The Magic of Music

The power of music to stir memories in me occasionally catches me off guard. A song can pop up on Spotify and my mind is transported back in time and my imagination swirls around foggy images of the past and potential futures that will never occur (at least not in this reality but almost certainly in a parallel universe). These memories are almost always focused on a person and the relationship I had with them.

Sometimes, the person or relationship was a relatively minor character in my story. For example, anytime I hear “Kryptonite” by Three Doors Down I think of a girl I had a crush on in high school. I don’t remember her name, I may have never known her name, I just know she listened to that song and I found her attractive. I wouldn’t be able to recognize her in a yearbook but she was important. In my mind she is superhuman, she is an archetype for my hormonal love that burned hot, quickly, and often throughout my adolescence. That song brings her to mind and her memory brings me back to my high school worries that I’d never find love or that I’d never be found attractive. It was also a time when I saw beauty in every girl I saw and fantasies of marriage and raising kids with them all bounced around my mind when I should have been paying attention to my teachers.

Sometimes, the person or relationship was an incredibly major part of my life. Whenever I hear a Dropkick Murphy’s song I think of a woman I loved in college. She was my first, real, adult mature love that could have become a lifelong relationship. With the exception of my current partner, my connection to her was stronger than any other and I still love her. A quiet sadness comes around when I think of her because I think about what could have been. We were compatible, the sex was great, and we helped each other grow… but the timing wasn’t right and our lives were on different paths. To stay together would have required compromise which would have lead to resentment and a bitter breakup. Instead, we parted ways and the sadness I sometimes feel always turns into optimism. Our relationship ending was an important lesson to me, that there is no “one and only” and that true love is not reserved for one person. We can love many, be happy with many, and it is better to stay true to who you are than compromise out of fear that you won’t find someone else.

Music is a beautiful art form that swirls inside of me and allows me to think about and digest my own life. It brings about random periods of reflection that likely wouldn’t occur without it. I try to continue to listen to new music and explore new genres, but I also try to stay true to my past and listen to the music that was important during different phases of my life. Whether it is the Beach Boys, Garth Brooks, dc Talk, Green Day, Saves The Day, Flogging Molly, Social Distortion, Flobots, William Elliot Whitmore, Bad Religion, Kid Rock, Kesha, Krewella or the Top Hits from each decade of my life, music is an important part of my existence and my mental health. Without it, I would have a much more difficult time dealing with and healing from my past.

Supporting or Enabling

I’ve been drawn to the field of psychology for most of my adult life. In fact, before stumbling upon a copy of “Freakonomics” my freshman year my plan was to major in psychology. Alas, I ended up majoring in economics instead (I certainly don’t regret that, but it is interesting to think about how my life would have gone if I stuck with my original plan) but I still read books on psychology frequently and ponder the issues of the mind.

Due to some recent reading, I’ve been wondering about where the line is between being a support system for someone and being an enabler for negative behavior. It seems to be such a gray area with no clear answer, but I can’t help but wonder if some people (with the best intentions) end up hurting someone long-term as they attempt to provide short-term support. There are two scenarios that pop into my mind.

The blow off valve
Sometimes, in order to change our lives, we need to face the full consequences of our situation. We need to feel the emotions and direct our desire for change at the actual problem, but when we have a friend that allows us to vent to them it can actually prevent us from taking action. Take, for example, a person who is in a bad relationship. Maybe it isn’t anything abusive but two people really aren’t compatible together long-term and they even recognize it. But, instead of ending the relationship they vent to their supportive friends. This venting literally releases pressure and allows the relationship to continue when it really shouldn’t. Would the friend be making the right choice to withhold support in hopes that without a method of venting the relationship will end as it should?

Minimizing the Situation
We all want to support our friends and tell them that they are loved, but we aren’t really helping them if we aren’t honest with them. If a friend has a behavior that is harming their goals or health then we maybe we shouldn’t be supportive. Telling someone that their drinking, unhealthy eating, lack of exercise, weed habit, video game playing, masturbation, constant shopping, etc isn’t a big deal is doing them a disservice if they have expressed a desire to get healthier, stay sober, be thrifty, create art, etc. Support is more than telling someone that everything will be okay or that their behavior isn’t a big deal isn’t being a real friend, even if the action isn’t a big deal when viewed in a vacuum. Sometimes support is less important than accountability.

