Monday, January 31, 2011

Finding A Way Out.

The one thing about sobriety. 

The one thing about sobriety is that it doesn't let up.  Every day it is thick and frothy and consistent and relentless.  Not foggy, not groggy. 

Thick and muscular, it is a full body suit pressing down with a constancy that cannot be adequately transmitted through engorged pupils or muffled grunts of effort.  It sticks back every attempt, placid and patient and unemotional, and stale air accumulates in a grey mist.    At the end of this year I'll have nothing to show for my sobriety.  Maybe I'll drop a few pounds.  Doubtful.  But maybe.  I'll have to face the prospect of the ceaseless ever smothering nature of this cold water.  There will be no celebration. 

There will be no loosening.  The answer is that working harder and tighter and more efficiently is the only way out--to burrow in so tightly as to invert my skin, fold it back with a sadistic grin, halloween inside out, and when the time approaches to jump, I'll have to have the courage to take a risk, and be naked.  Naked and slack jawed. 

Hey, I'm Sober!

Even after someone put booze in my cup and urged me to drink!  Even after I had to put it down and excuse myself.  Even after all of that. 

On the train ride home at 2am, I got a crystal clear view of what used to be a very sloppy view.  You know what I felt: really groggy and tired.  Part of the appeal of drinking is definitely the rush of adrenaline and power and social synergy you get from pushing yourself to stay up and be up.

The other thing I saw while sober was that we all spend way too much money eating out to get dry overly priced food.

Good monday morning to all.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Concentrating on the Benefits

It is fairly easy for me to concentrate on what I'll lose in a given interaction, or behavior change, and not what I could gain.  Conversely, there are times when I'll focus almost solely on what I could gain and not on what I will lose, or how much I value that.  Just thinking about either side can amplify it cognitively, making it difficult to actually decide something--which has costs too!  So easy to get overwhelmed in the heat of decision, especially when we add in trying to forecast what others expect from us, or what we should do, and not strict material costs and benefits.

I'm sure you know someone who can't throw out a thing.  There's even a show about those folks, called Horders.  They never want to get rid of anything because they'd lose it, and can only see that.

I'm as sure that you know someone who has lost money on the stock market thinking that the value of a stock is much higher than current price, so buys in.  In fact the stock market goes through it's own iterations on this theme. Warren Buffett was the classic "value" investor, finding under-priced companies and investing, even when other investors would trade based on price changes alone, and not value (EPS, et al).  Who is right?  Well, people have made money both ways--the question is more about what you value most, long or short term gain.  If you value short term gain, you'll have to risk more because you want higher fluidity; you want price to go up, fast.  Mostly, when that happens, then, it is easy to over-value the stock, and hold, instead of selling, even though "everyone" knows that you should sell high.  The question remains: what is "high?"  That's why it makes sense to make rules and stick by them.  I will sell x stock when it hits 10 dollars, and then enter in that bet to a system that I cannot change easily.

Etc Etc.

Listen, it is a nice morning.  Healthy, chilly.  The cat's sitting on my gloves on the heater.  The window is open.  I've got an aloe plant.  A decent job.  A relatively good life.  I honestly don't have much to complain about.  I don't need to keep open every opportunity availability for the sake of feeling powerful.  I'm finally making choices that allow me to because more specialized at some level.  I do think that specializing in a handful of skills is vital to moving forward, however much I'm jealous of people that are good at many many things.

It has become easier to believe in the stability of the moment.  That's happened because I think more of consequences to my actions instead of the promise of what might be, what I might lose, mostly.   Go figure.  Anyway, cheers everyone.  Let's take a step forward together.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Believing Something

When we believe something, we are more likely to act in accordance with that belief.  If we believe we're old and slow, or we have more access to some evidence that says that, we'll actually walk slower.  Once we own something, we like it more than before we purchased it.  In short, life is a bunch of self-fulfilling prophecies.  The obvious and immediate question is what happens when you believe you are an alcoholic?  Well, then you perform like one when you drink.  Or you chose not to drink, knowing that you are an alcoholic and should not drink.


What if being an alcoholic was merely the repeated almost religious assumption that you are one?  What if some percentage of addiction isn't physical at all, but only half reasoned conclusions about "what is" and "what isn't" true in "reality" whatever that is?  

I don't know if I buy it, but we should recognize that it plays some role in our own expectations for our own behavior.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Impulse Control

I've previously written that I think going to AA and thinking in terms of rules regarding drinking is a way to break short-term impulse into a longer term framework.  Fortunately or not, we associate short term impulses with freedom and capability, and we want to have the discretion to do as we wish.  Folks who have fallen into a rut concerning chronic alcohol abuse, however, know that freedom is not had by another bottle, regardless of how much you or I might want that to be the case.  Freedom, if it exists, is something that is temporal.  And, I'd say we should try to flip our previous notion of freedom on its head by doing this: catering to short-term impulses locks us down into unforeseen medium and long term consequences that we purposefully neglect in the short term (when we justify acting).

There are undeniably situations that turn us into short term thinkers, that prick the impulse nerve: when we're hungry, tired, or stressed, for instance, or if we just had a fight with a loved one.   There are points of weakness, in a way, if you like that word, and so we come up with navigational rules for those times, and we slow ourselves down, if we can.

Anyway, here's a tip for sobriety, coming from someone who has been sober for over 7 months now: allow yourself some pleasure instead of alcohol.  At many AA meetings there is coffee.  It seems to work for some people.  Chocolate has seemed to work for me, though some exercise works too--mostly walking.  Black tea is nice, especially with some lemon and sugar.  This is great stuff.

 The name of the game, I think, is not to vanquish all longing or anxiety or depressive streaks into a ball of "bad acts" then feel horrible about internal conflict and try to push away all negativity.  Instead, it is to manage stress successfully.  To do so, get something to do every time you get stressed that you don't have to think about.  It can be calling someone.  It might be writing something down furiously, I don't know.  Try to do something, you know.  Trying to do something generally, even if it isn't going to shatter the elites' perception of their world, is a good thing.  For now. For me.  You know, this is like a work in progress.  Success is the ability to continue. 

Feeling Fantastic. A False Premise?

When we're in our element, feeling "charged" or whatever word you want to describe it, what's the source?

What if our positive feelings were fueled by something that caused harm in some way?

Or based on a delusion of some sort?

More to the point: how do we increase happiness and productivity in a way that is long lasting and meaningful?

I'm increasingly of the opinion that it is not a hugely fragile abstruse fairy land that might contains such a state of being, but the place we inhabit when we learn to strip away those distortions in our thinking that keep us repeating needless behavior that has the unique quality of being both valueless subjectively and objectively, and in all time frames short and long.  I'm not sure it means that we have no problems when we're there, or that we do not have responsibility toward things or people.  I know that it isn't a place with no responsibility or a place where we can simply veg out indefinitely.

Once we admit that we like to have interaction with people, and that we can get an emotional charge out of responsibly caring for something, whether it is property or a person or an animal or plant, then we have to ask if those two elements (interaction and responsibility) are in some ways over-represented in our current lives. 

