what’s eating the poor man’s spirit?

If you’re looking for answers, you’re on the wrong path. All you will encounter, and I speak from experience, are questions without answers. Divorced and apart, a congregation of questions, a meeting of the unknowns, packed to the hallway, with a bagel basket and paper plates and a coffee dispenser. They mingle and chat, and sit on coffee-stained chairs. Beneath them, the floor creaks, and the curtains smell of cigarette smoke. Old dusty books, untouched, on a book shelf, unmoved in years. What are your struggles, and what are your fears?

I’m closer to forty than I was to twelve. Guess we had a falling apart, age floats us away like the waves of the ocean. One minute we’re close to the shore, the next we’re drifting away. Out in the open where everything’s far. Happens so slow, so sudden, you forget to remark. Where did I go? Where did I start?

Born with a chronic malaise of discontent and disfavor, wandering semi-lifeless through a plate I can’t savor. The pallettes all wrung, wasted, and still I’ve managed a decent attendance. Though here and there I am absent, and conversations lead to a dead end. With me, it can end out of nowhere. There’s no surprise, none none none.

When my mom bought the bike, I thought wow, what a surprise. But did I deserve it? Now I think about gifts, and I can’t get excited. No, no. Not that thing. Not that either. That thing ain’t the thing I need, but what is it that you want? Sometimes I go thinking I’ve just forgotten what fun is, what’s experimentation? What’s with regiments, routines? The awkward part is being stuck in a groundhog’s day. Did I watch a good movie, recently? Oh, but I remember, when we spoke on the phone you said something about a book you’d read recently. The Transformational Power of Fasting. Stephen Harrod Buchner, or something like that. But I have trouble practicing restraint.

Do saints have trouble too? I have trouble writing a sentence. Each word, like a heavy stump, I cannot move it even if I broke it to pieces. Writer’s block. Maybe I am just tired of life, maybe I can pause it for a moment. It’s all so freaking continuous. Like the flow of the waves of the ocean.

Does everything mirror the ocean? Maybe I want to watch a documentary on microbial life. Or life before the dinosaurs, before anything. What am I made of? The same atoms as whomever no longer exist. Who am I made of? Eerie.

whoa, it’s me

I am convinced that there is a structural pattern to my moods, such that I am most optimistic towards the beginning and ends of the month and I hopelessly dread the middle. It could be due to the fact that I am very goal-oriented. I have often lost sight of the journey while focusing on the destination. Wisdom states that there is far more beauty in the journey. Why, then, is that beauty so hard for me to see?

The destination is unquestionably certain. The certainty with which we can assert that we have arrived is comforting, exhilarating. After working so hard at something, uncertain if it will materialize, that notice of arrival is like the hug you receive from your loved one after the hours of driving. Can you name a more comforting feeling?

Right now, all I wish is to be able to hold Caroline in my arms. I want her to cuddle in towards me, but the journey states that thousands of miles will have to be crossed before that can happen. How frustrating that can be, but in a highly characteristic end-of-the-month perspective shift, I want to change one thing about the way that I view these circumstances. I am proposing something simple, that the “woe is me” mentality for one day be “whoa, it’s me!”

Because two things can occur, I can finally discover that the cause of my misfortunes and poor attitude is not something external, like I believed. It’s not the fact that she’s not here right now. It’s not anything to do with my circumstances at all. It has all to do with how I am viewing things. In a Hollywood-worthy plot twist, with a Eureka howl, I see that all along it’s been me. My attitude. Whoa, it’s me!

But aside from that, from figuring out that I can be the problem, I can also see this. That the miracle of life is still present. Shucks, at least I’m alive. So, next time I look in the mirror, hopefully, I can at least feign surprise. Whoa, it’s me! Here still. Just one day older. And with a dim-witted smile, I can show thanks for that gift of life.

Well, now we get to wrap up the year. 2021 is in its final stages. I’ll set new goals for December, and I’ll try to get some rest by getting into bed by 9 pm every day.

giving thanks, in some way

It came from some Thai place. Neither my mother nor my grandmother were able to place a single ingredient in this year’s Thanksgiving meal. I ate it right out of the styrofoam container it was shipped in, drunken noodles with chicken and shrimp, but at least I used actual silverware and not the plasticware supplied.