Anyway, that’s the random shit on my mind as I try to get back into the habit of writing daily. The second situation seems easier to manage than the first, but I don’t necessarily know how to handle either one that well. I try to be a great friend and confidante for the people in my life, but I am worried that maybe I’m doing more harm than good…

Got a question or comment for me? Send your questions or comments anonymously to this form and I’ll address them.  My life is an AMA and no subject is off-limits. I want to know what is going on inside that head of yours. 

Words Shape Mind

Got a question or comment for me? Send your questions or comments anonymously to this form and I’ll address them.  My life is an AMA and no subject is off-limits. I want to know what is going on inside that head of yours. 

Yesterday, I shared a couple images on Instagram of some food I made with a caption about how I saved money by making my own curry instead of going to a restaurant. It was a pretty bland post that I mostly shared to get a little serotonin boost from the likes and to signal the things I’m interested in (vegan food, exercise, home cooking, etc). In response to the post someone made a comment that kind of irked me though. I’m paraphrasing because the comment was deleted, but the person said, “People who eat at restaurants are pussies”.

Yep. That actually really bothered me and I responded with, “I would appreciate it if you didn’t use that word on my posts.” He quickly deleted the post but I wish I would have handled the situation differently. Instead of asking for self-censorship (which I think is valid in some circumstances on a private forum like Facebook) I should have explained why his comment bothered me and turn into a learning experience.

I can’t turn back the clock, but I can use my blog to explain why I don’t like his comment. It really comes down to two primary issues, the first being the word “pussies”. Using a body part that is primarily attributed to a group of people who have been systematically held down in society by men with something negative is problematic. The statement this commenter seems to be making is that eating at restaurants is a sign of weakness and a synonym for weakness is the vagina. Throughout our culture, many derogatory words are associated with females and this is a subtle way to dehumanize women and justify subjugating them.

The second issue I had with the statement is that there is a value judgment to be made about someone for an action that harms nobody (and is, in fact, beneficial to many people). People eat at restaurants for many reasons but I can’t think of one that implies a moral failing. And I’m sure my many friends who currently, or have in the past, work in the restaurant industry would be financially devastated if we started viewing those who patronize restaurants as morally weak.

The words we use matter. Not only because others will make decisions about us and our character based on our words, but because our mind is shaped by language. Our perception of the world is influenced by the words we use, both vocally and in our thoughts. If we view people as “pussies”, “retards”, or “faggots” for doing something differently than us then we are building neuro-pathways that connect people with moral failings. We will start to see women, the handicapped, and the LGBT community as something inhuman, unworthy of respect, or filled with moral weakness simply because of their genetics and not because of their actions.

I think we each have a responsibility to ourselves and to others to closely watch our words and to improve our thoughts. This wisdom has been passed down from before the time of Christ and seems to be universal. We should watch our tongues and be aware of our thoughts, and work hard to improve both and better the worlds. I have failed at this many times in my life, and I am sure I will continue to fail, but simply being aware of my words and the subconscious effect they may have on my mind has been a valuable exercise. And I hope that others will try to be aware as well.

 

Thoughts on “The Dead Zone” – *Minor Spoilers*

I finished reading Stephen King’s “The Dead Zone” today, and holy cow, I really enjoyed it. Reading it reminded me how much I enjoy King’s writing style and really reignited a fire in me to read more of his works. While he is primarily known for his horror stories (many people forget he wrote “Shawshank Redemption”, arguably one of the best films ever made), he has a wide variety of genres that he taps into. King is not a horror writer, he is a character writer. He is skeptical of plots and instead he puts characters into a universe and just lets things play out.