I base this on the idea that what many people talk about re: "getting away from it all" has to do with other people and responsibility.  My question is whether we somehow magnify and distort our interactions with others and our responsibility in order to justify being lazy at times (to seek that fantasy land where, it seems to me, if we were to inhabit, we'd be dead!), or whether perhaps, because much responsibility and interaction doesn't further our own primary needs, we think of it as superfluous, even though at some small amount, it simply is not.

I think the answer comes back to whether we feel valued and appreciated.   In some way, feeling valued helps us to work more and contribute, and feeling undervalued makes us want to show up with the expected amount of [undervalued] intent.  I'm not sure.  If someone feels overvalued, it might be a stress.  It also might prove to keep them from doing something. 

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Social Rules vs. Economic Rules

These two worlds don't always go together says Dan Ariely, author of "Predictably Irrational."  Particularly, the rules of each world make us act in different ways.  When we act in the social world and feel obligated to do something we might do the same thing differently if we were in the economic world.  Consider helping a friend move his stuff from one apartment to the other.  You might do this as a favor--socially--for free, thought it takes some time to do so, but the minute the friend offers you a buck fifty, you don't think, wow that's great because I get benefit of helping my friend (some warm emotional thing) with a buck fifty, no.  Instead the calculation changes into: "I'm worth much more than a buck fifty and this is an insult."  Pretty interesting. 

Ariely also points to an interesting idea to illustrate his points that these worlds are filtered with different rules: imagine offering up your mom or girlfriend or wife money after thanksgiving dinner, or your girlfriend or wife money after sex.  His point is that as soon as money is brought up--even when money is at stake or changing hands--it fundamentally alters the valuation into the economic, and it is very difficult to go back to the purely social.  Companies of course try to get you to think in terms of the social, another example he uses is starbucks, for instance. 

So, to bring this back to the post the other day about pain.  We don't like to value our social stuff in the economic sense, because it makes us feel bad to be valued less than others are, or to be quantified like this in the first place.  After all, the concept of love, which I've been struggling to define, isn't exactly an infinite amount of "love credits"--particularly if we have a limited amount of love credits to give out.  But that's how we think of it in the social realm.  We are "fully" dedicated to the one's we love.  And that's why economic understandings of love always somehow miss that intangible "infinite" more than one can explain mark.  I think. 

Now, that doesn't mean that economic thinking can't be hugely useful or that social valuation isn't useful.  It just means that we act differently depending on which system we're in.  In one of Ariely's studies, he compared how much candy people or cookies people took from a pile of candy or cookies when they were marked "free" vs. when they were charging a very small fee (like 5 cents).  People take something like three more items when they are valued cheaply than when the items are free.  They somehow devalue the social equity aspect of the item once they make the shift into economic thinking.  Ariely's point is that when we know we're in an economic market, we do behave as rational consumers, but that we're not always in that market.  More to come as I keep reading.

What is Life?

Simply this: Navigating through a bunch of pissed off people!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Conceptual Framework for the Worst

We certainly don't want to belong in the worst category, right? I don't want to be the worst. Not much to redeem there. Not like I can try to get better from that point. Nope, the worst seems to be implacable. By definition, as bad as it gets. And yet, although I'm sure that I think of the "worst" category as existent, I'm not sure that it actually does survive my brain and independently establish itself. Sure, many people have a lot more money than me, and that money, yes, does buy a bunch of stuff that does in fact have tangible results about their social worth or relative utility. Yep. I can't fight that. Not all is equal.
So unfair that people would try to judge others as if there was equal footing, right?  But to the degree that I cannot change resource allocation in this world as it stands, is there a sense in fighting for that very change?

Well, welcome to our quick acting mind-worlds! As the video from yesterday made evident, clear cut choices help us act/decide and we like ease of decision, and we like to have categories, however sloppy, because they help us along in making distinctions.   The funny part is that we cannot get away from the valuation of ourselves by other humans.  We just can't do it, no matter how wrong it is.  In wrongful death claims, your spouse (or child, or parent) would get more money if you were a practicing attorney making 150k a year than if you were a starbucks barista making 15 an hour.  Because you're valued by how much money you would have made.  How else would you like to do it?  Don't like it?  I don't either, but I honestly can't see a different organizing principle.  If you do, show me.

Getting past the fact that we all value each other all the time externally and internally would be helpful, and potentially assuaged through . . . what, precisely?  I'm convinced that finding the answer to that question will also help us stay sober in this life, and I mean fully sober, in control and whatnot.  Sure, we'll be excessive at times, but not excessively excessive.  We'll have balance internally.  If we can't control the external world, it could be our only option.  The problem is that, so far, it appears just as difficult to control the internal world.  We aren't simply sponges of information, tabla rasa at birth.  That's upsetting.  But we know how to express our frustration through an incredibly adaptive language system, so there are some advantages as well.  In fact, try to find a stubborn viewpoint and you'll probably find one that holds some advantage for the believer beyond empirical assessment of the world.  Why hold viewpoints that are emotionally comforting?  Because they feel good and are easier and because at some level, they help us survive better.  Not [necessarily] because they are always true in and out of contexts. 

I spent a lot of time in my personal life trying to make sure that the people around me weren't upset, then letting my own anger about the world get the better of me.  I don't think I'll be able to avoid these traps in the future.  We can't avoid all blind spots.  The question, and perhaps I'm hitting my head on the wall to spite myself, is how we react when our reaction takes our foot back into a pile of warm mush.  Do we turn and look down at what we just stepped in?  How to pull away from that instinctual response to find order and patterns in the smallest of actions, or to assume one's importance in a situation.  Is there a way to assume that we're the least important and still to live, to be, to redeem our lives?  Is there a way to relish in being the worst, to be more true because of it?  I dunno!

Approaches for Self-Control (More Long Term/Short)

Dan Ariely:

Monday, January 24, 2011

We know the bad stuff.

Of course we do, because we feel those pangs all the time.  To overeat.  To yell when talking will do.  To beat someone into the elevator (i.e. to get there first, not beat them into submission so they fall into an elevator!), or subway, or bus, when the "threat" is waiting a few minutes to sit in front of our monitors to see what shovel of bits will come at us for the day.  I'm certainly under the impression that it isn't too hard to figure out the behaviors that harm us.  They are patterned in a way.  The trick is to recognize each jolt of excitement that comes right before the behavior, and to sort to of pick up that jolt and examine it with the same instinctual response we get from  watching someone put their hand on a hot stove, or when we see a mother feed her infant soda.

Part of the problem is that some behavior isn't about the professed behavior--perhaps a lot of behavior, okay, fine.  A friend of mine always used to say that politics was about showing group allegiance.  I didn't want to hear it for the longest time because I wanted politics to be about something else, something you know, meaningful and what I deemed relevant. 

In my office there's a dude who is, admittedly, quite intelligent.  His thing is to talk about how smart you are (to your face) and especially about how stupid others are, or might be, or whatever.  And then it becomes a running theme to conversations for a lot of other people who want to, I think, simply get a foothold on why they don't like the "stupid" person's authority or way of communicating.  So, this guy, he's on tremendously safe ground, knowing that there's a fair amount of anxiety about how people feel relative to the "stupid" person.  It treats him well, and he will tell you that his roll is to keep everyone functioning, and that's just that. 

