Monday, December 31, 2018

Being Lost

I *ahem* resolved to write a 2018 year in review. I wanted to lay out a post outlining all of the lessons I have learned, the trials and tribulations, and the growth I have experienced over the last year. That would have been an interesting blog indeed. This year, while tragic and awful, has worked a change in me that is perhaps the most easily noticeable of my entire life.
I am not ready to write that post. I am not reflecting with a compassionate eye over the past 12 months. I am mourning. I am lamenting. I wish I could say that I am smiling for this time tomorrow where 2018 will pass officially into memory. The truth is that I have little hope for 2019 being any different.
Time is an illusion. The way we mark seconds, hours, days, weeks, months, and years is simply a way for the arrogant human brain to define their own interactions. If it could be said," I ate lunch 4 inches after breakfast and supper 4 inches later," the same purpose would be served. There is no mystic portal that we are passing through. There is no "New Year" or "new beginnings." I hold my same station on the great satellite that is Earth as does most of the rest of humanity.
Yet, I mark places of change in my life. In 2014 I felt as if I had passed into a proverbial Twilight Zone. I made a wrong turn at Albuquerque and sent myself hurtling down a path that not only was not of my own design was wholly alien and unfamiliar to my experience up to that point. Ashley leaving me, bringing Whitneigh to Tennessee, and T.S.'s murder worked a sort of alchemy on me that brought about a sort of hateful, destructive introspection. I mourned. I languished. I began to metaphorically try to find that yawning portal through which I had stumbled imagining that reversing my course might restore sanity, serenity, and happiness to my life.
From the drama above you might be lead to believe that I am implying the last four years and change have been spent in some sort of brooding misery filled fugue. This is not the case. The events of October 26, 2014, were simply the herald of the violations to come. I would foolishly spend much of that time blaming my misfortune on Ashley leaving rather than taking ownership of my own actions and behaviors. In many ways, 2018 has forced upon me a violent splash of reality. I have had many chickens come home to roost. I learned that the life I forged for myself in this new Twilight Zone did not have to be the mirthless grind I made it. Many of my imagined wounds were self-inflicted and even the ones that were validly dealt to me by others were picked so as to become infected by my own hand.
I have always been an incredibly angry person. I grinned broadly in the first Avengers movie and wholeheartedly agreed with Bruce Banner when he said, "That is my secret. I am always angry." I identified with this. I have spent a great amount of my life hiding this anger. I covered it with a quick wit, a smiling face, and a foolish demeanor. My facade was that of the smiling rogue. Few noticed that the smiles never quite reach my eyes and the laughter is a bit forced. I don't think I ever stopped to think why I was so angry.
The truth of the matter is that my anger has always been a mask for my pain. It was easier to be angry at Ashley than to admit that I had fouled up our marriage in the first place by being angry instead of talking about the distance between us. It was easier to be angry about ANYTHING than to deal with any emotion that was not anger. Emotions other than anger: sadness, loneliness, insecurity, or jealousy were just too deep of waters for me to feel comfortable swimming in.
 I have learned to feel guilt more openly. I have also learned how to forgive myself and later I learned that I didn't need forgiveness. I can reflect on memory without judging myself. I was that person in that place and time. I made my choices. Regret, guilt, and self-loathing are not productive emotions.
I realized that Whitneigh has lived in the shadow of this sense of not belonging and unnatural living since 2014. While our relationship was never perfect, I did her a great injustice allowing myself to carry on as if I were lost on a deserted island. I have been emotionally vacant even when I was present. All too often I have simply been totally absent. There was never a way for us to work out. I had to accept that I dealt her an impossible hand.
In all this sense of not belonging or not being, I have still found success on many fronts. I have made and lost friends. I have found new loves. I have learned things about myself. I have grown as a person. I have stood in the face of bigger adversity, and stood alone, without breaking or bending. I have kept old goals and made new ones. 2018 has been a year of accepting that this alternate reality I have fallen is to is my home now.
I have written about Weltschmerz before. I didn't realize how much I was inflicting it upon myself. I was constantly searching for a place and a time that had past. Even with Ashley and I reunited, we are not the people we were before. Many things have changed. Some of them are improvements. I don't believe either of us would go back in time and leave things the way they were before. I know I wouldn't. I also wouldn't change the way that mine and Whitneigh's relationship panned out. Neither of us wanted things to work out the way they did, but I wouldn't go back and relive any part of it.
Einstein is often quoted as saying, "Repeating the same action and expecting a different result is the very definition of insanity." Why have I been trying to find my way back to a situation I was in before? Why have I been trying to find my personal "golden age" again? That time has passed. Those situations have changed. My circumstances are entirely different.
The truth is humans are incapable of losing themselves. Wherever you go, there you are. I always know where I am even if I don't know where I am located. My insanity and sense of being lost came from denying my own reality. I was constantly facing backward, but there was no path back.
 They say ( the proverbial THEM again) that you cannot know where you are going unless you know where you have been. I call bullshit. Where you have been is behind you. Where you are is much more important. Who cares where you are going? That is what is coming next. Now is a ton more important.
Suddenly I find myself watching the road just in front of my tires. I don't need to look too far down the road. Looking too far ahead causes me to miss potholes and possums that have stumbled into traffic. Let's not forget about vengeful deer. (That bastard headbutted my cute little car) Watching the rear view clearly isn't an option. Motorcycles don't have those. Did you foolishly think I was in a metaphorical car? Nope, I am screaming down the metaphorical mindscape at high triple-digit speeds because the metaphorical sun is always shining and the metaphorical roads are cop free. I lean into every metaphorical curve. I roar down every metaphorical straight away pushing my metaphorical bike toward limits that it doesn't come close to having.
Now that I am here in reality, it is a lot easier to come to terms with negotiating my situation. I am glad that Whitneigh and I are finding new ways to interact and are raising our kid together. There is obviously love there. Neither of us are bad people and we both want the best for Teagan. I am glad that Ashley and I are not estranged and that we are proving the old adage about loving something and letting it go. I am thrilled with the new people in my life. There is a ton of love there. The cast and crew are getting much more interesting than ever before.
This place isn't the same. Most of the faces are new. The old familiar faces are more careworn for the hurt we have all shared in. Still, I would rather be in a new place and enjoy what there is to offer than feel homesick for a place that doesn't exist anymore.
One interesting thing I have given up is the idea of the "pursuit of happiness." I think this may be the most toxic and perverted idea. What exactly does it mean to pursue happiness? I pay a ton of bills but it is rare that taking care of business like that makes me happy. While raising kids has super rewarding moments there is lots of unpleasant, scary, and downright awful moments along the way. I wouldn't call it the pursuit of happiness.
For that matter, what exactly is happy? Is it having lots of money? Is it getting laid multiple times a day every day? Is it not having to work? Is it being without pain?
I don't have a damned clue. Happiness is this ephemeral state. I stumble into it just like I do inspiration. I will be sitting on the couch with Teagan. Trolls is on the TV. She gets up and starts dancing with Whitneigh. *Bam* I am happy.
I am sitting at work and in the middle of talking to one of my people. I realize that we are on the same page. We have the same goals. *ping* There is a fleeting moment of happiness.
I am writing a blog and am trying to explain that happiness isn't something you can chase and that it just happens. Skyrim is paused on the TV to my right. My earbuds are playing Journey. *BOOM* Happiness has achieved full penetration.
I am out eating breakfast at Waffle House with a friend.
I am rolling a bowling ball down a lane and trying not to do too well so that I take happiness away from a competitive friend.
I am standing in a parking lot talking to a different friend.
I am riding through the mountains on my motorcycle with my Dad chasing after me.
I am reading a comic book in the bathroom at work giggling to myself about getting paid to poop and read comics. (gross but satisfying and happy.)
Happy is real, but any one of those moments can be recreated and happiness won't show up to the party. Happy happens. You cannot really chase it or force it to happen.
I think instead I am chasing satisfaction. I can leave every interaction with my people satisfied. It takes practice. It takes me being intentional. It takes knowing yourself. Satisfaction is much more easily attained than happiness. It also is a feeling that is constant. Happiness is more fleeting than the afterglow of an orgasm.
I am satisfied leaving 2018 behind. With it, I am abandoning every year that came before it. There are no grudges for me. I am going to take things a minute at a time and try to throw more punches than I am forced to roll with. Instead of being angry I am going to be scary effective and efficient. I am going to write a lot more and talk a lot less (disclaimer that this cessation of words does not apply to recording a podcast where I plan to be both verbose and loquacious). I am going to finally stop debating and arguing with other people and just make choices for myself leaving behind anyone who doesn't want to keep pace and follow the path I am on.
I am going to leave as much of my sadness and melancholy as possible in 2018. I have to be a bit of a brooding artist and philosopher, but I don't have to be an emo princess. I can feel my emotions wihtout judgement. That doesn't mean I have to be a slave to them.