This method feels more real to me, and in a sense more “true”. But, of course, that means that the good guys and bad guys are not always easy to identify and the endings are not always happy or satisfying. King was once asked how he felt about the ending to The Dark Tower series and I think his response sums up most of his work, “it ended the way it should end.” There are sometimes loose ends, sometimes the bad guys win, but that is how life is. Writing like that is what separates entertainment from art. Art is concerned with being true and entertainment is concerned with pleasing an audience.

Anyway, onto “The Dead Zone”. The basic premise of the book is the protagonist gains the ability to see things about the future and the past when he touches someone or certain objects. During one experience he realizes that a rising politician was going to become President someday and would start a nuclear war, killing millions. It is basically a “would you go back in time and kill Hitler” story.

It is basically a “would you go back in time and kill Hitler” story. I am sure we have all thought about this and many people say yes, they would. But I wonder how people would really act. For one, ending a human life is not easy. It is unlikely that a time traveler would be looking down the scope of a gun and see Hitler in the act of hurting someone… acting in self-defense is relatively easy compared to shooting someone while they are playing with their puppy or taking a nap or eating dinner.

Second, most people want to believe they are noble and will sacrifice their own life and safety for “the greater good”, but rarely do people really go through with something to any real degree. How often have we all heard that either Obama or Trump is “Hitler” or a fascist or going to destroy America? If people truly believed that then there would be assassination attempts all the time, but it doesn’t happen because people either don’t believe it or they are not willing to risk their own safety for the greater good. I actually think it is mostly the former… I think people like to bitch and moan on the internet but don’t actually believe what they are saying, or maybe most people are cowards.

Regardless, I enjoyed the book. It is a true work of art that makes you wonder what you would do in a fictional situation and how you will live your life in the real world with the knowledge we have. Is there a point where any of us would risk our safety to stop someone from doing harm? Would we stand by and watch an assault? A rape? A murder? Do we cut back on unnecessary purchases to donate money to refugees? Blood to the Red Cross? Hours to a homeless shelter? What is our comfort, our time, or life worth, when others reap the benefits? How comfortable should we be with the way we live our lives (and in some ways waste our lives) when others are living in discomfort? Art raises questions, art makes us uncomfortable, art puts a mirror in front of us, art uses a story to show us truth, art inspires us to play in that universe and write our own truth, and King is a damn good artist.

Pea Protein!

Today, a 2-year supply of protein powder arrived at my house. 40 pounds of pea protein in a bag arrived at my door and really, I couldn’t be happier. It may seem kind of strange but this purchase represents a combination of personal identities that I really value.

The economist in me marvels at the efficiency of the purchase. By buying this product in bulk I reduced the cost of one serving of protein powder (30 grams) to about 23 cents. When I use Orgain each serving costs more and has less protein (about $1.25 for 21 grams) and even using a plain soy protein from Trader Joe’s costs about 40 cents (and was discontinued).

So, if I have one serving of powder per day I will save $340 per year over Orgain. But, this isn’t just money I’m saving because I can reinvest that into my future. I can put that money into a retirement account or buy bitcoin with it. Or maybe that just means I’ll take some extra time off each year. There is just such beauty in the efficiency of lower prices, it is literally saving moments of my life to spend on other things instead. Time is money and I just bought more time.

The stoic in me loves that I’m resisting the urge to focus on taste instead of nutritional needs. Part of being human is our ability to resist our carnal urges and do what is best for us in the long term. Sure, the protein powder doesn’t taste great by itself (though, mixing it with some cocoa and peanut butter powder or some fruit helps with that), but the point of food isn’t always to taste good, sometimes it is just to provide fuel and nutrients. There is value in making our lives simple and not always celebrating with rich food. Sure, there are times when a great meal is deserved, but those meals are even more enjoyable when they are rare. Food is a tool for human happiness and we shouldn’t let our hunger define our behavior. Balance in all things, but we primarily should eat to live, not live to eat.

The minimalist in me loves removing one more unnecessary decision from my life. I don’t need to worry about purchasing a major meal component for two years. That decision is made already. I enjoy the fact that I eat the same balanced meals every day, it is beautiful to me. For the same reason, I love only wearing the same jeans and t-shirts every day. My nutrition, like my clothing, can go on autopilot. I don’t need to keep up with trends or worry what other people think, instead I do what is healthy for me.

