Exploring Dungeons and Slaying Dragons

I grew up in a home where Dungeons and Dragons was verboten. My parents believed it was addicting to the point of being dangerous. I think I remember them mentioning that my dad played it in high school and had some bad experiences, or maybe he had friends that played it.

Anyway, the details aren’t important. What really matters is that I grew up in a home where D&D wasn’t allowed, neither was Harry Potter, or Magic: The Gathering. I actually remember buying some Magic cards and playing a few games, but then I was overcome with fear that playing Magic was actually a trick from Satan so I threw all my cards into a bramble bush at the edge of our property.

Fast forward two and a half decades and I now play every week and I fucking love it. My soul is still intact and I am addiction free…. from D&D at least, coffee still costs me a shitton of money and affects my mood greatly. I think there are a lot of people who have a curious interest in playing non-video RPGs. Since being so open about it I have had many friends ask me questions about it. It is probably one of the top five most common subjects that I’m asked about. The other four being open relationships or polyamory, MDMA use, veganism, and fasting. The questions usually come anonymously or in slightly hushed tones after a few beers, which is kind of a shame because I think having conversations sober and in the open about all subjects is really important. Wanna know my salary? thoughts on anal sex? Why I’m vegan? If I get hungry while fasting? What do I like about D&D? Ask away…

But, I’m gonna stick with that last question for this blog post. I love D&D for a lot of reasons but I think what stands out to me is how, with a good Dungeon Master (DM) and other players, you can weave together an everchanging but neverending story. I was once asked if you can “win” D&D. This question is pretty common and when it is asked with sincerity then I love diving into it. To be honest, it is kind of like the question “who will build the roads” is to libertarians. It can be a snarky judgemental question or it can be an authentic interest by someone who wants to expand their understanding of the world.

So, can you win D&D? Yes. But no. Maybe? It depends on how you define “win”. If you mean defeat some sort of universal boss that makes replaying the game repetitive, then nope. But if you mean to have a good time telling and experiencing a story until its conclusion, yes. Well, “conclusion” in the sense that you are done playing. D&D is like life, even when you die the world trucks on. There is no clear start or end. You can only win D&D like you can win life.

I love the story that develops around the parties involved. It isn’t like reading a book because you are an active member. The DM runs thing but a good DM allows the characters to shape the world. And good players will allow the story to shape their characters. For example, my character’s name is Gory and he is a Dragonborn Barbarian. I came up with a brief backstory for him (raised as part of the urban bounty hunter’s guild, sister was kidnapped, not very bright, gets angry easily but protective of those he loves) and I didn’t really think much about his future. I kinda had a plan but nothing set in stone.

As the story developed a lot of unexpected things happened that has lead Gory to being a Zealot for a recently revived (reformed?) deity. I didn’t plan that and it wasn’t necessary for the story but it seemed like what would happen to Gory because of the adventures. If I had been playing a different character then the development would be different. Not only has my DM worked my backstory into the story (I’m about to try and rescue my sister) but he has worked with random other stuff that we’ve created alongside him. For example, I’m going to be going to a city soon to build a temple to start a new religion. I don’t know what’s gonna happen with that but Gory is going to try to gather followers to help him spread the messages of his diety. This gives our DM something interesting to ground different parts of the story in (if he chooses).

Often the story even crafts without much input from the DM. One of Gory’s companions is named Ariel and they have had a strange relationship that bounces from love to disgust. It is mostly due to being raised in different cultures but recently they realized they love each other but it can’t really be a traditional relationship because Gory is asexual (didn’t plan that, he just is). So they are trying to navigate what that will mean for their friendship and whether they should explore romance or what. I’m sure the DM didn’t expect a DragonbornTriton side story, but I’m sure he’ll adapt if we decide to get married and have some kids… we still haven’t really clarified whether Triton’s lay eggs or not. Or maybe we will just stay friends who cuddle and talk and share an intimacy that doesn’t change to something else.

Playing D&D is like a dance between the players and DM. The DM is the lead, mostly, but each participant adds their own flavor to the routine, and in that anarchy, a beautiful universe is born. There are no limits to what you can do. Sure, the D&D rulebook provides rules and assistance but you can throw out rules, modify them, or create your own. You can make your own items, gods, races, or whatever you want. The rules are really just an explanation of how things generally work in one universe, what you do with that information is up to you. You can participate in political intrigue, start a small business, raise a family, hunt dragons, and travel across dimensions.

