I hate people.

(sometimes is implied, but now is one of those sometimes, so….. )

Is there any reason I really need to deal with people? Is there a law? Can I just be a hermit?

I know I’m not the only one. People are complaining about having to learn online, as if the way we taught before was ideal. People learn in different ways. So, the way it was couldn’t have been working for everyone. Some might like online better, but the ones who don’t are screaming the loudest. “So some people die,” they think or say, “but my child can’t adapt. He or she will fall behind. And also, I don’t know how to teach.” First, yes, we do have to put together some of that ingenuity we brag about in the US to solve the problem. There may be better ways to do online learning. But let’s also acknowledge that children are more resilient than adults. Kids can adapt. They weren’t learning the old way because it was best or because they like it better, they were doing it because that’s how adults told them to. They didn’t have a choice.

Socializing is important. Unless you want to be a hermit, like I do, but school isn’t the only place to socialize people, and certainly not the safest place, these days, and not everyone’s socialization experience in school is positive. What if they aren’t popular? What if they don’t have friends?

I’m reminded of that Lewis Black routine where he’s talking about this lifesized Barbie doll they were selling that was designed so that your kid could wear Barbie’s clothes.  “That is,” he says, “Unless your kid is too fat!”

Or what if they’re bullied? What if they just hate school for any other reason?

They are trapped in something they didn’t design. Now they’re trapped in something different that they didn’t design. What’s the big deal? Can we just go with the flow. The pandemic has thrown us a curve.

It could work better for some that’s all I’m saying.  And the others can adjust their swing.

We could stand to re-evaluate how we teach and learn, and maybe this is just the push that we need.

Why complain about having to learn online, when often we weren’t even learning in person (and spending a hell of a lot of time in school to not learn). We push STEM on people who are going to quit it at the first opportunity, and meanwhile those with potential in STEM have to suffer through classes with those who couldn’t care less.

I hate school too. School sucks. It sucked when I was in it, and it sucked up until this pandemic. We spend too much time learning things we could learn in less time and that we often don’t need. By the time we’re done, we go get a job that 73 times out of 100 doesn’t relate to what we studied.

I don’t know why all this means I hate people. I guess it’s cause most people don’t see it that way.

And that’s just one example of things that I see differently than other people. I’m tired of it.

I’m not saying people need to agree with me, I’m just saying I hate them if they don’t.

Kidding.

I’m sure some of the two of you who read my blog agree with me, or at least see my point or accept it without judgment*. And if you don’t, if you like me, for some reason, then I like you too. Especially when you’re out there in the cloud and I can’t be sure you’re real. That makes it easier.

 

*that said, it just occurs to me that one of my recent two readers used to teach in the NYC system – I read your posted bio. Please don’t take offense, I’m generalizing. I had some great teachers. Teachers are beautiful people. Mostly. I will say that the schools I liked the best were the ones with the worst reputations. Those were the schools where the teachers had more freedom to be innovative, I guess, because they had to. Necessity is the mother of invention don’t you know?

Idealistic

My biggest regret in life is that I didn’t nurture my idealism. I succumbed to the notion that idealism is naive, unrealistic and unachievable. But what is the point if that’s true? Might as well just die.

Maybe it is naive. Maybe you can’t have it all. But knowing what you want can guide you in your negotiations through life. If you at least try to shoot for the moon, you don’t always have to let those motherfuckers win. Those motherfuckers who want to ruin everything.

And I mean everything. I want the world to be a better place. I’m idealistic in that way. But I also, just personally, want what makes me happy. I’m idealistic in that way too.

For this, I need a simple life. I don’t want all the things that surround me to remind me only of what is now, and to block out what I may continue to forget. I want the space to discover, no to remember, to at least feel something of what I brought with me, what I was, as far back as I possibly existed, and I don’t know how long that is, but I suspect it is longer than we typically think.

It’s not that I don’t want to move on. I don’t want to get stuck in the past, it’s that I want to keep what I earned, and also to pay what I owe.

I want it all.

And I want that for everyone else too.

Is that so maladjusted?

Is so then maybe I should join the “International Association for the Advancement of Creative Maladjustment.”

Your story

Your story is the story of everyone who was alive when you were born. That’s the story you started with and that’s what you continue with. As life goes on more and more of the people that are a part of your story die off. If you’re the last one to die, you win.

And that’s the end of your story. nothing continues after that. New people were born, of course, and they continue, but you were part of their story, not the other way around. You were here already when they were born.

Finding yourself

I work for a company that is accepting of diversity. They have good policy towards LGBTQIA+ and they are taking the right stance on Black Lives Matter and other issues that affect people of color. Whether it bears out in practice, I’m not the one to say. But leadership does push the right buttons to get people on board. They recognize, rightly so, that it’s not just the right thing to do, but that we won’t be at our best unless we can bring our whole selves to work, and they encourage us to do that, because it helps the business. Makes me wish that I could feel at home here too. But what if you don’t know who you are? What if the only thing you hide from your co-workers is how lazy you can be? Should you tell them that?

