Thursday, March 31, 2011

Being what we are. Genetics and Buddhism?

Because if we are what we are, and we can't change it that much--if, that is, we're basically who we are, composed of the same basic personality traits throughout our lives--and sure, let's say these personality traits are the branches to our tree of personality, and the leaves come and go and change different colors based on how much water or sugar or food or sunlight we receive--then we can really step back and relax, unless, of course, it isn't in our nature to relax.  Then we'll ceaselessly try to change ourselves anyway.  I mean, the self-help industry is serious business--a quickie google search says 2.8-6 billion is spent on self-help each year--and the idea behind self-help is that we can, of course, change the way our branches grow.  But maybe we can't really change them that much, or, in other words, the direction or amount of growth is basically set and not determined by our effort that much.

I'm sitting in a city and looking at people that I'm sure would disagree.  There's a lot of push here, and pull.  Still, many people say they're unhappy at work, right? And unhappy in relationships.  And unhappy at home.  So there's the big three: work, relationship, and residential life, in whatever form they take.  Of course, there are a lot of unknowns.  And the way we interact is highly complex. What we've developed as humans isn't just a highly complex language system, though.  We also have a hugely refined emotional palate.  Lots of things we feel are, at least, as we feel them, inexpressible in words. 

Anyway, I'm not sure where I fall on this, and I know this is an incomplete post.  I'm not ready to give up the strong impact that thinking about incentives makes in our lives, in policy decisions, personal, and where we choose to live.  At the same time, we have to learn to segregate out our highly evolved emotional selves from that which we cannot control, somehow.  The problem, or part of the problem, is that a lot of stuff pushes directly into our basic stimulus of pleasure and pain and cuts our reactions into a highly pressured realm, when, perhaps, they need not be so pressured.

More on this soon, as I'm short of time.  But if we're each like a tree, we can struggle, or we can, in a way, choose not to struggle.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Making it up. Or not.

I don't like this idea.

For the sake of argument, though, let's say that our big five personality traits--openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism--are relatively fixed, and that, therefore, how we interact and react to events is, in a way, more static than it is fluid.

(More likely, we are an amalgam of staccatoed and patterned behavioral choices and our genes.) Either way, behavior modification, and resulting increases in utility might be aided if we at least admit that we are not "as we are" as the results of big conflicts and clashes, but instead, the product of our genes, largely, and secondarily, events we've slowly been conditioned to adapt within.

I still don't like the idea, but: the large event type narratives that we hear about (that people most often attribute personality to--a person like me, for instance!), are often there, perhaps, as a way to cope, because stories make fundamental sense to us.

Like I said, I don't like it, necessarily, but that doesn't really have relevance.  

Today is a nothing day

I'm going to swim into it and pretend that the temperature is somewhere between piss and stale tea warm, and then I'll add in some milk and sugar and hope to sell off the lather as a specialty drink, all the while obliquely referring to authentic and pure ingredients, hard labor, and homespun cotton.  Then, if all goes well, I'll net proceeds  sufficient to cover initial costs and propel me back home, where I can relinquish my earnings to the feudal lord and he might, in turn, find enough patience to house me for another night.  

Monday, March 28, 2011

I've come to a point in my life as a sobronic

Look, I'm rooting around in the cellar of sober with my nose to the floor, some incarnation between a hog searching for truffles and a impenetrable apparition that can't seem to float up through the  boards fast enough to just find the living room already and take a seat for tea time.  My hands would dirty the linen if I did, I'm sure.

The smell down here is of age.  Of must; and there's earth too.  That dirt in that corner there, see, with a purple hue, and the walls are made of field stones that are rough enough for me--if I clamp my eyes down hard and swallow while I do it--to feel the way they broke through hard calloused hands to cause blood, and where, if you'll allow, a harder looking wife used to smoke her cigarettes--there, if you look, the mild depression on third stair, and here, on the rafter, the place where her third child stood up too fast only to collapse suddenly after his head hit the exposed nail.   Just a matter of looking around a bit, having that memory jab ya in the back a few times, before you realize that no matter how hard you hammered that nail flat, it will never go away.   Anyway, back to the grind.  I think there was a prohibition bootlegger tunnel down here somewhere that led to the brewery down near the river.  That'd be neat, if we could find it.

Powerless Over Alcohol?

The slippage of time remains ineluctable.  I'm not so dramatic as to tell you that I remember the inexactitudes of my youth. I am not such a perfectionist so as to claim progression from there to here.  After all, I was arguably better situated then.  A hard matter to admit.

I also won't try to tell you that I can scan the grey matter of my own brain and foist upward--as if in celebration--some exigency, some premonition.  A longing, yes.  A desire?  Without question. Excitement, though, as once filtered through my retinas to allow the blissful intermingling of senses and inertia?  No, nope, not like before.

There's a claim that we like to make.  It has to do with control.  It has to do with having control over one's life.   Perhaps we can modify it to some degree--like maybe whittle it down to 15% control?  No, no, that won't work either.  Not having control over alcohol?  That can overcome all 15% of control we might assume, though it need not.  What's really scary is the bigger claim.  That we have no control at all.  That what we have is but a few kernels of sand stuck on the moisture on our palms, and even those are a bit of a nuisance, when we get right down to it.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Next Few Weeks

Lots of changes ahead in the next few weeks for me here.  I'm starting a new job, and, if everything works out, moving.  Hopefully this will be the beginning to a large span of relative satisfaction, although I'll admit to a bit of mounting anxiety.  I'll say this about anxiety for good things: the only way to really face it is to move forward and continue to move forward as much as possible--to try to exist within the anxiety as much as possible and not run away from it or try to avoid it.  Sounds kind of strange to write it out like that, as if I had a choice about the matter.  Still, this involves a bit of faith, I suppose.  Some faith that continued perseverance will lead toward comfort, and eventually, a greater state of being.  I'll admit that I've been extremely bored for much of the last few months.  Boredom is funny, because it isn't comfortable--we desire change--yet it is comfortable in a way that is perhaps not completely healthy.  We don't necessary have the inertia to make a change, or else we already would have done so, and wouldn't be bored. So, generally, boredom has something to do with our inability, our lack of capacity to act, and that can be internal or external.  Either way, there are some changes for me up ahead, and that's welcome--I can simultaneously know they are all for the better and be slightly nervous about them, even though I recognize that my nerves are almost entirely irrational.  Recognizing that which is irrational, it seems, doesn't make it go away.