Most of all I am not going to be lost anymore. I know where I am. I hope the rest of you have as much luck finding yourselves.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Writing Reality

I am huge fan of animated shows. I love Family Guy, Archer, Bob's Burgers, Futurama, American Dad, South Park,  and most of all Rick and Morty. You may notice that The Simpsons is absent from this list. Growing up, Mom did not allow me to watch the Simpsons. Unlike most things, I did not rebel against this as soon as I was out on my own. I just don't enjoy the show.
For those of you that may or may not know, The Simpsons have several times predicted the future. The predictions vary from Lady Gaga's performance at a Superbowl to Donald Trump becoming president and even things as simple as smart watches. Google it. Some of the results are spooky and cool.
Family guy also has successfully made future predictions. Stewie commented on Bruce Jenner being a "elegant, beautiful woman," years before the transition took place. A cutaway scene joked about the X-man character Iceman being gay. It is this last "prediction" that has me really thinking about things.
 
As a consumer of both amazing Family Guy episode and all of the X line of comics I know that the cartoon prediction came a decade or so before the defining of the character's sexuality. Instead of thinking that Seth Macfarlane has tapped into some sort of mystical powers, Occum's razor would suggest that it is much more likely that the episode of Family Guy put a subtle suggestion into the minds of the writers of the X-men comics. Maybe it was as simple as the Family Guy writing staff making a fairly obvious observation that has been in the comics for years, putting it into the show, the X-men writers seeing it and then deciding to make the change from the inspiration. Then again maybe not.
Carl Jung fathered the idea of the Collective Unconscious. As best as I understand the concept, the idea of the collective unconscious is that as a species we share a connection to one another imparted to us genetically that forms and shapes our lives through symbols and instinctual concepts. This all gets very high level, is somewhat metaphysical, and has not been provable by science.
My concept has two basic ideas. The first relates to the collective unconscious. I believe that all humans broadcast and receive thoughts and feelings unconsciously from one person to another all of the time. Different people are more or less sensitive to this and from this may be more or less aware that this is happening. I think of this shared head space as the dreamscape. Some people define this as being psychic. Others feel it as being empathetic. I think they are all different descriptors of the same concepts.
I chose dreamscape to describe this collective consciousness because our subconscious mind is the part of the brain that lets us interact with dreams (or at least that is my current understanding). The dreamscape may be a bad name because I believe that we are always connected to it. Robert Howard described his fiction more as being channeled from some other reality than him telling a story. In On Writing Stephen King comes writing to a form of telepathy through time and space where the reader is actually experiencing the mind of the writer. I chose authors as examples of this phenomenon because one of the most prominent ways I interact with my dreamscape is when I am writing.
If the first part of my idea is far fetched, hold on for part two. I don't believe that these cartoon predictions are really predictions at all. I think that enough people came to believe that these things were possible that they were brought into reality by the power of thought. The Iceman example is probably the weakest example to work from. It probably really was fiction inspiring other fiction. Donald Trump being President on the other hand might be a direct result of dread fascination with fantasy.
It goes like this. Bob is watching the Simpsons. He laughs at the impossible idea of Trump being President. The idea becomes a seed in his unconscious mind. He laughs about it with his friends. The seed is planted in the friend's mind. It spreads from one mind to another like a virus. It grows. It becomes more fantastic and at the same time the idea becomes more and more real. In subtle ways reality begins to bend to this idea. Trump really becomes President. It is Matt Groening's fault. (or whoever came up with that idea in the writing session.)
The truth is our communication network has evolved from the telegraph to the internet in just a few human generations. We are so busy figuring out what we can do with our power and technology that we don't ever really examine the repercussions of it. What if the thoughts and ideas of other can infect us? What if the power of human thought can manifest change in the real world? Imagine how many people pray at the altar of The Walking Dead. I sure have noticed a ton of Zombie Apocalypse Response Vehicle bumper stickers over the past 10 years or so. Don't say I didn't warn you when you are actually getting your brains eaten by ravenous undead brought to life from the imagination of Robert Kirkman.
All of this is a rather fantastic idea of my own. It is all probably just my own imagination correlating a bunch of unrelated facts and turning them into a logical horror story. I don't even know if I really believe it myself, but some part of me is taking little data points and constantly chewing on it and trying to figure out the chaos of human behavior. It pleases me to think that we might be causing our own difficulties by putting negative thoughts into our own lives.
The birth of this concept is why I avoid darkness and negativity in my life. I don't watch torture or gory movies because I do believe that you are metaphorically what you eat. I don't want to develop a tolerance to the psychic pain involved in watching another human be in pain even if the pain is only an affectation in a work of fiction. I still have some angry metal music in my library, but I also have positive uplifting stuff as well. I don't want to be metaphorically Moana anymore than I want to be House of 1000 Corpses.

Then again, maybe I am just crazy. I think it is more likely that I am just written that way.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

The Condiment Placebo

It is now 12 days until Christmas in a season I am working hard not to celebrate. The one echoing emotion that slaps me in the head multiple times a day every single day is that I really miss my Mom. She was such a strong structuring influence in my life, and there are days I just feel lost without her there to advise me, console me, or give me a really sharp kick in my ass. I need the latter more often than I care to admit. The good news is my Mom did her job really well. I am prepared to be without her.
Parents, please take note of this idea:

  Your one purpose in life is to get your children ready to live their lives well in a world without you. 

I hope not to fail in that mission. If I succeed in any small fashion for my girls, mine will be a life well lived. 
 
I find myself, like everyone else, stressed about the normal ebb and flow in life. I try to keep as much as I can under control. I budget carefully. I try to stay ahead of the daily troubles like laundry and dirty dishes. I work on the bigger issues diligently such as watching what I eat a bit and trying to get some decent exercise. Then things come along that I cannot do a thing about and I am suddenly blown out of the water. Mom suddenly dying as an example...
 
Anyway, I have all these great memories of Mom moments. So many of them weren't meant to teach me anything but stuck with me none the less. The story I am about to tell here is one prominent example. I will give this disclaimer. Human memory is unreliable at best. My Dad or my oldest daughter may tell this story slightly differently. I would just about bet the kid would. The further in life, I get from events the easier it is to paint them in a better light than how I felt when they happened. I may tell one of those stories too as I have just hit an inspiration.
 
We had been living in Germany a month or so when Mom really caught all the differences between groceries there and here. Oh, there would be surprises along the way. We attempted to find safe and familiar things to cook.
 
Mom made dinner. I honestly do not remember what the entree was. I know we had french fries on the side. Taila started to complain about how something tasted funny. That was the way things were in Germany for me. If it was something from home, say french fries, they were really close but not quite right. That was much worse than the things that were just completely different. 
 
I remember dinner being sort of tense. It wasn't an unpleasant setting by any means. Dad was stressed about work. I was decompressing from 10 years of suppressing emotions. (This is how I spent my time in Germany. That, taking pictures, writing, and growing out my hair.) Taila hated school a little less (from my perspective) than before or after that time. Still, the kid was complaining about the food as kids are want to do. 
 
After about 3 times answering for the meal, my Mother was fed up. She got increasingly aggravated. Taila launched one last complaint and Mom barked back," Well, you can put some ketchup on it and deal with it." Taila was furious. Mom was savage. Dad and I laughed until the other two joined in. It became a repeated mantra in our household. I don't think the kid really appreciated it since she felt like the victim of the statement. Lately, I wish she would apply it.
 
There is a ton of wisdom behind that short, smart-assed statement. It meant," Eat is because it is what we have." It also meant, "Find a way to work with what you have rather than wishing for the things you do not." I like the idea of it meaning, "If it is good enough for the rest of us, it is plenty good enough for you." My Mom probably just was tired of hearing complaints about her hard work and meant literally," Drown it and ketchup and it will taste fine." 
 
"Eat it because it is what we have," is an important sentiment. That is probably the foundation of practical and pragmatic. It is the base idea of, "Beggars cannot be choosers." It is also the motivation behind making good choices that allow you to surround yourself with desirable things. I find spoiled people very frustrating. I am blessed to live in a place where a little bit of hustle and hard work allow me to make nearly infinite choices and avoid most of the things I don't like. I understand that there are places in the world where this freedom is not available. I don't lose sight of that and it helps me to be less entitled.
 
"Find a way to work with what you have rather than wishing for things you do not," is about it not being a good idea to get German Chocolate Wet Cake for every meal. Ok, maybe that is not the literal underlying idea. Let me try that one again.
 
There are tons of things about myself that I would have changed along the way. I would not have been quite so tall. I think 5'10" sounds absolutely perfect. I would have liked to have straight hair so I could style it more easily. I would like to have naturally, perfectly straight teeth. 
 
In my youth, I lamented all these things and a few others. At one point I really hated the way my toenails were shaped. Over time I learned to really appreciate every aspect of myself. I have a lot of swagger about my height, my broad shoulders, and my great head of wavy, impossible hair. That didn't come from other people admiring me. It came from me believing in myself and making what I had my own. All of the wishes for impossible changes just tore at my self-esteem. 
 
