The lighter side of making (bad) choices

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A conversation, a text, a chance meeting… whatever the medium, you find yourself communicating with the person you were trying so hard to quit. And before you know it, you agree to meet again, even though deep in the pit of your stomach you can sense that it will not end well, regardless of how much love / tenderness / animal attraction you still have toward each other (or maybe because of it).

Why is it so difficult to walk away? Is it the inherent distaste for drama, for things ending badly, or just an attempt at denial of the fact that things–even good things–do come to an end? The latter explanation is easy enough to accept: at least we try to hold on to good things. But what about holding on to things that are instead detrimental? The littlest pleasure we do get out of them certainly do not outweigh the familiar sinking feeling, the knowledge that yet again you’ve done yourself a great disservice, one that you would be ashamed to have to admit to your friends after you said you wouldn’t, not again, not this time.

It’s like hearing about eating disorders, and someone admits to eating out of the garbage can. Inwardly, we may shriek in horror–but here we are, with our own version of that, be it gambling, drinking, smoking, eating, shopping, or answering a text from a person who has hurt us before (perhaps repeatedly) and is sure to cause hurt again. And as you set out on the path to your own destruction, some part of you secretly hopes for deliverance: what if the mall is closed? you’re out of booze or smokes? or, by some mysterious chance, the plans to meet with your demon fall through? And you can live to commit the crime against yourself another day.

The most sensible thing to do is, of course, to walk away from that situation. And that is exactly what you may end up doing, but only after you have learned the lesson. Until then, you will keep falling, you will keep failing, you will keep choosing the wrong course of action. But there is hope: at some point, you will come to view the situation as an opportunity to observe your own patterns, reactions, and weaknesses in action; you will learn to recognize the justifications you give yourself to advocate one more fix, maybe you can win this hand, this one last time. At some point, you will see the absurdity of your scheme, and the amount of wasted resources, internal and otherwise, and you will finally comprehend that there is a better way. You will recognize that what you have is enough, that you deserve better, and that the better choice is your only choice.

Some day, you will learn to choose wisely. Until then, your mistakes are your teachers.

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Self-reflection is optional

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I have always been interested in the different ways people around me frame their worlds. Naturally, there are as many frameworks as there are people, but some very general trends can be observed. I have encountered those with little self-doubt; those who have never really questioned their actions (let alone the consequences of their actions); those who are perfectly happy living what I would call a rather mundane life. Their life is not for me, and mine not for them. I am more at home among those who are rather prone to self-reflection, who at times question the meaning of their lives, the worth of their contributions, the strength of their character, and the relative significance of their actions. Ironically, while the latter group seems the most prolific, most productive, and the one most likely to leave a legacy, they are the ones susceptible to an occasional (or maybe frequent) bout of self-doubt. The former, they are getting along just fine, raising their kids, tending their gardens, watching their shows.

One life is not better than the other. It is not the moral validity of the two camps that interests me, but the anthropological features of each. To live a life and never really consider the deeper meaning of it, to have it simplified to the rudimentary actions and reactions, to not have the intrinsic urge to seek anything beyond face value… Or, from the other side, to consistently reach for meaning, set goals, compare and contrast, strive, seek, create, and to pay for that journey with periodical wondering of whether what we’re doing is enough, worthy, substantial…

And yet neither life is not immune from grief, loss, and pain; it is simply processed by its inhabitants on a different level. At the end of the day, we are all pretty much the same: seeking pleasure and trying to avoid pain the best way we know how.

Most days, we simply look at each other and wonder how the other side lives.

More than just words on a page

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It’s getting late, I say to myself. It’s getting late, and yet I sit down to write my two hundred daily words.

Truth be told, I am no longer counting my words. The writing practice is just that–a practice–occasionally more fruitful, but most of the time simply steady. The ritual of sitting down to write is not always the same: there are days I write in my journal, with that favorite pen–the ink flows just so when I use it, and the pace of my longhand matches the speed with which I carefully carve my thoughts into words and sentences. Not many crossed-out words in my journal.

Other days, I tap away at my keyboard. The fingers move faster than the internal monologue can shape itself into language, and I have to pause and compose. Sometimes I have to pause for what feels like a long time.

I have saved my journals for a number of years now (a decade, maybe). I like to revisit and re-read what I’d written, and I’m frequently surprised at what I find. “Did I write that?” Well, I must have–this is in my handwriting!–but the depth of insight seems to have come from a mysterious place. Maybe I should return to my journals more frequently: there are some real gems on those pages.