I'm forcing myself to go out and see some music tonight, and will drive on purpose so as to have a handy excuse not to drink.  It is certainly possible that a drink will simply be given to me, in which case I'll politely give it to the friend who knows that I'm not drinking.  Other friend who knows this and may give me the drink means well, just that he doesn't exactly respect these lines of sobriety.  So, I know this is a dangerous situation for all of you out there screaming it at me.  I'm not going to drink.  Even if I have to hold a drink for few minutes, I won't drink.  The goal is to show up, see the scene, listen to a few tunes, and leave in time to wake up tomorrow morning for work--i.e. 11:30 at the latest.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Negativity Bias

Is like what it sounds like: we see negativity much stronger than we see positivity.  Makes sense that we evolved this way, given that negative stimuli (an oncoming storm, knife blade, or enemy) could kill us and should instigate a fight or flight response, whereas positive stuff isn't quite as highly emotional straight off--i.e. given the same basic neutral stimulation that skews slightly negative or slightly positive, we weigh the negative more heavily in proportion to the positive.  I suppose the only way to test this is money and what people are willing to pay given current resources, and what they're willing to lose. But, consider that a lot of the fear tactics used in politics is precisely to ensure impending doom that is as immediate as it gets--and naturally, both sides do their fair share of this sort of thing.  If george bush is elected again, it is the end of the world.  For example.  Or, if we drill in alaska, we're going to basically destroy the sanctity of life.  We all have notions of purity and disgust, I suppose, but their presence doesn't ensure accuracy, no matter how strongly felt.

I feel the immeasurability of time and space!

So, what's up?  Well, it is the 25th of March. That's one, two, three . . . nine months now sober.  Nine months. It feels like an incredibly long amount of time (yay for accomplishment) and an incredibly small amount of time, simultaneously--progress is not something one can plan out, exactly, and learning stuff takes some serious time.  Naturally, I can't tell if the changes in my life are linked to my decision to quit drinking or if my decision to quite drinking also precipitated changes in my behavior and attitude that have pushed me along (yeah, I can't isolate variables out in my life without somehow living another life simultaneously).  There are good things afoot, though, and lots of work, too.  My social life has changed dramatically, because I basically have none.  I do talk to people, sure, and I am naturally social, but I increasingly cherish free time so much that I don't want to use it up on social endeavors that, I'll be honest here, often seem really pointless.

I know that social relationships keep us healthy, and so I'll endeavor to endeavor, as my friend says, and I do SEE people, and by the way, I am also married now, so don't get the idea that I'm just at home alone, stone cold sober and staring at the wall--I'm not.  Instead, I'm often cooking and cleaning!  Just like a good husband.  Willing and able have become my mantra, and that means that I'll cut my own short term pleasures to commit to and finish whatever chores are needed, because, well, the synergy between us is higher and more rewarding, generally.  Doesn't seem like that much, and certainly doesn't win me status points out there in the "real" world, but it keeps my relationship functional, and me less confused by my own false beliefs about my need for independence and choice and possibility out there in the vast immeasurable space that is.  Best to keep close to home for now.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A sense of the divine?

Lots of thoughts scrambling about today.  At the forefront is a running theme: Neil Young and the divine.  As I've been reading The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom, I've been floored by Haidt's synthesis of psychology, philosophy, religion, and evolution.  He suggests that we have a built in sensor for "divinity" as well as other framing devices, of course.  But consider it for a moment: just like we have a natural capacity for language (for lots of reasons), we might have a natural capacity to conjure the feeling of the divine, and then learn to value this "elevated" feeling--a feeling that most often comes out when we experience large open space, for instance, or human sacrifice.    He goes further, though, to understand our natural ability to sense the divine, or awe, as something we orient our thinking around, and hold as valuable, along with other major categories, like what is seen as common and, especially, our valuation of autonomy as a guiding principle.  

 That which is ineffably beautiful.  That which is so full it draws us down into ourselves in complete humility.  That which is somehow an evolved adaptation, and that--and here's the important part--contributes to individual happiness as well.  It may be purely semantic, sure, but I'd go out on a limb and say that it seems obvious to me that some people have more of a divinity streak, some more of an autonomy streak and others a communitarian streak.

In my life, I've had a lot of "divine" moments, and sure, some of them were drug induced.  That's valid.   Just as we (In the US) turned away from valuing religion in an explicit public way, we started doing lots of drugs.   Now, I'm not saying that we have to return to religion to get off of drugs--or to stop drinking--no; but what we have to do is understand that, along with short term cravings, and long term rational planning (given limited knowledge), we also have to take into account what creates that sense of "awe" in our lives, and give that some ability to breathe, too.  I don't know how yet.  I just know that I haven't been smart enough to see that it exists as an independent characteristic before this.

Listening to Neil Young Horseshoe Man Covers

Wow, I never thought I could be so touched by at times atrocious and incorrectly played covers.  I guess there's something to imperfect modeling behavior that's got a large dose of sincerity.

Love's the answer, and Love's the question:

And more:

Here's some real Neil Young (not horseshoe man though); nothing quite like him:

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Finding Calm

Finding calm means I don't have to jump to conclusions about what other people are thinking, where they stand on issues, where I stand in response, or how I'll present myself to them.  It isn't easy.  A large part of me screams out that I should increase stature in the eyes of others, and do it right now, and if I can't do it, fuck them, it was there fault anyway.  This had led me to seeing situations a bit clearer than previously in my life, and trying harder to maintain an open mind on any particularly intractable and thorny issue. Some people, for instance, just make me seethe with anger and frustration, and all I want to do is open up my mouth to shut them up or let them know how wrong they are.  Of course, this instinct is partly there, I think, because their views are not just something which I disagree with for academic reasons, but, because at some level, I think that following their view would lead to greater trouble or less apt coordination among people.