Putting decisions on autopilot helps make me a better person and more productive. It frees up mind space to write and create and enjoy the beauty of the world. A dollar saved on food is a dollar spent on adventures. Actually, I wonder what other food I can buy in bulk to save money and time. I think I can get my food and social costs down from about $300 per month to $200 per month. If I do that I put another $1,200 in my pocket each year. Yeah, that’s a good goal.

Here are the purchases I make regularly and it looks like there are some opportunities for savings:

  • Fresh produce (bananas, broccoli, onions, garlic, potatoes, spinach, kale, mushrooms, tomatoes, bell peppers, carrots) – I buy these weekly and probably can’t get them in bulk but I can start growing some of them in the garden to save some dollars, and gardening is fun
  • Frozen vegetables and berries – These I could buy in bulk (probably) but it would require a new freezer. I have to run the price of the freezer and increased electricity costs to see if this is justified… probably not.
  • Seeds and Nuts (almonds, chia seeds, flax seeds, walnuts, and brazil nuts) – These could probably be purchased in bulk and frozen to save some money if there is freezer space
  • Legumes and Rice (black beans, brown rice, kidney beans, brown lentils, pinto beans, red lentils) – I think this is the biggest opportunity for savings, I’d need some air tight containers
  • Spices (many) – probably not much savings here, I buy spices at the local Latin American market for $1 for several months supply
  • Nut milk (soy, almond, cashew… whatever is on sale) – Probably not any savings here 🙁
  • Supplements (creatine, beta alanine, taurine, ginseng, bacopa, choline, l-theanine, 5-HTP) – this is probably the best opportunity for savings, purchasing as a bulk powder instead of pills is super cheap, just need an airtight container to hold things in a cool, dry, dark place.
  • Non-edibles (toilet paper, dog food, paper towels, soap, toothpaste, etc) – I already purchase most of these in bulk using Prime Subscription so there is some good savings but it is worth revisiting.

Which brings me to my final identity that all this appeals to… self-experimentation. Life is about seeing what you are capable of and pushing the limits. Running marathons and living on pennies and climbing mountains and taking psychedelic drugs is part of the human experiences. Pushing ourselves to the limits and taking risks is how we truly live. It may seem silly to get all of this out of a purchase of protein powder, but each action we take reflects our life philosophy and those actions can either be explicit and analyzed or they can be unreasoned and based on primal drives.

6 AM

I am not a morning person.

When my alarm starts buzzing at 6 am it takes all my effort to get out of bed and as the haze of sleep starts to clear up I often ask myself the same questions.

Why wake up at 6 when I work from home?

I ran yesterday, why run today?

Can’t I just be more productive at night instead of pushing myself in the morning?

These are rhetorical questions. I know the answers very clearly… I wake up because I want my life to be more than what I’m paid to do. I wake up because yesterday’s run is part of a lifelong habit and not an excuse to be lazy today. I wake up because I know that I won’t be productive at night if I sleep in, that just isn’t how I work.

Every day there are two finite resources at work: the hours in the day and my motivation to be great. Both of these resources count down regardless of whether I am being productive or not. My drive to write, create, and exercise will be less at 5 pm than it is at 7 am, even if I don’t write, create, or exercise during that time. Mornings are where the magic happens, particularly when it comes to things I find difficult.

There are certain things that I know I will do each day, regardless of circumstances. Maybe they are things I love to do, like reading or listening to podcasts, or maybe they are things that I need to do, like work for pay. Either way, I don’t need to worry about getting them accomplished, they will happen even if I am low on motivation. It is the tough things that I need to knock out in the morning because those are the things that I’ll find excuses for or neglect in the evening.

Whether it is creating a new habit, running five miles, or calling my credit card company to ask for a lower interest rate, it must be done early or it won’t get done. The rest of my life, the habits I’ve developed and the work I know I need to be done can wait.

