Cultivating the mind

This is not what I want, up at 6, trying to get it all done in the morning. Tired at work. Nothing but journal. Confused, stiff, uncomfortable. That would probably be a good way to describe me, as uncomfortable.

What I want? I want to be able to write whenever an idea comes. To exercise to read to think to try to make something of myself. I want that time to do those things. I want to pursue it. And language, sure. Why do I think I would do that if I didn’t have to go to work? I could make time to study language every day anyway. Just keep looking at those words. But there’s so much else I want to do. And I get used to sitting. I make a habit of stuff that isn’t furthering the way of thinking that I want to cultivate. It’s not that I couldn’t find time to learn Spanish, it’s that I need to cultivate a way of  being, and I need to do that all of the time.

That is what I want.

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It’s About Freedom

I’ve been depressed lately about having to work. We are approaching almost $900,000 of investments, which, I know, could drop significantly the way the market is, but still, it’s there right now, and yet that isn’t near enough to think about retiring because we spend way too much money every year. It would never last our entire lives.
I don’t want to work, because I want to have the time to figure out what it is that makes me happy. That’s why. It’s not that I hate my job. When I was young and actually thought that I could save money and buy freedom and work towards the opportunity to do something else, I liked having a job that I was good at that paid (or had that potential). But this has been a career and only relatively recently have I been able to put money away, most of our lives we lived in debt (some of this was saved into retirement funds while we carried debt), and it’s late to turn that around and I’m tired of putting off happiness.
That’s the new way I’ve come up with to put it these days. It’s not that I want to write, or play the drums, or exercise, ok, yeah, I would do those things. But the bottom line is I haven’t been happy, just I like being me happy. I love people in my life, and I am happy for them, and they make me smile and I enjoy spending time with them, and I have fun with them, but when was the last time i just felt like this is who I am meant to be, like I have a purpose that I believe in?
Is that unrealistic? I don’t think so. I think it is defeatist to think that it isn’t possible. What else should you be doing with your life? Of course you try for that. If there are things that make you happy, why not try to have them? And if they are attainable, and not impossible, then of course you should.
For me, it would just be a matter of spending less on things that don’t matter to me in order to have the time to live my life in a way that is joyful. It does not make sense to work forever in order to be able to retire and have 10 good years or whatever where you can finally think about those things, because we don’t know how long we’ll live, and even if we live until 90, why should you start being happy at 65? Or later. It takes practice. 
I have a friend, I’ll call her that. We’re friends on facebook; we keep in touch, minimally. We met in an online writing class. Never in person. She just wrote a novel and is on cloud nine about it. It appears to be getting some good press. I’ve always liked her writing. I suspect that her husband supported her so that she had time. I could be wrong, because I don’t know her that well, but it looks like that to me. And I think this helps a lot of women writers to succeed. That happens for women more than it happens for men. I’m not saying I’m entitled to that. I’m not bitter about it. I’m happy for them. I’m just saying that my failures so far do not indicate that I couldn’t do what she did, given the right opportunity.
Single people also have an easier time.  If I were single, I really wouldn’t need much money. I think I could live off 25,000 a year. I wouldn’t have a car. I’d walk to work. I’d bike to the store. I’d uber if I really had to. And while I do like to travel, I like it the cheap way better than I like it the expensive way, and by that I mean visiting people you know, and going to cheaper places, and doing less touristy things, hanging with locals if you can. And I could even give that up to be able to spend every day doing what I want. I like home too. I like a routine of things I like doing. I could live in a cave, like the one I’m in for the next 15 minutes.
If I had all the time off that I need, would I write, or would I get even more depressed? It would probably be a struggle to be disciplined. But the more time I have the more writing I do. This has been true. When I’ve taken time off I did write more. Maybe not as much as I should or would have thought but I did write more, and I did produce some things in those times. And it’s not just about writing. It is also about reading. It is about thinking. It is about taking walks, and being physically fit and getting good at other things. Maybe learning a language. It is about being creative. It is about freedom.

Mike Davis

My former teacher, Mike Davis, wants us to get out of our cages.

Another Year Over

I took a couple of courses with Mike Davis, and we were on good terms. I enjoyed our interactions, and I learned a lot. The classes were online, so all of the interactions were online. We kept up for a short while after the classes were over, via facebook, or via the comment section on his blog, and I still read his blog, as you can see.