Teams are good ways to coordinate, and we are highly social creates who happen to naturally fall into teams for this reason.  Thus, part of my intuitive response to disagreements has to do with team loyalty and also to how I've rationalized my gut instincts. In other words, there's a good reason why I want to react to people I disagree with--at some level, I think their management and goals are wrong.  At the end of the day, we might think that we each individually have the best idea for how to actualize the greatest good.  I might be liberal because think that society has been unfair to certain groups of people, and that government should play a role in rectifying that process, and someone else might think that the private market should have a higher role in the process because it will be better and more efficient at meeting that goal.  Often our ideas come from our social standing.  Maybe I work for the government and this other person works for a bank, for instance.  But it's not a mistake that we both develop world-views that fundamentally adhere to our lives' facts.  It is a successful strategy for teamwork if we coordinate, instead.

Knowing this allows me to step back from personal conflict and understand what's going on a little more, and to be a little less engaged in the process of competition for viewpoints.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Happiness is Static

Here's another sobering thought:  we don't *really* control how happy we are, and can't do much to change it.  That's right, we'll pretty much adapt to new and changing circumstances and adjust our levels of happiness accordingly.   So, what's the way to increase happiness, or, what do we really like the most outside of carnal pleasures?  Being challenged up to the level of our current abilities and staying completely focused on one goal.  My guess is that if you really think about it, you'll agree.  So let's stop beating ourselves up for not being supremely happy all the time, or, conversely, recognize that we have varying levels of happiness, and that half of the population will be happier and more affected than the other half.  There are exercises, like cognitive behavioral therapy (and also prozac) that can change your core happiness too.  By the way, all of these thoughts are coming from an amazingly insightful and beautifully written book that should be required reading (about about 100 pages through now):

Monday, March 21, 2011

Automatic vs. Rational - Powerless Over Alcohol

We have a slew of reactions that we cannot control.  Our salivary glands pump into overdrive at the sight of food, and our hypothalamus starts to react by pumping some dopamine into our brains.  We get excited and eager and ready to eat, and before we know it, we've consumed the piece of cake we saw in the bakery window and feel guilty about it, and swear that, next time, we won't do the same, and that, furthermore, we just ate that cake because we worked out earlier in the day anyway--besides, it wasn't that big of a piece, and we don't to justify our behavior.

What we've done by inserting those reasons of course is a justification, no matter how pugilistic and aggressive we might feel about them.   We mostly feel and then sweep in to justify what we felt , rather than the other way around.  That's interesting to me, because I like to believe that I'm rationally controlling my own life.  It just isn't true, not completely.  Not without spending time to push back against instincts all of the time (i.e. spending time to push back against instincts)--in fact, one study linked the amount of patience or delayed gratification 4 year olds had regarding marshmallows placed in front of them was correlated with the status of the college they subsequently attended.  What we've got is a slew of reactions--a slow moving bulldozer if you will--that just do, and are very hard to condition, and a "rider" or thinker on top of those reactions that likes to tell stories.

When AA tells us that we're powerless over alcohol, they're right and terribly wrong.  They're right because we've become so accustomed to alcohol that it is an automatic response to many of life's circumstances and that response is very hard to change.  They're wrong--terribly wrong--because we aren't powerless at all to change it; but to change it there are costs and change requires hard work. Eventually, though, the payoff is that change requires less and less hard work after we shift our "bulldozer" selves into a different path. 

Seeing Negativity

Two things to note this morning:

1) We all register negative events more than positive events--and I mean the immediate feedback to our surrounding environment.  Makes sense, given that negative stimuli (bad taste, dead body, etc) could kill us.

2) Some of us are more positive and some more negative genetically.  A LOT of our personality traits are inherited and then acted out through environmental interplay. 

As a quickie hypothesis based on the above, some negative traits will correspond more highly to alcohol and substance abuse. 

Sunday, March 20, 2011


I'm always frustrated with the idea of desires/preferences.  People want stuff.  I want stuff.  What stuff?  Well, it might, at times, be largely dependent on external stimuli, and other people's preferences (let's say you're in a group with people trying to go out to a restaurant, and must pick which restaurant) and at other times be almost totally internal and inflexible (I must buy a pair of running shoes because I run (and being a runner is essential to my identity) or I must get food for my sick mother).

The origin of a set of preferences splits on more continua than external/internal too; they're also temporally arranged: some are more immediate and have only been in place for a minute (slice of pizza/coffee) and some have been long coming (pass the bar exam) while the reasons for other desires are total falsifications (if I breathe fresh air after smoking, smoking will do less damage to my body)--one thing is for sure: preferences face forward.

Something we're all guilty of is a process of confabulation, wherein we fabricate reasons to explain our own behavior. We have a running commentary on our own behaviors, but that doesn't mean that we're accurate about ourselves.

It is a sobering thought, to, on one hand, desire certain somewhat discrete objectives and on the other hand know that some of our thought process is subsumed by falsifying patterns onto events visible only in the rear view mirror: this happened because of that, and that was a result of my decision to do a third thing--but none of it need be true completely. 

The only way out is to see aggregate patterns and take them into account when we assign responsibility for events, but it is almost impossible to extinguish the chance that what occurred was random (and not part of the narrative our brains tell us occurred). Still, there are facts out there in the universe.  We might not like them, but that doesn't change them, only our reaction to them.

For the chronic drinker or addict, or obsessive, thoughts rush in to cover all of the terrain in a sticky sweet layer that makes it virtually impossible to pull apart reality from fiction--or to understand when someone, for instance, says something because they mean it or because of some other hidden motive that they're not saying overtly (because perhaps they're being strategic).  These thoughts may not stop, instead choosing to spin in on themselves and create what I can only describe as terrifying stress, especially when they turn inward to create suspicion of oneself (i.e. I can't trust myself to create plausible reasons for past behaviors or to ground future preferences).  That's when a drink or other drug comes mighty handy.  It is also when a fight comes in handy.  Why?  Well, a drink, a drug, a fight, it might sort of relieve stress in the immediate short term.  Very simple.  All of those compounding vast thoughts about patterns that don't quite have a beginning or an end liquefy into digestible chunks, and life can be manageable again.

