Saturday, October 25, 2014

When Life Feels Predictable

One of the things that gets us down about life is that it can feel so predictable. From the moment you open your eyes in the morning you know how your day will proceed and end. You know what the commute will be like, you know the hassles at work, the stress. You know what shows you will watch in the evening, what you will eat, and that you will lie your head down again on the self same pillow from whence you are about to proceed.

The only problem with this is that it is a lie. 

You don't actually know what your day has in store for you. Just because the previous 2,999 days were similar does not mean the 3,000th will be the same. That is a logical fallacy. It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking your life is predictable, you may even have a lot of convincing evidence, but it cannot possibly be true for anyone. You don't know if any of the following are in store for you today: car crash, blazing psychological insight, stroke, the birth of a habit, recognition of a life altering fact that has been hiding in plain sight, the death of a habit, a resolve to change, dog bite, power outage, forgiveness, either needed or given, weather anomaly, coup d' etat, laid off, subpoena, a gift, a new friend, gout or flowers.

The most damning fact of all: the expectation of predictability only helps to shield you further from the positives on the above list.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

A Story

This story starts with an opening sentence. It accomplishes the feat of both capturing your attention, as well as being a magnificent explication of what clearly will be a complicated, tantalizing and rewarding tale. As it progresses you pick up on the author's effortless but substantive style. Before you know it, you've turned the page four or five times. You look at the clock—23 minutes has gone by, and you had no idea. You get more comfortable in your chair.

The main character, she is perfect in all the ways women want to be, and vulnerable and cute in all the ways that women hope to be noticed. She faces challenges, not altogether different from other women that you might know, or maybe even you, yourself. She tries to face them with a steady aplomb, but there just seems to be something missing.

Him. He is the jig to her saw, the missing face in the eventual adorable family photos. They somehow keep missing each other. The descriptions that you read of him cause you to muse on all of the potential romances that you missed out on, simply for the fact that time is finite, and there are only so many opportunities you can have in this life. How many people would have been a good fit for you? What would it have been like if you went left, instead of right, six years ago on a rainy Tuesday, while on your way to return library books three weeks overdue?

Much conflict and misunderstanding ensues. This is the world we live in, so far from perfect. So often the longing to be understood manifests itself in such unhelpful ways. It causes your heart to break, as the fledgling couple pad their way through the dark cavern of a challenging relationship. They realize their upbringing programmed their unconscious with ideas and notions they were not before privy to. But a hilarious incident at the company picnic leads them to realize that their differences cannot outweigh their unity.

The wedding ceremony is beautiful, perhaps overwrought. Six months into the marriage there is a misunderstanding they think pushes them to their limits. It is eventually clarified, torrential relief floods the home. We've been shown they really are going to make it—challenges slayed, they go on to their reward of a happy life. The story is at its end.

Monday, October 20, 2014

When We Were Hamsters

Early childhood development is a fascinating thing. Right now my four-year-old is obsessed with inhabiting any character he comes in contact with. He's been Minnie Mouse, our dog Bennett, our Roomba, our hamster, and at least a dozen more cartoon characters. When he's in character you cannot refer to him by his born name, he will remind you every time. "Has Nolan eaten lunch?" I'll ask my wife. He will interject "you mean Bennett," a bit pedantically; willing to work with me, but showing that his patience with my inattention to his transitory identity will soon run out. Then he will remember George, his hamster, and will interrupt our conversation to let us know that he is now George, then will drop to the floor and do his best imitation of a hamster.

I vaguely remember hearing about this stage of development somewhere in the whirlwind of my college education. I could look it up, refresh myself, and read about the "why" of why my son is doing this. I'm sure it would be fascinating, but maybe there is something altogether un-fun about the scientific description of my son's current preoccupation. Something in me doesn't want to take the magic away. Yes, this is a stage of development, every child goes through it. But I'm not watching a "stage," I'm not watching "a child," I'm watching my own son, a flesh and blood person.

I like to wonder what is going through his mind. What is he getting out of becoming everyone else? It is interesting that he becomes everything else—except for what he is. He never inhabits one of the numerous little boys that he sees on the screen. It's like he's already got that one down. Right now is for devoting his attention to what he is not, perhaps to find out how those people (and animals, and robots) tick. What does it mean to be someone else? Who are these people?