But I imagine that Mike Davis doesn’t like me. 

More likely, he doesn’t think about me at all, cause I don’t mean anything to him. I’m fine with that.  I know I am irrelevant. I should be. We’re not friends, and I don’t want to be.

I admire the guy.  He taught me, and he was a good teacher.  He was actually the best writing teacher I ever had, which, ok, admittedly, isn’t saying much.  But it’s something. 

And I like what he’s trying to do.

I imagine that he doesn’t like me, only because I am the kind of person, I imagine he doesn’t like.

(Yes, I’m making it all up. That’s what writers do – but it could be true, because we have gifted insight).

A person who won’t get out of his fucking cage.

Why should I bother saying that I want to be a writer, that this is my aspiration, that someday, yes, algun dia, I will visit America. If it’s just a dream that will never happen, then you’re full of shit. You either do it or you don’t. You get no credit for saying you want to.

This is why I think he doesn’t like me. How can I be inspiring, in a cage? Why would you want to surround yourselves with people like that? 

I want to be a writer but I am an accountant. I want to be a writer, but I travel a lot, and have a nice house and cars and fine dining experiences and furniture, and an under-funded pension, and a lot of other expenses. I want to be a writer but I am a husband.

And I eat too much.

You know, whatever.

I am in a cage. 

I can’t make different choices (except maybe that I could eat less).

I can’t sell our house and all our stuff, so I don’t even have to pay to store it, and move only what we need into a cheap apartment. I can’t decide we don’t need cars, because we won’t work, and we can uber if we really need to get somewhere or rent a car twice a year for a trip, and walk everywhere else, or ride a bike.

I can’t live frugally enough to retire, now, or even in three years. I can’t change careers, or move to another country.

I don’t have that freedom.  

Not that I would want any of that.

But I want to be a writer. I’ve pretty much always said, effectively always, that I want to be a writer. And doing some or all of those things would help.

I know I’m not going to do them, but can I write from my prison cell?

That’s a kind of freedom.  To write the truth.  Can I do that? I would need to free myself from another cage.  I have to escape the past. No simpler way to say it. I think that’s what Mike Davis is talking about.

I mean what that means for you, escaping the past, may be different than what it would means to me, but it is a very broad all encompassing statement.  So, probably it’s true for everyone.

Maybe for her it’s a trauma, maybe for him regrets, maybe for me it’s just the expectation that I will stay the same as I have always been. How do I escape from the expectations people have of me that I, myself, have nurtured and established?

I don’t know. But this is why I write now. Whether I post it anywhere or not, writing is, for me, the means by which I am going to attempt an escape from prison. I don’t know if I’ll be successful. We can never know.  But I believe I can prevail. So, I’m working on the locks.

Happy People

I don’t even know

My own name

It makes me jealous

Of all the happy people

I’ve seen waterfalls

Canyons and Craters

The Aurora Borealis?

Not yet

But on my bucket list

Is only happiness

And I yearn to be real

Even though everyone lies

I am the same

As I’ve always been

It will all

Make sense to you at once

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.

Keep In Touch

We always said that. We wrote it in our Jr high school yearbooks in 1979, and in our high school yearbooks in 1982. Sometimes there was a phone number beside it that I never called. Maybe we believed we would, but we soon came to know that we just did that to avoid the big goodbye. We would never see these people again.

That’s not the way it is anymore. Because social media. This generation keeps in touch. It’s easier than it used to be. Only the Luddites lose touch. And the privacy hawks, who like to live off the grid, or at least pretend they are, by shunning facebook. I have nothing against those people. I respect them. I miss them.  Because most of us are back in touch with each other again, even those of us who had accepted that we were never going to be keeping in touch. Social media has allowed us to find each other. If you ask me whatever happened to Dan Cherubin, for example, I can tell you that he died. I know, because though I hadn’t seen him in 33 years, ever since I left Bard College, I heard from him as recently as last week. He was going back into the hospital for a post op infection and now this vibrant, friendly, loving, funny, influential friend of everyone he ever met (well, maybe not those neo-fascists) is gone. It was only a year ago he made the dramatic decision to leave NYC, gave up his rent controlled apartment (that’s not easy), and learned to drive (he’s not the only native New Yorker I know who never got a driver’s license) so he could take a job in Connecticut.  I know these things about him. Then he got cancer, but “the little fucker,” he called it, was removed, and the prognosis sounded good. Thank God for health insurance. That’s what Dan said.