I have had the same problem over the years with falling in and out of love quickly with my transportation. I always want something faster, more fuel efficient, roomier, or with a special feature like four-wheel drive. Now, a few cars over the years have bit the dust. I killed the Cougar rather spectacularly. I got rid of my Explorer though for no real reason. I wasn't really using it at the time. I wanted to buy a motorcycle. Now I find myself wanting a vehicle to pull a camper, drive in the snow, and has more room for me and the family. Not all my moves are well thought out. I would have been better off to make do with what I already had.
 
Lastly, I like the equality of the idea of," Put some Ketchup on it and deal with it." I was eating the food. Mom was eating the food. Dad was eating the food. It was good enough for us. It was plenty good enough for Taila. This sentiment applies to situations where the system applies rules to everyone to be fair. I see no point in complaining about things that everyone else has to deal with. Mom taught me long ago that life isn't fair, but it is funny to me how many people complain about the rules and measures that try to make it that way.
 
I have trouble feeling sympathy for people who complain rather than dealing with the things everyone else deals with. You need money. You are probably going to have to have a job that meets that need. The job is going to have requirements that you have to maintain. If you aren't willing or able to meet them, you will end up having to find a job that you can succeed in holding. 
 
You will have happy days and sad. You will struggle financially. You will struggle emotionally. You are likely to have a spiritual crisis or three along the way. You may even get treated unfairly in some new and unique way. Eventually, you are going to die. 
 
There is nothing you can do about any of it. You might as well make the best of it. When it is hard to chew on that is when you have to, "put some ketchup on it, and deal with it." I love the grim determination of the phrase so much. It answers pretty much every problem. 
 
 
 

 

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Humans: Proper Care and Handling

I am a profoundly stupid human. Many of the truths, realizations, and epiphanies that I share in my blog are coming to me in middle age. A smarter, more capable human would have learned these lessons younger and through less trial and error than I have.
Tonight as I came home I realized that I am a poor human trainer. I do a poor job of setting clear limits and expectations. I am often frustrated with poorly trained companions. Upon reflection on this problem, I have realized that I am to blame for this. I am even stupid enough to compromise things that I am not at all willing to accept.
Each set of interactions between two people constitute a give and take that make up the accepted behaviors for the relationship. Let's say that one of those people has a habit of blasphemy because of their Atheistic beliefs. If the other person is offended by the use of the blasphemy but says nothing then they have given implied consent for the blasphemies to continue. A polite request to not use blasphemous language is typically enough to establish new boundaries for the relationship. Seems simple?
Here is the flaw. Many people, like me, care about what other people think and have internalized a need to be liked. I am very guilty of allowing behavior I disapprove of to continue in my presence for long periods of time keeping my silence or even playing along with the behavior rather than voicing my objection. This comes from a lack of a sense of self-worth. The pathetic logic behind it all being," It isn't worth losing the acceptance of this person to stop them saying words. After all, it isn't that big of a deal and I enjoy their company." In other words, I would rather accept the pain they cause me than face the pain of being alone without them.
Never allow yourself to accept this compromise. This is emotional suicide.
If the behavior is minor it will probably just grate on a person's nerves. What if it isn't minor? What if it isn't a single behavior? What if the majority of a person's behaviors are major violations and offend you? If you have said nothing you have taught the person you are dealing with to treat you badly. This is how people wake up married to one another after 5 years and suddenly are complaining to one another about things that happened weeks, months, or years in the past.
Who wronged who?
To be fair, you have to treat all complaints about how you treat others seriously. You cannot define their feelings. You cannot limit how they define the pain you cause them. I certainly would respect a person's right to object. Their objection may or may not actually change anything.
At the same time, you cannot answer for past wrongs. You can only be responsible for trespasses after they are brought to your attention. Moreover, you have to care enough about the person to be willing to change your behavior. If you are not willing, you also have to have the balls to say so. It is NOT ok to agree to change, and continue offensive behaviors.
I am guilty of violating every aspect of this blog up to this point. I have made many of these mistakes multiple times. I am responsible for the failure of many friendships and relationships I have had over the years by not training or refusing to be trained by the other person.
As an example:
I hate to be texting while I am at work or when I am driving.My phone going off, especially on the late shift I work, distracts me. I feel an obligation to answer the text. Rather than stating this, I find myself having unwanted conversations frequently. I have only ever told one person to not text me while I am working or driving. She violates this request daily. She is guilty of crossing a boundary. She is also the only person I have a right to be frustrated with. My lack of complaint and my engagement in the conversation has encouraged everyone else. I have taught them that I am available and that I don't mind. Even my lack of consistency in the person I have objected to texting me gives a completely mixed message. When I am willing to participate in the behavior one minute and resent it the next, I am the problem.
A person really should be consistent with their expectations. 
Different humans require different amounts of intimacy and involvement. I am very frequently aloof. I prefer to be alone as often as humanly possible until I desire companionship. The exception to this is that I value intelligent conversation.
I do seriously mean intelligent conversation by this. Messaging me or trying to start a conversation if you have nothing at all to say will earn you an eye roll at best or contempt at worst. Telling me you love me is NOT an intelligent conversation. Love is an understood thing for me. It is a binary condition. You do or you do not. "What are you doing," also does not constitute an intelligent conversation. I do not mind it as an opener, but please have some additional direction for the conversation to follow up.
All that said, I am not all that smart. My idea of intelligent conversation can be as simple as talking about a TV show, book, movie, or the current status of your genitals. Almost anything related to booty or boobs will catch my attention. Maybe I really mean that I want interesting conversation more than intelligent conversation.
Because I value being alone I seriously enjoy humans capable of sharing companionable silence. I want to be able to sit next to you and write in peace. I want to be able to concentrate on things other than you without you feeling neglected. My focus not being on you does not mean I don't like you or that I am mad at you. I very frequently like people who can exist around me without demanding my full attention. Provide me with this and you may find that I am much more interested in you than you previously expected.
For many of the people, I have shared time with I didn't set clear expectations. In enjoying their companionship, I have allowed myself to paint a picture of someone who deals well with clingy or needy people. I am NOT good with those types of people. Spending time with takes a ton of self-confidence. I cannot constantly comfort, console, maintain, or pet you. More than cannot, I do not want to.
I make the mistake of believing that other humans think like me. I am observant. I reflect on the behaviors of others. I try to decipher the mystery of others. My experience with other people is that I am VERY different. I don't think too many people have worked hard to understand the David Engima. The same self-esteem issue I have talked about in past blogs had me believing that I was not worth the effort, and that was acceptable.
I don't feel that way anymore. I have a heavy expectation that the people in my life take the time to understand me. My blog is basically a big how-to guide for me. It displays very intimate thoughts and feelings for anyone to see. I advertise the damned thing. I am basically flopping my psyche out on the table and saying, "If you want to look deeper into me, feel free. Oh and I don't you telling me what you think of it."
Best of all, People change. 
I think I go through a major life change about once every few months. It may be more often. I have gained a massive amount of self-esteem. My confidence has gone from being mostly affected swagger to hide insecurity to genuinely seeing myself in a positive light. I accepted my past. I didn't forgive myself or come to terms with it. I was that person at that place and time. I acted the way I did for reasons that were valid to me at that time. There is no apology needed. Acceptance is extremely powerful. Letting go of my own past let me stop holding other people responsible for theirs.

It is seldom that it is too late for someone to choose to act the right way.
Training the humans around you is a constant process. As you change, your expectations may change with you. The David I was January 1, 2018, didn't survive until the 19th. It is very understandable that my friends have changed. The people around me are having to learn to deal with the person I am 11 months later. Some are coping better than others.
I can tell you that a few of the people in my life believe I am willing to compromise and deal with things that I would have a year ago and absolutely will not now. Some of these people will have to be retrained. Some of these people are not going to survive my metamorphosis. Change isn't always comfortable. I am not afraid of growing pains.

I have become adept at finding new homes for the strays in my life. 
This is a theme I will probably build on some more, but I think I have struck upon an idea I needed to learn about 30 years ago. I certainly would have put up with a lot less bullshit. I would not have broken Rule # 10 quite so much.
For those of you in need of a recap, Rule #10 states:
Don't take any shit that you don't have to take. Pick your battles. It is your responsibility to not give anyone else unnecessary shit. Own your shit.

To sum this up I think human training involves some steps. They are as follows:
  1. Be honest about your expectations.
  2. Accept the expectations of others or walk away.
  3. Do not compromise things that are meaningful to you. Be willing to walk away for yourself.
  4. Be consistent.
  5. Communicate as you change.
  6. Second chances are acceptable. Don't allow there to be a third chance.
  7. The only meaningful apology is changed behavior.
Really, seriously, expect more on this subject. I would love some feedback on this one. I want this to open a discussion. 
 

I feel I have failed to talk about training humans and not have once mentioned cuffs, collars, or riding crops. Yep, there will be a lot more to say on this. In the words of Tigger, "Ta Ta For Now."