There are two things to note here.  One, is that alcohol can be a form of self-medication for legitimate mental illness and two, is that we are very very good at finding patterns where there might be nothing but noise, air, or static, and that our brains can easily be put into overdrive, where we see patterns everywhere that don't exist.   Hence wild conspiracy theories or, more simply, men who think that all of the women in the room are looking them, or, indeed, that nobody sees them at all, ever.  

Friday, March 18, 2011

Correlation and Causation

Life is complex.  I know that I can't create a control for my life, one to compare my drinking self to my non drinking self and then see how much of a difference [was not do to chance] BUT, things are slowly and surely getting better for the sober self that sits here writing these words.  I'm not completely out of the woods--certain images and ideas and themes haunt me--instead, the woods look brighter and smell a touch sweeter. 

I've always been the solitary sort of type.  After school as a kid, I left as soon as possible to get home.  I used to read a lot.  I used to stare at the sky a lot.  I used to walk through the woods to get home and hop from log to log in the murky territory where backyards blended into forest.  Music illuminated my solitary world.  Social events in college were strictly awkward for me, and I mostly didn't attend--I preferred to study because it was easier, in a way... it was an easier way to cope.  It wasn't because of any religious upbringing--in fact, my upbringing was very secular, probably because my father and mother were raised in relatively strong religious households (of different religions).  Anyway, guess what?  When I drank, I got social. I had bouts of drinking in high school that stopped for a moment in college, then picked up toward the end.

It is easy to think that life is about choice--we can choose to do different things, and then correlate choice to living, freedom of choice to what it means to exist: pure choice.  Having a choice means that we can decide if things change, in some small part anyway, and that gets me excited--that's why we work really hard to keep the idea of choice around at a basic level, and we always wonder whether we're making the right choices to get information about people who made them (and originally faced similar choices) to compare what they got for their choices.  Being stuck, being depressed, is often correlated with an irrepressible permanency that we feel we have no control over--the tough part of life is to push into the density of the substratum itself with the base knowledge that you must, for some reason, continue to go on, and not be clear about the reason for going on.  That's what we must do, though, no matter.  Every once in a while, though, someone seemed to open a window to our own little sweaty basement factories, and by then we've adapted to the must, and the mold, and the fresh air is almost religious.  It is, you know, turning around to face the fire, and all that happy horse shit.  There's a moment of greater understanding through sheer experience.

Part of the answer to the reason we like choice is because we like to tell ourselves stories about why we've come where we have come.  We like to insert our own levels of causation even when we cannot possibly have that knowledge without some bizzaro self that gives us information about our alternative life choices [which would be weird!].  It is what we do as humans to find meaning where there is none.  And, the trick: to recognize that, just because we insert meaning doesn't mean that our meaning is meaningless, to us.  I think.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

How to Stop Drinking: Part 1

Drinking provides many real benefits that cannot be underestimated, especially for men who might not be the most emotionally expressive.  First and foremost, it relaxes and loosens the tongue.  That's really important if you feel boxed in and find communication about your needs/wants/state of mind difficult and taxing because other's "just don't get it" when you try to give them a little bit.  Often, their not getting it is a result of your not saying it overtly enough.  It is hard to realize this, but easy to suffer from it. 

Another major benefit from alcohol is pure pleasure.  I'm not lying.  Drinking feels really great.  That's why we do it, ostensibly.  And for folks that might become alcoholics, drinking feels even better, and we/they get even more energized the more they/we drink.  I say they/we because I think people have the potential to become alcoholics, and that there are multiple stages to alcoholism and addiction.  Notably, though, if you find yourself drinking when times are tough, i.e. as an escape, you should consider drinking less or not drinking a bit and trying to face those tougher times.  A related reason is that drinking relieves stress almost immediately.  You can "pull the plug" on stress by having a beer (*or three).

Then there are vaguer reasons: drinking out of sheer boredom, or because it is habit, or because you do it with your buddies and it is normal, or, simply, because other people do it. 

So let's say you have a vague feeling like you should cut down or stop drinking for a while.  The first issue you'll tackle is a basic practical one--it will always be more convenient to have a drink when the urge arrives than to not have a drink.  Not having a drink stops movement, makes you pause, creates awkwardness, incites anxiety, etc.  Having one relieves everything.  Think, though, about how this also mimics our hungry minds--when we're hungry, we're focused only on sating that hunger, and many people may drink instead of eat, creating a cycle.

The next step is to associate drinking with everything that's negative in your life.  I.e. you must take responsibility for everything you don't like, and then link it to your choice to consume alcohol.  This is a big step, and one that will flatten out later on, but for the sake of stopping, it is important to link negative stimulation to drinking, and break positive association.    While having one beer might not directly correlate to full blown life crisis and disaster, it is important to remind yourself that we, as humans, are particularly bad at recognizing what's bad for us in the long run.  Or, one could argue, what is good for us.  What we can grasp from example, though, is a crew of older alcoholics who have suffered tremendously and didn't at first intend to suffer.  They intended to do the small bits: take off some stress from a long day, or find a way to feel better about themselves in a social situation.  All small logical things.  If you look around your family and see problem drinkers, it's a good sign that you could develop a problem. But it is hardly a reason to stop drinking. 

In fact, if you don't convince yourself that alcohol will lead to greater problems that you can't now fathom, you probably won't stop drinking.  That's why people say that someone has to "hit bottom" first.  The problem with such thinking is that once someone has "hit bottom" they've lost a lot of their lives, most likely hurt close friends and relatives, and suffered a great deal.  So choosing to stop is really an equation--you or I must weigh the probabilities of our failure to control our drinking in the future.  The first step toward doing that is to notice, each and every time, you want to have a drink. 

What makes life so hard that you must drink?  What about drinking makes life so much better?  Are the claims inherent in answering those questions accurate when you evaluate them rationally, or emotionally driven instead?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Random Thoughts

Trying to do two things at once is a sure fire way to become quickly unproductive

I've had a long eyelash in my eye for days. 

There are various ways around rain puddles that confound pedestrians as pedestrian as myself.

Cotton shirts are better than blends [for me because they don't trap heat and I'm chronically over-heated].

I definitely stepped in someone's puke on the way in this morning.

Eye contact makes us feel excited, or shame.

