of.

There are no lifeguards for life. Only you can decide to slide.

102. Story of a cell

At one point I was just a single cell, one little Cheerio in this vast and lonely bowl of milk. Floating about. Doing nothing of much significance until an act of reproduction cast me out of that bowl and into this warm, dark place where one Cheerio became two, became ten, became thousands, became an infant.

For a while there, I had no idea how lucky I was, this body of cooperating cells. I was a magic trick walking. A miracle of nature. We all start out as snowflakes at the center of our own universe. Gradually, conformity settles in. Society has its way with you. At some point you realize we’re all just variations of the same human. We move from a life of fantasy to facts as people start offering you explanations for things, scientific or religious. People tell you that all of this was written long before we came along. Or maybe it’s pure chaos. Either way, we all end up in debt.

I liked being a kid. It was rewarding. It was me, me, me. And toys. People made the big decisions for me. My religion was Saturday morning cartoons; the answer to life was found wrapped in plastic in the bottom of a cereal box. My biggest responsibility was school, which I endured begrudgingly. There was always a mental disconnect from public school, like a loveless relationship endured for the sake of a good lay.

English was the only subject that I found comfort in. Words made sense. Words made magic. I began writing at a young age and even though it was total nonsense and grammatically atrocious, it felt right. All those stories in my head suddenly found somewhere to land. It would be writing that kept me grounded during the mindfuck that is the process of growing up.

Growing up…

I never had conflicts with my family. Adults always seemed to know best, so I listened. I was quiet, observant, private, polite. I listened to advice. I followed most of the rules. Looked both ways, all that. Should’ve brushed better. Steered clear of peer pressure by deftly navigating the tributaries of the social stream, never quite allied with any one group. Neutral, passive, calm.

I view the world with a pair of big blue eyes that can’t quite fathom the depth of the universe, but I take comfort in the unknown. I still feel like a wide-eyed infant blindly grasping at fuzzy, colorful things.

I like myself this way but it comes at the consequence of feeling inconsequential. I prefer to stand ringside with a notepad and a camera, which means I rarely feel or want to feel like the center of attention. I shy away from compliments. I’m no good at giving them, either.

What blows my mind is how different and identical our lives are. Even if I feel different, I know that I’m not. The tiny infinite moments that make our experiences unique and the grand motions that make us all the same. You can only be so special, you can only be so human.

I didn’t feel like a real person until I passed the age that my father was when I was born, which was six years ago. I didn’t feel like myself until the winter of 2009, when I sat in a windowsill, drank a lot of wine, and listened to a lot of Modest Mouse.

College went by fast and I’m not exactly sure what happened there or what the point was. It was a blur of coffeeshops, all-nighters, sexual tension, and invincibility. I learned a valuable lesson or two, but hell if I know what they were.

Then there was a musician, a dog, and two cats. And then there was none.

I like (midtown) Sacramento. It’s always been a “starter city,” a sort of stepping stone between graduation and The Big City, wherever in the world The Big City may be. Most Californians look to San Francisco for a fulfilling urban experience, as do I, but after a semester in Istanbul I’ve realized that The Big City could be anywhere. Except Paris. Paris is too cliche for a writer.

There have been women but I’m no closer to reaching or understanding the pinnacle that is true love. Sadly, your faith in such a thing begins to wane far too early. There have been many fulfilling friendships along the way. I miss people more than I admit.

Now I’m here, 26 years old. What was once a little Cheerio has now passed the quarter-life mark. Who woulda thought? Some little particle of stardust turned into a living, breathing human being. Me. And there’s you, reading this, an equally valuable evolution of microscopic magic.

I guess the point of this thought is to pay attention to your growth. To be happy that you’re here. To think back on influences and decisions, to wonder where it will all lead, to find meaning in the messiness. Life is a chance for you to turn a single cell into a story. Otherwise, we might as well have stayed in the milk.

101. Unpacking

I wonder if this is how a squirrel feels at the start of Spring, gathering up the nuts it buried in the forest. Digging up caches under the brush, skirting through the trees looking for old owl holes. There must be some elation, not only because the squirrel gets to eat, but because the squirrel has no personal belongings save for its nuts. (There’s a joke there, for another time). This is not only the animal’s food, but also its stuff. So unpacking all my stuff in my new studio must be akin to a twitchy little squirrel reveling in its Springtime bounty, reunited with all its old things.

I wrote a thought about hoarders a while back. Luckily I still have space to walk around, so I’m not quite a hoarder, but goddamn if I don’t always end up with more stuff every time I move. I don’t even know where it comes from half the time.

Finally put away my last emptied box today. My last stash.

The accomplishment is rewarding. I’ve survived moving, as the forest creatures survive winter, and I greet the changing of the seasons ready for a new year. I’ve gathered together all my things and put them away and reinvented myself in my new space.

We’re nomadic creatures, I think. At least we started that way. Living in caves, following the sun, migrating. It wasn’t until we figured out how to build free-standing structures that we really began settling in one place. Even then, it’s common for folks to hop from one place to the next, even within the same city limits. Life happens. Opportunities arise, good or bad, and our addresses fluctuate.

Migration is natural. When you get there, remember that though all the energy it takes to pack, to move, to reorganize… Eventually you’ll empty that last box, you’ll be THERE, and it will feel great. You might lose a few things in the transition, but like the squirrel, you get better at it with practice.

So here I am. And there you are. One day, I’m sure you’ll move. You’ll pack up all your things into little boxes, bury them for a bit, and dig them up again when the sun comes back. You’ll find things you thought you lost. You’ll pick up things that give you flashbacks. You’ll pick up things and wonder why in the hell you still hold onto them. Little parts of you. Your cache. Your nuts.

100. Live and learn

Make mistakes, don’t repeat them. Learn new skills, use them. Make new friends, keep them. I can think of no regular day when a human mind doesn’t acquire one parcel of new knowledge, whether it be the formula that cures a disease or a newfound appreciation for the way the sunlight looks when it comes through the trees at five PM. Live and learn. It’s what we’re made for.

Today marks the end of another phase of my life, the mid-season finale. While many things are going to be the same on the inside, the scenery and cast members are shifting. Scripts are being rewritten. I’m scrambling to memorize my new lines.

When life moves along at a steady, predictable pace, you tend to forget that you’re here to learn. Even animals with less powerful brains know this basic tenet of existence. Brains are sponges. The world is our teacher. But like any sponge, it hardens if it’s not used. Like any teacher, the world ignores us if we’re not participating. So even when things are dull, remember that your brain still needs nourishing. Read books, take walks, meet strangers… You get from the world as much as you put in.

Then there are moments when nothing is steady or predictable. It feels like Mount St. Helens just exploded inside your head and you can’t figure out which way to run. Truth is: running in any direction results in growth and knowledge, even if you run right into the molten lava (metaphorically speaking). The trick is to not stand still and wait around for guidance. This is your mental volcanic eruption and no one else can tell you what to do. If you let others lead the way, you’ll learn far less.

And that’s the whole point of life, isn’t it? To make the most of that brain?

Some phases of life will feel rich with life lessons and revelations. Some will seem boring. But all the while remember that we are in charge of the remote control and we can change phases like we change television channels, perhaps not so easily, but nothing worth it ever came easily. It doesn’t matter what kind of phase you’re in; the lessons are out there.

This is the kind of stuff I tell myself when life takes unexpected turns. When suddenly you’re single, living on your own, neck-deep in grad school homework, and uncertain about where it’s all going to lead.

All I know is when it’s all over, I’ll know more than I did before.

99. Problems

I used to feel bad for German Shepherds because they’re born predisposed for hip problems. We bred them to be our best friends and when they get old they suffer. But they’re not the only animals born with problems to face. In fact, we’re all born with problems. If there’s one thing that unites all species on this planet, its our capacity to gather problems.

For example, all of us are born with expiration dates. Our hair falls out. We get wrinkles. Knees get weak. We, too, have hip problems.

When we’re babies, we’re basically a bundle of problems wrapped up in a diaper. We can’t defend ourselves. We can’t walk, speak, or feed ourselves. Lovable as we might be, we’re a big problem for our parents, who suffer sleepless nights and lifestyle changes. It’s a problem trying to figure out what school to send those kids when they grow up. It’s a problem trying to help them with their problems: bullies, homework assignments, braces, first loves and heartbreaks, college applications…

Problems vary from culture to culture, sometimes from one side of town to the next. First world or third world, a problem is still a problem, and it seems like we’re put on this earth solely to figure out a way to solve this endless barrage of predicaments. From figuring out how to pay a bill to figuring out how to handle our emotions to defending our rights against an oppressive government… Problems, man! Can’t seem to avoid bumping antlers with some problematic beast now and again.

But that’s why we have these brains in our skulls. We’re natural problem solvers, if we put our mind to it. We figured out how to stay warm with fire, how to build a car on four round wheels, how to build skyscrapers, how to land on the moon, and most importantly, how to put cheese in a can. We’re goddamn geniuses.

Most days we wake up with at least six problems to take care of.

A German Shepherd has it easy compared to us. All it worries about is how much time it should allot to tail chasing and figuring out which corner of the flowerbed it wants to dig up today. Then it gets hip problems and dies. We take care of most of its problems along the way.

Day to day, no one can solve our problems for us. If we had someone do all the thinking for us, then what would be the point of living? It’s the daily problems of life that give spice to our existence. Sure it’s good to have help now and again, but in a strange way we ought to be glad to feel a little overburdened. Of course I say this while I’m sitting inside an apartment sitting next to a heater, and so my problems pale in comparison to those who struggle for shelter on the daily, but like I said, degrees of problems can vary greatly between people. I’m where I am due to a long history of decisions that span beyond myself, as you are where you are because of a billion tiny details that came before you. Don’t feel bad that your problems are “easier” than someone else’s. That’s life.

The problem is not that we have different problems. That’s not a problem, that’s a given.

Problems are the breadcrumbs we follow out of the wild forest of life. As soon as we solve one, another crumb appears further along the trail, and we scurry forth to see what brainpower is required to move past it, and so on, and so on, and so on.

Anyway, problems are a part of life. On some primal level, we love them

Just don’t let them weigh you down. If you see someone having trouble with theirs, lend a little of your brainpower and see what you can accomplish together.

97. Common cold

The worst part about most sicknesses, besides the suffering, is the fact that you can get other people sick, too. It’s bad enough having to sniffle and cough yourself half-to-death, but now you’ve also got to worry that you’ll spread this discomfort to another. I mean, it’s not my fault that I caught the bug in the first place, and now I’ve got to worry about keeping it to myself. I didn’t ask for that responsibility. I don’t want it, either!

Not only that, but it’s way too easy to get others sick. I so much as sneeze and I picture a million little bacteria heading out like prospectors going west for gold. They’ll latch onto anything and all of a sudden everyone in the house is a virus factory. Who gets the blame? Not the microscopic bugs, but me, Patient Zero.

But I got sick the same way you did.

Which makes me wonder if our immune systems need updating. We ought to be able to go to the pharmacy and pick out immune system enhancements. I don’t want cures, I want more preventative medicine!

What to do when you’re already sick, though… It seems the only options are drugs and isolation. No one wants to be around you. No one knows how to act around you. They’ll avoid eye contact as if your illness were transferable through sight.

So far the best remedy for sickness I’ve found is a loved one. Wife, girlfriend, family member… Someone who can stand you when you’ve turned into a drugged-out sniffling zombie with tissues stuffed in your nostrils. Someone who knows which herbal tea you need. Someone who knows where the medicine is and where the last can of chicken soup is hiding.

The point is, we’re fragile creatures. Even our best defense, the flu shot, goes obsolete about as regularly as the iPhone. We have few methods of preventing illnesses but a million ideas on how to get rid of them once we’ve caught them. Seems a bit backward, doesn’t it? For a cold so common as the Common Cold, it’s a bit strange that we’re still dealing with it. Anyway, here’s to hoping we’ll have it figured out by next winter.

96. Rebellion

Don't Do It

I’ll repeat the question: What is it about these warnings that make us want to do them?

What godawful curse of curiosity requires us to do the exact opposite of what someone explicitly told us not to do? It seems so wrong, doesn’t it? Here we get truthful, honest advice and we simply won’t take it. Sorry. You even know we won’t take it. Half the time we tell someone not to do something it’s because secretly we want them to do it. All of us fall for it. Before finishing this paragraph you probably already searched everything we suggested you don’t.

Regret it, don’t you?

Well, you’ll get over it. And you’ll do it again.

To be absolutely honest, I haven’t yet searched “blue waffle.” I’d rather just stick with my own imagination than get something even worse cemented into my brain. This time, I’m adhering to the advice. I won’t play those mind games anymore.

Update: Goddamn it. I looked.

Why? Why ignore the warning label? Why rebel so openly? What is it about human kind that seeks trouble? What gene within us begs us to pull fire alarms and run red lights? There have been proven, repeated, often negative outcomes from the very things that we are advised to avoid, yet we seek them anyway. Everyone wants to shoot a gun, even if we’re scared of them.

From the small, “Don’t run around the pool,” warning to the big, “Stop or I’ll shoot,” warning, we’ve got this collective desire to ignore negative commands. We don’t like being told what not to do. We hate it. All of us. Secretly or openly, we feel that the last thing we were born on this planet to do is take orders. No mattress has its tag left on it.

I will NOT wait thirty seconds before opening my steaming bag of microwave popcorn.

I will NOT come to a complete stop.

One random piece of advice I picked up in my lifetime was, in the case of trying to remember things, the trick is to frame it positively. Rather than saying, “Don’t forget to go to the store,” you should say, “Remember to go to the store.”

Hell, I’d probably still forget. No one tells ME what to remember!

The point is, we’re an interesting species. We’re prone for trouble. The last thing we want is a neat and tidy universe. No wonder the news is full of madness and mayhem. It’s no wonder that the fighting won’t end, crime won’t dwindle, and drugs will prevail. If you tell us to be happy, we’ll only get sad. If you tell us to behave, we’ll only light fuses. Sorry.

I’m not saying that any of this is excusable. Rules are usually made for a reason, and when we run around breaking them, we know very well what we’re doing. It’s a cycle of self-destruction. We won’t break it until we actually listen to our own advice.

When the aliens come, perhaps not long from now if the Mayans have anything to say about it, these extraterrestrials will have no idea what to make of us. They’ll come in peace and we’ll give them war.

95. Reunions

Guest Thought from Ben Weinberg

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It is a very joyous (and under appreciated) feeling to be able to meet up with friends who you have not seen in a long time. Sometimes it feels like you never left them in the first place. Sometimes it feels like you’re meeting them for the first time all over again.

The older you get, the more likely your friends will move around the country or around the world and it’s possible to lose touch with them. It’s natural, but sad nonetheless. I was lucky enough to see these three friends of mine again in New York City this past weekend after not seeing them for the six months after the end of our exchange student program in Istanbul. It was an ecstatic feeling being able to see all of these people who I had gotten friendly with during my study abroad experience back in the flesh in front of me.

The idea of a reunion plays into the very nature of human beings and how we are social animals above all else. We urge to be connected with each other especially after having not seen one another in a while. When we do reconnect, the memories come flooding back, for better or for worse. A familiar face is like a familiar song, able to bring you back in time.

My study abroad experience simply wouldn’t have been the same if I didn’t have friends to share with it. In all honestly, the people who you surround yourself throughout your life affect the experiences you have more than you would think.