Thursday, December 6, 2018

The Distance Problem

Brace yourselves, kids, this one is probably going to get emotional, intimate, and uncomfortable for everyone. Have you ever found yourself fighting with someone you love? If you can honestly answer no to this I need you to email me right now, cantrellwrites@gmail.com, and give me the method by which you live your life. Seriously, write the email. Share your zen knowledge. I won't publish it on here or anything.
Anywho, I have been in several different types of loving relationships that involve conflict. Each different one has its own problems. They all share one type of problem in common. That problem is distance. It can be as small as the air between the two people sitting next to each other on the couch or a gulf of space that feels like the distance between Uranus and the Sun. The distance can be literal or metaphorical. It is always a problem.
Having reached the ripe of age of 38, I have seen this problem from several different sides. When I was a child and I found myself disagreeing with my parents, the distance was created in my behavior being corrected. Even the smallest child doesn't like to be told no. They don't like it even if what they are being told no about is crawling face first into a 450-degree oven.
I remember clearly burning my hands badly on a camp lantern. I had been told not to touch it, that it was hot. The darn thing was just so pretty. It had a candy apple red body just like my favorite firetrucks. It was pleasantly warm in the cool night air. It gave off this brilliant glow that was comforting and inviting. Of course, I couldn't be stopped, even by two very vigilant parents from grabbing ahold of the lantern. Speaking of distance, boy did I try to put some distance between myself and that lantern once I had my tiny little hands around that flaming hot glass!
I cried. My parents comforted. I got medical attention for my burns. I was alright. I got lectured about how they had told me not to touch the lantern for that very reason. Then I got comforted. That is when the distance closed. I had spent all night, from the time the lantern was lit and they first told me not to touch it, until I was hurt putting distance between me and my parents. I knew I was doing something wrong by not listening. My young mind thought it knew better and I wasn't going to be discouraged until I got my way. My way hurt.
If we dig into my young psychology and biology for a minute we will probably find some irrational resentment of my parents for being right. I was mad at them while I was hurting for not thwarting my will and keeping me safe even though I was the idiot that wanted to grab a flame hot lantern glass. I resented them being smarter and more experienced than me. It wasn't until they took away the hurt of the burn that I calmed down and let the distance between us dissolve. Kids are often irrational this way because their prefrontal cortex isn't fully functional. You cannot hold these feelings against them. It takes some people much longer in life than others to get this part of the brain fully formed and working. They will need to be forgiven for being hateful and irrational much later in life than others.
Adolescent and preadolescent friendships are another place where distance manifests itself. Sometimes this distance is physical. I changed schools and so I wasn't really friends with Brandon anymore even though we had been "best friends" since 5th grade. It was really an out of sight, out of mind sort of situation. This carries over into coworkers later in life. People come to dread promotion or shift change because they have the comfort of their cofriends. If they don't see these people as often the relationships will suffer from the distance and probably dissolve.
I think of these relationships with a sort of practical detachment. They can be interesting, intense, and important while they last, but they are not meant to survive and evolve into more important connections. These relationships are very common. Treat them practically and don't spend more energy than you have to on them. Distance is a good thing. Avoid people who put too much emphasis on these interactions. They are likely desperate for connection and have elevated the importance of, "you are in my 6th period Math class," or," we are on the same team at work, "into, "You complete me and will be in my life forever."  Find me the 6th grader who understands this and I will show you a kid that will go far in life. Find me the adult who doesn't and I will show you an unhappy individual.
I am not saying that work friends or childhood relationships cannot evolve into something more meaningful. I have a few friends I have met through work that mean the absolute world to me. I would maintain these friendships, to the best of my ability, through a career change or even me moving off somewhere. Part of the purpose of the job was to put these people in my path. We stopped being cofriends, evolved into real friends, and now have an established connection that transcends distance. This is a source of great pleasure in my life. I just know that most of the rank and file aren't going to undergo this metamorphosis.
Romantic relationships bring a new type of distance. I struggle with this one. Some distance comes with disagreement. Some distance is natural. I tend to be extremely comfortable with distance as long as it is not conflict based. I like being able to go about my life doing the things I need to get done. Then, when I have time for the romantic to focus on it. This DOES NOT work for most of the people I have ever been involved with.
Because of this, I have to constantly watch my own behavior and make sure I do not let the distance become too great. I need a little distance to self-care. It is my process. I cannot allow that to push my person into thinking I don't care about them. This becomes amazingly difficult if I am struggling with something in life. I tend to withdraw and increase distance so that I can think clearly. This breeds insecurity and makes my person feel as if they are unneeded and unwanted. The ironic part is that the opposite is true. It really means a lot to me when the distance between me and a loved one is totally understood and it is even appreciated when it ends. I very much believe in absence making the heart grow fonder.
To me, the worst distance is between a parent and their child. I remember causing the distance as a kid. As an adult though, bridging that distance gap sometimes becomes impossible. Young kids lack the ability to understand things. For that matter, adult children sometimes just don't have the knowledge or experience to understand the issues that create distance. Worse still, I admit that there are times when I allow my own feelings to create distance even when I shouldn't.
Solving the problem of distance often involves swallowing pride and admitting you are wrong. Standing on principle is often not worth losing the relationship to growing distance. When enough distance has built up the relationship is often too strained for an easy fix. I tend to cope with this in less than ideal ways like posting my feelings to Facebook or writing a long blog post. There are a few places where I am 100% right about a situation but the resulting distance isn't worth the cost of standing up for what is right.
I am on the horns of that dilemma in multiple places in my life. Do I stick to what I know to be right or do I give in for the sake of not growing the distance? Do I maintain the right course and refuse to compromise and assume that when the other person realizes their mistake we will be able to overcome the distance?
Distance is the problem. I do not always have a solution. That is ok too. The first step is just figuring out the problem.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Welcome to the Desert of the Real

"This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill—the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill—you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember: all I'm offering is the truth. Nothing more."

 Morpheus makes this pretty little speech in The Matrix and for the past (almost) twenty years the internet has quoted, misquoted, speculated, fantasized, and made memes about it. The image and its accompanying idea is powerful. The life you have been living is not real, but you can change and wake up in the real world. Now I am borrowing this scene to make my own point. 

I have been blessed to find myself playing Morpheus a time or two. More often than not I am standing in Neo's shoes (metaphorically speaking since Neo was sitting in a chair at the time.) The problem with the metaphor is swallowing the red or blue pill is a choice we all have to make multiple times each and every day. Perception defines human reality. Many of us have a flawed perception of the world and events around us. We are too blinded by our own bias to even know that we have chosen the metaphorical blue pill.

Let me tell two quick stories of me taking the blue pill thinking I was living in reality. 


I
 
I used to call myself a writer. I think it may still be my "job" on Facebook. It was a fair thing in my mind to say. I love to write. I blog regularly. I have a few different novels I have been "developing" for a number of years now. Of course, I am a writer, right? 
 
Wrong. I don't write every day. I don't treat writing like a job. I write when I am inspired. I play at it. 
 
The truth, ugly as it may be, is that I want people to look at me and say," Wow, he writes. That makes him smart, deep, and philosophical. I want to have sex with him." Probably, maybe not that last part but you get the idea. 
 
When I started calling myself a writer I wanted to make myself sound more deep and impressive. I think I was probably working at Bellsouth (a pretty profitable gig) and I didn't think Sales Associate sounded sexy. Because I wanted that attention the real problem wasn't the function of my job or the money I was making, The real problem was me glorifying a hobby to sound cooler than I really am. 
 
The real bedrock of the problem was my own self image. It took me a while to admit that I felt like a failure because of other parts of my life. I had to stop overcompensating for that with other things and accept me. That overcompensation was another problem. It made me brag about silly things that didn't matter. That made me unattractive in actuality. Once I stopped, I was surprised how much people seemed to like the real me. 
 
Oddly enough, a side effect of this was me finding out I wanted to write more. I talk about my writing now, but I do a heck of a lot more of it. Occasionally someone will start a conversation about my blog (since I am not yet published in another format) and I feel amazing that someone took the time to read the work I do as a hobby, 
 
II
 
Once upon a time, David was 450 pounds plus. Now, I am tall and I have a broad frame so I carried this weight without people realizing just how big I was. I had already had my self love epiphany so I was a happier David. To be fair, I was married and happy which tends to put weight on people at an increased pace. The weight problem was effecting my health.

I decided to fix this by running. I got on the treadmill and said," I am either going to run 5 miles or I am going to die." I ran the five miles. By running I mean that i kept my feet moving at slightly above a walking pace for 5 miles. 

I did it the next day, and the next, and the next. Exercise became habit. I lost weight. I felt healthier. I had a health scare. I stopped working out. I started having problems at home for non related reasons. I bulked back up.

Now, I do go through bursts of exercise. I will get on a kick and lose a bunch of weight. Life will start to get complicated and the first thing I do is cut my trips to the gym. This has the side effect of taking away one of my stress outlets as well as stopping my weight loss. 