And you can die. After years of building a character and becoming one with it then you may die. No reset button. No second life. Just dead.

Well, that is partially true. The DM can be kind and duex ex machina back to life and there are certain spells and ways to raise the dead, but personally, I think that should be used very sparingly (and the duex ex machina not at all). The possibility of death adds a real element to me. I hope I get to have Gory go on many more adventures, all the way to Level 20, but he might not. He might face a dragon that kills him, just like last week (he was only saved because our Paladin had a spell slot left to Revivify me). I may have a bad roll while climbing a cliff face and he falls down. He may rush into a room to try and save my sister and find myself overwhelmed by assassins (Gory doesn’t think, he just rushes in even when Peter wishes he wouldn’t). A t-rex may eat him or a Kraken destroy the boat he’s on or he may end up in another dimension.

There are lots of options for what happens after you die. Maybe Gory will meet his deity or he will return to the planet in another body or maybe just disappear from existence. I don’t know what our DM has in store for us when death inevitably strikes our group. But I know that mortality gives the experience greater beauty and death. When/if Gory dies I will be sad, and so will five other characters who will have to decide how to honor him and dispose of his body.

So, when Gory almost died last week I did get emotional. I didn’t break down crying but there was a knot in my throat and I felt my mind whirling. It wasn’t because of a bad role or a misstep on my part (that crossed my mind with a weird sense of guilt that I may have killed him), it was just being outmatched while Gory did what he did best… rushing in to protect the ones he loved. D&D is an emotional game for me because of how much I love the story I’m helping create and I’m invested in the characters that I’ve both created, guide, and let free to do what they think is best.

Of course, not everyone plays the way I do. There is no wrong way to play D&D. Some people play it to try and create the strongest creature they can and get into fights. Some people like to explore every inch of the world and see what is hidden on every map. Some people want to get into political intrigue of kings, barons, and democracies. There is no wrong way to play, all that matters is you do what works best for you and enjoy the ride.

So, that’s my quick sell of D&D. I’d love to play more than I already do (and I’d love to explore a sci-fi setting using a similar system) but for now I will dive into the world my DM has crafted for us and enjoy every minute of it.

Wanna stay in touch? Got a question for me? Want to tell me why I’m wrong and are curious how I got everything so backward? Have an idea for a blog post? Drunk and wanna send me a Snapchat? Wanna become penpals and send each other letters in the mail?

Feel free to reach out at any of the ways below while I take a Facebook break!

Email address: pjneiger@gmail.com
Instagram: @peterneiger
Questions:  pneiger.sarahah.com or www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH
Snapchat: @pneiger
Also, I wrote a book about a cross-country bicycle ride I did!
“Wandering Oak: A Rite of Passage”

 

Using Anger and My Thoughts on Mark 7-12

As someone who attempts to integrate Stoicism into my daily life, I am constantly trying to keep negative emotions at bay. Negative emotions cloud my use of reason and, unlike positive emotions, tend to make my life worse. This actually comes pretty naturally for me, I am very slow to anger or feel sadness. Overall, I think that is a good thing but sometimes I wonder if negative emotions can serve a positive purpose. They are a product of our evolution, which means they either help(ed) us reproduce or they at least didn’t prevent us from reproducing.

Negative emotions can actually spur action and create momentum for improving our lives. For example, let’s take anger. For the last two months my landlord has been fucking me over and it is costing me hundreds of dollars per month. I don’t get angry often, I hate rocking the boat, I avoid conflict based on emotion but I recently reached a boiling point. I got angry, I called my landlord and things are starting to improve.

Maybe anger helps me more than others when it comes to dealing with other people. Anxiety is a very real part of my life, particularly when it comes to communication. I HATE talking on the phone. Just thinking about it causes my heart to race, my body starts shaking with nervous energy, my palms start to sweat, and my breath gets shallow. Making the most basic phone call takes me minutes of pacing to get up the will to call. I don’t call my parents that often, I haven’t talked to my siblings on the phone in ages, Anna and I joke about how we’ve only talked on the phone about 10 times in our 5 years together, and even my best friend who’ve I known for nearly 25 years only hears my voice on the phone a few times a year.

It sucks. My medication and therapy are helping but, to be honest, I’m mostly content to respond to things by text and email. So, when my anger got to the point where I was willing to both call my landlord and confront them with something it is clear I reached a breaking point. You might wonder why I didn’t utilize email, that is a good question. It all comes down to my landlord never responding to emails. Conversations require a second party and when one just refuses to respond then a new method must be employed.