The hard part is to understand both sides of an equation and try to say something when you yourself are not on equal ground with the sayer, and by virtue of saying anything but "she's stupid" can potentially a) displease folks who want group consistency, and b) be labeled stupid.

You'll probably say that this isn't a big deal if you have self-esteem, a healthy understanding of the relative politics of the place, and of hierarchy, and don't take it personally.  And it isn't so much, in the same way that we can talk about environmental problems in a policy arena on one hand, but somehow be personally impacted on the other.  It isn't so clear cut, but when those elevator doors start to shut, i sure do get a jump in my step.  It is particularly when I'm forced to get off my lazy ass and bring in some money when claims about "stupidity" seem so prevalent food like to my hungry glance.  Or booze like to my raging, etc.

Imperfections on a Monday Morning.

Not drinking makes me realize my many imperfections. Like when I'm critical of other people.  Allow me to indulge one criticism for a few moments.

Someone at the office makes bacon in the office microwave every morning.   It just stinks.  Somewhere between the smell of gasoline and sour sausage.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not a vegetarian, though I fully understand the reasons for becoming vegetarian, and I do like bacon generally, you know, like on Sunday mornings near some french toast and/or eggs.  Toast is usually involved.  But my breakfast of choice is really cereal, oatmeal mostly, with some frozen fruit mixed in at the start of the process.  It has a unique attribute in that it doesn't completely stink up the entire office, which I happen to like and notice.  Women are supposed to be more sensitive to smell than men, and if that's true, it means that this bacon really stinks and that foul criminal who spazzes this poor fatty meat to an even deeper sizzling death every morning--every morning mind you, sun or shine or cold with the windows closed--must be conscious of the fact that there is some serious wafting of aroma going on here.  I don't know if she makes it from the fully raw state, or if she just cooks it halfway at home, okay, but it doesn't matter.  There's enough factory farmed cheap fat to mark up the walls in yellow.  Seriously, just make something else for breakfast a few days each week.

And this, folks, is why I'm going to so productive.  Bacon flavored air to breathe, no whiskey in the coffee, and no coffee in fact, as it was spazzing me right into tremendous levels of lethargic stasis.  A weekend is behind us, bookending some piece of freedom now adrift in the ether of the past.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


We've all got it, at least some of it.  And, presuming it is largely the mental kind, I don't think it is crazy to say that the source of the pain was some discrepancy, at a basic level.  What level?

Just this: We value ourselves higher than the world, or other people, value us.

Sugar Addicts

I read somewhere that all alcoholics when dry are sugar addicts.  That's interesting, because  I like to eat some serious quantities of chocolate at times.  It is, along with some form of aerobic exercise, a singular way to reduce stress or pass through increases anxiety level.  It doesn't always work of course, but that there's a certain rush and release associated with deep dark chocolate for me doesn't need to even get to the debatable point. 

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The gift that wasn't.

A soft melody came back into focus after having been blurred out into unrecognizable segments for a few years.  It plays patiently, perhaps in a different key than before.  I don't think there's a harmony, save my croaking leg pushing up and down for some company, but the melody line is sweet and pungent and elegantly simple.  It overtakes me in pieces too, mimicking a religious transformation--each question provides further blossoming worlds that build upon the last.  At first I am alerted to the corner of the room, a distraction, a movement, but nothing more.  After walking there to examine further what I presumed were 80s synthesizer beats rendered symphonically, I realized that my own rendering of scope was drastically in error.  I had been sketching on a pad with a matte brown cover, busy taking down the details as they played out in front of me.  The melody is three dimensional at once though, behind and in front of me in a way that cannot be sketched out, and I'm going to have to abandon the brown pad if I'm to represent this faithfully.

The old man who had deep creases pressed into his face like plaid, the one on the train who was looking your way in that empty half magical stare, he's opened up his jacket and removed a product of some sort.  There are words coming out in chunks, visually spilling yellow submarine style, and they're fluid and sharp, full but not wasted somehow, and you wonder what the meaning of the exchange is before you can ask him.  He's got something there, a gift, a present, and his hand is toying with the box for a minute before removing the tools.  Some sort of instrument is displayed before you, barely supported by arthritically crippled hands.  A noted resides, scotch taped, a thin film of dirt left on the sticky side where he must have touched it first before applying it.  It reads something in a foreign language that you don't at first recognize.  When the words become clear, you can't make sense of the meaning, mostly because you've become startled that you could understand such an odd alphabet.

Sure that there must be meaning to this act, to this label, you stand up suddenly and the train lurches toward a stop.  The doors slide open, well greased to coincide with an electronic bell tone, and the man is prepared to leave at once.  He pushes the instrument at you, and you can tell now that it is a woodwind, a clarinet, inky black and chromed ivory colossus, and ornette coleman abstractions break the already mostly silent melody that had surpassed all of your previous thoughts to resurface for those few moments.

Politely, with ever the delicate beak of a face, a women with a pointy purple hat nudges you on the shoulder.  "Excuse me sir, but I think he meant that for me, if you don't mind."  Not sure of the reason for the intrusion, before cognitively grasping that she is about to take away the most surprising mystery you've had in weeks, you hand it over and thank her kindly for letting you know.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Absolutes are Easy

Thinking in absolute terms is an easy game.  What's hard is fitting every piece of new information into your terms.  Even that isn't terribly complicated when you're convinced that you're right, at least for a time.  Drinking might help the reframing process, certainly did for me a few times.  "New Concepts" seem to appear, though they are more likely a new justification for an old concept or assumption.

I've heard a lot of people profess awe at Socrates' notion of knowing nothing, only to swallow once and speed into an explanation for something.  Nevertheless, I think the point isn't so much to realize that you know nothing as to hold back the surge of reasons that fill the swamp when you're confronted with some new pattern of events.  That part is difficult, because we don't like ambiguity.  If someone appears to be androgynous, for instance, it usually gets a lot of looks and the ultimate question: what are you?  What is it?  The ultimate insult is to be sexless, the ultimate sin to not tell a story about how you appeal to others, by reflection, to yourself. 

I think we're taught to find a definition of new events and then work to fill our assumption of that definition with reasons.  We like reasons.  We even like it when they're obvious.  "Lots of snow.  Big storm.  Traffic.  Accident."

We dislike not figuring out where people are coming from  when they act/communicate something.  We dislike not being able to communicate with them at a basic level.  We want to know right away and act, and that makes the most sense it could make.  What is more difficult, as perhaps we've all know, is to have two friends who don't get along.  They each have valid reasons (always based on a harm the other performed), and they each have a view of the other that holds some truth.  And there we are in the middle, with access to both streams of information.  What do we do in that situation?  It is harder, though not impossible, to diplomatically insert alternative reasons that might pry back the lid of conclusions.  Friends often find solace with each other, agreement.  Even as they profess principles of "telling it like it is" and valuing others because of their honesty.  The test is what happens when they cross you, or you disagree with them.