I talk a really good game about being healthier and my determination. I drink only water. I don't eat desert. I don't have sodas, sugary foods, or snack cakes. Then again, eating two hamburgers, a baked potato, a big scoop of baked beans, and corn is still over eating. I let myself buy into the better lifestyle by talking up my few good changes rather than make the full transformation and stick to it. This lie makes me feel good about myself just enough to excuse myself from completely dieting and exercising. 


***
In order to effect change in your life you have to start with admitting that there is a problem. The "problem" of identifying myself as a writer was not the real problem. Having self esteem issues was the problem. The problem of being fat is the problem, but it isn't solved by not holding myself accountable for the lack of diet and exercise. The human mind is built to make excuses. The more you allow your memory to edit the truth the further you get from reality. Once you are too far gone from reality even the steps you take to solve your problems become suspect. 
 
I have been impaled on the horns of several problems in my life lately. In struggling to figure out the right path to take I have created an idyllic fantasy of being able to break away from everything and strike out on my own. This is a very dangerous blue pill and I have swallowed it several times.
 
All the time I put into my fantasy solution is time and energy wasted. Even the thoughts that went into the idea were a waste. Simply put, I could have used that effort to face the real problem. Now I find myself mourning the loss of my fantasy. 
 
I have begun to resent the idea of "happy" as a goal or right way to live life. How exactly do you define happy? For a meth addicted person, happiness is probably found as a result of meth use. For a pedophile, happiness is found in lusting after or partaking in lewd acts with children. Do right minded people want either of these folks pursuing their happiness? I can tell you I don't. I have no forgiveness for heavy drug users or pedophiles. I am still very on the fence about marijuana and have no use at all for alcohol unless it is used as a disinfectant or a treatment for a cold.
 
That may not seem pertinent to reality, but I see tons of people deluding themselves about the importance of happiness. Your life may be a constant fight. Is it better to pretend you aren't getting hit and take a beating or is it better to focus and get in a few licks of your own? The ability to fool everyone around you and get away with a false reality may be the most damaging thing in the world. It allows you to perpetrate your lie, but some part of you is always aware that the truth is out there and it cannot wait to catch up with you. This is my biggest issue with social media. If you are posting a flashy lie, you have a real problem with your reality, but you are trying to cover up the rotten foundation with sparkly wallpaper.
 
How many family vacations start with the idea of "getting away from our problems for a little while." Guess what? Those problems go right on vacation with you. Escapism does not work. You need to dig deep, figure out the real problem, and then deal with it. I love this quote:
 

"Flow with whatever may happen and let your mind be free. Stay centered by accepting whatever you are doing. This is the ultimate." - Zhuangzi

This means be present in the reality of the moment. Don't be thinking of the mistakes of the past. Don't be anxious about the status of the future. You are where you are. Be engaged there.
When you do this you will find yourself able to accept and overcome your reality. Some things in life cannot be overcome. I am in the middle of reading Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life. The book refers to some problems as "Gravity Problems." There is a clever anecdote in the first chapter to explain what that means. Basically it boils down to, if you try to fight reality you are going to lose.
The question behind all of this is simple. Why do people choose the blue pill, consciously or subconsciously, over the red pill time and time again? They take the easy road that is more pleasant looking than the hard road. It is a choice of laziness and avoiding pain. I personally avoid anything easy or free. A beautiful lie is not better than an ugly truth. I even have a rule about it.

Rule #8: Take people, places, things, and situations as they are, not as you would like them to be. 

I have a bad habit of losing reality. Breaking this rule, like all of the others, is dangerous. I have had entire relationships based on a fantasy. Normally the break up brings all the truth to the surface. It becomes very hard to swallow. It was no one's fault but my own for allowing myself to live a lie.
 
I have had jobs where I lied to myself about my level of skill and ability. This caused me to get passed over for promotions. It caused me to be dissatisfied and to seek out other jobs without any real reason.
 
Because of violating this rule I have stayed in many different relationships that I should not have. I lied to myself about my importance in other people's lives based on insecurity in my own. This harmed me. 
 
Here are some ugly realities all people should accept:
 
Life is temporary. Everyone is going to die. 
 
You are replaceable in every situation. 
 
You are not special to anyone except yourself. 
 
Most everything will change. 
 
That person you like has other people in their life. Don't let that stop you from making a move. 
 
If a person is with you they are yours. As soon as they are gone, they are not. Wife, Husband, Boyfriend, Girlfriend, Boo, and Bae are bullshit titles that only mean as much as the person you apply them to allows. 
 
Beating up the "other guy" will not make her come back to you. This applies to beating up the "other woman" as well. Avoid assault charges. 
 
Friendship is based on convenience and mutual self interest. 
 
Love is not easy. It is not the answer. It sometimes is the problem. It is not all you need. Try eating love and you are a cannibal. Try drinking love and you become a vampire. There is no way to breathe love.
 
Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy not a love story. 
 
Everyone you deal with wants something from you. 
 
Rule #26 No matter how little you have, there is someone who wants to take it from you. 
 
Everybody poops. 
 
Someone thinks those pictures of your "cute" little baby are creepy. 
 
Your feet stink after wearing socks and shoes for any amount of time. This is as it should be. 
 
Politics are about control. You are being controlled. There is nothing you can do about this.
 
There is nothing more overrated as bad sex, nor as underrated as a good bowel movement. 
 
About your ex, you weren't the biggest or best she ever had. Still she let you do stuff to her. 
 
Most people, including your parents, masturbate. 
 
Bacon is delicious, but it isn't good for you. 
 
It is much better to accept reality than to live in a fantasy. Pass it on. 
 
 

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Eliminate Distraction

The last week or so has been wonderful and terrible all at the same time. I have connected more with worthwhile people. I have also felt vulnerable and lost. Vulnerable is not my best thing in some ways.
 
I often allow myself to be emotionally or professionally vulnerable. Maybe force myself is a more accurate term. By exposing the raw feelings and inner workings of David, I allow people to get to know me in a deeper and more intimate way. This often garners trust and respect. Those are currencies worth trading in. Almost no one wants facade or bullshit. I hold a real, honest monster in much higher regard than I do a hero that hides their true intentions. 
 
Sometimes my blog is a really intimate look at my heart. More often it shows off the cold calculation in my brain with a little tiny speck of my heart represented if you read really, really carefully. When my friend Christy read my blog she criticized," I like it. It shows a lot about your thoughts. It doesn't tell me much of anything that you are doing." That was astute. 
 
My therapist similar pointed out that I approach highly emotional situations with a type of emotionally detached logic. I think in place of feeling all too often. More accurately, I feel everything keenly. I then hide those feelings behind a wall of logic. This is a self-defense mechanism, and it often is one that stunts my growth. It is a habit I am trying hard to break.
 
Because of this tendency of mine, I tend to value or devalue highly emotional people based on my mood. When I am happy, I love feelings based people. They grant me a sort of vicarious permission to explore my own feelings. When I am insanely stressed, as is the case of the last week or so, feelers frighten the hell out of me. I will quite literally run in the other direction. 
 
When I get depressed the thing I typically lose is focus and direction. I will do all of the standard actions, but I hit a sort of apathetic inertia. Since I am the most satisfied when I am engaged and involved in things this becomes a cycle of sadness. I am not doing anything and so I don't know what to do with myself. The solution always presents itself in time. Sometimes it comes from the muses. Those are the best inspirations and they often launch me into a sort of euphoria of creativity. 
 
My latest funk was broke by a friend writing her first blog post. I am going to expose her a little bit and say you can read her blog here. Her post had absolutely nothing to do with what I am writing now but look at the bravery on the page. (or don't if you feel it is voyeuristic) I envy the emotion there. I respect the flow of feelings from start to finish. It is pure, simple, unvarnished honesty. Like me, she hung the words out there for universal consumption. 
 
It also made me think. Instead of being a whiny puddle of my own emotional distress, I need to break the funk and make some small progress. I haven't put my fictional pen to the page in a long time. I have been cranking out a fair few thoughts and feelings based works (they don't all make their way to the blog, kids). I have been extremely stagnant on my fiction though. I have been stupidly entangled with distraction. 
 
I have put some time into developing my writing. I read works on the craft. I generally practice some vague tips and tricks to be a better writer. The truth of the matter is, I have been playing AT writing for a while though. It has become an outlet for me when other things are just too big.  That is not the path to writing success. To fix that I have decided to focus and codify my process for writing. Since my life reflects my art, this should translate into another wonderful journey of self-discovery. 
 
My biggest enemy on this journey is meaningless distraction. Spending hours blindly button mashing on video games is a quick example of a time-wasting distraction. The more insidious distractions come from time wasting people. Sometimes telling the difference between life-affirming interaction and someone getting you lost in the woods is so bloody difficult. I will attempt to map out what I know.
 
