What I Want

So, I am at the coffee shop to write even though I have not made a new year’s resolution to do so. But I have been writing. I have taken days on the weekend, and hours in the AM sometimes, to do so. I tell people I’m going to write and, if they don’t, they should, wonder what the hell I’m writing, because they never see anything. Mostly I just keep a journal, and mostly it is superficial. Even when I do post on my blog, I haven’t told but one person I know in real life that this blog exists, and I probably shouldn’t have told her, but as far as I can tell she forgot, cause I don’t think she ever visits.

But as you know, faithfull reader(s), I have not been posting much here lately. The problem is that I’ve been trying to be honest in my journals, for really the first time ever. And that has kept me from posting, because I’m scared, even in semi-anonymous blogspace, to speak honestly. I’m even scared to be honest on private google drive space because I think I might die and someone will get access to my journals, I want them to, because it would be a shame for it to have been written in vain, but I don’t want them to think that everything I, even honestly, write is true. It might be. It’s what I think. But I’m not necessarily right.

Because I will continue to believe things that aren’t true as long as I don’t work through them, by exploring them, with the written word.

For example, I am jealous of women, because I have always felt like I would rather be one. They look happier than men to me, except for the men who I don’t like because they are so damned cocky, and proud of themselves. I can’t relate to those men. I always thought I would be happier, if I were a woman. I want to change that about myself, and accept myself for who I am, but it’s not even politically correct to think that I can change.

This is what I’ve been writing about, for the first time, just to myself, experimenting with how it feels to write the words, “I am transgender.” And, ironically, having finally said these words after feeling this way almost my entire life, I have had moments where I actually feel satisfied, content as I am.

I’ve been drinking soy lattes for the phytoestrogens, to see if it makes me feel more feminine (it does, I think) and I want to lose weight, and when I do I feel more feminine, though I also look more handsome rather than pretty. I find myself happier with the way I look which I don’t consider particularly feminine.

After opening myself up to explore this innate femininity, it’s almost like I’ve found some balance, and maybe the balance is really all I ever needed. Maybe I have always wanted to be a woman because I was deficient in some way, estrogen deficient, or socially inhibited from being myself when it seemed effeminate to others, and I therefore craved what I didn’t have, the freedom to act like a girl. I felt like I had to hide, but find that when I let that go, I like myself more.

I’m old enough that I should know by now that people who are ostracized as kids don’t have to expect that from people in adulthood. Bill Gates might have been a nerd in high school, but now he’s a very rich and successful nerd. And people respect him. And the popular athlete, if that’s all he was, is probably an accountant working for a decent living, but ordinary in most respects. But childhood trauma stays with you and you still react to it emotionally even when you should know better, unless you do something to understand it.

So writing about it honestly has helped me to realize that I can now embrace what I think was effeminate, and maybe it isn’t. I can be myself and not everyone will judge me, and who does, can go fuck themselves. I can work through this by first saying that I have always wished I were a girl, until I explore it enough to figure out what I really want, to be happy with the kind of man I am.

Is it offensive to transgender people for me to think I am one and then to come around to thinking I can change that? Does the suggestion that there is a way to change, to become more “normal,” hurt people who might consequently be inclined to struggle against something that is, maybe for them, impossible? Is that as harmful as the idea of changing a gay person to straight?

The difference is, it seems to me, that a gay person can live a happy life with another gay person. That’s about who they are attracted to. They actually may be better positioned to like themselves, because they are actually attracted to their own gender and they can appreciate what makes them attractive to others. A transgender person, one who doesn’t like his or her own body, especially one who is also attracted to the opposite sex, would find it hard to understand how anyone can be attracted to “him.”

He or she isn’t just pressured by society to be normal. He or she would have to go to extreme measures to live as he or she wants whether people accept it or not. Is it any more extreme to try to change your self view than it is to change your physical gender? And if you think that one cannot change their self view, I would ask, can you really change your gender? You can think that an operation will fix things, and if you do, then go for it. I have no stake in dissuading you if you think you can believe it, and good for you, if it makes you happy, but to me, it would be impossible to become a woman. If I changed my physical appearance now, I would still have missed out on the experiences that shape other women.

I am male, the way I am American, the way I am a New Yorker, the way I am white. I might want to be something else, but I have been forged by the experiences that this reality afforded me, good and bad. 