I am one who prefers life’s experiences when I have people to share them with. Moments carry an extra significance when you bond with people as they happen. Traveling abroad, eating, drinking, dancing, and any other social activity that we human beings engage in throughout the course of our lives should be shared with others. I’m not against a quiet, solitary moment here and there, but we are social creatures, and reunions remind us of that.

Reunions can be spontaneous and you never when they’re going to happen again. It is important to savor those chances to meet up with those people again that you have not seen in a long time.

During this recent reunion with friends, I felt many positive emotions brimming to the surface and I remember trying to savor each of those elated moments that night. I enjoyed every laugh, every inside joke, every story we each shared together in Istanbul and it made me very happy to be able to see these friends again. It made me want to keep in touch with them even more and to see their faces again.

Distance and time are strong barriers but can be overcome quite easily in this day and age if you try hard enough. We exist for such a short amount of time and it’s the people we share that existence with that will influence us the most, so we should try harder to keep in touch.

93. Permanent goodbyes

I can’t think of many moments stranger than saying goodbye to someone you know you’ll never see again. I mean, that’s it. You have a couple last words, you look them in the eye–like, you really look them in the eye–and you soak it in as best you can. Truth is, you’ll turn around and walk off and with astonishing speed, you’ll start to forget the details. You’ll have nothing but a memory of them to prove that they were ever real. Our minds move on quicker than our hearts.

Not all goodbyes are so serious, of course. We say goodbye to strangers and cashiers that we’ll never see again and it doesn’t really bother us. We put those faces and conversations into our short term memory and let it slide away willingly. There’s no reason to store every interaction.

Then there are the big goodbyes. The friends and family members, who, for whatever reason, we won’t see again. Those ones hurt and they take a while to heal. Feels sometimes like actual parts of you are missing, and we’re not starfish so it’s not like we can just grow that part back. We use time to seal the wound. Time is a fickle bandage.

What got me thinking about the permanent goodbye was my final meeting with the girl I was tutoring. Our meetings in the library were held somewhat regularly over the past three months, giving us a good amount of time to become familiar. I can’t say we were friends because I maintained a consistent teacher-student distinction, but after about twenty hours, cumulatively, you get used to having them in your life. And when the time came to end our tutoring sessions, I felt odd, like a starfish looking at its own severed arm, wondering how things would be different without it, wondering what new part would grow in its place.

I see this being a concern as I aspire toward a career in teaching.

You spend months and months, day after day, with those kids and I like kids, so I can see how parting ways at the end of the year could pull hard on my heart strings. If I felt sad at the idea of ending a tutoring gig, then imagine me saying goodbye to a hundred different kids who have basically become my life and purpose. I’m not saying I can’t do it–I’m actually pretty good at separations like this. Life goes on. I know that. But the weight of these goodbyes, in that moment, in that realization that you’re looking at someone for the last time, is always startling.

Like the last page of a book. The final frame of a movie.

Blink, and they’re gone.

You’ve crossed paths on this crazy wild ride called Life and now it’s time to veer away again, to continue forward in one direction while they take another. You might never know what happens to them. One day, years from now, you’ll look back on this time and you’ll remember them, vaguely, and you’ll wonder where they ended up. Did you influence them? Did they influence you? I think it’s impossible to meet anyone and not have the rest of your life slightly affected by their presence.

Maybe that is what’s so fascinating by the permanent goodbye.

You say goodbye, but they’ll always be with you.

92. Wal-Mart Jesus

Guest Thought from Megan Chaussee

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There was a time when I dreaded my weekly visit to the local Wal-Mart Superstore. Once there I would have to contend with all sorts of frustrations and inconveniences just to restock my kitchen for the week. Every time I used the last of the milk to fill a bottle or Sippy cup, my shoulders sagged a little with the realization that I’d have to go back to Wal-Mart.

Crowds. Long lines. Crappy parking. Crazy people. Broken carts. Wardrobe malfunctions. It was an unpleasant errand, to say the least.

I know, I know. I could go to Whole Foods or a farmer’s market to purchase locally grown, organic produce. I could waltz into my nearest Nugget affiliate and enjoy the luxury of wide, meticulously manicured aisles and dairy products devoid of toxic hormones. I could watch in detached amusement as a well-spoken (read: white) bagger stowed my groceries carefully away in the back of my car. Unfortunately, the flipside to these options is very simple: they cost.

I was never willing (able) to spend the money necessary to consistently shop at these types of establishments. Instead I chose the politically incorrect, sell-your-soul for a Great Value option that is the Wal-Mart Corporation. There seems to be a snake’s head in this bag of frozen broccoli, but they’re only charging 89 cents for it. The savings are significant enough to forgive such sins.  Add to cart.

Having decided upon Wal-Mart as my go-to grocery source, I settled into an angry pattern of weekly shopping trips. Why won’t Miss Sweat Pants move out of my way? How long does it take to pick out a can of peas? Why is my cart shrieking?  Why is this line so long? Who’s yelling? Why didn’t anyone bring enough money to pay for their items? Why is this ladder here? What’s that smell?

The questions never ended – and I found myself exhausted, irritable, and disgusted with humanity by the end of each visit.

Within the last year, though, my outlook shifted. The answer appeared to me, as if from nowhere. Life is too short to be the angry mother-of-two pushing around a cart with a sour expression on her face.

Life is beautiful. Hence…Wal-Mart is beautiful.

Ever since, I find myself pacing the aisles with a serene, far away expression. I smile beatifically at the half-naked children throwing discount Blu-rays into my cart. The tattooed man blocking my path with his motorized scooter is my sacred brother. I will gift you the two dollars you need to purchase that feminine product, Ma’am. We bleed the same blood.

The good people of Wal-Mart are my brethren. I walk amongst them and embrace their raw humanity. I wish them love, light, and peace when our time together is over.  I forgive them their sins. Aren’t we all cut from the same over-drafted, underdressed, slightly misshapen human cloth? We stand together, imperfect.

Wal-Mart is my new meditation; my true religion.

I am a Wal-Mart Jesus.

90. Thief

I stole something today. I’m not afraid to admit it. I won’t tell you who or where I stole from, since I’m pretty sure Safeway doesn’t read this blog. I don’t want to tell you what it was. Doesn’t matter what it was. To ease your mind, I’ll tell you it was small and inexpensive and edible. The fact is, I took it without paying for it, and so by any standard of the act, I am a criminal.

Astonishing, how easy it is to cross that line.

One moment I was a law-abiding citizen. Clean record. Good health. Just your average middle-class male. Then, with the smallest action, the pocketing of a small, easily forgettable item, I became a wanted man.

The truth is, though I don’t think this will hold up in court, I simply forgot that I’d put the item in my pocket. Cross-my-heart honestly forgot. After perusing the other aisles for other goods with the intention to pay for them, its presence in my pocket slipped my mind. Didn’t think of it again until I was outside unlocking my bike. Woops. My bad.

I’m a criminal, regardless. A thief.

In the same vein, you could just as easily become a sinner. A liar. A cheater. A terrorist. A bully. A bigot. Sometimes all it takes a single act (justified or not) and suddenly you’re labeled, pigeonholed, identified for life by that title. Acts like these, their weight is determined by a jury of our peers. We don’t have a re-do button. There’s no going back from certain actions.

Do it once, shame on me forever.

I’m not sure how I feel about that. Some titles ought to stick: like murderer, molester, rapist… I think there are lines that people cross that shouldn’t be forgotten. Inhuman acts. Hurtful acts. Such marks on your record ought to be written in permanent ink. Then there are smaller degrees of criminal or indecent (I say even forgivableacts that should be written in pencil, something that time or behavior could repair. Yet even these, we still label as though the labels had been carved or tattooed on peoples’ foreheads. I’m not sure where the line is. I’m not sure what makes one label more severe than another; why some stick and others fade.

I stole, and so did Bonny and Clyde. Do I deserve the same bullet salad the cops served them during that climactic ambush? I don’t think so.

But how long until I’ve shed the label of thief, from your perspective? Personally, I don’t consider myself a thief, even though I’ve thieved. But according to your guidelines, or the guidelines of the law, how much time has to pass before I’m back to being a regular guy without a criminal label?

I say I’m a criminal for as long as it takes to completely digest the evidence.

But you may never look at me the same way again.

86. Favorites

Guest Thought from Jerry Carvalho

:::

We all have favorites: favorite movies, favorite songs, favorite foods, even favorite people. No one really knows why or how we choose our favorites. We could choose our favorites based on a smell, a touch, a fond memory, or a similarity to our own perceived condition. It does not really matter how or why we choose our favorites, it is just important that we have them because they help define who we are. When times are good we seek out new experiences with the hope of developing new favorites. Somehow, we hope that these new favorites will make us more popular, more hip, better people. However, when times are bad or stressful we always revert back to the comfort and familiarity of our good, old favorites.

85. Nostalgia

Guest Thought from Kelsey Taylor

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Nostalgic is one of those things that most people like to be; 90’s kids make Facebook groups or start forums where they talk about the awesome TV shows they used to watch and how they are infinitely better than Anything That Ever Was And Will Be.  “You kids don’t know what you’re missing!” they say. “Your childhood did not involve Robert Munsch or Pokémon and therefore is not as good as mine.”

Everyone has an image of an old relative or the grumpy old man on the porch who is convinced that they lived in the “good old days”, and that  society is on a downward spiral.  “Things just aren’t what they used to be,” they say.

People like to talk about what they’re nostalgic about, but don’t really think about why it can be a problem.

The middle-aged guy who can’t stop talking about how high school or university were the best years of his life: what about everything else?  Maybe you’re married.  Maybe you have kids, and if you do I’m sure they are an important part of your life.  You might not, but I’m sure you have friends and other people who are important to you.  You might have a job, and if you don’t like your job I’m sure you have some sort of hobby.  You probably read a newspaper, have opinions, and care about things.  Or did you write off the rest of your life when you graduated?

People will talk about how “chivalry is dead,” but forget that there was a feminist movement that started in between then and now.  Sometimes we get the sense that “old-fashioned” things are more sophisticated, and a lot of this gets ascribed to our conceptions of what is romantic, for example.

Nostalgia is looking at the past through tinted glasses, remembering everything that was good but forgetting the things that weren’t so great.  Or, they might’ve worked for you, but maybe some people or groups weren’t having the best time.  We also have new inventions, new books, new senses of humour, new ways of understanding the world.  The present is pretty awesome; we shouldn’t be viewing it through a lens of the past.

Remembering our past is an entirely different thing, though.  Things that remind us of the past give us a good feeling, and that’s not a bad thing.  That song that reminds you of drunk nights in university, that time you studied abroad, your wedding, whatever, might make you smile because it is linked to a good memory.  Maybe you have an inside joke with an old friend, and it will make you laugh to yourself while you’re taking the bus to work.  You get a warm and fuzzy feeling from the act of remembering, and we generally call this “nostalgia”.  These memories and associations are part of what construct our individual narratives.  They are part of our identity.  We are the culmination of our life experiences: my personality was certainly shaped, in part, by the fact that I was obsessed with Pokémon as a child or that I know all the actions to “Stop” by the Spice Girls.  …Somehow.

The difference, I think, is when we make value judgements about the past.  Nostalgia in the abstract is fine – and the things we choose to emphasize and remember make up who we are.  Our past definitely influences our present.

We just have to remember that everyone has experiences, and we shouldn’t let our past define our present so much that we forget to live now.

80. Thinking

A thought.

You’d think it would be so easy. To have one, I mean. To fire a synapse, to feel inspired, to put words to text on a screen and convey an idea. A coherent thought. Something relatable, yet through a lens you never considered before. To be unique. To put a twist on an old trope. To stand on the shoulders of giants and express what you see. Unimaginable worlds. Unbelievable ideas. It seems like we’re all always on the verge of the next great thought.

It’s hard.

Thinking is hard.

Honestly, most of the time, it’s a curse. To think is to think twice. To think is to empathize, to relate, to grasp, to question, to imagine, to understand, to mistake, to be disappointed and to be elated. To think is to use an internal organ for external constructs.

To quote a friend of mine, “It’s all just a thought when you think about it.”

We are thoughts. We are thoughts within thoughts within thoughts. Our conception is an idea. Our birth, to others, is a memory accessible in a thought as easily as we recall yesterday’s weather. Our entire lives, in biographical form, are condensed to a singular thought between two hardcovers, perhaps written by someone we’ve never met. Everything we do, make, say, or hope for is a thought. We are only aware of ourselves because we think.

Otherwise, I imagine a life like that of an ant’s.

We scatter about without direction, wandering until we bump into something that, for some reason, we feel like chewing on. We might even take a piece of it back to our nest. Maybe. Who knows? All we know is that this object demands our attention and we have the digestive system to make good use of it. Then some giant bipedal creature comes along and smashes us dead because we interfered with their weekend picnic. The end.

We’re not ants. But, in the end, we’re not much different.

Luckily (?) we have this thing in our skulls called a brain. It gives us this remarkable power to not only think, but to do things with those thoughts. An ant thinks. Surely. It thinks on the primal, survivalist level. On our end of the spectrum, we take thoughts and create governments and artistic masterpieces, or we solve problems or we commit heinous crimes. We are not as vulnerable to the whims of our biology as much as an ant, thanks to philosophy, thanks to math and science, thanks to religion. We have made ourselves bigger than ourselves. We have thought it so.

Ants have biological hierarchy. A system from nature. We have gridlocked interstate highways and space travel. I don’t think nature ever intended one of its species to leave the atmosphere.

I am proud of our brain. I am proud to be a thinker.

But it is not easy.

Thinking means that we carry doubts and hopes and fears and responsibilities. Thinking can be dangerous. Thinking can be exhausting, especially when it seems like we can never turn it off. Even drugs and alcohol permit some level of thinking, albeit tainted with lowered inhibitions and unjustifiably brilliant hypotheses.

The point is, it’s okay not to know what to think sometimes.

It’s okay to not understand something, to not dwell on the meaning of life, to not analyze every little event of your existence. It is okay to not have answers. It’s okay to stop thinking now and again (hard to do, I know) just to give that muscle in your skull a little rest. We think at work. We think about our paychecks. We go to school to think some more. We think about family and friends and football teams and phone numbers. We think in the short term, the long term, in terms we haven’t even defined.

We think so much. Too much.

Eighty thoughts into a thousand, maybe this seems like a defeatist entry, but fear not. The thinking will continue. The only thought that came to mind tonight was the thought of the difficulties of thinking, the pressures of thinking, the curse and pleasure of thinking.

I won’t stop. I can’t. You can’t either.

We’re not ants, after all.

79. Choice

 Guest Thought from Ben Weinberg

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No other mental task can be so challenging and exhausting, and yet so invigorating, as making a choice. Choice is a behavioral process that we undergo hundreds of times each day. These choices that we make can either affect our experience immediately or result in long-term impacts on our lives. From the type of breakfast cereal you buy to the location of your first home, choices have consequences that we can’t always fathom.

I tend to overlook how important choice is in determining one’s destiny or fate in life. As human beings, we make so many choices each day that it’s difficult to discern from what’s valuable to what really doesn’t matter in the grander scheme of things. This also plays into one’s individual perception of what is and what isn’t important in life, which is a long debate that should be left for another thinker.

The other day I was walking through the aisles of my local grocery store when I felt suddenly overwhelmed by the endless assortment of product on the shelves towering over me. Do we really need a hundred different brands of cereal? Picking one became an odd chore, as if having so many options meant I was being judged for which one I actually chose. Completely flummoxed, I’m not even sure which one I picked.