The spurned lover- call them your ex, baby daddy, or your bae (is this still a thing? I am getting old and my slang is slipping)- this broken relationship is an infinite source of distraction. There is a reason I put this first on the list. The problem with the spurned lover is that you actually have feelings for this person. You want to do as right as possible by them either for love or old time's sake (if said love has soured). You give of your time and your emotional bandwidth out of both habit and a sense of obligation. 
 
This is really bad for both of you. It is a form of living backward and facing yourself toward the past which has already been lived. I have enough trouble not slamming into things facing forward. Facing backward is insanely difficult (this sparks a story about walking into a parking meter that someone needs to remind me to post for a good laugh.) This person may not be a Toxic part of your life, but they are preventing you from making as much progress toward the next place you should be. 
 
If you share a child with the spurned lover there may be so much leverage for them to distract you that freedom seems impossible. You have a common goal. You made a person (or people) together. That bond is so profound as to be almost primal. I personally hate when biological tendencies try to control my thoughts and emotions. There is a reason I have higher brain function. 
 
In the typical spurned lover situation I am as much of a distraction for them as they are for me. Airing the dirty laundry and honesty about the situation typically cures the problem. Things end for a reason. If we aren't what we once were there is a reason for this. We need to stop shooting for a goal that is behind us. Whatever you do, do not sing Let It Go from Frozen. No one takes this move well. Maybe it is just my singing voice? If honesty doesn't do the trick, limit your contact to manageable bites.
 
 
The endlessly needy friend- This poor soul ALWAYS has drama in their life. They often feel the victim of fate or circumstance. They will say things like,"My life never used to be like this," or," What has happened to me?" If you could look at them from an omnipotent perspective, they have always been a tragic figure. This is no coincidence. They aren't (for the most part) cursed. They are victims of their own self-loathing. They bring about their downfall subconsciously because they feel it is deserved. Don't allow yourself to attach to them or you may find yourself falling off the ladder you were trying to help them climb. 
 
There are two solutions here. Learn to listen to the endlessly needy friend without giving any advice or offering any help. You are "there" for them but you are not entangled in their misfortune. Be sure to control any feelings of empathy or sympathy. These are the morsels that the endlessly needy friend are foraging for. Do not become a meal. 
 
The second solution is cold-blooded, but it is the suggested treatment. Banish the person from your life. The amount they will take from you can never be regained. You cannot make it up elsewhere. You only stand to lose and so you must escape the gravitational pull of their vortex of entropy. Dramatic, sure, but not inaccurate. 
 
The fun friend- now this is a dual-edged sword. That friend that we all have who is the life of every party is a valuable resource. They can drive you and inspire you. They can also completely distract you from the things that you should be doing. Their energy comes from somewhere. Is that manic energy actually being pulled from you? Do you leave this person feeling refreshed or exhausted? Psychic vampirism is a very real thing.
 
Since I have been guilty of being this person for a long time my advice may or may not be biased. I am an entertainer by heart. I feed openly on the involvement and approval of my audience. (Yep. I am doing it as you read these words.) I know I completely exhaust some of my friends. I also know I wake others up and motivate them. Am I a dangerous distraction? Absolutely!
 
The way to deal with this is to control your interactions. Do not go a step further than you want to with this person. When your energy stops building from this person take a break. Expose yourself to them in bursts than work in your favor. Use them to top up your own batteries. When you feel the drain begin, find an excuse to do something they find boring. This will probably buy you the necessary respite.
 
Now the extreme version of this fun friend is the energy leech. They never get the hint. You are their meal. They will stick around and suck all of the energy out of not only you but everyone else in the room. The tactic here is difficult. Match their energy if you can. Give them a type of emotional indigestion. This will break their want to snack on you. If that doesn't work, cut contact. The cost of their company is too high.
 
I could probably write a few thousand more words on distracting types of people. That in and of itself would be a worthy distraction. For the Message here not to be diluted I have two more things that I need to touch on: Distracting feelings and distracting activities. 
 
2018 has been a year of emotional harmonization for me. I had to admit I have feelings. Then I had to admit that I am not in control of all of them. Finally, I had to admit that all of my feelings are valid even the really bad ones. They exist, have a right to exist, are valid, and are caused by valid things. This is a work in progress, but it is helping me find a healthier, more satisfying life.
 
Some feelings are there to distract and disarm you. The biggest of these is insecurity. That niggling little voice in your head that tells you that you are not good enough is really rooted in self-loathing. It tells you that you aren't good enough because it wants to be right about what a terrible person you are. It tells you that you are too fat, too skinny, too loud, too ugly, too dumb, too caustic, too bad, too evil, too boring and that your feet smell bad. To be fair, it is probably right about your feet. That is ok. Your feet are supposed to stink.
 
Insecurity is there to limit you from your potential. I equate this with sin. Sin isn't literally doing bad things. It is falling short of being the person you are capable of being. It is wasting your gifts based on the little demon that has possessed your soul for the sole purpose of keeping you from trying. Taking this literally as metaphorically as your individual faith allows.
 
To not waste time on insecurity you have to ignore the doubt. Sometimes you need to show yourself that you are capable of greatness. Other times, you need to recognize that the effort you have made is plenty good enough even if you didn't necessarily meet your goal. You answer your self-loathing with acceptance and self-love. I make it a practice to tell me how much I love myself several times a day. Occasionally this turns physical. Most healthy relationships do. (Yes, my insecurity totally poked fun at my thinly veiled joke about masturbation, but my pride at the strength of my vulnerability won out.)
 
A distinct cousin to insecurity is fear. Fear of loss is the most destructive form of fear. You will fail to tell someone how you really feel because you don't want to lose them as a friend. You won't apply for a promotion or a job because you fear being told that you aren't good enough. You fear to let go of the past because you don't know what the future holds. 
 
All of these fears are permissive. They give you the authorization to not try. They stagnate you. They surround you in a cloud of compromise and comfort. They also insidiously seduce you to continue to give up on more and more things. 
 
To combat this, you should pursue things that scare you. We learn the most from our failures in a process called trial and error. You attempt it. You botch it completely. You analyze what didn't work. You try again but change the game up. Eventually, you succeed. Insert that stupid Thomas Edison quote (or often misquote) here if it makes you hard. I won't lower myself to it. You all know that one I mean. 
 
Give yourself permission to try and fail. It is good to fail as long as you learn as much as you can from those failures. This breeds persistence, refinement, and confidence. I love fear. When I run into it there is a pretty good chance that I am about to face something that will make me grow stronger. I treat it as a harbinger of success. 
 
Finally, let's talk about distracting activities. Not everything that you do should have utility. It should all have a purpose. That is to say that everything you do should produce something within you. Television has been described as the opiate of the masses. I would extend that to cover video games and the internet. 
 
They can all be meaningless idle pursuits. On the other hand, I watched an episode of The Orville and was inspired to write a novel. That was not the purpose of watching the show. I wanted to relax and have no direction for an hour or so. The inspiration was an unintended added bonus. That means that the value of the idle time was in and of itself distraction.
 
Activities that don't intentionally drive you to distraction are the ones that are problematic. They take your mind out of the place it needs to be and makes you less productive and focused. Sex is like that for a lot of people. I am certainly one of them. I can be very focused on something and suddenly trip over a sexual attraction that derails me. It takes some serious effort to get back on task since I am rarely in a time and place to alleviate the urge. 
 
Stories are a massive distraction for me. I love to read. I love comics. I love video games. I love TV. I love podcasts. The narrative distracts me completely. I can be in the middle of a meeting at work and my brain will just start working its way through the latest run of Detective Comics. (so good since Rebirth) I can also suddenly just find myself writing my own narrative from some crumb of an idea that was thrown out to me haphazardly. In these situations, I typically have to get the idea jotted down before I can concentrate again. 
 
I am certain all humans have unique distractions. The trick to these is to learn what it takes to avoid them when they cannot be indulged. Mine are couched in ritual. I make a note to come back to the distraction later and feel as satisfied as if it is expressed. I also feed my distractions in the moments I can indulge them very heavily. 
 
I plan what stories matter to me carefully. I give myself a set amount of time (normally an hour per day) to take part in them. That sacrifice makes the rest of my time a little more focused. 
 
I don't know that Eliminate Distraction qualifies as a rule. I put it on the list. I have to think a little more on it before it is fleshed out into a fully constructed concept. It does set up my next project neatly. I am going to limit my distractions in favor of making some progress on my writing. 
 
My narrative voice is very strong right now. It needs to feed on a diet of good content. I am going to get back to reading books about writing. I am going to start with Stephen King's On Writing. The Wordsmith always motivates me and challenges me. From there I will work through some more procedural work. 
 
I think that will lead to some new short stories for the blog. They make great writing exercises. They also are quick wins that help me to feel accomplished along the road. I hope this excites my audience. 
 
For now, I have exorcized the demon of this distracting idea. I am going to try and go get some rest. Being too distracted to sleep is never fun. 
 