Coffee,  my mistress of the morning.  I shall not deny you your guilty sins.  Just, please, before we begin, half decaf to abscond away the guilt.

Filial ramblings are no more misdirected than fraternal.

I know more of my limits than my capacities. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Cat's Caw.

Prior to the peak frequency of silence that swirls up to pull me down to sleep, when I'm just starting to let reality slip into something more permeable, there's always a gruesome event that seems to mumble up out of nowhere.  It isn't a cute or benign noise.  It grates out of the depth of silence and doesn't emerge in my ear drum from an external source so much as vibrates up from within.  It is the cat's caw.  These are not cuddly cats; They couldn't possibly be.  These are cats that piss acid.   These are feral cats in the borough/county of queens, and they know how to howl.  I'm sure the noise isn't very loud.  It isn't the volume so much.  It is more about tone and breadth of the howl, its ability to penetrate the walls and closed windows.  It echoes in on itself, folds and undulates into a kind of stasis that eventually swims around me again to replace the silence I knew previously.  I cannot feed these cats no matter how I try or how much food I leave for them.  

Monday, March 14, 2011

Over-Estimating Potential

Here's a safety thought that I've been chronically guilty of:

"I can do it if I really try."

Well, what's stopping you/me then?  Lots of things, like the fact that I don't want to do it, perhaps, that I didn't really desire it, or that I didn't try, in all honesty, I might say, and then withdraw to a shell and stop interacting with everything remotely related to "it" and "trying" so as not to face some easily understood and objective fact that can be deduced from the above:

"I didn't do it."

And that, my friends, is the ultimate end.  I didn't do it.  I didn't accomplish that thing that I set to accomplish BUT, and here's the barbed catch all, there's always, you know, I might say, hands shoved in pockets, eyes on the  horizon, another day.  And that might be true for a lot of things and a lot of days and a ton of effort, but if I've told myself that I'd do something, I should do it--barring fantastical claims about what it is.  There are value based "its" like, "I will be nice to my X" and there are goal based "its" like, "I will jog 5 miles saturday," both of which have a funny way of squishing out from under one's shoes like some bag of boiled eggs at times, and coming out the other side in different permutations than they started, but mostly, the very difficult reality is this: doing something or becoming some way requires a lot of fucking practice.  No, no, not "fucking" practice, just a modifier, practice to the horizon, in place of the contemplation of what was, or hard assumptions of innate skill that tend to claim prominence in the face of defeat.  I mean, shit, I cannot beat everybody on the planet in chess, although I love to play chess.  I'm serious.  In fact, email me at and we'll play some chess.  I love it over and above getting beat at it. That should be the only way to love something--i.e. that ego is subservient to the task--but it isn't, unfortunately, and a lot of people in the business/professional world, I've found, run on the intoxicating fumes of potential and assertion, and not, precisely, end-product.

That's not to say that a rant like this couldn't be construed as some kind of ego manifestation in itself, but for now that claim is outside the scope of this post.  

What I wanted to say was just this: realizing that potential is finite, that, for instance, we don't use only 10% of our brains, and that we can't just be the best in a certain genre of life if we try a lot ONCE, is okay.  It is a relief.  We can take a breathe, take a stroke of a pedal, realize that we're not in fantasy land, and just enjoy the experience for once.  That's what my sunday off gave me today.    That's also, by the way, sort of the experience of learning a language (outside of one's primary language acquisition years).

Family and Friends

Partially, the role of family is to support you (or me) in life decision-making. Part of that role, though, is to disagree with decisions. However. The disagreement shouldn't exactly rise to the level of sanction that severs the relationship itself.  Family and friends serve as a sounding board, and life will be best in the longer term if they are vocal about their disagreements, I think, so long as they are a) honest and b) flexible and c) respectful.

Family members, particularly, can see your life broader than you can see yourself.  It just is.  The problem is that their broader view doesn't necessarily make their advice more sound.  If they try to dissuade you from a strongly held preference, you'll still feel stymied if you don't attain that goal.  In the longer run, you'll adapt.  We don't always adapt of course.  There's a way to get stuck in a psychological rut without knowing it.  Cognitive psychologists call these ruts "self-defeating beliefs" and they entail basic "I'm a failure" type explanations.  As I've covered before, these explanations have motivating power, which makes them more difficult to overcome.  They're rational, to some degree, because they help us accomplish stuff, although there is a cost.  To everyone who's ever complained about a co-worker, or a job.  The costs suck, because we're annoyed, or feel that we're undervalued, but we need the money, the benefit, so we keep going forward.

There's almost always a bigger picture/small picture narrative to be told, and family/friends often fall into two groups.  Friends likely confirm the positive view of the bigger picture and the anger at the smaller picture (from sheer anecdote by walking on the streets of NYC and listening--this is biased of course--but many many people talk to other people purely to complain about third parties not present because, it seems, they cannot directly complain to the non-present third party directly without some associated cost).

Family, especially parent-type folks, mostly understand larger narrative survival type restraints, and urge the larger narrative over the self-indulgent smaller narrative.  That's not always true, of course, a good parent knows how to mix advice and guidance into both narratives and through his/her modeled behavior (probably the most important guidance any parent could give). We always find excuses to blame our parents for things here in the US, whether they are too focused on the bigger picture (restraining our behavior!) or their own smaller picture (substance abuse) or our smaller picture (micro-managing).  What we dislike is the illusion of restraint on our behavior.  What we love is the illusion of choice.  It doesn't matter that our illusion of choice might keep us restrained so much.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Morality and Purity

Taking A Day Off -- Completely

I'm going to allow myself a new goal today; that goal?  Accomplish nothing.  I've been excessively busy about doing everything, even minor tasks, and it is time to halt all activity and just breathe without the pressure for a few minutes.  Tomorrow with come without my efforts to rouse it from slumber. 

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Cycling is Bliss

I went for a bike ride today; first time in about a  year it seems. Last summer was deathly hot and I had impending surgery at the time (apparently my calcium levels could spike in the heat and potentially kill me--such was the sorry state of one overactive parathyroid); this summer, I don't plan on needing surgery and so, I'm going to ride my damn bike much, much more, like the good ole days.  Except that I'll be a few years older than before. 