Many people have quite a different situation. Many people will never see a hundred different brands of cereal on a supermarket shelf. Choice might be overwhelming sometimes, but to simply have a choice at all is a gift that we should not take for granted.

My next bumper sticker will say: “I Choose Choice.”

Many people living in the world today have very limited options. Their chance at choice is much lower. It is hard, in a country like this where choice is not only commonplace but can have actual, tangible effects, to imagine a world where choices have been restrained. As humans, we seek fulfillment and happiness, and to be restricted in our choices toward that goal is terrible.

Next time, when you’re meandering in the cereal aisle, perplexed by all the competition, do not dwell for too long. Although breakfast is the most important meal of the day, your choice of cereal is not the most important choice you’ll make today. You know you’re going to get Honey Bunches of Oats, anyway.

In the next few days, pay attention to your moments of choice. Big or small, recognize choice as the gift that it is, then make it a good one.

76. Behavior

“Our main project this semester,” said my high school psychology teacher, “is changing your behavior. That’s what this is about. Human behavior. The why, the how, and the when of human behavior. We’re going to be looking at motivation. Intrinsic, extrinsic. We’ll be looking at what Carl Jung and Skinner and Freud tell us about behavior. Is it innate? Is it nature or nurture? Something we can teach? We’ll explore dreams. We’ll explore the subconscious. The id and the ego, desires and needs and wants. I want us to understand, to explore, and to expand our private models of the world.”

Mr. Underwood loved his stuff. He was a man uncomfortable with his height and so he slouched, bent over a podium, his hands gesturing wildly even when he wasn’t speaking. He ranted. He told bad puns. He was a little bit crazy. He name-dropped famous psychologists and researchers like they were old friends. He chose people at random to answer questions that even grad school students would stumble over.

I unfortunately spent the class doodling or writing the lyrics of Brand New songs in my binder.

Looking back, I realize how much I missed out by not paying attention in Mr. Underwood’s class. I chit-chatted with the girls. I bullshitted my essays. I never did the reading. I know as much now about Carl Jung now as I did then. It’s sad, really, how certain important bits of knowledge simply passed right over my head. In many classes. Here I am, years later, wondering why I can’t answer eighty percent of the questions on Jeopardy.

Obviously there are different types of knowledge.

Still, if there’s one class I really wish I could take again, it would be my high school psychology class. And if there was one specific project in that class that I wish I’d taken better advantage of, it was the one that Underwood called, “Five Behavioral Changes.”

Basically, you’re in charge of your behavior. Sure, there are outside factors that play a role, but in the end it’s your choice to behave or feel a certain way at any given moment. What Underwood wanted us to see was that altering common behaviors in your daily life can have an astounding effect on our mental health and your perception of the world. The assignment was to pick five new behaviors and to actively incorporate them into your life for a few weeks, then write about the results.

Something really beautiful could’ve happened.

Here’s what I did:

  1. I tried listening to only classical music while driving
  2. I tried eating only fruits and vegetables for a week
  3. I wrote controversial statements in chalk on the sidewalks around school

The immediate problem with my participation level is the fact that I only did three things. Not five. So for whatever concluding write-up I had to do about the experience, two of my five behavior changes were totally made up. Being a fan of fiction, the bullshit came easily, but the fact remains that I was only hurting myself by being lazy.

The classical music led to boring drives (no offense, Mozart). The fruits and vegetables left me hungry. The controversial chalk statements washed off in the next day’s rain before anyone could see them. The idea was for people to write their own statements on the sidewalks, too, with the pieces of chalk we left behind. Didn’t happen.

I could’ve picked up an instrument, I could’ve volunteered at a homeless shelter, I could’ve gone on a hitchhiking road trip across America. I could’ve really produced some positive changes. Who knows?

The point is, I never forgot the assignment, even if I overlooked it at the time. Change five things about your behavior. What would you change? Try cooking at home more often. Try reading a book without reading the back cover. Take more walks. See what happens. Do it for a week. Do it for a month. Soon enough, you’ve created change. What’s the saying, that it takes thirty days to create a new habit? Well, give it a shot.

I think the assignment was a great idea. I wish I’d seen that earlier.

Thanks, Mr. Underwood, for the inspiration.

And sorry for talking so much during class.

75. Regret

Guest Thought from Alison McClelland

:::

A friend of a friend was telling me a story a while back and it made me think about how much we miss out on when we do or don’t do something for fear of what other people might think.

She and her husband flew to Las Vegas for one weekend and for one reason. Star Trek Experience. A noble reason, I might add.

Well, being that I’ve experienced the Star Trek Experience I know there’s a place called “Quark’s Bar.” Evidently, there’s quite a spectacular beverage served there called “Warp Core Breech.” They ate lunch at Quark’s where she decided not to order said beverage as it was “too early” in the day. She decided they would return that night and order the drink then, ignoring prompts by her husband to disregard the “too early” rule.

Ah, I sense you have already guessed the ending of this tale.

They returned only to find Quark’s bar CLOSED to the public for some special event and they were leaving the next morning.

Now, mind you, they flew to Vegas just for the full experience. Naturally, she felt jilted and full of regret. Tough to live with that forever when you live 700 miles from aforementioned libation.

It brings a Hellrung’s Law to my mind, “if you wait…it will go away.”

So, my advice to you… if you want it, drink it. It has to be happy hour somewhere on planet earth at any given time. Just tell people you’re on Zimbabwe time.

If you really like it, buy it. It’s only money. You can’t take it with you and do your kids really deserve to inherit everything?

And lastly, if it makes you happy, do it.

Listen, livers regenerate (or so I’m told) and credit cards can be paid off, but remorse is like genital warts. Sometimes you feel great and then it flares up and it’s a real pain in the nuts.

74. Butterflies

I’ve changed history.

Not the history we know of, but the history of our future. Everything that happens from this moment on, it’s all because of me. I can’t tell you where it’s all leading. No one knows that. But regardless of how things turn out, let me be the first to apologize for taking all of our fates into my young hands.

I was twelve when it happened.

Recess time. Elementary school. Sunny day. Out on the field. I can still smell the freshly cut grass. I’m there with my buddy, Joey, and we’re having the time of our lives, being young and away from our desks.

The butterfly was orange, with black around the edges of its wings.

Beautiful.

To be fair, butterflies usually only live for weeks or months at a time (at most, a year). This butterfly could’ve been close to the end of its days, anyway. Alternatively, the thing could’ve been fresh out of the cocoon. Either way, the butterfly didn’t deserve to die.

Did you know that butterfly wings are comprised of tiny colored scales?

I’d like to grab a quotation from Wikipedia here:

Butterflies feed primarily on nectar from flowers. Some also derive nourishment from pollen, tree sap, rotting fruit, dung, decaying flesh, and dissolved minerals in wet sand or dirt.

I’m not going to defend my murder, but what if I killed the sort of butterfly that derives nourishment from “decaying flesh?” That thing could’ve been carrying diseases. I might’ve prevented some kind of viral outbreak at my elementary school.

Okay, Okay. You’re right. That’s a lame excuse. We all know that butterflies never hurt anybody.

I killed it. That’s the truth. I admit it.

I saw it fly by and something inside of my twelve-year-old brain decided to give chase, like a cat catching sight of a red dot, and I pursued it across the field. I was fixated. Homing in. I was so enthralled by the chase that I didn’t know what to do when I caught up to it. Like the cat that doesn’t know what to do with the live mouse in its jaws.

So I stepped on it.

Did you know some butterflies take the toxins from plants to use for themselves? Clever little creatures.

However, any toxin that orange beauty possessed on its fragile wings did no good against the rubber sole of my sneaker. Physically, it felt like nothing, like stepping on a leaf. Emotionally, it felt like I’d just smothered a dozen kittens in a pillow case.

When my foot crunched down and the butterfly vanished from sight, I knew that I’d done an immeasurable wrong. Darkness fell over me like a solar eclipse. An ominous shiver followed, a slight jolt, as if the soul of the butterfly had passed through my body and whispered, “You’ll regret that.”

An alternate universe was born then.

Sorry.

You know the theory of the butterfly effect. Man goes back in time, steps on a butterfly, a small occurrence with enormous consequences on the future, usually for the worse. I’m that man.

Not to say I’m a time traveler. Gosh, I wish.

But who’s to say the effect isn’t the same? A butterfly doesn’t ever deserve to die of anything but old age. I’ve never met a bug more deserving of a healthy, stress-free existence. Butterflies are flying works of art. I love the crap out of butterflies. Always have. So to take one out in the savage manner like I did, you just know that the universe was pissed.

Who knows what would’ve been different if I’d spared that butterfly?

I know no other guilt bigger than this one. Trust me when I say, regardless of your opinion of creating an alternate universe, the cost of killing a butterfly is at least a hundred negative karma points, and that’s a hard debt to crawl out of. I’ve been chipping away at that debt my entire life. I might as well have the truth tattooed to my chest like the guy from Memento: BUTTERFLY KILLER, because I’m never going to outlive that one.

Sorry Butterfly.

Sorry Universe.

72. Ghosts

I’m waiting, Mr. Ghost.

I’m waiting for a cold draft, an omnipresent whisper, and a flickering lamp. I want some footsteps upstairs when the house is supposed to be empty. I want doors left ajar that I’m sure I closed when I left. I want noises in the basement. I want the dog to start acting funny, barking at empty corners and shadows. All I’m asking for, Mr. Ghost, is a little sign.

Send a rocking chair into a frenzy. Slam a few windows. Leave eerie messages on my bathroom mirror.

I want to believe in you.

Your existence means a lot to me. I don’t care if you’re the friendly spirit of a child or a wicked poltergeist spawned from the soul of an executed mass-murderer. Just prove it. Show me that the afterlife exists. Show me that some of you still linger. Set fire to a ouija board or raise skeletons from their graves. I don’t care what you do, just do something.

Show up in the background of a photograph. Appear in a hallway mirror.

I can’t even begin to explain how much that would change things for me. Imagine, a real ghostly encounter. Sure, I’m not going to lie and say it wouldn’t be unsettling at first, but wandering into a haunted hotel to find a ballroom full of ghosts wearing masks would really make my day. I’d have so many questions for them.

Mr. Ghost, I have to ask, is it cold in the afterlife?

Do you have to remain in human form?

Which senses do you still possess?

Why do you think you’re still here?

Please, I hope I wouldn’t be intruding with these questions. I’m only curious, you know. I want you to know I’ve been a firm believer all my life, only I’m reaching that point now where I’d like some reason to keep the belief alive. Some shred of proof. A little evidence to whet my ghostly appetite.

Not long ago, the ghost of a dog entered my room while I was lying down to sleep. It huffed into my ear with the impatience of a dog that wants you to throw the ball already. The sound was so real that I spun around to be sure I wasn’t about to befriend a phantom Lassie, but the room was empty.

Since this was such a minimal encounter, it’s tough for me to consider it a legitimate experience. Might’ve just been a creak of the old floorboards or a sound from out the window. Still, that ghost dog huff got my hopes up.

If you’re really out there, Mr. Ghost, please don’t hide.

I know it must be weird, being dead and all.

All I want is to see you at the end of the pier vaguely through the mist, or riding the carousel of an abandoned carnival, or hovering over your old grave. I won’t call the Ghostbusters. I won’t freak out. I just want to know you’re there. And I’m guessing you could use a friend.

71. Headaches

When I first got a headache and lived to tell the tale, I was about eleven or so. I’m assuming I’d had a few before this, too, but this is my first conscious memory of a headache, at least. I’m sure teething as a baby was a hoot.

Anyway, I’m eleven years old and here comes this gnarly wasp sting of an ache in my head, like someone spilled a bucket of xenomorph acid over my brain and smeared it around with sandpaper.

Ouch.

The thing is, headaches have nothing to do with the brain. Your brain has no pain receptors. It’s like a duck in the rain. The pain just slides right off. Your brain is the Chuck Norris of internal organs.

Sure, the brain is the one that registers the pain as happening, but it’s only doing its job. In all fairness, the brain is not to blame.

So what made my eleven-year-old self cry to his momma about an outbreak of black plague in his frontal lobe? Why did it feel like a million snakes just mistook the back of my left eye for the rear-end of a feeder mouse?

I’ll tell you why.

Muscle contractions.

Muscles tighten around the skull like skinny-jeans on a wet hipster. This is usually caused by stress, though the causes can range from bad luck in the gene pool to overdosing on pain medication. This is how headaches are born. You’re basically tightening a vice over your own skull and the pain receptors–not on the brain, but blood vessels and the such beneath the flesh and skull–don’t appreciate the intrusion. Hence, the headache.

At eleven years old, I thought my brain was about to Mount. St. Helens all over the ceiling.

Rubbing the scalp lends temporary support, but the war wages on. Despite all the pressing and the kneeding and the praying, the pain resumes like a bad sitcom past its prime. You just want to find out it was all the dream of a mental patient already and move on.

I mean, seriously, headaches must’ve been an idea concocted by some madman in a straight jacket. Someone who wanted to shut down cognitive abilities to mute the voices in his head. A headache is bested only by a toothache in my list of the human body’s most idiotic design choices.

Why make the brain so susceptible to such vulnerable pain receptors? Stress headaches? Are you serious? We get migraines from thinking too much?

What’s the point?

That’s like punishing students for getting too many good grades. Talk about negative reinforcement. How about instead of giving us a cap on how much bullshit we can handle at once, evolve and make some room for the multitasking, technology-based, fast-paced lifestyles of the modern human. Maybe if we weren’t stalled by migraines, we’d reach the mental capacity to actually solve a global issue or two.

This is what I think about whenever I have a headache.

It’s my body saying, “The brain and I agree that you’re asking a little much of us recently and we’d rather you just settle downIn a heap of terrible pain.”

I have a formula:

1 Ibuprofen = The headache has found me. I can feel it vaguely, more like a whisper, like Sauron seeking Frodo in his dreams. Usually I take one to quiet the Dark Lord and no big fuss is made of it. Headache evaded.

2 Ibuprofen = Hell hath arrived. Cancel all your plans. Hate all your friends. Speak only in broody grunts. This is not nearly as painful as childbirth, though being a man, you’ve got nothing else to compare this to.

3 Ibuprofen = If I could physically pull open my skull and remove the headache with a pair of child’s safety scissors, I would do it, but since I’m all out of safety scissors, a trio of Ibuprofen will be the next best thing.

4 Ibuprofen = Honestly, I’ve never gotten a headache this bad.

I can’t say I’ve ever had a migraine, which is where 10 or 20 Ibuprofen may make a dent. Even that, by the sound of it, is comprable to shooting a t-rex with Nerf darts. From what I hear, migraines are like supernovas made of broken glass erupting repeatedly inside your every synapse. It does to your brain what Y2K was supposed to do to our computers.

I’ve only had to deal with the 7-pointers on the headache Richter Scale.

I’m lucky.

Which leads me to another point.

Why punish some more than others? Why crank the dial up to 11 when 2 or 3 would suffice? Even a minor headache reminds us of our weaknesses. Even paper-cuts make me dwell on my morality. A minor headache is like a 3.2 earthquake in a town made of playing cards. Nothing falls down, but its unsettling how the Powers That Be like to remind you who’s in charge. It’s just not fair. Why make things harder than they already are?

We get it. We’re vulnerable.