I'm convinced that we almost cannot arbitrate the matter at hand immediately.  It takes time.  For their to be time, there must be ambiguity. Personally, it usually takes me a day or two to start to see someone's point of view.

Lots of laws talk about reasonable people disagreeing.  When reasonable people could execute some principle differently, then it might be a matter for a court to handle.  Thing is, I'm not sure judges are less prone to any of the above.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Thoughts in the Head vs. Thoughts on the Paper

They're different, for one thing.  Thoughts on paper, no matter how eloquent or sophisticated, have to sort of be put down one at a time to maintain some basic transmittable quality (so others can read them and understand and at least agree on what they say even if not what they mean).

Thoughts in the head lunge and rush and stagger and fall, get bloated and then, they get the shits.  They can do that on the page too, sure, but it is different when you write them down, harder in some ways because they might not seem as big as they were when they pinged around the aluminum tennis court inside of your skull.  It is harder to communicate the lunge rush stagger quality that you feel when you think thoughts once you write them down.  A basic forumla has somehow changed even though we'll allow ourselves to feel that we can work through fairly major problems solely internally.  At some core level, the reason I'm writing this is to work through some of the pinginess that echoes in my shadow  on a daily basis.  I'd like to, you know, understand the parts of the court that give a little, where I should aim and how high, too, all that grandoise shit.  Because let's face it, no matter how much we want to, life is the challenge to improve.  That's all it is.  And I'm not talking about it from a societal level, like generational improvement, and I'm not condensing it down into goal attainment.

Regardless of what we do, we want to improve.  It is the unique overriding value that permeates everything, bar none.  When I speak of living a value-laden life, a rich life, one that is committed to something, it isn't to isolate existence into platonic ideals; it is instead to somehow get at our very specific fragility, our unique situation.  Getting what we want is fine, but it is total end-game.  Winning doesn't matter if our adversary was easy or we didn't earn it.  And I'd go so far as to say that winning doesn't matter at all, when it comes right down to it.

Drying Up

Slim-jim meat is stretched thin over my frame.  As it dries it cracks, and as it cracks it peels, having been left out entirely too long in the parchment of sunlight that glares back at me from the soldering iron. 
My quick handiwork came into the competition late, though they allowed it, and only now do I recognize how rushed, how truly antiseptic it was, not just in intent or origin, but execution and balance.  It will never be a contender that way, I'm afraid.

A nasty turn of events. I've become sick from too much medication.  My throat has constricted down into a straw hole of sandpaper and the once exciting possibility that loomed at the beginning of the day has tilted into a netherworld of unease and extremity.  Been telling myself for years, my voice frozen days before being ripe for transit, for the sake of purchase.  There are car lights in the distance approaching.  I can feel them cool on my face.  Quick.  Turn, before they overtake us.  stay off the main road.  Hide goddamnit, you don't know who they are.

Tip For Sobriety -- Go Slow

The mantra goes like this: one day at a time.  It makes sense because it cuts off bigger more ultimate-failure type conclusions about oneself that might creep up otherwise.  Like, for instance, the I'm a total drunk piece of shit, and that's all I'll ever be.  Easy conclusion: have a drink!

Harder solution: go slow every day and don't conclude anything ominous about your life.  That's hard because we constantly tell stories about our world to make sense of it, and that means stories about ourselves. 

Part of the harder solution: give yourself space for tasks that might not get accomplished easily or overnight.  If we mostly set our own expectations then we mostly get to tell ourselves the story of whether we meet those expectations or not.    That means: engage with those things you're working on (work on them!), but don't try to finish them today, right now.  Just try to work on them.

If you can hold onto the thought, it short circuits some of the hardwiring to find long term stability.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Romance and Domestic Violence

Is it always true that partners who hit are the most sensitive romantic ones?  Like they're the most gentle creatives, highly endearing and somehow emotionally "there" so long as you don't cross them.  Then a splinter wedges itself under a finger nail and they're blowing the freakin' roof off the hinges with their pompous violence.  So much rage and energy for what?  \
To show someone some point, some lesson.  Yeah, I've got the cheat sheet for that test. 

Authors Speaking in NYC -- Le Poisson Rouge

That's tonight, now.  Here's the link.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Being Afraid, A Lot

We're preoccupied with how others think of us.  I read some Irving Goffman and enough sociology to link impression management, particularly the concept of the "generalized other" (Mead) to understand that we almost always operate with the notion of audience. 

That makes sense, since we are often in groups and have been throughout history, and because of high intricate inter-subjective understandings, like language, that must be met. 

Fear, in this context, doesn't just operate to warn us of potential [life-threatening] danger, but also of potential social gaffe.  We've developed, for better or worse, social norms that keep us feeling embarrassment then shame to signify that we've done something wrong.  We don't generally want to harm other people, both because we want them to think of us kindly, and also because we don't want them to harm us, given reversed conditions.

At times, though, I think our normal sensory signal of embarassment or shame can become disproportionate and overwhelming, so that we, as individuals, imbue a sheen of negativity over all of our actions that keeps them under a certain rubric or narrative, that, in short, keeps us on the losing end of our own [self-]perceptions.    I think that there are a large barrage of reasons why these feelings may manifest that range in intensity which may or may not proportionately correlate to shame. 
The funny thing is that it is hard to quantitatively judge embarrassment or shame absent talking to lots and lots of people to get an idea of what they think about the situation. 

The take-home point here is that it is hard to talk about this stuff precisely because we want to avoid it--why reveal potentially embarrassing information about our actions to others?  Only if they might affirm our behavior, or if we really trust that they have a higher opinion of our cumulative previous actions and personality that supersedes what we're going to tell them.  And that's a tough one to get through right there.  It is a large immediate hurtle.  Easier to doubt oneself over time and find solace in the isolation of the world, in oppression, and get righteous about all of the wrongs. 

I noticed that a friendly large German shepherd we often see (named "Hera") always barks at us like mad at first. Her long ears bend back and her tail sinks beneath her legs, and she makes a terrifying noise. I get scared, then I try to reach out and pet her against my instinct.  It was hard to do that the first time. 

How to Redeem Life?

Well, I suppose God is the long term value, if you're going to try to orient your life to long term values.  So getting sober and/or translating the 12 steps into long term values doesn't completely suffice if you keep asking, "so what then?"  Getting sober may be enough if you keep getting so damn drunk that you're ruining your life, no doubt.  I don't doubt it, that is, because I can remember vividly drinking 13-15 drinks worth of whiskey and (and I'll resist the urge to tell you the name of the whiskey I used to love and devour so much) and climbing to the roof of my old apartment building in Brooklyn one September (of 2008 I believe) to be one with the wind and air and view that was downright spiritual. I lit my cigarette and sat down hard on the silver roof just as the sun was coming up.  I had finally "arrived" at a perfectly reckless drunk, and I was "in it" for a little while.  There are two things I'll remember from that morning.  The first was that exact moment of perfection; the second, related, was when I looked up over Prospect Park, I could see the lights memorializing the twin towers shooting up into what was left of the night.  I gawked at them until I couldn't stand any longer, and then almost locked myself out to be stranded on the roof. I was 20 seconds from climbing down the fire escape with the "what's wrong with this?" kind of attitude that I'd hoped could get me down safely, when I realized I would have to lower the final ladder to street level, and I grasped at the knob-less door's crack even more until prying it open.