This isn’t Thanksgiving how you would imagine it. It’s Thanksgiving alone, in my room, by myself. And while I don’t consider myself a holiday person, it mattered a little to me to be lonely on this one of many occasions. Perhaps a sign of things to come. I always wonder about those older people who do everything alone, but what other outcome could my lifestyle birth? However, I am grateful for this completely different feeling of thanksgiving. Because I am not in a room with family and my favorite food at my disposal, and I am not able to reach out to hug mom or grandma, or Ally. They’re not laughing with us, joking, as they are in the memories I replay. The memories of past thanksgivings with the savory tastes of fleeting flavors.

Time is unforgiving, but the beauty is that we have those experiences to draw on at least as a template. Because maybe we can have a Thanksgiving that includes all of those things if we begin to prioritize them.

This isn’t normal. The distance, right now. But it gives a view of all that I’ve missed. I think myself back to the playground where I played basketball with my cousins and uncle. They were older and much much better. I couldn’t dribble very well at the time, and I would freeze when others came to trap me and steal the ball. But the prospect of making one shit kept me in the game, and it was something I always looked forward to. Despite being an introvert, I could be very social on the basketball court. But then one day it stopped. Nobody knows exactly how. We didn’t agree that it would be our last game together, but suddenly people became busy. It wasn’t long until weeks and months passed where we didn’t see each other at all, and that’s when you realize that growing older sometimes means growing apart. Whenever we saw each other, we planned to go shoot around and hoop again. We made promises we wouldn’t keep, and that’s just how that goes.

Maybe one day we can shoot the ball around. I think that would be cool. Nevertheless, I am grateful for having had the chance to grow up around my cousins and learn the game I grew to love.

Life is long. At least it seems that way, and I believe that one-day things will fall into place. Today, Jeffrey told me his friend Neha runs a 5K every year around Thanksgiving with her dad. That’s a tradition I would like to mirror with my own child if I could. And I don’t know, but maybe the future won’t look exactly how I thought it out to be. Maybe a few little details will be changed around. But I think we should have family unity regardless of the other things.

When my mom arrived here, in this country, she probably felt the same way I do now. I try to remember that when things get hard. That she was completely removed from her home, her friends, familiar faces, and she had to adapt to a new language, new customs, new people. And who to trust? Who to invest time in? That brings me to the concept of friendship. There aren’t many friends like the ones you make while growing up. The ones who see you as you are, not for what you have, for what you think, for what you show. For me, that’s Jeffrey, Jojo, and Nelson. I’m grateful for those guys. But when I look at my mom, grandma, they don’t have many friends. They’ve struggled with that, opting for isolation and the comfort of the homes and faithfully committing to servicing family above the community.

So that’s another thing that would be nice. To be a part of a community, and if not find it, build it. Make connections around similar, positive interests. Share experiences with others. Plan trips, even small ones, to a town or two over.

There is probably no other person who means more to me than my cousin Allyson. She is my favorite person, and I am grateful for her too. I can’t imagine the loneliness she may feel at times, but I am also proud of her strength, her curiosity, and her care as a person. I hope I can be of service to her in my lifetime. I hope I can provide a certain kind of hope and direction, and that she may learn the good things I may be able to teach.

Loneliness is temporary although it sometimes seems everlasting. On days like this, I realize how much of a privilege it is to sit together with family and enjoy a warm meal. But until then, I have to keep reading, keep writing, keep mastering my mind and my body.

Happy thanksgiving.

what’s wrong, now?

“So in the end maybe that’s the challenge: to look inside your own heart as perceptively and seriously as you can, and to make peace with what you find there. If we hope to truly see another person, we have to start by looking within ourselves.”

Haruki Murakami, Men Without Women

I have made the pronouncement, at least in my own head, that I am not a bad person, a person who is intentionally seeking to harm, abandon, or mistreat others. Beginning with honesty, I take pride in these little virtues as if they were plants in my garden. By tending to them and watering them each day, I can make them grow to spread their leaves. And I wonder where that tendency to affirm my own goodness emerged from. Why should it matter that I think of myself as good or bad? Would I, if I thought of myself as a bad person, be more inclined to be bad and in such manner become worse? Or would I hope to seek a form of redemption or atonement?