Friday, October 17, 2014

Short Story: "Resumè"

I was contemplating some tweets the other day, and I soon realized I had a short story on my hands. To copy and paste my Twitter feed is much to arduous and costly a process—even though the verisimilitude would be spectacular—so below I render the tweets in plain text. Enjoy. Oh, also, please take this moment to go ahead and follow me on Twitter. Thanks!

I call this story, “Resumè”

If we had intro music when we arrived at work, WWE style, I'm just saying I think it would really ease slicing off that tiny piece of life.

I’m rocking new pants at work today. New pants really are a form of invincibility. You can’t bring me down today, world—new pants!

Note to self: wear new pants to work every day as hedge against crippling anxiety & sense of meaninglessness in universe.

Further note to self: Send cover letter & resume to universe. I’m a nice, useful guy; get it to stop ignoring you.

Attributes I would list for universe: strong-willed, multitasker, manages stress well, solution focused, ie not a complainer or “worry wart”

Things I would do as an “Office Administrator C” for the universe: MAKE SURE PPL FEEL MY PAIN. Make sure Gary gets his.

Gary said I was being “thoughtless” bc I ate his kosher lunch. Get a clue Gary—I couldnt stop thinking how crappy it was as I choked it down

Gary can’t find his sales report. Maybe it was shredded. Maybe it’s a metaphor for how he shredded my feelings over that whole lunch thing.

Gary is the kind of guy that would do well in a cement plant. Then he wouldn’t get so much attention from Sue who only likes him 4 his hair.

The thing about a guy like Gary is that he really wants you to think he’s a nice guy. Always bringing in donuts—he’s going to leave us.

Gary’s going 2 far—he wants 2 have a reconciliation mtg w/ our manager. Gary, you know how this ends—I let the air out of your tires. Again.

It’s been a long day. I need a good dinner before I go to my hole of an apartment, lie on my mattress, and cry softly into my pillow.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Dentistry vs. Magic Beans

The sad thing about an artist's life is that it is dependent on their effort. And this is only partially true, which makes the affair that much more depressing.

Let's pull back for a moment.

All of life's endeavors are at least somewhat dependent on a person's effort. You don't become a professional without practice and study. You don't raise a well-behaved child through hope and good intention minus cultivation (but even then, oy—but I'll get to that).

But I would suggest there is something different about the concrete world of cultivation: It is a one to one, linear progression. Want to be a dentist? Go to school, graduate, buy brick and mortar building, hire dental assistant, get chairs for waiting room. Done. If you weren't good enough you wouldn't have graduated. If you are personally self-destructive (alcoholic, lazy, etc) you will most likely implode. Want to be a farmer? Find or otherwise acquire a large tract of land, get up early everyday and put things in the ground, tend to them as they emerge, then cut them down when they look tasty. Simple.

The only complicating factors in the concrete realm are the soul-crushing forces of an unpredictable world. Drought, cancer, drunk drivers, fickle market forces, greed, frailty, general bad luck, mendacity, relational strife, blown transmission, etc. These, and some other things, are why I said that our outcomes are only partially dependent on our effort. One or many of these items can get in the way of a thriving dental practice.

Now solemnly we come to the artist. An artist doesn't cultivate the land—his job is to make the magic beans grow. There is no schematic for a great piece of art. Of course some think there is—these people are called hacks. Please don't think I am disparaging hacks—hacks can make a very decent living. Creativity is not linear. It is monstrously dependent on people's taste, opinion, prejudices, etc. People aren't allowed to tell a dentist they did a bad job if it's not true—no one will listen. The artist has no such protection, even from himself. The artistic world can be monstrously unfair. Often you have to "catch a break." Which is to say your talent alone will not get you there, you need a twist of luck to put you over the top.

There is no linear pay off in site: All you have to do is write a quality novel. Quality novelists start at $110,000 a year, plus benefits. All you have to do is draw portraits with a pinch of your own flair and personality mixed in: 16,000 people a year will purchase them over the next few decades.

Which brings us full circle: An artist has to give and give and give—and maybe they will see a return. This return may or may not have any relation to their talent. Monstrously unfair.