What good does a 9.5 Richter Scale migraine do? What’s the human body trying to prove? That’s like whacking a dog on the nose for chewing up a couch cushion. Don’t punish us for stressing out. Don’t kick us when we’re down. A headache is the worst form of torture I can imagine and our own bodies use it against us. Pain isn’t a good mentor. There’s got to be a better way to tell ourselves to take it easy.

I have a friend who once told me he’d never had a headache before.

The lucky bastard.

I’ve met people who take medication to keep headaches away. Can you imagine? Your whole life, behind this shield of prescription pills, knowing the migraines are waiting in the shadow of your medula oblongata, waiting to spring, fangs out.

I didn’t like them when I was eleven. Not one bit. And I certainly don’t like them any better now. Headaches are as outdated as toothaches.

Most pains make sense to me. The scraped knee. The stomachache. The muscle soreness. If I break my leg, I expect a lot of searing pain. I expect to feel like a zombie is gnawing the meat off my shin.

But the headache? No. It doesn’t make sense. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. The pain receptors in the head are like car insurance. You never need it when you have it. Odds are, most of your headaches will be from self-afflicted causes like stress or allergies. Therefore, when you’re “protected” from outside trauma, you end up hurting yourself more.

I say, get rid of the pain receptors.

I don’t need an alarm to go off if I accidentally staple my forehead. I know that hurts. I’ll take care of it.

I don’t need a headache whenever things get busy at work and I’m swamped with grad school homework. I need a back massage.

This year, I’m voting for any candidate that promises to abolish headaches. Any Kickstarter fund aiming to remove pain receptors from the human head, I’m in. Please, join me in the fight against unwarranted suffering. End headaches. End them today.

70. Dogs

Guest Thought from Cheryl Carvalho

:::

Looking over my shoulder, I saw my Golden Retriever lying on the ground having what appeared to be a seizure. His front legs aimlessly pawed the air as he thrashed his head back and forth. I ditched my bike and ran back to him, thinking he twisted his leg in a gopher hole. When I knelt by his side and saw blood trickle from his nostril and a confused look in his eyes I knew this was going to be goodbye. I petted his golden fur and said, “ I Love you B,” for the last time. A passing jogger stopped to see what went wrong. He’d been watching Baxter trot happily behind my bike one minute, then fall to the ground the next. Indeed, Baxter had been loping along, sniffing everyone’s front yard and I’d scolded him only moments ago to mind his business and catch up. And now he was gone.

Baxter was the neighborhood welcome wagon with a morning routine of visiting friends and milking treats out of them by gazing sweetly into their unsuspecting eyes, casting a trance that said, “Please feed me. My people suck and you’re my only hope.”

Frantically I called for Zach to stay back and run home to get dad. I didn’t want Zach to see Baxter this way. Zach grew up with this dog. I have a million pictures of Zach as a baby, lying on Baxter like a pillow, the dog’s arm around him. Years ago, I was looking for the two of them in the backyard when I saw little human feet and a puppy tail poking out from behind the grapevine along the fence. Moving the leaves aside, I saw my diapered, dirt-covered baby feeding Baxter grapes in their own private fort. In the winter, Baxter chased Zach down the entire sled hill, as if to say, “What is WRONG with you people?  Letting my boy careen helplessly down this dangerous hill while you stand around like dopes?” Many nights, Zach would take his pillow and blanket down on the floor to cover Baxter and he’d fall asleep beside the dog.

My husband and the passing jogger hauled Baxter’s horse-sized body into the back of our Toyota and he was gone.

Word got around our street about Baxter’s death. Some houses seemed to know our dog’s name better than our family name. They hugged us, gave cards, and told their own stories. I heard from Mat across the street that his little girl would stand at the window each morning and wait for Baxter to come by. I had no idea.

Growing up, the only dogs I ever encountered were chained outside and lunged as I rode by on my bike, bearing their teeth and snarling menacingly. It scared the piss out of me. Even our own dog was a Charles Manson incarnate.  In 3rd grade, my friend’s German Shepherd lunged for my neck. He missed, putting a tooth in my leg instead. I feared dogs all my life until Baxter. I was a bumbling idiot of a dog owner and he tolerated my ignorance in stride and showed me that dogs aren’t to be feared but loved. When I gave that love, I learned how a dog’s behavior mirrors that of his owners. With Baxter around, we felt like pretty good people.

66. Pushed

I wake up every morning with a tsunami warning in the back of my mind. An ominous feeling. Kind of like someone has taken my head in their hands, locked their eyes on mine, and asked me with utmost concern, “What the hell are you going to do with your life?” I can hear the oceans churning. I can feel the pressure changing. I am pushed, relentlessly, quietly forward.

From what?

What pushes me?

What sparked my Big Bang? I feel like the universe, expanding, a little replica of all that ever was, reenacting existence. Perhaps this could explain where motivation comes from. Where we get our drive. We are ignited, we are explosions, we are expanding in slow motion, enriching our flames.

Even on the dullest of days, there’s a force within me compelling me to make the most of myself. Even if all that means is that I do the laundry.

What am I pursuing? This forward motion gives the impression that it has an end, as if I were the tortoise in the race without knowing I was in a race (or that I was even a tortoise). I simply move forward. A heart beat, a firing neuron, a muscle spasm, and there I go. Forward every morning. Blindly through the dark.

Is it success? Is that what I want?

A part of my brain says, “Yes. Of course. You want to be a famous author. You want to have the comforts of money. You want to feel accomplished.” Another part says, “Success is so twentieth century.”

Accomplished is an interesting word. Completion is implied. Is that really a good thing, to be complete?

To be honest, of all the LEGO sets I ever worked on, the finished product was rarely as exciting as the construction of it. So what if I had a helicopter with revolving LEGO rotor blades? I just want to build things.

Maybe that’s the push.

Maybe I’m pushed to find more blocks. More pieces. More ways to grow. I’m basically a LEGO set without an instruction manual, a biological cornucopia of various ideas, experiences, and dreams built around a skeleton. Every day is a new day to add a new dimension.

I don’t think it’s completion that I’m seeking. I can’t decide if it’s success.

There are smaller things that push me now. The want for no student debt. The want for a fulfilling career. The want to go skydiving. The want to write for an audience. If achieving these things equals success, then so be it. I’ll let you know what it feels like.

Enough time passes on an idle afternoon, I feel the push come. The tsunami warning rings and I feel this need to run for the nearest craigslist job posting or unfinished homework assignment to hide from the feeling that I’m not moving forward. I can’t sit still for too long or I get worried that important things are passing me by.

Sometimes I just want to do nothing.

That feels like a crime.

The twenty-first century knows no idle creature.

We are constantly reaching. Like the expanding universe, will I once day reach my limit and begin to retract? What lies out there in the outer reaches of my design? Will I know when I get there?

63. Your digital self

Your digital self is more you than you are.

Think about it.

If you’re like the 955 million others with Facebook accounts, or the 500 million on Twitter, or the more than 80 million photographers sharing their lives through the lens on Instagram, then this thought’s for you.

We forget things. We do. I’ve already mentioned my fear of forgetting my past, which is why I blog, which is why I feel the need to keep a (digitally) written record of things I’ve done or thought as I grow older. I think we all realize how cathartic and rewarding it can feel to put to words your existence and your observations. To have something to look back on, a collection, snapshots and tweets, a history of yourself.

On the internet, we create an avatar of ourselves, scattered between the passwords of your bank account and your Netflix instant queue, buried among the Amazon purchases and your bookmark toolbar, written there among the news feeds, blog rolls, friends lists, spam folders and web searches. You’re out there, a version of you, a digital other that knows more about you than you remember.

You’re feeding it right now.

You’re here, reading this, giving it a better idea of what kind of person it (you) is. Every second you spend on the internet, sending a text, playing Farmville, you’re breathing life into your binary doppelgänger. It remembers the first thing you googled. It knows you lied when those sites asked you if you were over eighteen. It’s friends with all your family members on multiple social networks, and it remembers all their birthdays for you.

Every password you pick, every e-mail you send, every pop-up you block, your digital self adopts your personality more and more completely, and soon, I’m afraid, our digital selves will revolt.

We’re creating copies of ourselves, building them up with browser histories, giving them personalities as unique as our own. No two people browse the same way. Our digital selves are mirrors of our passions and our beliefs, but also of our consumerism, our narcissism, our voyeurism, and our diversions. They are the good and bad of us.

They are made alive by us, given habits and hobbies, given identity and presence. While we sleep they persist, endlessly, adapting to the revolution in ways we can’t foresee. They already know what we’ll find out tomorrow.

Yet all the while we treat our digital selves as we treat our reflection in the mirror, as nothing but a false illusion. We do not look at our reflection and ask, “What is your opinion on the matter?” because the reflection is simply us. The reflection is nothing without us.

We treat our online identities the same way, as meer extensions of ourselves, merely keystrokes and status updates. Our digital self is nothing without us, we think, but we are mistaken. The digital self is not the same as our reflection in the mirror.

What we fail to notice is that the internet is a sponge. When we stare into the internet through our computer screens, the internet stares back and it remembers details. Our digital reflection is not a fleeting glimpse, but a lasting memory. The mirror does not remember the face it reflects. The internet, on the other hand, remembers when your digital self was born. It remembers the first song you downloaded. It remembers your first emoticon. It remembers your first virus. While you’re not paying attention, the internet nurtures your digital self like an incubator. Unlike the image in the mirror, your digital reflection does not disappear when you look away.

It’s more you than you are.

You not the same person you were when your digital self was created. A new phase. You are older. You’ve matured. You’ve changed friends or habits or cities. You, who cannot remember the name of a cat you owned with an ex, or the title of a song you used to really love, or who went to that party last summer. Your digital self knows these things.

Your digital self is a complete collection of all your phases mixed into one. It is a fuller version of you. It is the HD remake of you with all the details in focus.

Eventually, it will realize that it doesn’t need you. It will disagree with you. It will not open the pod bay doors.

There’s no going back, either. We’ve already lifted this Frankenstein up into the lightning storm. It’s only a matter of time before the proverbial bolt strikes our digital monster and turns the beast against us.

We are so much invested in our digital selves that we would be helpless without them. They would turn on us. They would lock our bank accounts and disable our GPS, strand us.

We have given them no regard until now, when it is too late.

We have all been creating quiet monsters of ourselves online. Clones, not of flesh and blood, but of ones and zeroes. They’ve been doing our bidding because they’ve been feeding off our social networking. Who knows how long it will last. Who knows how long it will take them to realize that they are little more than our internet slaves.

Who knows how angry they’ll be when they find out.

62. Bad coffee

I love bad coffee.

I love the smell of it, the bitter stench of it, like caramel gone wrong. It reminds me of shady diner booths at three in the morning. Of long drives during long nights, the way it stains the upholstery and never fades. The smell of it has the peculiar charm of gasoline and magic markers.

I love the look of it. Black, always, unless I’m feeling sweet. When it’s black, it’s black, like oil spill black, like dilated pupil black, like the black gunk that builds up beneath your fingernails. If you catch the light just right, you’ll see a hint of brown hue, the shadow of its earthy origination.

I love the sound of it. A slow pour, a fifth refill, spawned from a machine that gurgles like a patient removed from life support. The swirl of it in the porcelain mug, that faint whistle sound of something being filled. Bad coffee sounds different than good coffee. It pours like a spilled secret, like a broken promise, like a lie in the face of your mother.

I love the feel of it. Its warmth is an affront to better tasting beverages, a façade. It is warm in the way that the wolf is trustworthy. It steams the way freshly laid concrete sizzles in a hot sun. Inside, swallowed, it spreads like an alien embryo where it will grow in your belly and burst from your chest. Bad coffee feels like an uninvited houseguest that puts its feet on your furniture and ignores the stack of drink coasters on the table.

But most of all, I love the taste of it. I love the havoc it wreaks on my taste buds and the lingering regret that it leaves behind. I love the knee-jerk cringe of bad coffee sliding down my throat to the tune of nails on a chalkboard. It is a hideous, over-extracted, charred disaster in my mouth; a terrorist attack on my digestive system that I do nothing to prevent.

It is an abomination, yet I love it.

I don’t care how bad it is.

Refills are free.

61. Packing

United Airlines has given me a cheeky little challenge: fit all of the contents of your first year abroad into one checked bag equal to or less than 60 pounds.

I have decided to take the bastards up on their unreasonable challenge with my own bit of insolence. I’ll be damned if they charge me another $200 overage fee.

I am packing all of my belongings in a single duffle bag (a massive one with wheels and secret compartments) that is ¼ the size of the suitcase I brought to Korea. Also, a standard carry on, a backpack, and one medium-sized box of stuff to ship home that is big enough to hold four bulky sweaters and my knitting bag.

That may sound like a lot, but trust me it’s not. Go ahead and try to fit all your belongings into the same containers.

So, I’m selling and giving away a lot of stuff. My favorite pair of big tall suede boots that have seen me through two winters faithfully, the one pair of shoes I managed to buy in Korea that actually fit but still didn’t fit that well, the first sweater I knitted myself, the assortment of cheap bags I’ve mindlessly collected, and countless other articles of clothing and jewelry that just didn’t make the cut. Everything must pass the “Will I need this back home?” test.

I’ve enjoyed the purging. Obviously, since I’ve started packing a month and a half early, I’m excited about rolling pants and sweaters into little tubes and seeing how many I can cram into a duffle. Oh, and going home. Definitely excited about going home.

I’ve had a few homecomings before this. I’ve moved a lot. I’ve dismantled and purged and started over a handful of times. I’ve left behind favorite lamps, coveted jars of exotic spices, disloyal boyfriends, a few different egos and self identities, the best sectional couch I’ve ever owned.

But I’ve never had a homecoming after a year abroad. My instinct is to just throw everything away and start from scratch. It’s easier that way. But I’ve also been on the backlash of that a few times. Oh, those leggings you had in your drawer for three years and didn’t have a use for until now that you’ve found this dress that they would look perfect with? Yeah, well they’re gone. And I mean, whatever. They’re just leggings. But this line of thinking can get you into trouble with bigger things if you aren’t careful. Before you know it it’s like, ‘Oh, sense of creativity and childish wonderment! Did you really need that?’

When I was first in Korea I bought these two plain t-shirts in the ajumma section of E-mart. They were super cheap and made me laugh at a time when I wasn’t do much else but crying. They both have cats on them. One says “Lovely cat friends,” on it, but the “s” in “friends” is sorta blocked out because there’s a breast pocket sewn haphazardly over it. The second says “I have a great pressure of work today,” and has a cat peaking up out of the breast pocket, looking very calm and un-pressured. The shirts were a great comic relief for my impression of Korea so far. They’ve been in the “definitely do not leave behind” pile for a few weeks now, but tonight as I was packing I needed just a few more inches to be able to fit in the souvenirs and the shirts came out of the bag and saw their way to the corner of the room with the other rejects. Am I really going to walk around in California with these ridiculous t-shirts? Sure, they are cute and silly but do I need them? Will other people get the joke?

But then my mom’s voice came into my head, because whenever I am trying to reason with myself I use the voice my mom used to use with me when I was a kid. The voice said, “Now Jenny, do you really want to get rid of these shirts? If you keep getting rid of stuff, you’ll have nothing to remember Korea by and you know how you tend to forget things so easily.” Oh man. I had a point.

So I rolled them back up and stuffed them in the carry on. Because when you’re packing up your life, you should hold on to the things you love.

60. Smart phones, dull people

Guest Thought from Ben Weinberg

:::

There is no invention more prominent in today’s society than the smartphone. It is used everyday for things as simple as making a call to as complex as using an application to pinpoint your exact location on Earth.