I know a handful of people who have died, who I grew up with. Dennis, Veronica, Adam… Dan. Every time it happens, I think about weather I liked them, and how I wish I had made an effort to know them better, to see them more (or at all). Except for facebook, I can only think of them in my mind as the young children I last saw, last heard their voices, their laughs. It seems even more tragic to me, as if they never got the chance to grow up. But they lived. There were a couple who went earlier, but Dan did have a much fuller life than I know. There is comfort in that, for me, that he had a chance after I knew him, when we were mostly potential, and that he became something, and by all accounts grew into a good man.  And yet, I know that may not be enough for those who were still in his life and knew better how much more he had to offer.

We’re in our 50s. Old enough to have had a full life. As old as the age at which our great grandparents regularly died. Lucky to have gotten even this far, I suppose.

Did he do what he was supposed to do? Was he supposed to do anything? Did he influence people enough? He had an effect on me, a small influence, which I will remember. I knew him once. I can hear his laugh. I feel his warmth of spirit. And all I can say now is, Dan…  keep in touch. 

Going Home

Going home, to the apartment my parents still live in which I grew up, in New York City, in Chelsea, always feels like worlds colliding for me. The person I was vs the person I am vs the person I thought I’d be.

The New York that isn’t like New York anymore, just like I’m not like I was anymore.

My parents were out of town so I took six of my friends there. I did this a couple of years ago with two friends. Both times I learned to appreciate something new about the city.

It’s not easy hosting six other people, when they consider you the tour guide, and of course I haven’t lived there in twenty-five years. Then they don’t want to do what I suggest because they have their own ideas, and they all have different ideas, then we do what they want and they ask me all kinds of questions.

“I don’t know, this was your idea.”

It wasn’t like I was getting paid. So at times I thought it might have been more fun if we had been on neutral ground.

Some of the things they wanted to do, I didn’t want to do. Some of the things I wanted to do, they didn’t. I pushed them into something that turned out great. They did things I wanted that weren’t as good as I expected. They pushed me into things that I didn’t want to do that also turned out great.

Like citibikes.

When I was growing up, there were no bike lanes in the city. I used to ride my bike in the streets, like bike messengers, right in the middle of the road, to avoid double parked cars, and pretty much matched the speed of traffic. It was hairy, and I wouldn’t have taken a bunch of tourists on such a ride.

My family was not for Mayor Bloomberg’s push to take away car lanes and create bike lanes. We said, “this isn’t Europe, we can’t retrofit NYC, there already isn’t enough room for cars,” etc.

But my friends had done the bike thing in other cities, and they wanted to do it here, so, ok, whatever.

It turned out pretty damned easy and pretty damned good. I’m converted. And as far as cars are concerned, you really shouldn’t drive in New York anyway. So, as we say in New York, “fuck ’em.” 

One of my guests did get yelled at. “Watch out, citibike.” Part of the experience.

Also, I grew up in Manhattan. People who grow up in Brooklyn know Manhattan. People who grew up in Manhattan don’t know Brooklyn.  Goes for the other boroughs too.

Brooklyn, like Manhattan, isn’t what it used to be, but I don’t really know what it used to be, so we went to Brooklyn.  Walked the Brooklyn Bridge, found a good pub, picked up some more citibikes and even rode to Adam Yauch Park to pay my respects to the late founder of the Beastie boys, who I knew, and jammed with, even though I never particularly liked the Beastie Boys.

I love Brooklyn. 

Gotta move forward, I guess.

But still, lots of memories. It’s almost as if I didn’t want to be myself then, I wanted to move away, pretend I was someone else. And when I go back I’m sometimes mad that things have changed, and I wonder what happened to New York. I wonder what happened to me.

You know what I discovered? The best way to find out is to show others where you came from.

Reunions

 

The past is the past
Those were different people
It’s not about love
Anymore
Or sex
But laughing, maybe
If we can
At what was
Until it’s time to start over
Until we no longer remember
Until we disclaim who we were
Are
Can’t we examine why
We felt like we did
Or didn’t
Our spirits
Touched
And that can mean anything