 
 

 

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Cantrell's Law of Conservation of Energy

I am so big on rules and strategies. I consider myself a student of life. I pay close attention to the cause and effect of the universe. From these observations, I have formulated my own translation of the Law of Conservation of Energy. This "law" is a foundation upon which many of my other rules are based. Before I dive into the philosophical drives and gears lets take a moment to deal with physics.
Per Wikipedia (because I am lazy and don't want to write out my own definitions):
"In physics, the law of conservation of energy states that the total energy of an isolated system remains constant, it is said to be conserved over time. This law means that energy can neither be created nor destroyed; rather, it can only be transformed or transferred from one form to another."
This is the idea that the dinosaurs perished and over time became crude oil. Oil is then chemically refined into gasoline. The gasoline is pumped into the tank of my Yamaha. This produces acceleration. Acceleration plus a nice curvy country road produces a rare smile on my face. This releases stress and produces the rare state of being- Happiness.
I fell away from the sciences on that one. This is my space. I will do what I want with it. Also, they are my words. I will use them as I see fit. *Ahem* I converted the science into a law for living a more satisfying life. The basic principle of Cantrell's Law of Conservation of Energy is that your time and energy are finite. Always make the most effective use of them.
It is no coincidence that I am writing this post on Thanksgiving 2018. Many people are sitting down to an expensive and elaborate meal today. That meal is the result of hours of preparation by a few members of the family. My experience has always been that the larger crowd that takes part in the festivities does very little to bring about the actual meal.
My Mom would cook all night and then all morning. When we came to the table we fed our faces and enjoyed the results. Afterward, Mom would need a good afternoon nap. She exhausted herself and spent out all her energy and effort to bring about an event. I mentioned in a past post that we are not doing holidays this year. This is a result of the realization that no matter how much effort we put into the holidays' something is going to be missing.
Our holidays of years past were also filled with TONS of cleaning, shopping, and STRESS. While the house is cleaner than it has ever been, I did not want to deal with any of the rest of that mess. I wanted today to be about gathering my energy not expending it in an inefficient way. Spending 24 hours and $300 to produce one meal borders on the insane. I don't care how many leftovers there are. The payout is not equal to the effort.
Today has been nice. I have slept a bit. Dad and I moved our big grill out of the camp area and into the front yard. We are grilling up burgers and hot dogs. It is the best, most relaxing feeling. My belly will be just as full as if the other effort had been put out. This is a hell of a lot cheaper. It is a very effective use of our Thanksgiving effort. I think it may become the new tradition.
This approach to life has been with me a very long time. I just never formalized it. Once upon a time, I was very into martial arts. I learned that you didn't have to be stronger than your opponent to win. In fact, sometimes brute strength and size work against a fighter. The smarter fighter moves out of the way of fierce punches and kicks. You exhaust your enemy. You vex them. Then, as they are breathing heavy, you use a quick, efficient attack to down them. Using this method you can fight several people at once never fully engaging with any one person until it is safe to down them.
This law requires patience. It requires thought, restraint, and an understanding of where you can apply the least amount of pressure for the biggest effect. You cannot react. You cannot base your actions on immediately gratifying your emotions. This also has the added benefit of making you incomprehensible to most people. You will appear mysterious, reserved, and powerful.
The most important place to apply this law is in the investment of your time in people. Spending energy and time on a person fruitlessly is discouraging and the worst sort of waste. To that end I categorize my people into 3 groups.
The first group of people in my life are Family. I do not use that term in the literal sense because often relatives fall more neatly into the other two categories. Family are people that bring amazing value into your life. You often leave the presence of these people feeling refreshed and recharged. They are there for you through thick and thin. When things do get complicated with Family, it is always something you can resolve. In my life, this group is very, very small.
Cast and Crew are the second category. Hopefully, most of the people in your life are in this category. These are your coworkers, the people you run into socially but don't truly connect with, and people who don't hold a place of significance. This group is very important. If you treat them shabbily they will fall from this group. The Cast and Crew should not know your secrets. They should not see your real emotions. They are the functionaries of our life. Appreciate them at a distance. Some of my very favorite people are Cast and Crew. Being a part of the Cast and Crew is important as you begin a relationship (friendship, romantic, or professional) because it gives the necessary distance to see a person's actions in clear light. Promotions to Family should be exceedingly rare.
The final group are the Toxic. All too often they fall from the Family category because you let someone in that you should not have. Toxic doesn't imply fault either. That is important to remember. They may be Toxic to you because you royally screwed them over. Once someone goes Toxic there is no fixing it. Don't waste time on it. The effort required to fix Toxicity will always far away exceed the benefits gained by fixing it.
Most of this comes back to my Spartan thought patterns. I ask a series of questions such as:
Is this person a positive influence on my life? If not, why am I wasting time, thought, or energy on them?
Is this person a necessity to a function of my life? If not, why have I not removed myself from their path?
Is this person relevant to my present circumstances? Am I living in the past?
Do I have the power to rid myself of this person and their influence? The answer to this should always be yes even if it takes patience and effort to bring about.
Does this person violate the morals, laws, and rules by which I live my life?
This blog itself has been an exercise in conserving energy. While (hopefully) you will read this in one serving, I actually wrote this post in pieces over the course of 2 days. I continued to struggle with how to sum everything up and tie the scope of the post into a succinct, memorable summation.
I guess the central point of the post is to not waste your time, energy, or emotion in pointless, fruitless, masturbatory pursuits or people. I do not want this confused with the idea of not doing things you just don't want to do. There is a massive difference.
I used to hate going to work. I wanted to spend all my time pursuing my passions. I made stupid arguments against the necessity of working at all. I approached work as a means to an end...an ugly thing that had to be hurried through to get to the sweet parts of life. 
That attitude made me a lousy employee.  I presented half assed work on my best days. I often called in. Work was super stressful. I considered the whole affair a waste of time and my involvement with it toxic.
This wrong, negative mind set made me put a lot of effort into avoiding something vital to my life. I wasted tons of energy,  thought, and emotion on avoiding something that it was easier to embrace as necessary.  I was causing myself great pain trying to avoid a little mild discomfort. 
I eventually realized there is no freedom from the grind. I'm not going to win the lottery.  I'm not going to publish a single novel and gain financial freedom from the day job. I had to work.  The effort of fighting it was harmful.  Complaining about it was just producing negativity. 
I focused my effort on embracing work and being present and focused on it. I left my passions at home and even tried not to think about my writing or art while I worked.  The difference was immediate and profound.
I relaxed. Work became fun. I saw ways to change careers and earn more for less effort.  I got to be a great employee.  The jobs became rewarding. I started looking forward to work. Necessary didn't mean unpleasant. These days work is my sanctuary from the storms in the rest of my life. I love it!
The same shift of perspective is possible for the necessary people in your life. A few of you classified your boss as Toxic. While he may or may not be actually Toxic he is necessary.  Don't spend any of your time, energy,  or effort trying to avoid him. With rare exception changing your attitude will change the dynamic.
That is the whole spirit of my law of conservation of energy.  Embrace the necessary. Rise above the trivial.  Be truly effective in your choices.

Just don't think too hard on how many words I used to belabor this simple point. I enjoy the sound of my own voice.  Conserving writing energy is such a struggle.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Holiday Humbuggery and Riding in the Wet and Cold.