And I have also always wanted to be different, and am forged by that experience. That’s who I am. This is what I want to accept. I want to rise above the physical. I want to accept that I am a spiritual being. I might, after all, have another chance to be something different, in another life. That can wait. It doesn’t help me to be impatient about it or to wish for something I don’t have. What do I really want now, anyway, other than to be happy?

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Feliz Año Nuevo!

So here it is, my only New Year’s resolution.  It’s not to write more.  It’s not to blog every week, or to write stories for Kindle’s Singles, like it has been in prior years. It’s not to save the world, I think that’s what I wanted to do last year.

I was speaking to a co-worker from Bogota, Colombia and she said that they write down their resolutions and don’t tell anyone, and she usually gets them done.  Kind of like when we wish on our birthday and  blow out the candles and think that if we tell anyone it won’t come true.

I told her that en los Estados Unidos, we tell everyone our resolutions and then we don’t do them. Maybe that’s the reason we don’t do them. And then I went on to tell her mine.  But I only have one, because I want to increase my chances of doing it. Everything else that I want to do, I may still do, I may write more, I may blog more, I may save the world. But if I get this one thing done, and even if everything else falls by the wayside, I will feel a great sense of accomplishment for having finally achieving one of my long time goals.

That is, to learn Spanish.  Now, “learn” is subjective. Specifically I intend to complete Rosetta Stone’s five levels in Latin American Spanish by year’s end.  Towards that end I subscribed to their online version only for a year. Sure you can keep the desktop version forever, but if you don’t do it in a year, you’re probably not going to, that’s what I think.  And I think that compressing the study will help me recall what I learned and build upon it for the later lessons. I also intend to do extra, with Duolingo and whatever else I can find time for (I have Pimsler CDs that I’ve owned for a decade that I listen to in the car sometimes). And I plan to take opportunities to speak to people I know who speak Spanish, like mi compañera de trabajo de Colombia, because I think Rosetta stone is a great tool, but won’t be enough just by itself.

And I just got the opportunity to join a group at work that over the next 3 months will meet once a week for lunch to speak Spanish. So, I may even try hard to get through as much Rosetta Stone as I can in the next three months.

I’m been trying to learn Spanish (off and on, of course) for 35 years.

Esta tiempo.

That’s all.

What is Happiness?

I had a discussion recently with a neighbor of mine who just happens to be a tenured professor of Philosophy at a college nearby.  He is taking an interest in defining and measuring happiness.  He says that there was a point, in the 1800’s sometime, when psychology and philosophy split, and happiness became the domain of psychology, even though, he feels, and philosophers in general feel, he said, that they have been getting it wrong.

To make it worse, it’s not just psychology that gets it wrong, because the guidance out there comes often from those wanting to make it a business, hacks, if you will, who write for the self help hashtag in the virtual bookstore.

The problem is, he told me, that our measures of happiness are subjective. “How happy are you, in a range of 1 to 5,” we ask, and people say. Then we study these people to determine what it takes for people to self describe as happy. We know only how happy they think they are. But how do we know that they even know what happiness is, or have ever been happy, or whether they equate happiness with what they have been told should make them happy? They may even be motivated to lie, if necessary, to avoid feeling guilty or ungrateful, because their families aren’t enough, or because they have a privilege that is denied to others. 

The philosophy professor wants to devise a better way to measure and define happiness. What if there were certain things that we could identify that make people happy? And then we could measure how happy they should be based on whether they have those things, and at least have some way to test what they think against reality.

This resonates with me. I don’t feel like I’ve really been happy since I was a toddler. Now I’ve had my moments, sometimes I think I can imagine what it’s like to be happy, or understand another person’s happiness, or believe I’m on the way, and that’s enough to share in it, to feel it, enough to know what it is. So I’m not unhappy 100% of the time, just more often than not. And I’ve always considered my unhappiness to be situational. In other words, I don’t believe, for the most part, that it is physiological, something that pills could solve, or diet, or even exercise. I believe that there is something about my life that I wish were different, that disappoints me.

That said, when I stop taking my thyroid medication, I can become convinced that my life actually sucks even worse than I previously thought, like I have uncloaked another layer of denial, and that things would have to be different, to change how I feel. And then I take my meds again, and suddenly I’m back to my normal level of unhappiness. So maybe it can be both.