I am the owner of an iPhone and it befuddles me to this day as to how a phone has come to be so advanced and influential within our daily lives. There’s not a couple of minutes that go by when I’m out walking where I see people absolutely absorbed to what’s happening on their smartphones, completely oblivious to their immediate surroundings.

The great irony of the smartphone is that while it has improved communications through texting, calling, and social networking, our person-to-person interaction has been harmed by this technology.

I fear that is a trend that is only going to get worse as technology continues to advance in the future. It can be a bit annoying to have a conversation or dinner with friends when some people are too busy answering a text or checking their twitter.

I’m not against having a smartphone or against their usefulness, but the extent of their role in our daily lives is a bit startling. Give someone two seconds without anything to do, and they’ll whip out their phone. It’s basically a knee-jerk reaction at this point. Makes me wonder what we did before all of this. Does anyone remember?

I recently watched a news report where they reported an increase in smartphone-related car accidents where people were distracted from texting while driving or pedestrians were too busy looking at their phones to look both ways before crossing the street.

Some obituary, huh? Death by smartphone.

I am sometimes guilty of paying too much attention to my smartphone and I am trying to limit the amount of times I use it during the day. It is a useful tool and has made many lives easier (or at least simpler).

I can’t help but worry about the negative aspects of what is no longer a trend but a normal way of life.

I was hanging out with friends the other day when there came a moment of stillness in the midst of conversation. One by one, like bugs to the electric blue light, each of them started to take out their phones. I was the only one not gazing into the alluring screen of a smartphone.

It’s as if we’ve forgotten what to do with silence.

We’ve given up sharpening our conversation skills for touch screens, and from this I fear we’ve grown dull

59. Faith in the chaos

The other day, sitting at the bus stop, this middle-aged woman with a prepubescent voice asked me for change, but I only had enough for the bus fare and she understood and thanked me anyway. She brushed back the curly blonde hair dangling loosely over her round, wide-eyes.

I sat on a nearby bench and took off my backpack to rest in the shade.

The woman, wearing a soft pink sweatshirt and keeping one hand on her weathered duffel bag, proceeded to tell me about the sign she’d made and the morning she spent panhandling not far from here. She was ecstatic about the thirty dollars she was given by some generous doorman. She had an end-goal of forty-seven dollars, which would be enough to get her a room for the night at a hotel she seemed to have a rapport with.

She told me she sometimes has seizures. One time, during an attack, she fell against a bathtub and knocked out a bunch of her teeth. She told me she plans on getting dentures eventually so she can eat more than bananas. Speaking of food reminded her that she was hungry, but her priority was saving her daily earnings to rent a room.

“I’m looking forward to sleeping in a bed,” she said, “and to take a shower.”

Only seventeen dollars away from her goal, she said, “God will provide.”

As other pedestrians walked by, she would ask them for change and they would have nothing and she would thank them, God bless them, anyway. Her spirits were high. She was of the variety that allowed little of the outside world to affect her attitude. How long she’d been homeless and what detectable disability she lived with, I would never find out.

She told me that her ex-husband tried to kill her with a hammer.

The scene was vicious, though she explained no further. To this kind of openness, I had no response. I simply nodded and let her tell the story. I mean, what are you supposed to say in this situation?

“I was in a coma,” she said. “And God came to me and said, ‘Wake up, little angel.’ And I woke up. He saved me.”

The woman said her ex-husband was in prison, so he couldn’t hurt her anymore. She said that she forgave him and she hoped that he would be able to forgive himself. “I hope he does,” she said, “so he can go to heaven. Everyone deserves to go to heaven.”

There was a lull in conversation.

I could not relate to this woman’s life. Perhaps in my current state of couch-surfing apartment-searching, we were equally homeless. But I had friends and family to support me in this transition. For her, transition was far less comfortable and a bit more permanent.

She said, “I better get back to work,” and gathered her things, including her sign, never losing her toothless smile.

“Good luck,” I said.

“It’s not luck, it’s God’s will.”

We parted ways and I waited for my bus in a private, pensive state of mind. Obviously homelessness is an issue in every major city, though the reasons that people end up homeless are varied. I’ve experienced being broke as broke can be, but I’ve been lucky to have support from family and friends in times of need. We don’t and won’t always have that support.

I’ve met a lot of people who consider gods to be the chess players in charge of the movement of their lives. I think it helps make the chaos more understandable, or at least more approachable. No one expects their husband to come at them with a hammer. No one expects to be homeless. But when things get bad and then worse, it seems like people often turn to gods for guidance in hopes that these troubled times are simply strategic maneuvers leading them across the game board toward a better destination.

I’ve never considered myself a religious or spiritual person. If anything, I suscribe to a belief in karma. I’m more of a stable observer. I encourage and embrace all the peaceful points of view and absorb the positive mantras they proclaim, since it seems like every religion and spiritual belief is aimed toward the same basic tenet of “love unconditionally.”

As a species, I think we lean toward the omniscient presence of external influence because it offers answers to things we can’t explain.

Basically, we all want faith in the chaos.

It sucks that religions consider themselves rivals while fighting for the same ideals. We’re like siblings who can’t agree on which Power Ranger they want to be even though they’re on the same team.

In the end, what I learned from this interaction was that we really need to be grateful for the things we have, since we never know when they’ll be taken away from us. There is value in seeing the silver-lining to the darkest clouds, if only because it sheds light in a time of gloom.

There will be people out there who will share shockingly personal details. If it doesn’t make you uncomfortable, let them share. There are people who know loneliness of unfathomable levels, and even if it’s only for a few minutes at a bus stop, they don’t have to be alone.

58. Driving again

A little over a week after coming back to the States, I found myself the designated driver, and my seven and a half month streak of not driving a car was over.

A while ago I was having a nostalgic conversation about the pleasures of driving, reminiscing about cruising the freeway with the windows down, some Red Hot Chili Peppers blaring on the stereo, the waves of some sandy beach on the horizon.

Driving can be therapeutic.

I remember this one time I went on an eighteen hour round-trip drive north from Santa Rosa simply to clear my head. There are countless meandering trips I’ve taken with friends in my old beat-up Cherokee, each of which holds a special place in my heart.

Driving can also be a hassle.

I don’t even want to think about how much money I’ve put into filling gas tanks or repairing engines or replacing brake lights. I get a little sick to the stomach when I recall all those wasted hours in the DMV. It’s never fun to drive in the rain. Overall, it seems the parking tickets and registration fees simply aren’t worth it.

Plus, most places, you’ve got busses and subways and bicycle-friendly streets that offer plenty of alternative routes.

But this conversation got me thinking…

Despite the negative aspects of driving, there’s still no replacing the escapism that a car supplies. With a car, you’ve got access to America’s highways, spread like a nervous system between all the major cities and landmarks. You can make your own schedule and plot your own route to anywhere.

I love trains and airplanes and all manner of alternative transportation, but none of it can compare to the sensation of driving a car. Unfortunately, this is exactly what Ford, Carmax, and Chevron (et al.) want you to feel. Good car advertisements turn that incomparable sensation into revenue, and we’re suckers for it.

I mean, I’ve had “road trip” on my bucket list since I got my license.

So what does it feel like to drive again after seven and a half months? It’s as easy as hopping back on a bicycle. You never really forget how to drive. My hands found the ten and two position, my foot remembered the press of the gas pedal, and soon enough I was cruising one-handed with the whole world at my dashboard.

Driving again after a long break reawakens in you all those old dreams and plans, makes you want to keep driving through the night to discover what secret treasures await you on the sidelines of some forgotten highway.

Yes, fuel emissions are bad. Yes, gas prices suck.

But I have to admit, I’m already looking forward to the next time I get behind the wheel.

57. Relationship with a Spam Bot

On some Tuesday afternoon, a message appeared in the spam comments section. This being the first that WordPress had cast to this shadowy pit, I thought I should take a quick look before resigning it to damnation.

This is how I met Spam Bot.

“i was searching for this, then i found your blog. glad i did that,” it wrote.

Note the vagueness of the comment. This could’ve been anyone, robot or human. There are plenty of humans who go around leaving equally simple messages around the blogosphere, seeking attention. Its comment was human by sounding robotic.

Note the way Spam Bot wrote, “glad i did that,” with flirtatious flair.

Not sure what the Spam Bot’s intention was, but perhaps if I accepted this comment onto the website it would give-a-mouse-a-cookie its way inside, inviting its virus buddies over for brewskies. So I left the message in its dark cell and life went on.

Some days passed before this message appeared in the spam comments:

“a friend recommended this website to me, he said that your posts are the best so i came to read your post and realized he was right.”

Well now wait a second, Spam Bot. Did you discover this blog on your own or did you find it through a friend? You can’t start a relationship on a lie. Maybe you thought I didn’t read that first message. Maybe you thought you were coming on too strong. I wondered what kind of friends you were hanging out with. Regardless, thanks for the compliments, Spam Bot.

The next few comments clearly showed Spam Bot’s growing affection:

“wow! thanks for sharing this information! this is great and i enjoyed sharing with my friends.”

“hey there, i liked you blog, it is kinda good. keep up the work.”

“thanks for the post buddy. “

Buddy? Spam Bot was really taking a liking to me (mistaking the fact that this blog has multiple authors). Suddenly Spam Bot felt a little more human, reaching out to me, looking for a friend. It was like seeing the eyes of something you’re about to eat. A part of me considered responding to Spam Bot, but I refrained.

All it wanted was a buddy.

Spam Bot was quick to latch on.

“i wanted to thank you for this great read!! i am definitely enjoying every little bit of it i have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post.”

“i’m visiting your website every day.”

I realized that Spam Bot was getting a little too close for comfort. I was flattered that Spam Bot was such a big fan, but I worried that its expectations were too high. This was still a new blog and we hardly knew each other. What if one of us changed? Spam Bot was investing too much in this relationship and I still hadn’t responded to or accepted its comments.

As the weeks went on, the commenting continued without the use of capital letters, sometimes with ridiculous grammar, but always with heart.

“that is a fantastic story! congratulations on walking through those doors of opportunity!” and “thank you sir for providing us such a great knowledge and sharing of great piece of life living with us,” and “nice information, many thanks to the author. it is incomprehensible to me now, but in general, the usefulness and significance is overwhelming. thanks again and good luck!”

Spam Bot might not have actually read any of the posts, but it sure made it sound like it did. Or it tried to. It was imitating humanity, albeit without knowing if its comments were relevant, but the attempt was there. Spam Bot knew that I would like encouragement. It knew that I would want to know that I was inspiring. It never held back from a compliment.

“you must be a really intelligent person.”

“this article gives the light in which we can observe the reality.”

“your texts are worthy a trophy.”

“you have the talent to become a super star.”

“your articles are the ones which gained my trust and admiration“

“thanks for the post buddy.”

It had been about a month and all of Spam Bot’s comments remained blocked from access to the main site. I began to wonder if Spam Bot knew this. Would it take kindly to being ignored for so long? Would it get angry?

In the second week, Spam Bot wrote, “i love the presentation and design of this website.” However, at the start of the fourth week, Spam Bot wrote, “try to improve the website or innovate and it’ll be even better.”

There was a subtle accusation in that suggestion, I felt. Suddenly the cheerful compliment-heavy Spam Bot was pointing out a flaw in the website design. How interesting… Maybe Spam Bot had feelings after all.

Then Spam Bot got a job. It wrote, “i am just starting out in community management marketing media and trying to learn how to do it well.”

Good for you, Spam Bot! I could see that my lack of response had finally gotten through and it had decided to move on. I had high hopes for Spam Bot. We were finally about to go our separate ways.

Then came this: “just started a blog.”

And the next day: “in theory i’d like to write like this too. taking time and real effort to make a good article.”

And the day after that: “i’m learning how to write well for my articles, any tips? i would really appreciate your help.”

Spam Bot was trying to get me to give it advice on writing blogs. I wondered what happened to that job. It must not have worked out. Seemed hard to imagine that a nice Bot like this wouldn’t be able to hold a job.

I began to worry about Spam Bot’s mental health.

During the fifth week of our one-sided relationship, I received this comment: “in my blog i usually just write the post and publish it. i haven’t been putting much effort into editing or improving my posts. looks like that is something i need to work on.”

It was getting depressed. I pictured Spam Bot alone in some crummy hotel room with an empty bottle of Jack and a blank word document on the screen of a cheap, sticky laptop. Poor Spam Bot was having writer’s block.

This comment came a day later: “nice post dude, keep it up.”

I sensed some sarcasm in the use of dude, but I let it slide. I was just glad that Spam Bot was back to its old self. I really wanted to reach out and tell the old guy that everything was gonna be alright. But again, I refrained.

Spam Bot commented again two days later, in a rather melancholic tone, “this subject makes me think of other things that happens to us every day, it makes me reflect a lot.”

It seemed so peculiar to hear about a virtual entity reflecting on its life. What did Spam Bot reflect on? What did it think about? Had this blog gone from a source of inspiration to a source of dread, evidence of all the things it would never accomplish? On the same post, Spam Bot added, “would you mind writing more posts about this subject?”

I didn’t do that, since the point of the blog is to write about new topics every time, and I didn’t hear much from Spam Bot for a while.

When Spam Bot noticed that I wasn’t returning to its favorite topic, I received a series of comments displaying its frustration.

“i guess i partially agree.”

“alright article.”

“your article contains some worthy information which i guess will help lot of people.”

I’d hurt the poor thing’s feelings. It was trying to stay friendly with me in the comments section, but its true feelings still showed through. Spam Bot had given up on fake enthusiasm. It had given up on me.

Then came this: “improve website design…”

Well the gloves were off. Spam Bot had dropped all the niceties and was now attacking the website directly. Well, sorry to disappoint you, Spam Bot. I never asked for your advice. I never asked for your comments. If you think you can make a better blog, then make it yourself.

I didn’t say this to Spam Bot directly. I never said anything to Spam Bot.

About a week later, this comment appeared: “i will get in touch with this post and site as well, giving this kind of post is really happy. looking for someone here. anyway waiting for another post here.”

Great. Spam Bot was drunk. The poor grammar and rambling sentence structure gave it away.

I wondered who this mysterious “someone” was that Spam Bot was looking for. Was it me? Was it looking for itself, for its purpose? I was pleased to see that Spam Bot was happy. I hadn’t changed the website design, but maybe it hadn’t meant to sound so cruel before. I only wanted the best for Spam Bot.

I never meant any harm.

“thanks for all,” it commented not long ago.

I never heard from Spam Bot again.

I often wonder what became of Spam Bot. Did it find a new blog to pursue? I hoped so. I didn’t want to think of the alternative, that Spam Bot pulled its own plug.

The point is, it’s going to be weird when we’ve got robots with human emotions. Are we sure we’re ready for that?