Not surprisingly, the writing I do at my keyboard is very different. The words are carefully considered, arranged just so, run through a thesaurus… And yet I do not return to them. They are written and then filed away, forgotten, buried. It’s a shame, really–the words are no less lovingly crafted than those inked, and hold no more or less value or wisdom. But somehow, they feel more ephemeral to me, more disposable…

I am hoping this blog will change things. This ought to be the way to capture, to document, to tether the words and phrases and concepts that would otherwise find their way into cyber-abyss on the hard drive of my computer.

This is, after all, The Experiment. Phase one is in progress. And phase two? It will come to me.

Things to do without a television

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I don’t own a TV. Don’t really need it for anything, as most things I’d want to watch I can stream online. I figure, if I can’t find it online, I am better off anyway–I have other things to do with my time.

Whenever a new friend comes by for the first time, I give the house tour: “…and this is the living room.” Their eyes dart around. Something is missing. “Oh! You don’t have a television!” The tone ranges from incredulous to respectful, depending on the age of the friend and the depth of the friendship. If nothing else, this can make for an interesting conversation.

The incredulous friends ask questions, genuinely trying to ascertain what on earth I do with my time instead of watching TV at night. And while my answers vary depending on how much work/schoolwork/housework/socializing there is, what I do most of the time is think.

This can sound odd to some, but I simply sit in my living room and ponder. I watch the string of lights on my wall and listen to the murmur of my thoughts. I like to observe whatever arises in the silence: sometimes it is a problem or a feeling I’d been trying to put out of my mind all day long. Sometimes, my mind craves information on a particular subject (this usually ties in with whatever I’d been thinking about/trying not to think about all day). Sometimes, I notice that it is getting late, I am tired, and I should probably go to bed soon.

Sitting in silence is not always easy; in fact, it can take quite an effort to make myself stay. Some thoughts can be inherently uncomfortable, and yes, there are days I desperately wish I did have a television. But I don’t, so the furthest I can escape is a good book. At the end of a long day I don’t always feel like reading, and thus I have little choice but to come back to my thoughts. And I am always glad that I did.

Sometimes I think of the things I’d be missing out on if I’d been watching television instead. I have had some great thoughts (some more life-changing than others) and have solved some challenging internal puzzles. Even though I never know what I will find in that time of self-reflection, looking back, there is usually a sense of accomplishment. My thoughts are not always pleasant or happy or streamlined, but I think I owe it to myself to be heard. And thus I show up, every week, and tune in to the inner workings of my mind.

Let me see what’s on today.

Sunday: Day 4, still counting words

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Twenty minutes, go!

I think of the day. Birds are chirping: many different bird voices coming together in an orchestra of a sorts, the three-dimensional sound hall. Now and again, a bee pipes in, a plane flies overhead. Two birds are having an argument; they chirp at each other and then suddenly stop, as if their disagreement is resolved.

This morning I walked on the beach for a while, and the sounds were different. A foghorn somewhere close by shouting out at regular intervals. The surf, crashing mildly ashore. Not much else–it was early and there were no others on the beach. The rhythmic pulse of the surf made me want to keep walking, and I did for a while, just until I’d remembered that I have to walk back to my bike and then ride.

I picked up a shell along the way. It looked like a small turtle, with an underside shelf that could have housed a being, and had small empty barnacles attached, much like a head. Another shell, this one more like a corkscrew; a skeleton of a shell, really. I wondered how long it had been on the beach, and I will probably never know.

Tomorrow I will go to a different beach–Tom Nevers, maybe? For some reason, it is one of my favorite places for a morning stroll. Later in the day, I like Surfside and Cisco. Something about the waves there; but I think it is still too cold to swim.

But tomorrow, we’ll see.

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(Not) counting words: Day 3

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A bus terminal is a perfect place to blog. There is never a shortage of subjects: a disheveled man asking for money (is he really on his way to rehab and needs the money to get there?); dolled up young women going somewhere (a girls’ weekend away?); silent men reading newspapers; the digitally connected, headphones on, tweeting, blogging, updating their status… Each has a story, and each story keeps changing, depending on whether they are talking to their friends, their bosses, or themselves.

No book with me this time, by a conscious decision to take in my commute. The green line, true to form, speeds up through some stops on Comm Ave and then stands by in Kenmore. The red line, swift and clean this hour of the morning. South station–it always leaves me with a hint of nostalgia. I uses to take trains all the time, growing up, and I still miss it. Or maybe I just miss home.