And if you're an artist with a bent towards laziness and despair, such as I am, well, heaven help you. The only way you will succeed in your creative efforts is if you try and try and try—and then you need some luck thrown in, over and above protection from the soul-crushing forces enumerated above.

I have stated the artist's plight in much more dire and depressing terms than reality would actually reflect—but I'm wallowing. It is one of the indispensable skills every despairing artist needs. It is one of our distinctives, as creative types. I don't like to brag, but I think we are simply better at wallowing than accountants, attorneys, electricians and grocery store clerks.

Thank you for letting me wallow all over you.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Thoughts From An Abandoned Mindshaft

I used to just start blog entries not knowing where they would go, or where they would stop. I've gotten away from that.

I was just thinking about this: It is so hard to find out what I really want. It is hard to know what I really like. It is hard to be this inarticulate.

We take the garbage & recycle out every Wednesday—but how often do we do the same for our soul?

We cut our cable TV this week. TV is worthless except to serve the purpose of entertainment. We all need entertainment—the only problem is that we need about this much:

And most of us feed on a supply of about this much:

So if we only need the smaller dot, then Netflix will more than suffice.

That leads us to addiction. We are so addicted we don't even know we're addicted, which is the hallmark of an addict, of course. Addicted to comfort, entertainment, food, distraction, technology, money. I only recently broke my 32-year-old addiction to food. Haven't broken it, just quelled it, significantly. No one had ever suggested to me that I should change my diet to alleviate my severe acid reflux. We get fat, we have bad digestion, bad posture. We're not trained to fix the problem, we are trained to treat the symptoms.

I had thought for years that I should change my diet—but I didn't want to. It sounded like death. I didn't want to give up cheeseburgers, fettuccine alfredo, butter chicken, bacon wrapped anything, pepperoni/olive/jalapeno pizza, ketchup, mayonnaise, blue cheese, grease, microwaved chimichangas loaded with cheese, ranch, lasagna, butter. Giving these up would be death. So all the while I was willing to wreak death on my body. It's a funny thing—real death, well, it's for real, and there is no getting away from it—but exiting from a false death (addiction), well I have found that it is the shortest trip home that you can make. From inside, it doesn't look like a short trip, it isn't even a trip; from inside the death of addiction the bright sunshine of reality is what looks like death. But if you can exit, you will soon find that the light of reality has an eerie, familiar quality to it. There is a vague understanding that this is where you were supposed to be. This feeling is made all the more weirder by your remembrance that you spent years insisting that up was down, left was right, and wallowing in addiction was all the bliss in the world you could afford.

I can hear our pair of hamsters bickering and fighting with each other. I noticed that the same feeling arose in my chest that I would feel when listening to my parents, as a child, do the same thing. That is profoundly weird.

I'm trying to decide if I have anything to add to this. Thank you for attending this colloquy of thoughts. Beck got away with writing nonsense. Maybe that's the easier thing to do. But if someone's nonsense is comforting, and it resonates, it spreads—can we still call it nonsense? I used to write a lot more nonsense. Little descriptive clusters of nothing. Like I was digging for something, didn't know what, and kept pulling out bits of broken pottery.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Today Was a Day Like All the Other Days

Influences of the day:

James Altucher podcast interview with Nassim Taleb
James Altucher podcast interview with Scott Adams (Dilbert cartoonist)
Radiolab episode: In the Dust of This Planet

Thought of the moment: Let's try to live.

Truths discovered or rediscovered/recovered for the day:

It's more about effort than it is about quality. You have to go through bad ideas to get to good ideas.

Things are changing—the center isn't holding. Things spinning out of control. Sense of meaninglessness/ennui/nihilism in the collective American psyche on the rise. Frustrating because this is what every generation thinks. It's what every person thinks. They are the apocalyptic chosen one. May even by the only one. Every generation thinks this is it, this is our moment. But could it be really true this time? How can you know that this is what every generation thinks and then seriously ask that question? We are human, we are all guilty of being humans. We are weak, lots of weaknesses built into the structure of our being. Survival shaped our minds and bodies, but in the future we need a different set of characteristics. Our minds won't catch up.

We have no real predictive power. We can't know. There is an ocean of things we don't know, which makes us elevate the cup of knowledge that we do have far beyond its actual importance.