And if the underlying cause of laziness is depression? Or maybe you really do hate your job, and it’s not the depression talking. What if the job is the cause of your depression?

Should you bring that whole self to work?

When people say that they want to find themselves, most think that’s an excuse to indulge a sense of entitlement. Admittedly who among us knows how to go about it efficiently?

Here’s what I think. I think that when you set out to find yourself, all you really want to know is what makes you happy. To figure that out you need to forget convention, forget what other people think. Whether something is right for them or not, has nothing to do with you.

I imagine that if I ever found myself, I would no longer be jealous of other people. That’s how I’d know. I’m jealous of anyone with a cause, women, black people, native Americans. I’m jealous of retired people, and of anyone who looks happy, or has something I think would make me happy whether it makes them happy or not. I’m even jealous of people who have lost their parents, for the freedom and independence, and who are divorced, also for the freedom and independence. That’s the desperation of someone who hasn’t acted for himself and worries too much about what other people think.

Because the Sky is Blue

A lot of cultural attention is focused around gender these days. It is a unique time in which people are more and more courageous to live authentically in this respect, to tell people how they feel, who they are, what gender they relate to most, to put it one way. 

But I want more than that. I don’t just want to acknowledge a dual nature in regards to gender, I want to do that, but when I yearn to live authentically, to be who I am, to be unafraid in the face of societal expectations or judgments or norms, it is about so much more than gender. It is about the freedom to be different. It is about the freedom to be crazy. To accept things that may not have any logic behind them. What do I like? what do I need? I know. If I listen to myself, I know. I’ve always known. And why I am like this, doesn’t matter. 

There may be a why.  Or a because. But you can’t wait for it. You can’t even know it until you first recognize the what. You can’t justify who you are to yourself or anyone, until you live it and feel it. And if you do that, you don’t ever have to know why. You don’t need why to be happy. 

Because. That’s why.

I (choose to) Believe It

Reincarnation is like being challenged with a puzzle. We are here to learn how to get out of the escape room, to recognize what we are, to transcend the limits it places upon us, to learn what we need to learn so we don’t need to return.

I feel this stress and depression because I put too much of an importance on things that don’t matter. The answer, for me, is to look around, notice the details of this holodeck we are trapped in, and marvel at where I find myself, recognizing that it is like a game. I ask myself, how is this different than the last time, and I remind myself that when we die, we  get another chance in different surroundings and circumstances.

When I travel, I feel out of sorts until I learn how the public transportation works, or find a particular cafe I like to return to, and then I can start pretending, at least, that I’m a local, that I know the ropes. Incarnations are like that. If we accept that this is just a temporary home, different, not who we are, and learn about it, we’ll function better. For now, this is who we’ve always been. That’s the game we should play. We may not like this life, but we’ll get another chance, unless we as a people destroy the entire planet. Then, I suppose our spirits can get in line to incarnate on some other planet, but we might have to step backwards. We won’t have the instincts developed over many incarnations. And I guess it would be fair if we had to wait in line behind those souls that didn’t destroy their own planet.

But that’s the thing. If we recognize that this is a game, that we don’t have to take any of it too seriously, our job preparing tax returns, for example  – seriously, how perfect does a tax return have to be – then we can start focusing on what really matters, like what can we do to help preserve the world for our own future?

I was sitting on my drums yesterday and looking around the basement, trying to notice all the particulars of this place I just woke up in. I was telling myself that I am a not limited by this particular circumstance. It is not who I am, and it’s ok that I feel out of place.  that’s normal. I always felt like my name didn’t fit, that it wasn’t really me. Maybe that’s why I used to feel that getting braces changed who I was, and imagined that if my teeth were left alone, maybe I would be more authentic. But, no, that wasn’t it. There was never anything I was supposed to be here. This is what it is. It doesn’t matter if I don’t like this particular incarnation, if I want to be someone else. It’s not permanent. It’s not my only chance. It’s not my first time. It’s not my last time.

Yes, I am constrained. Because incarnation is a prison, a maze, a puzzle. It’s a game. We have only one role to play here. We are missing out on all of the other roles. But if we recognize that we have many lives to live, doesn’t that make it so much easier to accept this one?

The belief passes my test for a good belief in every way. The test is to ask, “what if I were wrong?”  Does believing it encourage me to do the right thing, does it help me to embrace my experiences, does it help me to lead a better and happier life? If I die and then there is nothingness, did believing that there was something-ness help me to get more out of this life? Yes. And it inspires me to do right to better the world, for future incarnations.

The only counter to that is that bravery born out of the belief that I cannot actually die may lead me to embrace an early death in support of a good cause. But if I were to die for good, helping others to live, or live better, then I don’t mind. My life will be relatively short, no matter how long medical science can extend the lives of humans. And even if this is all I have, then I’d rather it be a life that I can die proud of, then a longer life that wasn’t worth anything. I may shortchange myself, if I am wrong, but my belief would still benefit others. There’s evidence, don’t get me wrong, plenty of it. And some of the greatest thinkers believed in it. But that’s not proof. So, I apply the test. What’s the downside? If I have a spiritual belief that encourages me to do wrong to others, in a misguided belief that I will get a reward, then that belief fails the test. But if the only potential harm is to myself, in sacrifice to the all, then no one should have any reason to contest my choice.