Despite the lethargy of my overweight body, the hour bike ride I just took made me appreciate all that is not oil powered in this world.  I don't want to turn this into some kind of tirade against cars, because I know that riding in one is natural, and I know that they've allowed a lot of good.  Still, we use them too frequently for short trips; they stink and are loud; that's enough.  There's really no need to bring along two tons of metal with you for a milk run.  But I've been all too guilty of this, of course.  Because it is so damn convenient and given no short term incentive otherwise, well, there I am in traffic, as pissed off and pent up as the next guy.

And this almost 9 months of sobriety as taught be something.  I'm really really pent up.  Like, you know, mentally constipated.  Holy shit.  I never really considered comparing bike riding to sex before.  Okay, okay, I won't do it overtly.  And I'll revert from this point to my lazy self.  But, as far as a release, there's nothing quite like a bike ride.  That's what I'll say.  It doesn't have to morph into anything else than that.  Some fresh air and adrenaline and warmish breeze, and a little bit of solitude in the great big world.

Friday, March 11, 2011

March is here

Look. I wasn't sure I could make it through the winter either.  Generally, it almost always seems blocked in, closed down; excessive and needless.  And endless.  Somehow we're on the cusp of spring.  I don't expect leaves yet.  I know they'll come but I don't actually expect to see them for longer than I can fully grasp.  Sure as shit, though, there are not five foot piles of snow out there and it rained the better part of last night.  A sign of some change.  Another spring is coming.  I've been here in NYC for almost four years.  Four years.  It feels like four weeks.  I know it is healthy to embrace change.  I have to admit that I can actually envision not drinking not only until August, but beyond.  It seems manageable, I think, as long as I don't have to think too far out, to take in all of the real time reality of months down the road.  Time is like a walk.  The scenery changes slowly, enough to keep you motivated but not fast enough to shock, and then, after a gentle few thoughts pass through, you've come upon an entirely new community, different languages, customs, schools.  Consistency is valuable against this type of change, and sobriety does provide some--albeit at times gut-wrenching--consistency.  If only for the sake of knowing where your feet stand, and not letting the old brain blow up with helium and float off in the wind unnoticed.

Billy Holiday is Perfection

I don't say it lightly.   Or without pain. She brings me to convulsive and surprising tears:

What Does Drinking Say About You?

Me, I always drank IPA.  The hoppier the better.  You with me?  I have friends, they liked the pilsner type, you know, and that's fine.  I always wanted to taste my beer though, and I was also probably hungry as hell without knowing it.  Eventually, I started to drink Whiskey. It happened around the time I lost my first job.  I don't attribute the loss of the job to drinking, not exactly, but I do attribute the whiskey consumption to the loss of the job.  Something about whiskey was classy for me, an unemployed sort.  I found a store out in Red Hook, Brooklyn, that's no longer there.  The place was called "Likkur" or similar, but they intentionally misspelled it, and they knew their whiskey.  For forty dollars, I got a bottle, a story about the bottle, and filled up my flask so that I could bring booze to bars when I met with friends--and, you guessed it--not buy alcohol at the bar.  Or, I'd buy one drink and nurse it, all the while drinking the whiskey. Other's enjoyed it too.  No joke, that whiskey.

I had a room-mate then, actually two.  This one, he was most definitely an alcoholic, but he didn't drink anymore.   Not until I brought the whiskey home.  He asked me for a small taste of it one night when I came home, and, being drunk already, I obliged.  Together we finished the bottle.  It was only the first bottle of many.

Anyway, I thought that upper shelf whiskey from an eccentric liquor store certainly contributed to my status.  And I'm betting that when a lot of people drink, they think it contributes to their status too--or that, they spend money in accordance with their perceived status.  And yet.  Lots of drinks at bars are watered down, or inauthentic (cheap liquors fill expensive bottles), etc.
Anyway, I'm sure that the whiskey that fall contributed to my sense of self.  I'm not so sure, though, that it was a positive contribution.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

We're Over-Confident

Confidence about our knowledge is widespread, and often an indicator that we know what we're doing, but, mostly, we vastly over-estimate how much we know about the world around us and how things in that world work.  We distill a lot of information down into manageable stories and points that are necessary for us to operate without overtaxing our brains all of the time, but part of that deal is that we have a lot less of an idea of what's going on around us than we think we do. 

This can be a tremendously empowering point if taken in the right light.  Being confident signals expertise and knowledge to other people, and it can get us to higher status positions on sheer will alone, that's true.  I'm not saying we should forsake all confidence in an effort to be somehow more real.  What' I am saying, though, is that it is beneficial to try to step back from a situation and ask basic questions--that, since so many people are faking half of their knowledge (again, not out of some malicious intent, but because they honestly believe themselves regarding their own accuracy), asking basic questions might be frowned upon socially but might be able to yield higher levels of descriptive accuracy in the end, which might further allow better decision-making in the future.

Find a Way Through, Not Out

There's a simple motto I've been telling myself.  It seems to work for short term challenges. It is simply that, instead of trying to find a way to escape the piece of responsibility in front of me, I should find  a way through it.  Through is almost always equivalent to less energy expended anyway.  And at the end, I've got something, some product of some sort. And that's more than the relief I get (and increased stress) from avoiding it.  Sure it is basic, but that's okay.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Weather as Proxy for Psychological Well-Being

I can't help but point out the obvious.  It hit me in the face when I overheard two people on the elevator this morning.

This was a whopper of a winter.    Really bad.

Oh, yeah, I agree.  I'm glad it is finally over.

I know, what a relief.

That's basically it.  But, here's the funny thing.  Yesterday's weather was exactly the same as today's weather.  So basically, we insert high levels of subjective filler into our objective statements.  On top of that, we say one thing about our subjective experience and mean another because we don't have a useful way for talking about the subject directly.  That part is intriguing to me because we willingly jump up and down after work/social engagement/etc. to talk about how we reacted to people, or how outrageous some people were/are and yet, somehow, we can't communicate directly. 

What would it be, too harsh?  If so, consider:

If we're bound to someone AND they provide harsh feedback, (we're bound to them to a sufficient degree that the feedback doesn't override the connection), then we're sort of forced to hear what they say and consider it, no matter how much we don't like it.