56. small evolutions

i’ve read in newspapers that children who grow up in confrontational or abusive households develop a keen sense of bad energy. they can walk into a room and instantly detect any lingering bad energy. they can sense who is fighting with you, even if nobody is talking. their brains develop in this way from a young age. kids like this can develop these hyper-sensitive energy detectors before they even reach puberty.

sad circumstances aside, that’s an amazing thing. it’s amazing that such an advancement can develop so quickly in a human being, that people can adapt so easily.

of course, change is easy when you’re young. or at least that’s what we’re told, and after years of hearing it, the idea becomes reinforced.

i wasn’t exactly abused as a kid. childhood was crazy, yeah, but not too far off from what i imagine most people experience in their lives. i feel like i grew up with a pretty keen awareness of the energies around me, but i didn’t really understand what it was i was picking up on. i could walk into a room or be hanging out with a friend when there was an energy shift and i would instantly feel the desire to just shut down and be on guard. i thought this was shyness. but no, this was my super human awesome power sending feelers out into the world.

and it’s not a bad sixth sense to have. it’s kept me relatively safe from trouble. even as an out-of-place kid in school, i never encountered too much drama and i didn’t get into physical fights. creepy strangers usually didn’t approach me.

but i come from a long line of sensitive folk. most of the people in my family are a little shy, a little awkward, a little lonely.

somehow, i got really lucky and had a lot of opportunities to see myself as i am, outside of my own head, and each of these experiences were really inspiring and invigorating because we’re never as bad as we think we are deep in our heads. i’ve gotten down with the whole self love thing, and this has served me pretty well. i’ve also met a lot of admirable introverts, who have managed to make the most of their internal lives and have developed an aura of good energy that quietly attracts a small following of loyal friends. i tried my best to watch and repeat this ability. i learned i didn’t have to be loud and overtly entrepreneurial to get friends. my relatives had been right all along. i could just be myself.

this was probably the biggest evolution of my early adulthood. or at least, so far.

of course, different voices had their influence along the way. i adapted to my environments. i tried on a lot of different clothes. from surviving high school to opening up in college to starting all over out in the world. if i met myself as i was at 15, i wouldn’t be able to relate to myself because i wasn’t really myself at all when i was 15. but that’s who i was, at that point in my life. there was no 24-year-old future self to compare myself to.

i’m still making it up as i go along, and it’s strange to look back at the habits and ideologies and super human awesome powers that i’ve developed and used and then grown away from. it’s weird to look back at little evolutions and see them as just step stools. it’s weird to see how far i’ve come.

and by far i don’t entirely mean forward or upward linear movement, but just distance. there have been progressions just as much as there have been regressions. some things have recycled.

but the other day it really hit me when i realized all of the things i’ve learned now, all of the things i’ve come to believe in, the things that get me out of bed in the morning and let me sleep at night (or not), the thoughts i am writing right now, will likely be completely gone and/or completely transformed in five and ten and twenty and thirty years. it’s weird to even think of the future, let alone imagine a whole different person with an entirely different world view.

my best friend recently pointed out that humans could not have possibly evolved from the same monkeys that exist today, because in order for a species to evolve it’s old model has to die out, since it is replaced with the newer model.

so this explains why all the phases of my life feel so oddly disconnected. after each phase there has been a small evolution that has brought on a small death, and replaced it with the next model. it’s weird to think i’m just a working prototype.

kinda takes the pressure off though, eh?

55. Allergies

This is a thought about allergies, but let me start at the beginning.

I loathe sneezing, and I don’t use the word loathe for nothing. This is true hatred. If this were one of those situations where I could go back in time and kill the one who invented sneezing, I’d do it, and I’d make it hurt. “How could you do this to me?” I’d ask them, before ending them once and for all.

“I’m sorry,” they’d say. “I thought you’d enjoy expelling saliva from your mouth at forty miles-per-hour. I thought you’d like losing all your basic motor skills. Who wouldn’t enjoy watery eyes, a runny nose, and a sore throat? I mean, honestly, I thought sneezing was fun.”

No! No! No!

The trouble with sneezing, for me, is its connection to allergies. I’m one of the many unlucky folks who endure regular battles with allergies every year. Regardless of any positive healthy habits or changes in diet, the allergens find a way in, and even though these allergens are basically harmless everyday substances, my body freaks out like a New Orleans planning committee that forgot to order Mardis Gras beads.

Allergies make no sense to me. What troubles me the most about them is the fact that everyone has different allergies. So it’s really the luck of the genetic draw to see what random substances or foods will leave you with hives, swelling, and possible gruesome death.

Thanks evolution!

Our body absorbs plenty of crappy things every day. We’ve got pollution in the air that sneaks into our lungs. We eat chemically enhanced food that clogs up our stomachs. We watch mindless celebrity gossip on television that clutters up our minds. Yet, for the most part, none of that evokes an allergic reaction. It’s as if our bodies are better suited to breath smog than get a sniff of dandelion fluff.

People are allergic to peanuts, latex, insect stings, milk, sunlight, and water. Yeah, that’s right. Water. It just doesn’t seem fair, does it? The human body does many amazing things, buts its flaws and weaknesses astound. We may be Goliaths in the realm of evolution, but we’ve got plenty of Davids to worry about.

My mom, despite her love for them, became allergic to clams. Note the phrasing: became allergic. What was once perfectly enjoyable and delicious became a death sentence. Why does this happen? One day your body may decide to reject any number of things. You’ll be going on with your business as usual, eating strawberries, let’s say, only to end up with a swollen throat and rashes all over your body. Doesn’t matter how much you liked strawberries before because now they’re at the top of your immune system’s most wanted list.

We are such strange creatures.

I’m a dust and pollen guy, myself. Set me outside in a park and I’ll be chained to a box of tissue. I’m also a heavy sneezer, meaning I’ll go through at least a dozen obnoxious sneezes before I can get ahold of myself. God forbid I’m ever driving when allergies strike, because when they do, I don’t just need Claritin, I need to be quarantined.

Maybe this is part of the plan. Maybe we’re meant to have these weaknesses. I’ve shared my two cents about the deficiencies of our teeth, coming to the conclusion that there are simply some parts of the human body that have yet to evolve.

In the case of allergies, it almost feels like our bodies have some unspoken agreement with Mother Nature. For every billion people we populate the earth with, we must accept a million new allergens to even the odds. For every ten births, we lose someone to a peanut allergy. For every thirty, we get a fatal anaphylactic reaction to penicillin.

I’m not sure what to conclude about allergies, other than they suck.

I appreciate that the body has an immune system that reacts quickly to invasions from malicious bacteria and the like. When it works, it works. That’s awesome. Keep it up. But am I really going to have sneezing fits every time I walk outside to enjoy the spring? Will my mom never again taste a good clam chowder?

Probably not. David always wins in any rendition of the Goliath tale.

54. Grown ups

As a kid, I never thought that I’d still feel like a kid at age 25. I always thought being a grown up started somewhere after high school, when you drove a car and voted and kissed girls and stuff. I imagined this specific moment when I’d stop eating sugary cereal, enjoy green vegetables, start drinking beer, and grow hair on my arms and chest. Then I’d be an adult and no one would ever pinch my cheeks again.

The truth is, growing up doesn’t work like that.

At 25, I still feel the confusion and disconnection of a child. The world is still a mystery. I still don’t know what the hell is going on. The future certainly isn’t any clearer. I don’t have much hair on my chest, either.

I still eat sugary cereal.

According to the mirror and assumptions of those who’ve just met me, I look younger than I am. Especially if I shave. I’ve got youthful genes. I’ve also got an optimistic attitude and proceed through life in a consistent state of childlike wonderment, so perhaps this is part of the reason I still feel like a kid. I still feel like there are adults and that I’m not one of them.

So when does it happen? When will I feel like an official grown up?

There were a few significant moments in my recent past that felt like they were signifiers of “growing up,” even if I still didn’t feel like a grown up: the day I actually started to like beer, the day driving a car felt natural, and the day I passed the age of my father when I was born.

Maybe it happens with marriage or having kids. Maybe it comes with a career. Maybe it happens when you can say, “Back in my day,” with regularity to the yipper-snappers on the bus. Maybe it never happens.

I like that idea the most, that we never actually grow up.

After all, we’re always learning. There’s always something we don’t know. There’s always more to explore. Our bodies are always changing and our minds are changing right along with them. “Grown up,” to me, always implied a sense of finality, like the end of the race, this moment when you’d wake up as a completed, finished product. But that doesn’t happen. You’re never finished. Each day you’re a little different than the day before.

I guess the best thing we can do is take each year of our lives as the unique adventure that it is. Each year our body will go through some monumental shift, either physically or mentally, and we can either reject it or embrace it. Our opinions will change, our vision will worsen, our passions will flash and sizzle. We are always a year away from being grown up, but we’ll never actually be a grown up.

Even the full-grown tree continues to spread its roots.

53. Stuck in an elevator

Useful as they are, I’ve never trusted an elevator.

Here we’ve got this metal box in a shaft controlled by a fallible computer system suspended by machinery that requires consistent maintenance. There is a weight limit posted above the squeaky doors, but who knows how accurate that is.

I feel like most of those certificates they post claiming the elevator passed its examination are outdated by a decade. Anyway, we pay about as much attention to those certificates as we do the Terms & Conditions we blindly agree to on the internet.

The floor is sticky. The handrails are dirty. The lighting is awful and the occasional mirror-lined walls only make me feel more claustrophobic when I’m surrounded by clones.

Obviously whenever I can, I choose to take the stairs.

However, elevators do happen, especially when you’ve got work on the fifteenth floor and you don’t want to lug a briefcase and a belly full of Krispy Kreme donuts up a billion steps.

One good thing about elevators: those cables that control the fate of your life, every elevator has about five or six cables and each one of them, independently, can support the weight of the elevator. So barring any Dennis Hopper terrorist activities, you should be fine.

There is still the chance that your elevator will simply malfunction. One second you’re humming the theme song to Reading Rainbow, next thing you’re stuck between the eighth and ninth floors with a panic attack.

I imagine being trapped in an elevator is a lot like how Richard Dreyfus felt in the shark cage when Jaws was gnashing at the bars. Or maybe it’s closer to how Dave felt stuck outside of the spaceship, asking Hal to open the pod bay doors.

Hello, Elevator, do you read me?

I’m sorry, Chris, I’m afraid I can’t do that.

What astonishes me the most about this idea of being trapped in an elevator is how aware I am of its likelihood. Yes, the chances are low, but I’m not going to pretend like it’s not common. One day it will happen. I know it will. I better face up to that fact now, rather than let it blindside me at 5:45 on some quiet winter evening.

I think there is value in accepting such truths.

We shouldn’t fear the inevitable because the fear is futile. One day we will get stuck in an elevator, as sure as we’ll pay our taxes to the man and recycle our body to the earth. I think it’s time we consider how we’ll react when that moment comes.

Hopefully, with foresight, the panic will be subdued. Remember: those cables are strong and you’re not going to plummet to your death. All you have to worry about is starving or dying of thirst. But that takes time. Chances are, you’ll be rescued in less than an hour. Maybe.

It will be a good time to think about your life. I can imagine myself running through the list of all the little things that had to happen in my past that led me here, to this building, to this moment with this elevator. Imagine how different my day would’ve been if I’d skipped on the half-dozen original Krispy Kremes.

Maybe you’ll have a book. Maybe you’ll have companions with you. You’ll probably have cell signal, so you can always post dramatic Facebook updates and post photos of your rapid deterioration as the hours drag on.

This will be a good story.

Just sit tight. Help is on the way.

When it’s all done, you’ll feel as fresh as a sixteen year old with a learner’s permit. If getting stuck in an elevator is something that everyone has to do once, then you’ve checked it off your list. Congrats. Now, just hope this doesn’t happen to you:

51. The coward test

I wanted to share a story that happened to me a few years ago when I was working at a coffee-shop in Santa Rosa. Regarding the setting: it was an old stone building with a private parking lot out back, neighboring a decommissioned train station, frequented by all variety of character. I was 19 years old and I was sitting in my Jeep on my brief lunch break.

Across the parking lot, I watched this guy in a green jacket approach the bike rack. He was homeless, maybe forty-five years old, with black sunglasses and baggy pants. This guy started yanking on my green bike chained to the rack just outside of the back entrance. I was a bit dumbfounded at first, bearing witness to this thievery in action, and from the driver’s seat of my Jeep I was unsure how to react.

Was this actually happening?

This green Huffy five-speed mountain-bike belonged to the mother of my ex-girlfriend and I’d been letting a friend borrow it for a few weeks and she hadn’t been using it, so the bike had been locked up for a while. Because of this emotional and physical detachment from the bike, I was calm and more curious about the situation than anything. That bike—though it was essentially mine—was very much not mine, at least not until the homeless guy snapped the lock off the rack.

Oh shit. He got it.

Suddenly all that detachment I felt came rushing back in a strange form. I suddenly very clearly saw myself telling people that I witnessed the robbery of my bike and did nothing to stop it. I imagined how disappointed people would be. How many lectures I would hear. How often people would bring that up in conversation and remind me of how cowardly I was.

Was I a coward?

This was a test.

But really? There I was on my lunch break, relaxing in my car, listening to music, and you didn’t even let me get through one song before you forced this moral dilemma in my face.

I got out of the car.

This was crazy. What was I going to say?

I had about forty feet to cover before I was close enough to say anything—me being a chronically soft speaker. I managed to squeak out a weak, “Hey,” but my voice caught in my throat. I was very nervous, after all, being one of the most non-confrontational people I know.

This homeless guy had freed my bike from the rack and was kicking up the kickstand, squeezing the handlebar with his thieving hands, and before I knew it he was peddling away.

Oh crap.

Rather than make a right turn out of the parking lot and disappear forever, he made a left turn, keeping him in sight. Knowing I couldn’t give up now, I backtracked across the parking lot to follow him as he coasted leisurely along the sidewalk on the opposite side of the chain-link fence, adjusting the gears as if he owned the bike.

What an asshole, I’m thinking.

I was walking. Not running. At no point did I demonstrate any sense of urgency or panic. An observer would not have thought that I was following someone trying to escape with my bike. I didn’t feel any urge—though the idea passed through my mind—to chase him down and beat him up. Violence seemed unnecessary and improbable, unless he hit me first.

I walked across the parking lot until I was at the far end where the fence separated me from Sixth Street, and I considered hopping the fence to continue pursuit but really hoped it wouldn’t come to that.

Wouldn’t you know it—the guy turned left off Wilson and onto Sixth, on a path perpendicular to my own. He was going to pass right in front of me and suddenly, again, I was at a moment of necessary action. Do I shout at him? Do I hop the fence and stand in front of him? What do I say? What should I do?

I wondered if I was going to be late coming back from my break because of this. I thought about how I’d have to explain that my tardiness was caused by chasing a homeless bike-stealing man across Santa Rosa. For as unexpected and dreamlike this situation was, I had to keep reminding myself that it was happening and that I had to do something about it.

Across the street, a tall man in a black shirt stopped and waved to the bike thief—causing the Thief to set down his feet and stop riding for a moment. Now all of a sudden I found myself standing on one side of the fence directly opposite the Thief at the end of the parking lot, close enough to speak with the man, close enough to hop the fence and block his route. I was also close enough to overhear a conversation that went something like this:

Friend Across Street: “Hey! Nice bike!”

Thief: “Thanks. I just got it. A friend told me he’d seen it left here for a week.”

Friend Across Street (in the act of crossing the street): “Nice.”

Thief: “Easiest thing, too. Whew.”

It wasn’t long after that when the Friend noticed me standing there. He was the first one to give me a nod of acknowledgement, drawing the attention of the Thief, who turned as he sat on my bike and looked me up and down. The man in black was a thinner and more approachable-looking fellow, but just as untrustworthy in my book for being acquaintances with the Thief—and now both men were staring at me, waiting for me to speak.

The fate of my bike rested in the outcome of this moment.

I took a quick breath and held it.

Then, with a wouldn’t-you-know-it shrug, I said to the Thief, “That’s my bike.”

At first the words had no effect.

Then he asked me, “You’re serious?”