So, I'm serious, and a bit naive.  Tell me: how do we redeem life? 

Monday, January 17, 2011

Not Drinking Entering Serious No Turning Back Time

Of course that's a joke, because there's always turning back.  It maintains itself as a possibility.  I can imagine the drinking friends of someone who has periods of not drinking, and then periods of drinking, wondering where there friend is at times.  Not understanding that they've desperately been trying to do something hard and new.  Shit, I'm not even sure what the eventual goal of this is.  You know?  Maybe just to die of natural causes.  To live a humdrum life with decent people around and then one day die of natural causes at an old age.  See how easy it is to equate drinking with excitement?

Constant running dilemma: whether life is better or not in different locations?  Perhaps there are too many subjective elements to be weighed against each other, not sure.

Emerging dilemma: whether to try to start a family.

Localized non-dilemma status: will I ever have enough damn patience and simple determination to do my own writing (and not bloggin) when I sit down to write?

Also localized issue: Cat likes to pee on bed.  Immediate thought: Get rid of cat.  Secondary thought: starve cat.  Tertiary thought: make sure all of cat's litter is totally clean.

How to maintain productive levels of work that come when time is tight when time is not tight?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

You've Gotta Make Mistakes to Learn

Without mistakes we won't learn and we won't grow.  There's no such thing as doing things perfectly the first try out, no matter who you are.  I should listen to myself.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Okay, The Sleeping Beauty Problem

Here's the problem.  Just read it for a minute and don't try to think about it until you get to the end:

We plan to put Beauty to sleep by chemical means, and then we’ll flip a fair coin. If the coin lands Heads, we will awaken Beauty on Monday afternoon and interview her. If it lands Tails, we will awaken her Monday afternoon, interview her, put her back to sleep, and then awaken her again on Tuesday afternoon and interview her again. The (each?) interview is to consist of the one question : what is your credence now for the proposition that our coin landed Heads? When awakened (and during the interview) Beauty will not be able to tell which day it is, nor will she remember whether she has been awakened before. She knows about the above details of our experiment. What credence should she state in answer to our question?

Okay, so if you have to choose the probability of the coin landing heads, what is it?  Well, it is one out of two, right?

Then, for whatever reasons, we start to think about the weird false bottom that we were once already asked the question, at least, there's a chance that we were once already asked the question.  So, there's a chance that this is the second time, i.e. that it is now tuesday and we're getting asked the question.  Seen in this light, the probability that heads comes up is based on tails having come up the prior day, which changes the chance that it will come up today, ad infinitum.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Bastard Anxiety

Look, just when I'm on the cusp of, you know, something sort of even, some sort of nice homeostasis, I've gotta be rooted out from below, water rising to push me from the window.  Last two afternoons were pure hell.  Maybe it is because I share an extremely small (I'm talking 10 feet by 7 feet) office with someone else--anyone else.  Even though he's a genuinely good guy and I've made progress on not judging him lately.  And I even intuit that he doesn't hold past judgments against me, something that's clear and away amazing to me.   And maybe it is because I'm playing an avoidance game.  I have too much to do at work, and not enough that's interesting.  Updating one of the files that needs updating is needlessly arbitrary because we don't have a unified database.  Instead there are, get this, five.  Five places to update one (the same) thing.   Shit, I just remembered that I didn't remember one of the places.

The old man downstairs just chuckled a good chuckle.  The cat peed on the bed today.  Hard core.  Lots of pee.  I'm talking was there a small child in here pissing kind of pee.  I looked up at the ceiling expecting a leak.  Nope, had to be the cat.  Late night run to the laundry mat.  Fun.  And then we're leaving for the weekend on a morning flight.  Fiance sleeps over there peacefully--thankfully--next to said cat, who seems to have extinguished all of her urge to pee for now.  I"m pretty sure she was pissed at me for not feeding her earlier and that's why she did it--not that it matters greatly.

I don't know what it was, but my mind was supercharged, racing around into all of the corners of procrastination.  I started the day just fine.  Maybe I was hungry, maybe that was it.  I've been carefully manufacturing an undercurrent of reform for so long. What happens when I can't hold on to any comforts?  When nothing is there?  Is there something true and honest and raw about experience in this state of misdirection, of strong ambivalence?  If most of the things I know were spuriously rooted in bias of some sort, egotism, desire to be something I'm not, false narrative, what is there, what is at base, you know, out there?  Another internet page for the gutter, another split screen for my youth.

Pre-Work Post

I should be working on something else.  The ineluctable screen has snatched my attention away again, with easy access to information, quick changing graphics, and status updates!  Just relative status mind you, as I quit facebook (with associated costs and benefits), as in recent pay stub (up mildly after mild raise), gmail (my mom worrying about pre-marinating my chicken--we're going to see her this weekend, and she wants to prepare everything in advance so it goes smoothly, and she wants to do so eagerly!; associated spam about stock picks, and a comment about a book that's available (damnit, I haven't even finished the other one yet!)).  We eat with our eyes, short term and hungry, and we want to find consonance in those short term decisions, defend ourselves, so that we were right when we acted, period.  If there's a gap between what we implicitly settle on and the story/evidence we're confronted with, it isn't fun to deal with. We might seek points further back in time to find our consonance (sure, I said a hurtful statement to you, but before that, you were late and you know that I don't like it when people are late) or what have you.  As hard as it is to take responsibility and admit a mistake and not seek to find a way out of it, it helps alleviate pressure now. For instance: I fucked up and drank a lot of my 20s away.  Whoops.  But it doesn't mean that my life must now be controlled by booze, or that I'm decidedly one dimensional, either.  It also doesn't mean that I don't have to work at some things now.  And that sucks.  I don't like really hard work, even though I like the reward that it provides.  And I like hard work enough, in particular and specific moments, that I've convinced myself in the past that I'm a hard worker.  So it is hard when something about the world tells me that I'm not a hard worker.

But I'm not a terribly hard worker, particularly when I'm bored with something.  And I don't really think that we can be more than 6-hours-per-day productive, either.  We're distracted, and social, and it takes time to actually understand something to get going on it, and then, there are power plays to be had.  A lot of wasted time.  But wasted time is relative.   

I'm also not a terribly hard worker when something doesn't make sense to me.  The most skillful people that I've met, perhaps the smartest, say things the simplest.  They help me understand something very difficult step by step, and when I've gained an understanding, that new piece of evidence is no longer threatening--i.e. I no longer have to exert energy avoiding thinking about it, and how it doesn't jive with the other stories I told myself. 