And that means we have to defend ourselves on our own terms, not just in a general qualitative assessment about our abilities.

Because, what's increasingly clear to me is that people are insecure in a lot of ways and that, getting over the insecurity is the hard part, not the other way around (gaining a skill or existing in a certain way).  We're insecure because we don't know where we stand or we're nervous that we don't have the highest possible standing.  The great solution to this is that we don't have to be best to feel good about ourselves on a daily basis.

The harsh way to say that is:  We're not the best at anything we do (and we don't even really approach best, i.e. we're barely standing in the shadow of best).  SO, we should figure out ways to act and interact that best highlight and leverage the strengths we do have.  And, the only way to figure out those strengths is to face some potentially ugly feedback.   To listen to the common themes in everyone's comments about the world.  To understand greater patterns, abstract yes, but applicable. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Living Results

This will be simplistic.  But, carrying forward I'd like to try to diminish ego drives as much as possible.  I think it is still feasible to gain happiness outside of ego-based incentive, for instance.  Part of that calculation is lowering my own standards (so that they can be met) and part of it is changing the situations/circumstances where I find the most joy.  I mean joy here in the broadest sense to include both short and long term, so that, for instance, I can have some release from a hard taxing day and also some major attainment of bigger life goals.  That's easy to say, or write, and harder to accomplish, but in a very essential way, life is about a) deciding what you want and b) attaining those items/experiences with the least cost and c) what happens when B feeds back into A to change A and thus the direction B may take (which feeds back to A).  It helps to delineate, if at all possible, to create discrete goals.  This lowers the fluidity of feedback loops between A and B but increases the chances of B's success.  There's some tension, in other words. 

Monday, March 7, 2011

Conclusion: Limiting email access helps me focus

It has come down to a very basic almost tautological fact, email keeps me distracted and less productive.  Anyway, I'll stop at that and do some other things.

Back after no email for an hour: SUCCESS

I wanted to check email almost every minute for the first 13 minutes, then it faded to a 10 minute frequency.  Then the urge dropped off for the last 20 minutes.  I realize that email is like some dessert. I want to have some for a reward, but if the big plate of cookies is sitting in front of me all day, I won't eat any dinner.  And lately, I've been getting fat. 

The Challenge: DO NOT Check Email

Here's what I'm trying to become conscious of: how many times I check email in a day.  Here's my unscientific answer, when I'm trying NOT to check email: every 10 minutes.

So, my goal is to NOT check email for an hour.  It is now 11:20.  I will stay email clear until 12:20. I'll report back here at 12:25, and I'll do so honestly.  See, this is even a form of email in a sense.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Fantasy and Release

Fantasy allows release, there's no doubt about it, and we need some degree of fantasy to live in reality. 

We don't have perfect memories.  But.  I've been sober for over eight months now.  This isn't an experiment.  It has yanked my thinking out of the clouds.  That's a bit unsettling, lonely even, not having those thoughts around.  Now's where I should insert the bit about moving toward an ever broadening goal of progress and betterment. I'm not sure about that.  At the same time that I'm not destroying myself, I'm not taking tremendous steps forward toward the sheen of betterment.  Perhaps I am without knowing it.  Perhaps I'm living in the moment beyond what I can recognize.  I'm not sure.

I do know that either way, life moves by fast, and that some fantasies are better left in the dust bin.  I don't know which ones quite yet.

I had a thought about nostalgia the other day.  It was, basically, that nostalgia is the longing for a better time, when our inherent value seemed higher.  The thought was, more succinctly, that such longing is for ignorance of our own standing in the world.  That is, a time when we were younger, by necessity, a time when we didn't know as much based on sheer experience, a time when we were more important.  I'm not sure, you know, I flail around these things all the time. And I haven't quite landed, although some things are headed in the right direction, I do know.  I don't have the kind of rabid insecurity that makes me question everything to such a degree that I won't take a step forward. 

I don't have the kind of insecurity that allows me to take comfort in the awkwardness of every situation.  I'm still left wondering what else is out there.  Perhaps this is a bit of a luxury. I know it is.  There's an article the current issue of time magazine about the self-help industry.  There are apparently folks who work as "life coaches" for other people.  Think about it. At some basic level we want to somehow check in on the world and what's going on to make sure it matches what's going on within our heads.  Fantasy is a funny thing, because at the core, it is abstract thought, thinking and being somewhere we're not.    It is endemic to existence, and it breaks us away from our existence at the same time.

Friday, March 4, 2011


I'm not going to lecture you.  I'm going to lecture myself.  Consider that I've aggressively adhered to certain beliefs in the past. Part of my way forward is to intentionally be muddled.  To find myself conflicted and more than once or twice saying to people who conflict with each other, "wow, that's a good point."

Unfortunately, it is so easy that it has become normal to fall in line with one perspective or position, and let it dominate and color in all other evidence.  I know it has a technical name.  I used to think this was a keen insight: follow money, and you'll find out why a particular person has a particular perspective.  It is a fine insight, as far as insights go, but all it does is cloak some strange mystery in a basic fact: we have incentives, and we follow the most attractive incentives based on what's available to us at the time.  We aren't very rational about it.  If something is told to us by one person, not in statistical jargon, if it is told to us by someone of some authority, then we'll be more likely to be persuaded by it.  That's wrong, fundamentally, because we could actually harm ourselves by choosing that more available, pressured, perspective or decision, but we're imperfect.

Consider also the idea that our beliefs our like language: we learn those that we grew up with, and we do it so that we can communicate with people around us.

Smoking Pot: Why I Am Not A Chicken Nugget

Smoking pot is not for everyone.  It used to be for me.  It no longer is.  I get incredible paranoia, and cannot leave the house, even for something minor.  Small every day conversation becomes belabored, incredibly difficult and suspicious, and I feel horrible about myself, as if my brain was stretched thin and put in the sun to dry, and then I'm talking through the stretched brain filter, and words are all taffy and my thoughts are all glass.   I mean, it is really familiar, because I used to try be more okay with smoking and did it more frequently.  You know.  When things were boring.