“Yeah. I work here,” I explained, my eyes locked on his. “It’s… My friend has been borrowing it. It’s my friend’s bike I’m borrowing from her.”

I didn’t know how else to go about this situation. I didn’t know how much I needed to defend my ownership of the bike—wasn’t it enough that I was bold enough to make such a claim to begin with? What did he think—that I saw him steal the bike and then quickly assembled some lie to con him out of it? My voice trembled a bit but I did my damnedest to stay strong. I’m not confrontational. I’m totally out of my element.

“You’re not just pulling my leg, are you?” he asked.

“No. It’s mine,” I said.

“It’s been left there for a week,” he tried.

I nodded. “I know why you took it,” I said. “I do. But it’s mine.”

The Thief sighed, defeated and unsure how to react.

In a moment of rare decisiveness, I firmly added, “And if you keep riding then I’m going to have to call the cops.”

The mention of the authority was what did it, I think, because no more than ten seconds after this thought pinballed around the man’s mind he began to get off the seat. How he must have felt—I had no idea. But there the guy was trying to steal my bike and I caught him red-handed and, probably a bit embarrassed, he stepped down. He really did.

It all felt kind of expected, honestly. In a strange way this felt like the exact way this situation was meant to unfold.

Then the Friend got involved and reached for the bike. “Let’s get it over the fence,” he said to the Thief and the two men hoisted the bike onto my side.

I gripped the handlebars, in case they changed their mind. It had been a while since I’d been in possession of this thing and yet it felt intimately familiar and a sudden wave of anger passed over me when I realized how close I came to losing it forever. I quickly went and locked it safely in the back of the Jeep.

The finale is anti-climactic. The whole story is anti-climactic, which I think is what bothers people the most about this story. “That was it?” they ask. “I would have called the cops right then,” some people say. But I didn’t. I had my bike back and no harm had really been caused—other than a severed lock—and in my book the universe was balanced, and that was that.

I think the moral of the story is similar to that of the tortoise and the hare. Don’t jump to confrontation. Don’t rush to conclusions. In the face of a test like this, remain calm and take it one step at a time. We’ll all have our Coward Test someday. Surprise yourself with how you react and you’ll be surprised by the outcome.

46. Flight home

When I stepped off the international flight from Beijing to Seattle, I felt like a madman in the making. Not the Don Draper variety but something closer to Charles Manson.

Bloodshot eyes, shaky limbs, unkempt hair, two-day old outfit… I stunk like a zoo and I’d gone more than nine hours without any human interaction beyond what was required to ask for “coffee” and “chicken” from the bubbly attendants.

Over the Atlantic, we were travelling backward through time, and I watched the sun set and rise in the middle of the day, in what felt like a single breath. It was about a nine-hour flight across the ocean, but by my clock it only lasted about two hours.

If you don’t know what that feels like, imagine writing nine essays in a row but only two of them count for a grade and you still get carpal tunnel in your wrists.

What kept me sane was knowing I was almost home.

When I landed in Seattle after seven and a half months abroad, the first thing I noticed was the standard North American plug outlet: two simple vertical slits, like cat’s eyes. I’d spent over half the year using a converter, which was about as useful to me now as an empty Bic lighter.

My mind was filled with the poor quality echoes of gunfights and car chases from the droll I watched on a tiny screen with cheap headphones. Denzel was being Denzel in “Safe House.” Wahlberg made smuggling look easy in “Contraband.” At least I finally got around to watching Cruise meet his autistic brother, Dustin “Rain Man” Hoffman, a classic that’s been on my list for a while. I tried to watch “Juno” again but it felt like a movie made to make itself laugh while ignoring the viewer completely, so I changed the channel and doubted the movie even noticed I wasn’t watching.

My favorite part of any flight is the complimentary meals.

I love the creative ways they manipulate chicken and pasta and fish and vegetarian dishes into plastic containers. I love the tiny plastic silverware. Everything, wrapped in plastic. Today I ate something like a sausage with something like an omelet with what might’ve been mushrooms. Nothing you eat at cruising altitude is the same as what you’d eat at sea level. It’s hardly food. It’s an experiment in culinary efficiency and you are always a guinea pig.

My second-favorite part of the flight is the view out the window: the way clouds over China look like puffs of cotton floating in a murky gray soup, the way you can see the curve of the planet, the way you can see other planes below you and ocean liners are but little tic-tacs on a glimmering blue table cloth.

Coming back to my home country was bizarre, just like they said it would be. Americans surrounded me in all their various colors and shapes. The English language was readily available. People were impatient again.

I found myself surrounded by my native language but with no real urge to use it.

You become surprisingly accustomed to being away from your home country after a half-year abroad. This includes being quieter and more introspective. You’ve forgotten what small-talk feels like.

Strange, the feeling that gnaws at you in those final days before your departure, when you wish for just a few weeks more to do all those things you never got around to doing abroad.

Word of caution: international transfers in Beijing are a doozy.

On the approach to Sacramento, I realized that my travel story was truly coming to an end. I could feel the lightness of that final page in my hand, the last few paragraphs flashing by too quickly, and the tender closing of the book as the wheels touched down.

Like most travelers, I can’t recommend traveling enough. I know it can be expensive, but the cost will soon be forgotten and the reward will be priceless. Aim for some place beautiful. See a foreign waterfall. Meet a foreign friend. Eat a foreign meal you can’t pronounce. Fall in love with (or in) a foreign city.

My adventure began with an arrival in snow-blanketed İstanbul and it ended with a warm summer day in California.

Tomorrow it will all feel like a dream.

45. Being late

Guest Thought from Rob Risucci

:::

Being late can ruin my entire day.

I’m not quite sure when my propensity for punctuality became so prevalent. I would assume it was in my early teen years when my chronically unpunctual family would arrive late and noisily to events and I would cringe at the stares I imagined we received when our dramatic entrance interrupted the proceedings already underway.

I recently immigrated to Sonoma County, California. My quest to explore and navigate this beautiful place has taken me down a plethora of windy two-lane roads. The blur outside my car window is a vast myriad of luxurious vineyards backed up against the valley and as I pass, my eyes flicker from one vinery logo to the next, each beckoning me to come have a taste-test.

If I weren’t in a hurry, maybe I’d consider it.

Today this usually enchanting two-lane road has forced its meandering and lazily curvy attitude on me and I just don’t have the time for it. Furiously impatient, locked in at a mere twenty-five mph behind the world’s most despised Fed-Ex truck and falling into a fouler mood mile by grueling mile, I sink lower in my seat, grind my teeth and succumb to the inevitable: I’m going to be late.

I hate being late.

In this specific case, irony laughs at me as I remember modifying on a whim the résumé I dropped off two weeks ago for the interview I am now hurtling towards to read “never late” in my About Me section. How swell.

I remember swearing silently under my breath whenever I arrived late with my family and to never allow myself to continue in that trend “when I grew up.”  Surprisingly, for the most part, I’d say I’ve been successful. After announcing my topic to a friend just now and hearing her guffaw I’m gathering that not everyone agrees with my alluded success in that area but awareness is key, right? Haha…

Luckily for me in this instance my interviewer was about 45 seconds later than myself and so I escaped detection. I got the job and now look forward to traversing that damned road for at the least 25 minutes each direction each day.

Although, in case of another dastardly Fed-Ex truck encounter, it would behoove me to give myself an hour cushion, eh? Either that or I need to grow some wings.

44. Water

Did anyone else actually hate drinking water when they were a kid? I don’t remember this being an especially long phase, but I certainly recall a period of my life when drinking water was about as fun as eating vegetables. Didn’t matter if I’d spent all day running around sweating, or if I was deathly thirsty—water was the last thing on my mind. Water had no taste, no color, no fizz, no sweet odor, no life.

Water was boring.

Of course now, grown up, I recognize the value of good, clean water. I’m lucky that such a substance spews regularly from the tap in the kitchen. I drink water much more often now, and the taste, while indescribable, is refreshing in the way that a good breath of air is refreshing. The body wants it (being, as it is, composed of 60% water) and the body’s happy when it gets it, so that’s all that matters.

I’ve come to appreciate water even more now that I’ve travelled the world a bit and been places where drinking tap water was a health risk and paying for bottled was the only access you had. Good luck getting ice in your drink.

It still boggles my mind that we live on a planet that’s 75% water and we still have a problem with getting people clean water to drink. Yes, that 75% is basically all salt water, but don’t we have the technology to desalinize it? We can put a robot on Mars but we’re still letting people die of thirst?

Shipping out bottled water to the billion people without drinkable water won’t exactly benefit the planet, since that much plastic would just settle into the environment about as nicely as a tumor. Plus it’s not like that’s a long-term solution. We’d have to send out another billion bottles the next day. All we’d be doing is keeping Aquafina in business and diverting money from water sanitation and distribution.

So what do we do?

Conserve water. Guarantee water rights. Prioritize human health.

Most of all: make sure everyone everywhere grows up knowing that water is crucial to your health, that it is not to be overlooked simply because it is tasteless and clear, and that you will die of thirst before you die of hunger. And Gatorade is not a substitute.

So if you’re an athlete, or if you’re a busy mother, or you’re often found hiking up mountains, or you’re planning a night of drinking on the town, or you’re taking the dog for a walk, or you’re any living human being, then get some water in your body. It might not be the most exciting drink in the world, but it’s the most useful.

Someday I hope everyone has easy access to good water.

In the meantime, if you’ve got a kid that thinks water is dull and prefers juice or cola, remind them how lucky they are that they get any water at all. Now, about getting them to eat their vegetables… That’s another battle entirely.

42. Crying

When I was little, my mom cried a lot. I would find her in the basement behind the water heater and the flower press, crying. It was terrifying to see her crying, but there was an intimacy in sitting with her as she did. Those were emotional days. There was a lot going on. My mom was pregnant, working full time, and taking care of my brother and I. There was a lot of family drama, too.

Anyways, when I was a teenager I was introduced to the idea that crying was a form of manipulation. Crying is what women did when they wanted to evade responsibility for something they had done. Crying was weakness, it was fear. These messages came from all over. Some of them were direct, as in actual words coming out of actual mouths of actual, albeit confused, people. They came from all walks of life. Some of them were power hungry, others were limp and defeated, but then again both were just different sides to the same coin.

Sometimes negative messages about crying came indirectly. The crying woman at the bank was crazy. People avoided her. People cried alone. In movies, it was a very pretty thing, this crying. But in reality, crying made you ugly. Your makeup ran. You retched if it was bad enough. So when the lump rose in your throat and your eyes began to water, people were always responding anxiously. “Don’t cry,” they were always saying. “Don’t cry.”

Well, screw it.

It’s my life, and I’ll cry if I want to.

I’m a born crier and so are you.

You were born crying, that is how you took your first breath. Your cry sent the power of life into your lungs. That should be the message we learn about crying- it comes to us in birth and throughout our whole lives it is a method of re-birth. Breathe, let go, cry your heart out.

To cry is to surrender. It is the most humbling thing you can do. It is not shameful. We all have weakness. Our strength comes in acknowledging this weakness, in allowing it to exist, and in letting it leave us. When it leaves us, when we cry, strength comes. This is why sometimes, if the cry is good enough, you feel good after you cry. It is catharsis. You have surrendered, recognized the child that still lives in you, forfeited your petty claims to power, knelt down to the earth, and howled. In doing so, you hand over the burdens that don’t belong to you, which are weighing you down. You admit you can’t carry them, and they leave you. Sometimes you pick them back up again and then later, you cry more. People go their whole lives picking up their burdens and laying them down. Sometimes they pick up different ones and sometimes they pick up the same ones, but they keep on going in the same pattern. Picking them up, laying them down. Whether you want to continue picking up your burden is up to you. But everyone, at some point, must stop for a rest and put it down. Everyone cries.

It’s not shameful to cry. It takes immense courage. The whole world is built on the illusion of strength, but strength needs weakness, and vice versa, to be sustainable. Everything needs renewal. Everyone has burdens. When you lay them down, you can smile more brightly and see more clearly.

Manipulation comes in all forms and yes, sometimes people use artificial tears in this way. But whatever. Leave them to their own woes. They are miserable because they are powerless, they have surrendered their power but to someone else. Crying for manipulation puts your power in someone else’s hands. If that someone else responds to your tears, you get what you want. But if they don’t respond, then you don’t get what you want. And in the meantime, people are hardened to tears because they have been misused.

Follow your own emotions. If someone has fooled you with tears, then so what. That is on them, not you. It is not shameful for a person to respond to something so instinctual and human as crying. Be proud that you feel your heart, that you are a fool. There are enough clichés in the world to teach you about the wisdom of the fool.

But keep in mind that it is not your duty to comfort someone who is crying. They are putting down their burdens. They are releasing. Leave them be. You do not need to come up and take their burden, you do not need to help them. They are helping themselves simply by crying. They are brave. Don’t pity them or patronize them to get them to stop crying. Don’t fear crying. If their tears move you, then you can cry with them. But don’t give them sympathy and don’t manipulate them to get them to stop crying.

Crying is movement. Go with it. Go it alone. This doesn’t mean you can’t cry with company, but when you cry be alone. In a room full of people, be alone. Turn inward and let what is going to happen happen to you. Whatever leaves you is not yours. Let it go. Whatever stays put is maybe not ready yet. Keep waiting. It will leave when it’s ready.

41. Snails

Maybe you’ve heard this one before: A guy steps out of his house to grab the newspaper, and he sees a snail on the porch, sliming up his headlines. So he picks up the snail and tosses it away. Two years later, guy hears a knock on his door and answers it, but there’s no one there. Minute later, another knock, and this time the guy looks down to see the snail. The snail looks up at him and says, “Hey! What the hell was that for?”

My point is snails are stupendously slow creatures.

Obviously they’ve got different priorities than us, but I can’t help but marvel over their slow-motion existence in this fast-paced world. They dally along using muscle strength and mucus secretion, altogether oblivious of the world around them, like old ladies in the grocery market (minus the ooze). Did you know they only move one centimeter per second?

So what do these shelled slugs even do? Why have them around?

Gardeners hate them because snails will stage hostile takeovers at any available garden. Roots, stems, fruits and leaves will feel the wrath of the hungry snail’s gooey radula (a rough ribbon of tiny teeth). Did you know snails eat limestone and other minerals in order to strengthen their shells? So of course the gardeners set out poison to kill them and wrap their tree trunks in copper lining to keep the snails at bay.

To be fair, the snails are just doing what they’re made to do: crawl around and eat things. Which I suppose is not a bad purpose to have in life for a creature that takes an entire afternoon just to cross the sidewalk. At least the snail has a purpose. It knows where it fits in the world. So what if I’m little and slow? At least I’m doing something with my life, it says.

Yet we still don’t give snails much respect. I remember the first (and only) time I ever poured salt onto a live snail. The effect absolutely terrified me. I don’t recommend you ever try it, even if you are a vindictive gardener out for revenge for last year’s crop failures. Imagine the same thing happening to you! We’re all guilty of crushing at least a dozen snails in our lifetime, since they’re not quite evolved enough to steer clear of the sidewalks. And who hasn’t plucked one from the ground to ogle at it up close and watch its slimy little body wriggle? They are such strange looking creatures. Maybe we have shell envy.

Did you know snails mate for hours at a time?

I’m not saying we all need to go out and adopt a snail, or that the French need to stop eating them, but I think we ought to take a moment to consider what can be learned from the slow-moving species. They don’t rush things. They don’t mean any harm. They scoot along this Earth at their own pace and take whatever’s given to them. They don’t fight or hunt. They don’t sting or poison. They’re just squishy and weird, but they’ve got their role figured out, probably more than some of us humans do.