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Late Day Malaise

There's a draft in here that almost penetrates the thick carbon dioxide filled air.  Excuse me while I open the window to increase the likelihood of success.  Thanks. A screw fell out of my chair and it creaked after I relieved it of supporting me. A giant post-it pad sits on the floor that says "super sticky" in purple and yellow.  I wait for internet screens to load.  One of them tells me of the evils of sitting in front of monitors and I agree eagerly, pressing buttons to tell others of my discovery, hopeful that this will provide some distance, some breathing room.  I wait for an office-mate to return with a brownie.  I can taste it already, and feel gluttonous dichotomy that is my fat ass.

There are interns in here too.  Lots of them.  They work for free, for the sake of displaying some accreditation to the outer world maybe.  For the candy, perhaps, or the mints, I'm not sure.  Some of them look at me with searching eyes, as if I will explain the process, the end goal, the output.  I don't want to startle them with some more urgent questions, though a few nods have passed, and a word was murmured back there, in the haze.  It is hard to remember it all, iron out the tendrils.  The press manager here left the other day.  For good.  And then a brand new press manager arrived this week and all of the built up intimacy with the old press manager has ceased to exist. When I enter the office and display similar behavior to comport with patterns long past it falls flat.  Gossip sharply divides those who think they are smarter than the others, and those who think they have less to prove.  Every few weeks, there are free bagels.  Just now, I received an email from my boss telling me about newsletters to release, production schedules, strategic planning, for growth, for the sake of it. 

I've filtered her mail into a special folder, and try to leave her attitude at work when I leave, too.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Easy Assumption: Nothing to Learn from Younger People

"Because I wish I knew what I know now when I was X years old, and I was a bit of a fool at X years old, the person who is speaking to me and is X years old doesn't have anything to say that I could learn from."

Definitely Wrong.  It is precisely the people that I don't understand that I have the most to learn from, even if I don't like their politics.  

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Why AA Works. The 12 Steps Translated.

Lately I've been obsessed by the difference between short and long term thinking. Heavy drinkers need to get control of their short term behavior. It is very very simple.  The admission--the 12 step program--is a program to gain long term values and goals and make short term thinking and acting concur while pushing away tempting flairs of pleasure.  It is at base a psychological self-control system.  That much is clear.  Why does it work?  The architecture behind the system is impulse control, and the re-training of psychological orientation (away from acting on impulse).

Look, here are the 12 steps translated:

  • Step 1 - We admitted we were powerless over our addiction - that our lives had become unmanageable 
Step 1 Translated: We cannot control our short term pleasure seeking mind, even to the point of  consequent self-destruction later.
  • Step 2 - Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
Step 2 Translated: Come to believe in long term goals of self-preservation through the realization of abstract goodness and long term sustainability.
  • Step 3 - Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God
Step 3 Translated:  Make a decision to concentrate only on long term goals.
  • Step 4 - Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves
Step 4 Translated: Understand that we are weak and fallible short term pleasure seekers with little control over our actions when not given firm consequences.
  • Step 5 - Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs
Step 5 Translated: Admit that we have previously not held ourselves to longer term values, like family, respect, consistency, clear communication, and survival based priorities, like responsible financial practices.
  • Step 6 - Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character
Step 6 Translated: That we can forget about the short term pleasure and, in place of it, dynamically concentrate on our long term goals to remember their importance over and above other pleasure.
  • Step 7 - Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings
Step 7 Translated: Try harder to get rid of motivations for short term pleasure gain than we originally told ourselves to try, because short term pleasures can be really really exciting and make you feel alive -- i.e. they can masquerade as longer term priorities.
  • Step 8 - Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all
Step 8 Translated: Figure out who we harmed and take responsibility for our previous selfishness.
  • Step 9 - Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others
Step 9 Translated:  Go tell those people how our short term interests became paramount to our survival, and that we screwed up and feel bad about it, and want to apologize to take responsibility, further solidifying long term goals.
  • Step 10 - Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it
Step 10 Translated: Make sure that short term responses don't come back to dominate our communication and interaction with others--be open to their perspectives.  Be able to learn by admitting imperfection.
  • Step 11 - Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God's will for us and the power to carry that out
Step 11 Translated: Keep on thinking about long term sustainability and goals.  Live a value-laden life, not a pleasure-seeking one.
  • Step 12 - Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other addicts, and to practice these principles in all our affairs
Step 12 Translated: Try to help others see how their short term pleasure fucks up their long term happiness.

Psychoanalysis vs. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Short/Long Term

Drinking too much is probably never "really" about drinking too much, not when you do it over and over.  Perhaps it is genetic, or folks that drink too much have other issues that they'd rather avoid through drinking.  At times it is tempting, particularly because we want to see patterns and reasons for everything, to understand drinking through extremely binary ideals, like good and evil, though the reality is probably much more incremental than dualistic; I'm not sure.  While I think that understanding your own personal history, factually, emotionally and intellectually, is vitally important to go forward (we can't figure out what to do prescriptively without first understanding it descriptively), it is also tempting to think that figuring out key markers that spurred on unhealthy addictions/compulsions is the same as figuring out how to deal with them in the future.  

There are sources of pain in everyone's past.  "Getting them"--having them revealed to you, understanding how they play a role in your current mentality, figuring them out through deductive work, is decidedly long term thinking.  These events happened, often, some time ago, whereas, our shame, guilt, anxiety, or depression, is short term or immediate, though we may think of it as long term and inescapable--there's no escaping the fact that short term alleviation helps someone understand that their affliction, whatever it is, might not persist forever more, and that's a step in the right direction, and often times, away from the bottle (or candy, or phone, or etc).

So anyway, psychoanalysis tends to focus on the long term historical events that help someone understand who they are now, and cognitive behavioral therapy (and this is almost utter reductionism) tries to transform the way we think in the future short term situations that typically trigger emotions that result in self-destructive behavior.  CBT often induces some of the same changes seen from taking psychoactive substances (anti-depressants, e.g.).  It focuses down on the core beliefs we feel about ourselves, and their inaccuracy, partially by bringing the ridiculousness of those beliefs to the surface.  One belief, for instance, is perfectionism.  For someone thinking perfectionistically (made up word), there is only complete success or complete failure.  It seems easy to write out and point to, and much harder to stop your brain from thinking when you attempt a task, particularly for an important audience that my have some say in your overall direction.  But it is true that there's probably less at stake than you or I think (if we're thinking this way).  Perfectionistic thinking also gets in the way of learning, or progress.  Etc.  Anyway, have a good day.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Death and Anxiety

We're going to die.  It is inescapable.  To know this causes great anxiety.  The only way I can see to dull the anxiety about this fact is to conceptually alter death from "death" as we know it to "death in the future that I do not know yet."  After all, there's some ambivalence about what is going to happen in the future, and we face all sorts of potential threats in the distant future that we're more or less okay with.

Some people have misplaced thinking regarding death. They avoid activities they strongly associate with death but that aren't as strongly associated statistically (i.e. in reality).  We're much more likely to die from suicide than from homicide, in an automobile than an airplane, or from a fall than from a terrorist attack.  In short, we're more scared of the intensity of a death-causing act than we are of a blander quieter more frequent death causer.  Over-eating and smoking will kill more people than almost every other factor out there. 