But this idea that there can be certain things that make us happy, that if we want to have happiness, we should strive for those, whatever they are, is an idea that makes sense to me. Is it freedom? That misunderstood abstract idea that people so often confuse with power or safety, and so few of us have it, even, yes, in the US of A, slaves as we are to debt, or expectations, or discrimination or worse.   

Or do we derive happiness from understanding, knowledge, achievement. Is it from a sense of pride in ourselves? Is it because we do good?

Does it require us to be good people? My neighbor posits, a recent change in his thinking, he tells me, that you do not need to be good, and he is somewhat convincing, though people who devote their lives to service, like Jimmy Carter, and MLK, Jr. have argued that service is its own reward, and the key to happiness. Even George Washington had a quote equating service to happiness (happiness and moral duty are inseparably connected). The list of great people that make this claim is endless. I had started to believe in this, and regret, even, that I hadn’t seen it earlier. When I was young, and following the instincts typical of one to whom it was all new, I concluded, in my first run at the issue, that the purpose of life was to have fun. And I believed fervently in Thomas Jefferson’s right to “pursue happiness.” What I thought was ironic, however, and what I believed at the time, was that to devote myself to that cause, I would have to abdicate my own pursuit of happiness. I could be a musician, for example, which I thought would make me happy, or I could be an activist for the rights of others, but then I could not be a musician (or whatever) and I would not be as happy.

According to George Washington, the two were not mutually exclusive.

My neighbor, however, points out that some people are very happy, and not at all good people. Maybe they are proud of themselves for things they have achieved that do none any good but themselves or the few. They may believe that it’s fair, because that’s the game, and whoever wins has earned it.  They may even believe that they are doing good for the world, but be wrong. They could be happy in the knowledge of their own achievement, and greatness, and measure their worth in their own way.  

Examples:  

A Christian missionary believes he is helping a savage by converting him to be a believer in Christ.

A rich man believes he is making the world a better place by providing a product that advances the human race, even though he may take advantage of the poor to do it.

White supremacists who would rid the world of an inferior infestation that threatens those of us, that they believe, matter more. They can be happy in their sense of righteousness.

Is it certainty that makes us happy?  And how happy? I like to think that there a limit to how happy someone can be depending on how the happiness is achieved? Is there a greater happiness that comes from inclusion than can ever come from exclusion?

I don’t know!

But these are important questions. Because I think that happiness is the only thing any of us really want. Those of us who have empathy who care about the world, who want it to be a better place are unhappy to the extent it isn’t. They are made happy to see a small promise of Utopia in their lives and in the lives of others. But the bottom line is, it is ultimately their desire above all else to find happiness that motivates them. And it is failure in this regard that discourages them. And hopelessness, when they believe that what they want is too hard, which makes them give in to despair.

I personally believe that the way we find our calling, is to do what makes us feel good, ultimately, and in the long run, even if we don’t understand why it makes us feel good. I think this will lead us to our way of contributing to the hive, to what is, if there can be such a thing, our purpose. And it will make us happy. Sounds easy, but if it were, everyone would be doing it. Doing what will make you feel good, isn’t easy. 

That’s what I believe, but the professor’s question is, “is what makes people happy  different for everyone, or can we find some common thread, and measure, or ascertain how happy people are based on what their lives are like?”

I want to know the answer. I want to know and I am interested in taking this knowledge to the team I manage at work, to see it can help to fully engage and inspire them achieve their potential, in and outside of work. The professor is interested in that, and it is why he first engaged me in this topic to enlist my aid with an experiment, but first, I must admit, I want to be happy. I want to learn more about it. 

Because I have not done what I say we should. I have spent my life making decisions that were not based on what will make me feel good, and at this point, I feel like I have constructed walls, rules, habits, whatever you want to call them, that limit me. I don’t have the choices I had when I was young. And yet, I am writing this. I could be anywhere right now. I could do anything. I can still choose to spend time doing what I want, even despite the fact that I have obligations. I waste a lot of time.

I’ll tell you, I think I do know what will make me happy. I think the main reason I am not is that I’ve been inhibited and unmotivated. I lack faith, and I lack will. I have not believed in my heart, what I’m telling you today. 

I want knowledge and understanding, but I’ve never particularly liked to read. I’ve been shy about talking to people. There are things that make me feel a sense of achievement, a sense of pride. But I don’t do them. I wanted it to be easy, I expected talent to lead the way. I don’t even want to exercise on a regular basis, though I feel good after I do it. I don’t want to read, though I feel good having absorbed the contents of a book. I don’t want to pay attention to horrible things that are happening in the world, because it’s depressing, but how can I understand people, or change anyone’s mind, if I don’t know them.