What is it that I place the lens on when I make these judgments? It’s not that I consider myself a good decision-maker, a wise businessman, nor a keen investor. I am not talking about my ability to form a thought, express a feeling, or calculate a difference in two measurements. I am considering my own morality, and making these judgments myself would inevitably lead to assessment errors or biases. But no one else is really taking the time to assess another person’s morality. That level of intimacy does not exist. Unless you committed some heinous act, most people will not consider the moral weight of your decisions.

The complexity of morality is extraordinary. How can you be sure that an action is good? The only true thing we know is that we know nothing when it comes to what is good or bad. Of the things that are good, which of them are necessarily so? Telling the truth may be one of those universal moral principles that nearly every society would agree is necessary for the proper functioning of a group. With lies, you breed mistrust; with mistrust, you break unity. The union breaks. But then why do people lie? And when we think of the concept of a white lie, which can be good, we discover that telling the truth can also be bad. But is morality situational? Is a morally good action today perhaps not so in 10 years, 10 days? With a shifting value metric, it would make sense for this to be the case.

And I don’t know if what I am doing is right or wrong. The isolation, the grief, complicate things. But I have to keep searching, for what seems to be one way may be entirely another. By the time you get your vision focused, the sight has already changed. And that’s not easy to experience.

the tuesday before we give thanks

I find myself preoccupied wondering where to begin the deconstruction of this seemingly long life. Could I begin at the moment of consciousness? When I experienced thought for the first time, what was the world like for me? I have to imagine that the separation of my parents was a particularly narrative-shifting event. Even as I am haunted by the thoughts of their coexistence, I wonder what actually happened. I can figure out the timeline mathematically, there are documents with dates, marriage licenses, divorce papers. But I can’t figure out the in-between. Day 1, they were presumably happy, what newlywed couple isn’t? But by year 10, they were at the doors of disaster, friendly goodbyes were not going to happen. Instead, we’d get decades-long alienation and grudges. For me, I inherited confusion and mystery, and aside from that a heavy feeling of incompleteness.

What I think I am missing the most is closure, but the roots of my low self-esteem could not have originated there? Sure, I am curious about their decision. How much thought did they give it? Was it impulsive? Did it take others by surprise? Did they sit at a table to talk, to weigh the pros and cons? I cannot figure that out, but much worse is the understanding that they will probably never admit their wrong-doing, or right-doing. But here is a confession, as much as I cannot come to terms with the absence of my father during my upbringing, I cannot imagine what life would have been like to have him present, caring, supporting me as I came of age.

My identity was crafted on my lack of a male role model. In response to his absence, I became dedicated, enamored with the idea that I would be a good man (my mom had painted him as a bad man, though there are disputes to her claims and evidence to the contrary). I would treat others well, speak honestly, engage with the world in a positive manner. There were male figures that inspired me to be better, but no one to have dinner with me, or take me to a ball game or a museum. No one was around to share enthusiasm in my interests, to spark my curiosity. And in that sense, having no dad provided certain freedoms – that I wouldn’t be exposed to his interests. I could make myself my own version, and lay a grand foundation upon this empty canvas. Because dad, as I know him now, doesn’t really go to museums, he’s not into basketball, he doesn’t know about competitive swimming, doesn’t read philosophy, isn’t versed in mathematics, has no curiosity about speaking German, or German people, nor about any book, or activity I’ve shown interest in. It is entirely possible, that just like the other members of my family to whom I feel alienated and apart from, he would just be one more person I could not relate to.

But am I supposed to be thankful these holidays? If so, for what? The world seems so arbitrary. Everything that is could have been another way, and what meaning would that have? What I think about when I say is that life goes on when you are gone, right? But what it would have been if you had never been is just the same, Life. But perhaps that’s the thing to be thankful for, that no matter the outcome, the happenings and circumstances, I got to experience a unique version of life where I didn’t win all the time, and I didn’t get more attention than I needed.