But back to the point at hand.  How do you calm down a very intelligent person who has become, in essence, preoccupied with death?  A person who very clearly understands that we're fooling ourselves when we talk about anything other than death's eventuality.  A person who knows that death happens in the short and long-term, not just the long term, and wants to deal with that fact now.  How do you deal with death, once you've accepted that it will happen?

Most of our lives are predicated on avoiding the concept of death in the first place, on account of getting us to stay alive and feel important enough to survive in the first place.  What's redeeming in this life?  If it exists, it exists now, not later, even if ephemeral.  I don't need to name it, because I don't know what it is.  I don't even know whether I'd rather go watch a movie instead of think about this right now.

Pattern Recognition and Language

We seek patterns, make distinctions, distinguish between those people we like and others not so much, and we do it all with a rabidness that would make Mr. Hyde howl at the moon for a scotch.  Because of pattern recognition we have big brains.  Because of pattern recognition, we stay alive, can navigate waterways, can create narratives, have fights, talk, and do it all again, and a lot.  We look out into what there is, and we lay claim to it by sorting, documenting, naming, and sharing the names we've come up with into a common system that we can all rely on.  We have tremendous capacity in this sense, so it makes sense that, once a pattern has become apparent in our mind, we likewise stick to it, mostly because we believe, as has probably been evidenced, that it provides predictive capacity.  In other words, that we can rely on it to guide us out of difficulty in the future.  After all, we expect others to go out and do the same, strengthening our ability to rely on their actions, and making our lives more efficient.  Drive on the right side of the road.  Coordinate with others.   Be nice. 

It makes sense, then, that when we face real conflict, it is because someone else has found a pattern that they can rely on that also, simultaneously, intersects or contradicts a pattern we've found.  Happens all the time. 

At the same time, we want to be lazy. Our laziness makes a lot of sense.  Given an appropriate amount of energy storage (food) and other basic necessities, we shouldn't go out into the world and cause unnecessary accidents, or risk them, just for the sake of it.  We should have a purpose when we choose to act. 

Oddly enough, though, to get really good at pattern recognition, we need to be able to practice safely, without the cold hand of death or injury or other sundry misfortune sweeping down to take us away.  

So maybe there's a balance in there somewhere, I'm not sure yet.  Historically, the most able pattern recognizers could then also be the laziest people, which strikes me as odd.  That's probably because I think we should work for what we have, because I buy into a just world theory.  I probably buy into a just world theory in turn because a norm of fairness keeps coordination between us as a group higher, increasing efficiency, so I don't like anyone that would profit at the expense of the group even though my ability to profit at the expense of the group, if I can control it, yields some incremental degree of power to me, extending my resources.  It is a tricky thing that I'm going to have to think about more than I can right now.

"Implementation Intentions"

A very basic idea, implementation intentions are the processes by which you or I will go about attaining our goal/s, or a way that we'll respond when a certain condition happens.  Just spelling out your intentions helps to make them more concrete and increases ease of attainment.  Instead of drinking when invited to a bar, for instance, you might make a decision to always redirect the invite to a restaurant, or some other venue where there are other options besides alcohol.  This helps us to stay on track when immediately available by unhealthy options exist, like fast food as well.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Long Term Goals

Happen in the short term.  That's something I wasn't ready to acknowledge, and drinking kept the edge off of the possible realization.  Every day I spend thinking about an idealized goal out there that will happen, at some indeterminate place, when the timing is right, is another day spent not taking concrete steps to attain that goal, whatever it is.   That said, getting what I think I want means short term discomfort.  At least to some extent.   

It is likewise very easy to commit to long term goals (check out the link) and to agree about values in the long term, and different when we are stressed, anxious, tired, or, generally, right now, when decisions must be made, and also, when the longing to have a drink comes out of hiding.  After all, we never drink in the long term, but most of the truly bad consequences of drinking are in the long term.  Stated another way, the harm of incremental steps comes to play a strong role in developing one's alcoholism, and benchmarking one's drinking against others (particularly in my social group) is likely to be based on what you or I want to be true, and not what is in fact true. And what do we want, generally: the most available short term pleasure we can easily get our hands on. 

Friday, January 7, 2011

Arbitrary Coherence

We use past decisions (mostly of what we paid) to shape current ones.  That is, the initial possession of a pair of Sony headphones we got as a gift may lead us to select Sony as a brand choice in the future merely because of the headphones. More here.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Status Quo Bias

When we try to stop drinking, we're doing much more than trying to abstain from a bad habit. Status quo bias refers to exactly what it sounds like, our tendency to stick to what we've got, and importantly, to value it, whatever it is, more than what we don't have, simply because we don't have that stuff.  A cup costs five dollars.  I buy the cup.  You come around, offer me five dollars for the cup.  I'm unwilling to sell it for under seven, let's say.  Why?  (Sans transactions costs)-- Status quo bias.  Which is almost a tautology of sorts, which is likewise okay.

The take home point: we might be unwilling to trade something for something of higher value than we already have because the calculation of what we have is skewed.  So, paradoxically, because we value what we have more than objectively identical stuff, we might not always trade up to better stuff because of our inherent bias.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

I used to walk into a bar and I'd feel the grime crunch in under my feet like the charcoal they used to throw on sidewalks over snow when I was a kid.  I could smell the cold air then, and feel the sleigh behind me rattling around.  Still, no matter how dirty the floor, the stools were always the kind of clean smooth that only comes through heavy usage, place holders for our asses that they are.  Sedentary patterns of flirtation mark their place, keep time with the music, the same smooth sailing of the slope in the middle of a storm, worn down enough to get up enough speed, fluffy enough to crash,--when you get a chance to let free of everything for a few seconds.  All of the caution piled up and folding back on itself can go fuck off, and I'll scamper back up the hill to do it again, thank you very much.

Yep, that's where I'd go.  Before I got all sober.  Shit, like I'm a kid again, too.  Funny, that line.  How you can't repeat things, about how of course you can, about how Dylan ripped it out of an under-read Japanese author writing about a gangster.

Tell me you can't feel the cold water pipe sweat under your grip as you reach out for some structure, for a modicum of stability in a blissfully swaying bathroom.  Tell me you can't see the marker scrawled there in the moderately serious tones of stoned sober patrons, having sat away long afternoons into a good case of hemorrhoids and facial hair.  Tell me that you'll be able to live without the friendly embrace of that shockingly bitter IPA that makes you sit up and just beg like a damn dog.  Tell me that you'll commit yourself to something a little more long term, to finding the bliss of the moment without the need for the next minute's bliss.  Tell me that we'll find something out there together, one day, and that it will be perfectly selfless when we find it, being so naively self-centered, we can't find it now or we'd be spoiled forever.  Tell me about late nights and early mornings breaking over shoulders cold and welcome, waves of experience, and about the discipline of waking up, turning around to face them sleep in our eyes, about knowing what you stand for without getting approval for it first, and please, just between us, it's okay, give me the courage not to complain about co-workers to other co-workers.

Drinking and Self-Justification.