The bus honks thrice as we pull out of the bay. I hope there is not much traffic, though it doesn’t really matter too much. We will get there eventually.

And then, the boat.

Writing, Day 2

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Timer set for 20 minutes. Go!

This one is a bit more challenging, if for no other reason than the sheer length of this week: five working days that felt like ten, emotional highs and lows, and random social events (mostly meals with friends, here and there, all but one conducted rather spontaneously because someone didn’t feel like going to the gym…)

In the past couple of years, I have made many changes in my life, both personal and professional, and there is no end in sight. That’s just life for ya, and I’m OK with it. Right around the time when I feel like I’m getting my groove, circumstances change, a new element comes into play, and I find myself contemplating change yet again. This is what I will be doing this weekend, as I set out for a few days of respite on Nantucket island. While other passengers are corralling their kids, dogs, bags, I will be processing, digesting, making lists in my smartphone. List of reasons; list of people; lists of priorities; lists of thoughts; lists of keywords…

I hope I remember to relax when I get there! Always a challenge, for some reason. Always has been. I think I have mom and dad to thank for that one, as the active minds seem to run in my family.

I travel light, or at least I try. Yet somehow, the small items always end up a large pile. Do I really need all that? And the book? I can’t read on the bus, but there is a bit of time before, plus nearly two hours while I wait for the boat. I always bring a book, and I do read, but on the way back I consistently wonder why I’d brought it. Would it have been so bad to just let myself sit around and people-watch instead?

Maybe this time.

 

Counting words: Day one

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“Write,” she says. “Right Now.”

“Twenty minutes, two hundred words, every day for a week.” Easy—I can do that, I reply to the screen. And I set out writing. Oh, wait. Forgot to set the timer. Now, there we go.

Contrary to my expectations, my mind does not go blank. It keeps churning, tumbling (not unlike the laundry I thought I’d be doing right now, except my neighbors got to it first, and now I get to wait), processing. Random thoughts, desultory, discursive.

To wit: Today is my father’s birthday. I just talked to him, but he was out having dinner when I called, and we did not get to catch up as much as I would have liked. I wanted to chat, but the things I would have said would have upset him. I had a shit day (no, nothing horrible happened—just one of those days when you wake up questioning the validity of your own existence, and everything seems to compound the illusion that you are, in fact, unlovable). Bullshit. I know better. Plenty of people love me and care about my wellbeing. I have much to offer to the world. I have… –Wait, what do I have? A headache, for one. Allergies? Possibly. Alcohol? Could not have kicked in yet. I don’t even drink, let alone drink alone—and yet I just spent $34 on a bottle of Campari and $2 on a bottle of soda to go with it. And made myself one when I got home and discovered that my neighbors were already doing laundry.

Two-hundred and sixty-eight words. Should I stop?

Might as well keep going. This exercise is not unlike the meditation I practice every morning, just sitting there and watching my mind at play. It’s amazing what you can see when you choose to observe the ebb and flow of your own thoughts. You realize just how much mental noise is going on most of the time. If I sit there long enough (and I rarely do), the thoughts either slow down to a manageable, slowly punctuated cadence, or else speed up to the point where I am swept away off my cushion, figuratively, but it might as well be literally. I have a bell timer, and every now and again it does what it’s supposed to: remind me to come back to the now, to the cushion, to my breath, and watch my thoughts dissolve, just like the white foam that is formed at the tip of a wave just before it is reclaimed by the ocean.

Four-hundred and thirty-four words. “Does this count as two days’ worth of writing?”—That would be cheating yourself.” Wait, who asked this question? Clearly, the voices in my head are talking to each other.

Ding, ding, ding: time is up. Until tomorrow, then!

And yes, my head still hurts.

Visions of love

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I see two people on a crowded bus. An older couple: weathered faces, glasses in similar frames, salt-and-pepper hair, wedding bands dulled by years… They sit very close, arms intertwined, her head resting on his shoulder. From time to time, she turns her face towards his and murmurs something in his ear. He smiles in response and gently rubs his forehead on hers, and the gesture is imbued with such tenderness that it makes the wet, grumpy morning passengers smile–even the punk kid wearing large headphones and a spiky collar.

It is raining.

Another two passengers sitting side by side. Two men. One of them is holding a smartphone, they are watching something, and I realize that each is wearing an earbud. Their heads touch; they are absorbed by the images flickering on the small screen between them; a blaze is all I can see. The bus is getting more crowded with each stop, but the two seem completely insulated from the crowd, as though the world is theirs and theirs alone.

I see love.