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. 

Wasn’t it Grand?

Trying something new. Happiness in the morning.

I’m going to tell you a story about a time when I was happy.

I’ve written before, here, there, somewhere, about trying to revisit the narrative of my past to remember more of the good times, even if they didn’t happen. In other words, to spin those days of lore as better than I ever thought they were. Because if I was always happy, then I’d have no reason to be unhappy now, which I don’t. It’s all about how you think about your life. And whether you think life is worth it. And whether you’re proud of who you are. And whether you can or do recall, at any moment, a memory that will make you smile.

I grew up in New York City. It was diverse in my neighborhood then. Not just black and white, but various denominations of Hispanic: Cuban, Dominican, Puerto Rican (not so many Mexicans). And Chinese, and Japanese. Also Catholic and Protestant and Jewish and Muslim and Atheist.

And the weather was great then. That’s how I remember it, a spring or fall day every day. I remember the distinctive smell of those Tamarind looking things (except flat) that fell from the trees and you could shake them, like Maracas. Speaking of Maracas, shaved ice! And Sabrett hotdogs. And Pizza. The Pizza was so good. Get it with extra cheese if you ever go back in time.

I remember how wonderfully dirty it was in the subways and on the streets. There was dog shit everywhere.This was before pooper scooper laws. The law was that you were supposed to “curb your dog,” which meant to let it shit in the street, where the street cleaners, that never came anymore because the city was practically bankrupt, would clean it up. But people didn’t curb their dogs anyway. The police would never enforce something like that, or jaywalking, or hardly anything those days, they left you alone. There was one street, 29th, between 8th and 9th which had buildings only on one side. The other side bordered a small green space, but there was a fence in front of the grass, so you couldn’t take your dogs in there. The residents of the buildings would cross the street and let their dogs shit on the sidewalk. To watch kids traverse this particular street was like watching them play hopscotch. I don’t know why we ever went down that side of the street, but we did. I guess because it was so much fun.

There’s this smell I remember, like it’s still in my nose. It is the smell of hot garbage piled up on the street near I.S.70, my jr. high school. Let me tell you what it smelled like. It smelled like home. And who wouldn’t want trains that were colorful and painted with Graffiti? When they solved that problem in NYC, they ruined my life. After that it was all downhill… well, just kidding. I’m still the happiest guy I know of. Seriously.

I never knew who painted the trains, but I knew guys in 9th grade who would tag everything with their own “handles” so to speak, the walls of the school, mailboxes, and the insides of train cars. Mace and Strider and Saki were some of their tags. Saki’s actual name was Sasaki, Brian Sasaki. He tagged the music room of our school with “Saki”, and the teacher asked us to rat him out.

“Was that Brian?”

“I don’t know.”

There was this rectangular blacktop playground near my apartment building. We played pickup softball there. There was no right field so we would play that if you hit to right field it was an out.

Second base was first base, so you had to run there first. Old ladies walking on the path out in (the) right field (that wasn’t) would yell at us, scared they would be hit, but those old ladies could run when they had to. Just kidding. I don’t ever remember almost hitting any old ladies. We also got yelled at for walking on the grass, making paths where there already should have been some. We built those paths, and now they are paved. Now adults walk on them too. Well, we’re adults. We helped design the cityscape, And I’m proud of that, even if we never got any credit.

Here’s a thought that makes me happy, water keys. There were faucets attached to the buildings but they required a certain kind of key to turn them on, so that only the building maintenance staff could use them. But you could buy a key, it was really just a tool, and we all had one. It made me so happy to have a water key in my pocket. You know what else made me happy? Drinking water when I was thirsty and not because I should stay hydrated.

Was it dangerous in New York City? Well, we grew up there, so no, we didn’t think so. I got mugged a few times, but you got mad and then went on with your life. We were feral. We were free. We kids would meet at the playgrounds, and play freeze tag, or tag no touching the sand, or we would wander around, climbing fences, taking the subway at all hours with our school train passes that were only supposed to be used to get to school and back, or we would jump the turnstiles, or when we had to, we would pop a token into the turnstile. I miss tokens. 

We would climb on top of elevators and have our friends operate the elevators from inside. We would go to the roof of our apartment building and survey our domain. We would head down past the warehouses on the west side, past the hookers that hung out there, and play on the elevated and abandoned (after a truck fell through it) west side highway and light firecrackers. We would go to central park and ride our skateboards, or play in a pickup softball game there on a real field. We would take the train out to Coney Island and “pay one price” for all of the rides and go to the Mets games day of, and get great seats.

This is what it was like to be a kid in NYC.