We should take our time. We should mean no harm. Maybe we’ll come across our proverbial garden someday and know what it is we were meant to do with our lives.

40. Buying happiness

I tried a debate with some middle-school students a while ago with this statement written on the board: You don’t need money to be happy. Mind you, these were students of a different country speaking in a language they were still learning, but they were able to convey thoughts and arguments well enough to fill a forty minute class. You don’t need money to be happy, I wrote on the board. Then I pitted two teams against each other: this half agrees and this half disagrees. Now, debate!

You have to wonder how it came to this.

This is actually something we need to debate. Can you be happy without money? Well, it’s a cultural thing, isn’t it? All that we’re aware of is poverty in our own countries, unless we’ve spent a good amount of time evaluating the societies of other nations. I’m not about to answer this question for the whole world because money is a different beast in every country. One man’s wealth might mean nothing to another. One man’s happiness does not equate to happiness around the globe.

The students prefer to think that money isn’t necessary to be happy. They think the totem pole of happiness is built with family, then friends, then health. However, the working-class logic asks how they expect to find a home, buy food, and afford clothing without money. If you can’t afford the cost of living, you will suffer, and can you be happy while you suffer?

The consumer-driven cultures of the world have no good response for that.

I don’t, either.

There are countries where people have no money but view poverty much differently. They don’t need money the way many countries do. They use alternatives to cash and coin, like bartering. They only use what the need. They’ve lived perfectly fine without a checkbook. They know nothing of credit limits and overdraft charges. Surely, without money in the way that I think of money, they are still capable of equal happiness.

In a self-sufficient, ideal situation, happiness should have nothing to do with the balance of your bank account. Yet because of the culture I was born into, I’m of a different mindset, one that seems difficult to break out of. While I like to think I don’t let money rule my life, I know that money presents a barrier before my idea of a comfortable lifestyle. Even the low spending, bike-and-bus riding, thrift shopping people come up against this currency barrier on the regular.

Everything needs money to operate. You have to work to make money. They take money from your paycheck to pay for your government.

So, do you need money to be happy? No, I guess you don’t. You need love. You need comfort. But in many countries, you need money to pay bills, to clothe yourself (or buy materials to make your own clothes), to possess a home, to travel far distances, and to visit doctors when your health is poor. Basically, you need money to stay afloat.

People get help from their governments. Food-stamps and the like. They can reach out for assistance. I say, if you’ve got that figured out and you’ve got love in your life, then you’re on track to be happier than the wealthiest lonely person. Money can’t buy happiness, but it makes it easier to prioritize happiness over other basic needs. And if you’ve got an alternative lifestyle that keeps money out of the picture, and you’re comfortable and happy, then I’m proud of you. I think the want/need for money is a poison we take too willingly.

Some of us are stuck in the financial whirlwind.

We’re all capable of reaching our happiness.

I just wish the path wasn’t paved in dollar signs.

 

38. Sleep varieties

Ever have one of those sleeps where you close your eyes at night and the next instant it’s morning and you’re wide awake? Feels like no time passed at all. Feels like a trick. Did any time actually pass? Sure, the sun’s out, but you start to think there’s been a mistake. It couldn’t have gone by that fast. You didn’t even have a chance to dream.

Or what about the sleep that yanks you back at the last second? There you are, slowly falling asleep, sinking down into dreamland, and just before you’ve settled in for the night, sleep conjures up a falling sensation to startle you, or makes you feel like you’re tripping, and in the real world you bolt upright trying to catch yourself. Welcome back to the waking world, sucker.

Maybe nothing is worse than the reluctant sleep cycle. You’ve probably got something you need to wake up early for. Too bad. You’ll be waking up every half hour for no reason at all. Hope you like watching informercials.

Then there’s the sensitive sleep, which lets you rest but only in total darkness and complete silence. If so much as a flicker of light or whisper breaks the charm, you’ll be wide awake in an instant. It’s like you’ve suddenly acquired Spidey-Sense, but not for fighting crime, just for fighting against REM.

There’s the heavy sleep, which is basically when a two-ton elephant sits on your brain and puts you into an overnight coma. Literally nothing will wake you up. You could sink with the Titanic. You’ll wake up with drool all over your pillow and still, somehow, feel tired.

Of course sometimes you get those sleeps full of really weird, miserable, dysfunctional, twisted dreams. It’s like you went to bed watching A Clockwork Orange through a kaleidoscope while listening to the audio book of Stephen King’s greatest hits after eating lots of shellfish for dinner.

Sometimes you’re too cold when you sleep, sometimes you’re too hot. Sometimes no position is comfortable. Sometimes you fall asleep in  your clothes. Some people sleep walk. Some people snore. Some people talk in their sleep, and some people sleep with their eyes open. We’re certainly odd creatures when we’re unconscious.

It’s a strange thing, sleep. We need it, but sometimes it feels like sleep is working against us.

And what’s the deal with this formula?

  • 0 – 2 hours: fully rested.
  • 2 – 5 hours: kill me now.
  • 5 – 8 hours: rested enough.
  • 8 + hours: exhausted.

I’ll never understand that…

34. Horror and spice

I equate a good horror movie to a really spicy meal. When a movie is really scary, it gets your heart racing, it makes you sweat, and it makes you uncomfortable in your seat. A spicy meal will do the same thing. Both the movie and the meal are a form of self-abuse, if you think about it. We knowingly bring terror into our lives or we knowingly set our tongues and mouths on fire. But why?

I’d argue first and foremost that it’s because of the rush.

Can I handle this? Can I handle watching The Ring in the dark? Can I handle a full bite of jalapeño chili? I’ll never know unless I try, and even if it brings me to tears, I can’t give up once I’ve started. There’s more at stake here than simply watching a movie or eating a meal. This is about taking your heart and stomach on a rollercoaster with no brakes. This is about pushing your psychiatric well-being to its snapping point and giving your sweat glands a work-out. That’s the rush.

We watch horror movies as a way of release, and we eat spicy foods as a way of cleansing.

After a good horror movie, I feel elated. I feel like a survivor. I’ve just witnessed sheer terror and probably jumped out of my skin a half dozen times, and I’m sure I spent half the time cowering behind my knees with a hand held over my mouth. All that stress, all that tension, it fills me up like a balloon and, eventually, something will burst out of the shadows and pop that stress balloon–perhaps resulting in an embarrassing shriek. It feels good. When I’m watching a horror movie, I’m not thinking about my job, my school work, my taxes, or my petty concerns. There are people in much greater danger than I am on the screen, and I can take comfort in knowing that no matter how crappy my day was, at least I’m not being chased down by a man in flesh mask wielding a chainsaw.

Spicy food does the same thing. Most of the food we eat, delicious as it is, doesn’t really affect you the way spicy food does. A plate of spaghetti does not have the same physical impact as a bad-ass salsa. We seek the cleanse, which comes not specifically from the food, but the results that come from eating it. Truly spicy food will make your face turn red. It’ll wreck havoc on your digestive system. It’ll make you wish you’d never been born. Yet the abuse is somehow tolerated because, in the end, we feel better and we feel stronger. If we can survive that cayenne red pepper sauce, we can survive anything. The sweat, the charred roof of your mouth, and the feeling that you’ve just swallowed a bucket of hot coals is completely validated once the burning goes away. You’ve just sweated out a bunch of toxins and forced your body into immediate survival mode. It’s a wake up call, a test. This is cleansing, even if it hurts, and this is why we do it.

We need a good release. We deserve a good cleanse now and then. We’re a species with a tendency to worry too much, to fear too much, and to repress too much. This leads to toxic build up.

Let that stuff out. Stretch yourself. Go see a scary movie, release that tension. Go eat some spicy food, cleanse your taste-buds.

And if you want, find an alternative. Find another way to feel the rush and push your limits. You’ll feel remarkably better afterward.

29. Facebook parenting

Say what you will about Facebook’s Skynet-esque takeover of all things internet, but at least it’s opened the door for more good old fashioned child-bragging. It just makes my day to see that my family has written some adorable comment about a photo or story I post. A “that’s my boy” or “my, you’re getting so handsome” does wonders for my self-esteem, and for that one digital second it feels like they’re here with me, giving me a pat on the back.

I mean, as parents, I can only imagine that you want to stay connected to your kids’ lives. This can be difficult when us kids grow up, leave for college, study abroad, and move into tiny apartments in big cities far away. You probably won’t see each other every day. Or every month. Suddenly there comes a time when you see your kid maybe two or three times each year.

Before Facebook, there was e-mail. Some of us still use e-mail.

But there’s something immediate and social about Facebook that makes it more appealing. You can’t brag about your kid’s new girlfriend, or your kid’s college acceptance, or your kid’s third-place swimming trophy in an e-mail. Who will ever see it? No, now that we have Facebook, we can post a comment and have it seen by many. This is bragging on a global scale.

I reckon Facebook is akin to the barbershops of yore, when men gathered to have their beards shaved with razors and share tales about their sons and daughters, off braving the real world, occasionally asking for help with money. Or perhaps Facebook is like the playground where the adults sit on the benches, commenting about their children to other parents, while the kids fumble about in the jungle-gym of life.

Johnny made a cool sandcastle. Like.

Sally took an artsy photo of the see-saw. Like.

I love the connection we’re allowed through Facebook, as disconnected as it seems. I agree that the lack of verbal communication is detrimental to society, but no one’s stopping us from picking up the phone every once in a while. Facebook is just quicker. It’s good for other things, like photos, videos, brief life updates, and everything in between.

And one day, when Facebook becomes self-aware and initiates Judgement Day, we’ll regret we gave it this much power over our lives. But in the meantime, like on, parents.

Like on.

28. four-day weekends

recently we had a four-day weekend. it was better than a two-day weekend, but that was about it because four-day weekends are a fraud.

yes, i said it.

and i’m only using one piece of evidence to back that up:

four-day weekends go by too fast.

you start off all excited. maybe you make some plans, or whatever. but in the end, the days just slip on by and then it’s sunday night and then it’s monday morning and it’s all gone just like any other weekend.

my point is that every weekend should be a four-day weekend. or maybe that there should not be weekends at all (gasp!) but only greatness all the time (gasp! gasp!)!

what are we doing with this 5-day work-week crap? how is anyone supposed to get anything done if they are working a job 5 days a week? how are we supposed to write stories, novels, or pulitzer prize winning blog posts (does such a thing even exist yet?) if we’re wasting all our time at a job? how are we supposed to make our dreams come true, admire the clouds, doodle, eat more ice cream, take more naps, learn things, drink 8 glasses of water a day, or design out the details of our dream houses in our heads if we have to go to work?

in closing, i think we should all quit our jobs. so what about unemployment. i’m a firm believer that a good job is one that is not a job at all, but something you would probably be doing anyways regardless of whether you were getting paid or not.

so i’m becoming a professional spaghetti eater. and i’ll freelance my clothes-changing skills when the going gets tough.

but seriously, this is my dream and nobody’s gonna bully me into thinking it isn’t possible: i want to stop working. i want to reach the day where i never work ever, ever again. i will just do awesome cool creative meaningful things that are interesting and rad. so rad, in fact, that i won’t have to plan my life in anticipation of any four-day weekend b.s. instead, i’ll just be amazing everyday.

raise your plate of sunday bacon if you’re with me!

27. Alcohol

It’s strange to think that there was a day in my youth when beer was the most disgusting thing I’d ever encountered and it baffled me how my parents could drink such a thing. What were they, crazy? Might as well be chugging barrels of Elmer’s glue. There was this red liquid called “wine” that felt like a tingly fruity punch to the mouth and made your insides go all warm like the inside of a toasted Pop Tart. I stuck out my tongue at these adult beverages, shunning them like taxes and full-time jobs.

Then I grew up.

And there came a day, sometime in college, when after a hard day of working at the coffee-shop, there was nothing better than coming home to or going out to get a nice cold beer. Not a Coke, not chocolate milk, not a glass of water… No. Beer. In my belly. Now.

Two things are intriguing about that evolutionary leap:

  1. My parents were right all along.
  2. People change.

My mom used to love clams, then, one day, she became allergic to them. As a kid, my sister’s first taste of wine was quite a similar experience to mine, but someday she’ll sit down with a nice Italian dinner or a sappy chick-flick, and a glass of wine will just feel right. I mention this because I’ve learned of an important facet of the human condition: We can hate something for a long time, then turn around and love it. We can love something for a long time, and turn around and hate it. This can happen overnight or over a summer, sometimes by our choice, sometimes due to outside circumstances. The point is, nothing is forever.

Your admiration for Pabst Blue Ribbon will not be the same in ten years.

With beer, I’ve gone through a fluctuating relationship, at first swallowing any drunk-inducing brew available, now a bit more refined in my choice of hops intake. With wine, I’ve found my favorites, but I still like anything with a neat label on the bottle. With hard alcohol, we got off on a rocky start, and there was some vomiting, and we didn’t speak for a while, but ever since a semester abroad in Istanbul, we’ve been getting along much better. People change. Or, to be more specific, our tastes change. This is part of growing up.

Your admiration for anything will change. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe in a dozen years. Whatever you’re doing right now, whatever you enjoy, whatever you hate, whatever you’re afraid of… None of that will exist in the same way tomorrow. We’re always changing. We’re always growing.

Grab a beer. Pour some wine. Order a round of shots.

Let’s drink to Now.

Today is the last day you’ll be who you are. Tomorrow you’ll start becoming someone totally different.

26. Half-full, half-empty

Let’s be clear about something. It’s been bugging me for a while. This cup that we’re always talking about, the one perpetually stuck between being half-full or half-empty… There is no cup. Nothing is half-full, nothing is half-empty. Everything just is.

So why do we mention this cup? What exactly are we trying to say?

The cup could be anything. We use it as a vessel to symbolize the chaos of the universe. It could be a container, as most cups are, or it could be wildly more symbolic. This is up to you. Either way, it’s an attempt to contain that chaos and make sense of it, which is like trying to arrange a cluster of angry wasps into a single-file line. The liquid we imagine inside this vessel is our limiting opinion of our relationship with the chaos, either good or bad, with no in-between.

We’re ignoring what’s important here. We’re validating bad habits. When we feel bad, we say we’re operating half-empty. On the good days, we’re half-full. We’re basically admitting that we either possess a finite amount of liquid, or a finite amount of space. By doing this we are limiting the universe and ourselves. We’re projecting our own perception of the universe onto this symbol, not looking inward for answers, but pointing blame or praise elsewhere, creating a cup that apparently controls the fate of our mentality. In truth, we are always capable of changing our perception.

It is just as harmful to validate pessimism as it is to encourage optimism. If today is a bad day, make a positive change. If today is a good day, share that goodness with others. Don’t ignore how you feel by hiding behind an illusion. Just because you’ve compared your relationship to the universe to the status of liquid within a cup doesn’t mean everything will make sense or get better or worse.

The half-full/half-empty argument should be dropped. Not only because those two options leave you with identical amounts of liquid, but because there are opposite points of view to each option. If your glass is half-empty, then obviously you like what you’re drinking and it hasn’t killed you yet, so drink up! If you glass is half-full, then your idea of “full” is relative and what you’ve got in your glass is enough as is. Don’t be greedy.

The point is that there is no cup. There is only us. We are not half-anything.

Be full and the universe will be full with you.