I want to change someone’s mind. That would make me so happy.

I know more than a few who believe that it is unrealistic to think you can change anyone’s mind. And true, change is so slow that it’s not surprising that people give up on each other. But if we can’t change minds, then we are simply doomed. 

But people can change, it happens all the time. Great leaders inspire others to do their part. They don’t do it all themselves. Anyone who believes anything at all, good or bad, has gotten there in part by learning something. People can be taught. To believe otherwise seems reasonable, but it’s wrong.

I start with me.

The Brutal Truth

It is an effort to write these days, and I am not good with effort.

I have never been good with effort. It’s why I didn’t become an actor or a drummer or a writer (in that order). It’s why I couldn’t effectively do all three. It’s why I switched my major from lit to math. It’s why I left Bard College.  It’s why I quit the band I was in because I was overwhelmed with the prospect of doing more than one thing at a time.

It’s why I still don’t speak Spanish, or any other language. 

It’s why I settled for a career in accounting (quitting math too). Accounting takes an effort, but not more than I can muster as long as I’m getting paid for it, and when it’s the only thing I do well.

But this is what I need to remember.  “The nuts always win.”

This is when you’re playing cards and you tell yourself that in order to win, you have to have the best possible hand.

Now, maybe sometimes you decide to take a chance on the 2nd or 3rd best possible hand, or maybe less if you feel like bullshitting your way through a situation, but the goal, the path to success, is to expect the best.

Our goal should always be to have everything we want. We don’t have to figure out what our limit is, it is our limit. We can’t go beyond it.

But we should pursue everything we want to have. The more we try, the more we achieve.

We should do it because we are happy when we have achieved something, even if we are not happy when we are working towards it. We are not happy when we don’t try, so we might as well try. We’d just be doing something, instead of nothing, while we are unhappy. Something, at least, can lead to that miracle of all miracles.  

Happiness.

Do you ever find that you say to yourself, “how wonderful life is?”

“I’m glad to be alive.”

“Never in my wildest dreams….”

I don’t.

Sometimes I avoid bread to be happy. I could eat right, exercise, lose weight, compensate in many ways for the fact that I am not proud of myself, and it may work to some degree, I may have moments where I feel good. But when I achieve things, if I were to achieve anything, I can eat bread, and I still feel good about myself, even if I feel physically sick. There is no substitute for doing

I don’t believe that I’m the only one who has accepted that being “so happy” is just an unrealistic fairy tale. But why? Because it’s impossible? 

It takes effort. It takes effort whether you’ve eaten bread or not (or whatever is your habitual nemesis). 

To be happy, we have to achieve our potential. Except we think of potential as something we don’t have to achieve, never guaranteed, a long shot. We give ourselves excuses, let ourselves off the hook. Kids are loaded with it, of course, and we know how few realize theirs as adults. We have no reasonable expectation, I tell myself now, that we achieve our dreams.

Bullshit.

Our potential is what we can do, it is, by definition, what is within our abilities. We have an obligation to ourselves, and to society and to God, if you believe in God (I don’t, really), to fulfill it. What we shouldn’t hold ourselves accountable to do, is that which is beyond our abilities. But if we don’t do what we can, that’s a sin, if there ever was sin, a crime, at least, maybe the birth parent of all crime. 

If you do everything you can do, that you dream of doing, that should be done, you will be proud of yourself and you will be happy.

I haven’t proven this theory, mind you.

I have a family. I work and make decent money. I have friends. I meet the standard for success. If I tell people that I consider myself a failure, they argue with me. Most people pretend at least to be happy with as much. If we aren’t satisfied, and say so, then oftentimes people feign as if they do not understand why you are so ungrateful, or at least you fear that this will be their reaction. At best, they don’t know how to help you, so you keep it to yourself. But there is nothing wrong with expecting to be the best you can be. And those of us who enjoy the luxury of being able to complain about not being happy, we have an obligation to challenge ourselves and lead. It is not ungrateful to want more. We owe it to society to expect more from life, and to give what we can give, because we are in the position to do so.

It is failure to settle. There’s no shame in it. No one wants to fail. It’s not about judgement. But that’s just the brutal truth.