So, that’s why I wake up early because if I don’t then my life will drift along in mediocrity. I won’t meet my potential, I won’t experience as much of life as I possibly can, I won’t know my limits because I tried to push through them. Whether it is using my mind and body to transform my body or to write a book or to gain financial security, my mind and body are at their best in the morning.

It sucks sometimes, but truly living requires early rising and when you rise early there are plenty of hours in the day.

The Next Chapter

Since posting about my annual “failures” last week I’ve been giving a lot of thought to how I want to move forward. By next July do I want to have accomplished the things I didn’t last year? Or are they things that are no longer important to me and I should quit? Are there other things I want to commit to accomplishing? Last year’s failures fell into six basic genres that each require a different response.

  • Author – My book isn’t an audiobook yet, but I can change that. Starting today, I am going to make this my priority. I’m going to record every single day until I have a recorded draft of the book. It may not be a perfect recording, but good now is better than perfect never. Once complete, I’ll listen to it (shudder), make any major changes or re-recordings, and then submit it to Audible. During this process, I will also be able to give my book another look for any potential edits. I will also start working towards “going pro”, which is going to require a shift in mindset as well as some practical changes in my life.
  • Fitness – I’m going to keep running daily and working out regularly. I think implementing a monthly “glutton weekend” can help prevent me from entering major periods of sloth. I’ve got an 8-week workout plan I’m using and this October I’m going to start seeing a personal trainer. I also have some running goals that will get me to the 100-mile run level. Oh, and I’m committed to a mountain climb next year which is motivating me to stay in shape so that I don’t die.
  • Finances – I’m getting into a pretty good groove when it comes to saving money and earning money. For the next year, I’m going to keep working on cutting out waste and increasing passive income to get to the point where I could stop working (I won’t because I love my job and the people I work with) and still maintain my lifestyle.
  • New Practices – I am not sure how to integrate new practices in my life that I know are valuable but I also find difficult. I never regret yoga or meditation or language practice after I accomplish them, but it is difficult to motivate myself to do them. I think part of the problem is that I’ve committed to too much and maybe I need to focus on just one thing to get into and prioritize it above all else. I need to jump into it first thing in the morning when my mental fuel tank is full and I’m less likely to justify skipping it. I don’t need a lot of mental energy for work, the gym, or running because I know I’m going to do those regardless of what other circumstances are going on, but by the end of the day it is difficult to get the mental energy together to do something like meditate, so I need to do it first thing in the morning (well… maybe after a cup of coffee)
  • Facebook – The biggest time and energy suck of them all. I’ve come to accept that I have a bit of an addiction and my use of it is generally unhealthy. I’m going to schedule reasonable time for Facebook (probably 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes in the evening) except when I am posting a blog post. I’m also going to only check Facebook Messenger once a day. I need to constantly ask myself “is what you are doing at this moment helping you accomplish your dreams?” and when it comes to Facebook the answer is almost always “No”. Sharing articles of interest and talking with people is great, but scrolling mindlessly or getting in stupid debates with people I’ve never met is a waste. I would be better off reading, writing, cooking, gardening, exercising, working, masturbating, yoga, cleaning, meditating, etc.
  • Vegan – I think I’ve found a workable solution to my temptation problem, at least for the situations in which I can prepare for. I’m going to start eating my largest meal of the day directly before going to places where temptation is going to be and I’m going to carry a bag of almonds with me. Hopefully, this will keep both my physical hunger and my psychological oral fixation at bay to provide support for my ethical strength.

So I guess that is where I stand for the next year. I’m not sure the exact path I’m going down for each of these goals, I imagine it will vary with each one and many of them will have a bunch of sub-goals and reward systems to help move me up the mountain. I wonder if it would be beneficial to break down a proposed system for each of these six sections, maybe I’ll do that tomorrow in another blog post. I find writing things out to be helpful but I don’t want “being busy” to replace “being productive”. Oh well, I guess I’ll burn that bridge when I get there.

I haven’t answered any questions or comments lately and would love to hear from you. So, if you’ve got a thought or question submit it to me anonymously at  www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH and I’ll respond.