So, okay, given the problem I wrote about in my last post, we can start to see drinking (in an abusive way) in a new light: namely, that we work really hard to justify our actions and keep them in balance with our self-evaluation/self-understanding.  If you feel good about yourself, you justify your actions accordingly.  If you feel bad about yourself, you likewise justify your actions.  Because self-justification is so deep seeded, because it is needed for survival and one of the psychological adaptations that keeps us moving quickly through a dangerous world, it is extremely difficult to push back against the immediate calculations that keep us balanced with the narratives of ourselves that we call memories.   We have to break those narratives and break some modes of self-justification, to stop drinking (we being problem drinkers to some extent).

For example, you've probably all had a disagreement with someone when you show them evidence that flatly contradicts a main justification for their conclusions, right?  Then what happens?  Often times, they shift their concern, or conclusions, into a new sphere, and say that you haven't dealt with that new concern!  And then again! And again!  On a whole, confirmation bias and just world theory play a much larger role in our personal psychology than we want to admit, and here's something to reckon with as well: we are much much less important to the world than we are to ourselves, but because we need to maintain a psychological position of primary importance for survival, we have adapted it over many generations.  There's that famous graduation speech by David Foster Wallace where he hits on just this fact. 

Choosing not to drink for me is also a question of how to live, it is normative and prescriptive, and  drinking has functioned as one way to highly inflate my (and our) already highly attuned mechanisms for self-justification in a quest for consonance.  Knowing that the world isn't consonant, and doesn't have to make sense, actually frees me up to function a little bit better, because I recognize that not all events are endogenously sparked.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Problem

We have a tremendous capacity to act quickly in response to changing conditions.  It literally keeps us alive.  However.  That ability simultaneously disallows longer term balancing/processing from taking place that might serve to re-evaluate our quick actions as qualitatively different, even when we have more information available to do so.  We generally justify fast acting behavior rather than looking critically at it because we seek continuity.  This justification process happens in small units, but the fundamental principle is that we avoid dissonance in thinking about our own actions, even to our own detriment, and when our world might seem a bit richer. Authors Tavris and Aronson talk about just this phenom in their book "Mistakes Were Made (But not by me)"--have a look.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Learning Something New -- like Sobriety

We adults don't like to admit we're not aware of something, or incapable of performing some task, but that doesn't mean we still can't learn how to do it.  My thinking has suffered from just this kind of defect: I'm basically "who I am" already, and that is a set list of capacities that doesn't change much.   I'm not trying to say that we're not more skilled or less skilled at certain things.  To some extent, however, the attitude that we can't change keeps us from changing, or learning.  It also keeps us from thinking that learning takes time and serious effort.  If I can't "do" something right away, then I won't be able to do it, for instance.  That's just not true.  It may take a few years to learn a language, for instance.  There's progress along the way though--and sure, I can feel bad about my language acquisition skills if I think about all of the ways I don't understand it.  I can also feel good about what I've done.  Seems obvious when I write it out like this that over emphasizing the good or the bad makes it less likely that I'll simply keep on trying to learn.  And isn't AA all about learning to become sober?  That is, the ability to keep on trying without coming to a conclusion about the result of those efforts right away?  I.e. learning to live like a kid again.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Is it all going to be okay?> EDIT

See my recent post first. If  the answer is truly no, then you do not have to live anymore, because you will no longer be living.  The caveat is of course that the types of threats that will end your life are probably not the things that are making you anxious enough to ask the question above, though they may masquerade as such. 

As much as I want to have a vision of myself as a healthy 85 year old who looks back at life with satisfaction, I know that my current levels of satisfaction 50 years prior do not manifest themselves toward the sated ended of the spectrum.  If, then, I'm honest with myself, I will assert and believe that 50 years will add approximately the same proportions of happiness/other emotions as I've dealt with so far, and so shouldn't think about my long term satisfaction as a proxy for dealing with the short term reality, or, importantly, to justify previous actions and shirk responsibility--i.e. to look at my actions as they were and not as I hope them to have been.  By extension, to the degree that previous actions (and reactions therefrom) helped shape current belief systems, I cannot take my beliefs about how to act/be/react as facially accurate, though I recognize that one must do so to react to quickly changing environments.  My fear is that I can much more easily conjure a quickly changing environment than to ask if I've made an error or whether one belief is inaccurate. 

And I'm not talking about structurally wrong, or other conceptually huge problems. I want to disabuse myself of such abstruse mindsets that seek horizon based focal points to determine what will happen/what I will seek/decide/how I will act. 

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Is it all going to be okay/Was it all okay?

If the answer is no, you still have to live. 

Watching other people drink.

I haven't had a drink in so long that I forgot that other people get drunk as the night progresses and even have to wonder what the fuck was going on with the outburst of closely held emotion at certain moments (always vague and agreeable though they are) conveyed to me spontaneously. The older I get the easier it is to see the world outside of my own ego.  So long as there could  be value added to my existence from knowing someone, it is worth it.  Avoiding them because they might think that George Bush or Barack Obama was/is the best President seems pointless and highly arbitrary.  I'll admit that my ego is stoked when competition for information arises, or when there's a pressing ambiguity (maybe these are one and the same), and particularly when there's an audience present.  In fact, as I realized last night (we had a few people over), audience changes dynamics dramatically, and not just in a way that makes the host stay busy with dishes and food.  To wit, the presence of an audience changes how two people will interact with one another.  It keeps intimate conversation at bay, I think.  And I mean intimate in tone, not substance.  But I don't mean artifical intimate.  "I'd like tea" could be said in an intimate (and friendly) tone, whereas "I totally agree with you about your stance" (whatever the stance) could be said in a way that is artificially intimate.  My point is only that audience slows people up, it chokes back what could be normal discourse otherwise, and it does that over and above actual explicit disruption (though there was plenty of that too).

Having written this, it occurs to me that it might seem like the product of someone whose ego still reigns supreme, i.e. someone who is driven by visible conformity, but I'll just have to assure you it isn't true for the time being.  So to be more specific I'll say that some people simply want more attention than others, and will go out and say shit louder and more forcefully to command it.  And that pisses me off a little bit.  There's nothing I could do about it, short of apologizing for one guest to the guest I'm trying to have a conversation with, and as I write this, I realize that I haven't been righteously pissed on if a while (it generally isn't really worth it).

And here's the lack of ego. I'm not pissed off when I recognize that someone needs to have the spotlight of an audience to feel happy.  Generally I may even oblige.  Instead, I know that s/he has to face harder truths than I could provide with my attendance.  I'm willing to fight not when I'm pissed but when I recognize that such a person could be much happier with themselves if they could someone drop this tick.  Overall, though, it isn't really my place to go around trying to make everyone I think can be happier, actually happier.  I know there's a lot I don't know, and that the unknowns may weigh heavily on the observed trait and the trait's intransigence.

Look, we all have a lot of principles to stand up for and ideals to get pissed about.  And we have a lot of potential to actualize and dreams to live.  Life's about trade offs and possibilities, though, and hopes and dreams can, unfortunately, actually grow up to keep us closed off from one another.