Life has been interesting of late. I have found myself at these keys several times looking at the blank page of a new post and completely unable to choose what to write about. Often, I have some overall theme in mind for my posts like one of my Rules or a situation that is on my mind that demands commentary. Fleshing out one of those ideas is extremely easy.
This type of post, the general status update, for me is more difficult. I don't want to ramble aimlessly. I also don't want to preamble too much, like I am right now. When I have several things weighing on my mind organization is the most difficult thing.
Let us start with the title of the post. If you go back and read my more holiday related posts from the past you may catch a glimpse of the idea that I am not a big fan of the holiday season. Starting a week or so before Halloween I begin craving the second week of January. I have felt this way for years. It isn't that I hate the idea of the holidays, spending time with family, the big meals, the gatherings, the busier schedule, or even giving and receiving gifts. I don't enjoy the holidays because of the undercurrent of extreme stress that comes with it.
People start stressing about money and the entire list of things I just mentioned. There is a collective feeling of frustration and anxiety in the air that starts building around now and doesn't dissipate until the holiday season is closed out. Sometimes it even takes a few months after the fact for the teeter-totter of the zeitgeist to swing back to balanced. I feel that in the air and it overrides the positive aspects of the holiday season.
It is funny then that I have felt so much sadness and anxiety about my family's decision to skip this holiday season entirely. That's right, kids. No Halloween costumes. (Not that I generally do that anyway!) No Thanksgiving gathering and meal. No Christmas gathering or gifts. No Counting down the New Year. We have decided, with the caveat of giving the little one gifts, not to do holidays at all this year.
I should feel a great sense of relief. My normal "bah humbug" feelings should be satisfied. I have talked about skipping the holiday season's formal rituals in the past. The reason we are skipping it though is the death of my Mom. That has my "healthy psychology" alarms going off. I don't want to sacrifice the holidays on the altar of our sorrow and loss. At the same time, mentally and emotionally I admit that I am not in the holiday spirit. Perhaps the choice to sit this season out is the right one. More importantly, while I am fundamentally satisfied with the choice, I don't want anyone else in the family to look back and completely regret that we didn't do something.
All of that falls under the heading of worry. Worrying accomplishes nothing at all except for wasting time and producing stress. I try hard not to waste time so I try to be practical and not worry. Instead, I focus on the solutions or positive aspects of the things I cannot fix. The next month and a half should be much less stressful than normal. I will save a significant amount of money I normally spend on gifts. That breaks the routine of spending too much at the end of the year and playing catch up in the first part of the next. I have also decided to celebrate internally. I am focusing on being thankful and celebrating the spirit of the holidays emotionally and spiritually. This may end up being my favorite holiday season in spite of the fact I do miss my Mom terribly.
On a funny side note, Mom did a thing every holiday season that stressed me out completely. It started with the same basic conversation each time. "David, you know (holiday, birthday, or event) is coming up. If you want to have our normal get together I need some help cleaning up." I always agreed and imagined myself dusting, vacuuming, and moving furniture. That stuff happened, but then Mom had some project on the agenda like buying new furniture, painting the walls, tearing up and relaying the floor, or a complete remodel of the kitchen and bathrooms. She reeled everyone into this project like a pro. This may be the first holiday in my life without a major renovation project! Oh, wait, my oldest has already set one in motion. *sigh* Traditions do carry on from generation to generation.
I made the completely insane decision to attempt to ride my motorcycle year round. I adore riding. It is relaxing. It is extremely fun. It also has the side effect of me owning my first Ninja suit. I mean not literally. I just own a thermal base layer. Read that as spandex tights and shirt. For weather down into the mid-40s, a normal set of clothes, the base layer, and my riding jacket is ample protection. In the low 40s and under you need additional protection.
Motorcycle pants and jackets are bloody expensive. I even shop at the lower end of the cost ladder and could not come up with a meant-for-motorcycle riding solution under $400. Luckily, I am not completely stupid. I found a Dickie brand duck insulated coverall for $80 that does the trick and has the added bonus of being water resistant.
I tested this outfit out, without the ninja base layer, picking up a "new" motorcycle in a steady rain. The temperature ranged from 45 down to 35 degrees on the hour-long trip home. Toward the end of the trip, my fingertips got a bit tingly as did my toes. I haven't started wearing thicker socks yet. Other than that I was entirely comfortable and only a little damp.
The fingers thing is a problem I haven't quite answered. I believe, on my Versys 300 anyway, the answer is heated grips. The brush guard hand shields certainly help to keep the wind off my knuckles. My fingertips are still exposed though. Once I figure this little problem out, I think I am ready to ride through anything but ice. I really want to putter through the snow.
I am also gearing up to launch my "solo" podcast. I have decided to do things differently this go round. I want to get a dozen or more recordings completed before I begin posting anything. That should allow me to maintain the show without having to constantly record. Garin and I couldn't easily skip recording for a week without building a buffer episode or two up ahead of time. I wasn't smart enough to treat my podcast as a business then. Lesson learned.
The plan for the show is evolving all the time too. I consider it a sister project to my blog. I constantly am told that, if you know me, reading this blog is just like listening to me talk. I plan on giving my typical brand of narration with the recordings but adding in some of my friends to talk about various and sundry things. I am also recording my D&D sessions. I have plans to record my Arkham Horror campaigns. I think the gaming stuff will ultimately lead to making videos. There is nothing wrong with David's mixed multimedia platform. Like any other internet "star" eventually, the sex tape will come out. Just kidding. That is already out there for you bastards who are sick enough to look it up.
Finally, damn Wizards of the Coast. I had decided to take the plunge back into Magic the Gathering when wizards crossed over D&D and Magic while also returning to the plane of Ravnica. This shouldn't be any surprise since my last "return" to Magic was during the Return to Ravnica block. I fell in love with the Orzhov Syndicate. I was completely sad when the new Ravnica block didn't introduce Orzhov in the first set.
Then I started playing MtG Arena. Oh my god, I love Ixalan. Tribal (Orzhov) Vampires! Merfolk and Dinosaurs are amazing as well. There is a Red, White, Green Dinosaur trigger deck that gets my blood pumping! It has all the triggers, man! All of them!
As you can tell I am stupidly excited for the game. I play about an hour a day. I really look forward to the friendslist option on the game. It was clearly in development right from launch. I expect Arena to be a big platform in the long term. The only catch to that is I cannot bring myself to spend money on digital cards yet. I have that argument with comic books too. I like having digital copies of my physical stuff, but I haven't gone purely digital in anything but books. We shall see if that changes.

For now I am going to go paint some minis for next week's D&D game. My plan for it probably deserves its very own post. That will have to wait for another day though.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Do not deal in the trivial

The reason that I upkeep an ever-evolving list of rules is to constantly improve upon the strategy that I apply to live my life. I believe that life is a zealous teacher. You either pay attention to the lessons you are forcibly taught or you will be taught a much more aggressive and painful lesson. While I do not believe in avoiding pain (a different rule for another post on another day), I do my best to take my hurts effectively the first time through.
I have been really struggling with a whole list of small niggling type problems. My larger issues still exist and I am working on addressing them methodically. Still, I feel very overwhelmed all the time because I am constantly battling every little frustrating nuisance that comes my way. This is a very effective trick of the devil. He is in the details after all.
At times it seems as if I am beset on all sides. I turn my back to put out a fire and a snake bites me on the ankle. I turn to treat that wound and someone takes the opportunity to stab me multiple times in the back. Now angry, engaged in battle, envenomed, and aware that the fire is raging out of control I cannot address any single problem effectively. The chances of me handling all of them are decreased exponentially. I am going to fall under the onslaught. Most people would.
Fires, venomous snakes, and people brandishing knives are all major issues. If we remove the drama of our emotions and look at our problems objective how many of them are truly serious? In my case, many of the things that really press my buttons and get a reaction are in fact extremely trivial. Things like death, car wrecks, or major health issues come so easily to me. Let Whitneigh be emotionally clingy and I am off my game. Have Taila include her boyfriend in our lives at a time I am mentally frazzled and I will have a complete meltdown. This is profoundly stupid.
These "problems" are trivial. They aren't truly problems at all. Honestly, it costs more energy to acknowledge trivial situations than they are worth. Once I have invested the energy in an unreasonable reaction I have made the proverbial mountain out of a molehill.
Knowing all this, why do I continue to make the same mistake of involving myself in the trivial? The honest answer to that is a lack of a sense of control. I cannot control the major things in life. This causes a basic psychological insecurity. I then overcompensate and try to control the trivial details of my life.  This is unreasonable. The people around me see the insecurity. They see unreasonable reactions. The trivial suddenly has actually evolved into a serious problem with no simple solution.
How do we address such a basic psychological weakness? I spend a lot of time acknowledging and addressing the basic insecurity at the fact that there are many things in life that I have no control over or cannot immediately remedy. I try to have an honest view of my own ability and my power over my life and the lives of the people I love.
Then, after addressing the flaw, I can decide not to deal with the trivial issues that come my way. As an example, Whitneigh freaks out at the slightest mess in the house. We have a 3-year-old here the majority of the time. To me, a mess is now a fact of life. It stresses her out and can actually send her into a panic. I then get entirely frustrated with her reaction. Just like the mess isn't truly a problem, Whitneigh's reaction is not a problem unless I choose to react to it and make it one. The very moment I engage it becomes a conflict. My reaction gives the trivial importance. If I ignore it then, like many problems, it goes away all on its own. I think of this as rising above the fray.
The trick to doing this is controlling my reactions. I take a few moments and decide if the issue I am dealing with is serious or a trivial matter. Unless the situation is life threating a reaction is seldom a good idea. By maintaining composure in the face of any adversity I can appear cool, calm, and collected at all times. This demeanor inspires great respect and admiration in others. That helps reinforce confidence which lowers personal insecurities.
 
That is why Do not deal in the trivial is rule number #21.
This rule has an interesting origin in one of the coolest members of my family. My Mom passed the story down to me so I am completely certain it has mutated and evolved in the telling. It is also possible it wasn't witnessed or told to her first hand. I do tend to believe the lessons she taught.

Once upon a time, My mother went to visit my Uncle Tate. She went to his house for breakfast. While she was there his daughter came by with her son. Diane asked Uncle Tate if he would mind watching his grandson for the day. She went on to give a laundry list of reasons why it was important to her which ended with," I have been so busy that my husband and I haven't had time to be intimate." Uncle Tate declined in the simplest of ways. He smiled and said," I don't deal in the trivial." He stuck by this and did not watch the kid. This is both right and regal. Uncle Tate was extremely well put together and a very cool man. I miss him, but living this rule helps me feel his influence in my life.