Turns out that smoking IS what's so boring, to me at least.  Instead of quelling anxiety, it heightens anxiety, and simultaneously affixes me to one spot, so that I cannot excise any of the associated lightning thoughts with the balm of exercise.  So, smoking pot is not for me.  At all. 

And yet, once when I hadn't smoked for a long time, I tried, and viola, a crushing surge of thoughts about my own life surfaced, tremendous perpective, and I saw everything clearly.  Insights upon insights.

Well, not exactly.  Turned out that I was just stoned.  What I thought was largely incoherent and nonsensical.  The deep fear, of course, is that what I now think is also largely incoherent and nonsensical.  The deep fear, fuck it, the committed mentality.  All of my efforts are to cast away the casket that wraps around me with conclusions of chaos. 

I've always seen through what matters to other people, and known that I didn't share the same preferences.  The problem is that I cannot build a life on criticism.  I mean, shit, I tried.  I got drunk.  I failed. 

Still, we all need some release, no matter what.  And perhaps exercise, or yoga, or writing, or conversations of some sort, provide this thing that we crave, this conflict, this grating out of meaning into little pre-baked frozen goods.  Just pop them in your microwave for a few minutes and you'll see that they have all the indicia of what you used to want, and none of the flavor.  Injecting flavor from flavor squirting gun will not work.  I am not a chicken nugget.

Waves of friends have washed over me.  They are standing out there floating about.  I feel that time is a myth, and yet it affects me in a crucial and painful way almost all of the time. 

Finding Happiness :: Purchasing a Car

I'm not purchasing a car, but at times I think large purchases like this are cheapened into a convenient emotional mold that misses out on what could be valuable and rewarding.  For instance, let's look at the 45 year old man who goes out and buys a small sports car.  And then the comments come: oh, mid-life crisis.   Well, obviously, right?

But wait.  What is a mid-life crisis if not a quest for some meaning? And we all want meaning to infuse our lives.  Besides, meaning operates on multiple simultaneously shifting levels.   There's two issues I can see right away, and they're related.

1) We take the meaning we have to be better than the meaning we could have if we had to give up the current meaning we do have.  In other words, we're really bad at weighing risks.  In other words, we're bad at putting ourselves into better situations.

2) Our meaning making might confound other people's meaning making.  Or, just bother their peace and quiet. 

They are related, because, if we are less flexible to trade up what we've got for better, then we're emotionally attached to it in a way that isn't emotionally logical.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

As I was writing a post

My boss came in and gave me a bottle of liquor. That's good, since it signals that she cares about me, and she was a little flustered doing it--something just happened in my life that she's congratulating me about, and that's good too--but it was funny because I didn't get a chance to change the screen to something else, so it says "Alcohol Free" and then, like you know, here comes some alcohol. A one two punch. I'll save it. Save it and save it. And one day, I'll just take a damn bath in the stuff. Beer is a good conditioner. That's what I'll do with some of the leftovers that have been sitting around. I'll condition myself with them. Viola, answers.

A Change is Gonna Come

Marvelous reproduction.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Finding Meaning

This is elusive, and surprising when it does happen.  Sure, I can overlay meaning on to any social situation, any small interaction, that's true.  When *real* meaning happens, it is often surprising, and doesn't often seem to be related to level of input, not as they correlate to my own internal subjective understandings.  People think that greater efforts = greater meaning or value, and things that are most rare are the most valuable, but that doesn't mean those items or experiences have meaning, not in and of itself.   Sure, there could be a correlation between meaning and stability, for instance, but again, those two mental states may just find themselves to be friends, and not principles in production of a permanent narrative.  That doesn't mean that elusive objects of experiences aren't chock full of meaning, either, and you'll find people on both sides of this issue.  A middle aged man might buy a new sports car becuase he's experiencing some need to find meaning, and the sports car, or it's purchase, may  indeed provide meaning for him.  Or it may provide something he didn't expect, but that's just my point.  Often times, meaning comes from the unexpected, those things you don't plan for, necessarily.  The trick is to turn your head a little and start to see them flying around. More tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Study in Patience

Outside, a car horn blasts the presence of a burglar.  Inside, the tea has peaked at a perfect heat, both sweet and sour with a wedge of lemon, but it is the second carafe I've made out of the same grounds, and it is re-heated from this morning on the stove.  Chocolate melts in my mouth, and I must move the car to the other side of the street, drop laundry off downstairs, and edit a piece of writing down into a razor.  Then, with any luck, I'll re-order all of these events and play them all back in a baroque masterpiece that will maintain one foundational insight, to be determined.  One cannot forecast these things.  Can one? Perhaps two.

Either way, we sit, here, sober.  We are, as it were, patient studiers.  Perhaps, the other way, again, studying patience, a study.  We have a study in front of us, and we are the control.  Isolating variables is a bit trickier.  Let us have at it, up the the armpits?  Rather, no.  Let us slide back cool on the side of the road to watch the parade float on by, sip at our tea as the shades of temperature drop through out lips and allow ourselves to stand motionless when someone screams that there's a deal, in the gym, down the street, up the alley, on this flier, in that suit--garnitur, mind you, kapelusz--we'll find our way through on our own, once we can get entrance to the beginning.  Because we stranded in a suspended state, one that, mind you, is here, for, a, reason (insert narrative about grandiose fornication, nay, slay them down into flesh for grilling, for cooking, for procreation and sustenance), a reason that chooses to reveal itself as a game of study.  To study.  To study something that marks itself a vignette of the lived life, a shrunk package that is wholly representative, a flogging.  And stand by.  Stand by.  Have the courage not to doubt.  If not faith, then not doubt.  No more vacillation and nausea.

What's Obvious Now

When I watch Charlie Sheen, I can recognize something very very quickly--and it is stunning and dear to me.  It is precisely how out of it (self-righteous, conceited, fast talking, angry at anyone who didn't agree with me, and needlessly extreme, all the while slowly changing my perceptions and opinions to garner team-maters) I used to be. Ouch.  Booze allows and encourages this behavior to a large extent.  I could never drink enough.  I'd drink other people's drinks from the table!  I would always have one more.  To what end?  To precisely the end where my mind would be quiet.  Peaceful.  Rested.  But at what cost?  Good God, Charlie, is that what you call rested?