I don’t know, to be honest, where to begin the work that I have to do to discover who I am. At this age, I am afraid I will never find that out. Another conversation, of how I went from where I am at back to square one, because I got far out enough to see this isn’t the right path either.

being honest with myself

It more often than not feels like it sucks to be me lately. I have frequently given up on routines, habits, and activities that benefit me. In exchange, I have opted for things that don’t benefit me and shift me away from where I ultimately want to be. This matters because life can be boiled to just that, the choices that you’re making every day.

Are you going to bed before 9 pm, or are you going to fill your day with some activity? Are you going to make it to the gym, or are you going to stay in and watch Netflix, HBO, or play the Nintendo Switch? Are you going to make your salad, or are you going to eat fast food just because its made quicker? Sometimes the choice is not obvious. I end up playing Switch, not in place of going to the gym. I don’t see it like that. But that’s ultimately what it is.

I’ve gotten mentally weak. I’ve dealt with a lot, sure, but if I’m honest with myself that’s the biggest malady that’s overcome me. Being unable to stick with things when they get hard, being unable to focus on finishing a book in completion. My mind drifts towards something else and there I go chasing.

It’s hard to understand why this keeps happening. But it seems that some conditioning has taken place. When I listen to music, I often skip songs too. I find myself rewinding back through audio books, and it seems that even when I’m here, I’m not really here. How does this inability to focus affect my relationships? Well, I’m not a 5-star partner, son, brother, or anything, even a friend. I barely talk to my mom, my sister, and my girlfriend gets the most attention at barely 15-30 minutes a day.

We each have 24 hours in our day. The universal constant shared by Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and myself. That list pretty much ends there, but I have to question how am I spending my time if it’s not doing the things that I love or with the people I love. I can’t even say that I have been writing on this blog consistently. I haven’t kept a journal, or been reading or running very often. In fact, if you don’t count the last two days, I haven’t done any of the things that purportedly bring me value. So, if I’m honest with myself, things need to change in a major way. That’s what I’m working on.

Here’s to hoping the focus remains in the midst of hardship or the oncoming of bad news.

another sunday

Weeks, they go by way too fast. As the final hours of a sunday come, surely they will go, and I am not the more rested nor invested into the coming week.

Thanksgiving approaches. I don’t remember many great thanksgivings, but there have been 2 or 3 where I’ve had great food and a decent time. The difficulty for me was feeling like I didn’t fit in amongst family. Everyone there was happy to see someone else, conversations were born, had their life cycle, and birthed another one before they died. There was dancing, footprints, and sole marks all over grandma’s linoleum tile. Some were there jovial, drunken, and then slowly they’d find a place and fall asleep, like at the kitchen counter or the couch, while the music played on. Loud, loud music. That’s what I remember, and I would be quiet.

I sometimes think, if I bring my kids around to places like that, I have to remember to check in with them from time to time. I want to make sure they’re ok, because sometimes environments like that are too hard to handle. But maybe I was just the black sheep. My cousins and sister all learned to drink at these occasions, they learned to dance, they learned to move around and socialize, and they played the roles of family better than I could even dream. Whenever I tried anything, I felt awkward and upset. These weren’t people I just met, these were people I’d known my whole life.

Anyway, now I am alone, and it’s hard here. But I am not necessarily missing home at these times, because for me, it was hard there too. As tough as it is to be alone, sometimes I think it’s the best possible world for me. Given my knack for finding unhappiness and defects, my life has become just that. Finding the most acceptable path, and moving forward. Like shopping at a thrift store, sometimes you’ll find a good thing, and it won’t even cost you that much.

november

My priority this month is going to bed by 20:00, preferably at 19:30. When I turn off my devices earlier, I wake up earlier and more refreshed.

When I awake in the morning, I turn toward my phone to play music or listen to a podcast. I also check the scores on the latest sports games. But I want to try having more quiet mornings and turning on my phone after 09:00. It will be hard to make these adjustments, but they may allow for more focused mornings.

I will be moving away from computer time during the week, and more toward the gym. But aside from that, there won’t be many more changes. I’m hoping for a month with a tad more consistency than prior months, and a lot more hours of sleep.