So, I utilized my anger and got some results. Not a perfectly Stoic response, but fuck it, I’m kind of a terrible Stoic. Oh well, all philosophical pursuits, whether they come from Christ or Seneca, are the pursuit of perfection while fully knowing you will never reach it.

Speaking of Christ… (see that smooth segway) on to my random notes on the Gospel of Mark.


Mark 7:6-7 – Christ quotes Isaiah and holy fuck it can apply to many modern Christians, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”

It is almost like Christ doesn’t think you should follow man’s law if it is far from the heart of Christ. You know, the heart that says things like “turn the other cheek”, “love thy neighbor and pray for those that persecute you”, “whatever you do for the least of these you do for me”, etc. I wonder if Christ would support starting wars of revenge or building walls to keep out the needy.

WWJD? Not those things.

7:21 – “sexual immorality” – Greek porneia – Okay, I’m not a Greek scholar (obvi) but what I find interesting about the definitions I found for this word is how they can vary to be about homosexuality, sexual intercourse with close relatives, intercourse with a divorced person, or a metaphor for the defilement of idols.

7:21 – “sensuality” – I found this translated as “lewdness” in other versions, which was then translated as something very different than what it means in today’s world. It is more properly “ignorant, unlearned”. What I really get out of this is that translations are difficult and maybe, just maybe, our interpretation is different than the original intent.

7:24-30 – Kind of harsh to compare Gentiles to dogs.

8:1-10 – Why did the disciples doubt Christ could feed 4,000 when he already fed 5,000? Seems strange.

8:14-20 – The numbers 12 and 7 seem to keep cropping up. Supernatural or symbolic or just me noticing specific numbers?

8:29 – This isn’t really an admission to being the Christ. Jesus seems to deflect the question.

9:1 – This prediction did not come true.

9:2 – Again, lots of second-hand information here.

10:18 – It seems like Jesus is specifically denying that he is god.

10:21 – Not a lot of people that I have heard of are following Jesus guidance here. I don’t know anyone that has sold their possessions. Also, this seems to imply that in heaven there will be inequality because certain acts will bring about greater treasures.

11:12 – So… Jesus just cursed a tree for not bearing fruit out of season? WTF?! Is there something symbolic here? Maybe… like we should punish people who don’t do what you don’t expect them to? Being literal makes Jesus sound kind of like a crazy person.

11:20 – Alright, after that commercial break we are back to the tree. Things aren’t that much clearer for me. So, if you have enough faith then you can cause massive instantaneous environmental destruction? Hopefully, not literally. And, did his disciples need another lesson about divine power? You think after all this time to cure diseases and making fish they wouldn’t need the destruction of a fig tree to sell the power of faith. It is almost like this story is for a reader and not an account of something that literally happened. Also, forgive people instead of being a dickhead.

11:27 – Kind of clever of Jesus to use fear of a riot to dodge answering a fairly reasonable question.

12:18 – Sadducees – Don’t believe in the resurrection? But the resurrection hasn’t happened yet.

<googles Sadducees>

Ahh, not Christ’s resurrection, they don’t believe in an afterlife or any resurrection.

<tries not to get sucked into Wikipedia rabbit hole about different ancient Jewish sects>

12:27 – God isn’t god of the dead? I’m really confused. Aren’t we all going to be dead? Baffled.

12:29 – Love god and each other. Pretty much end of story.

12:38 – Substitute “scribes” with a lot of modern people and this works as well.

Wanna stay in touch? Got a question for me? Want to tell me why I’m wrong and are curious how I got everything so backward? Have an idea for a blog post? Drunk and wanna send me a Snapchat? Wanna become penpals and send each other letters in the mail?

Feel free to reach out at any of the ways below while I take a Facebook break!

Email address: pjneiger@gmail.com
Instagram: @peterneiger
Questions:  pneiger.sarahah.com or www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH
Snapchat: @pneiger
Also, I wrote a book about a cross-country bicycle ride I did!
“Wandering Oak: A Rite of Passage”

AUSTIN!

This last weekend my partner and I visited Austin to hang out with some friends, explore the city a bit, and see Kesha in concert. In the end, we accomplished two of those three things. We visited Austin for a few hours on our cross-country bike ride but didn’t really get to really hang out. We originally planned on spending 3-4 days in Austin back in 2015 but it didn’t happen (long story short, fuck headwinds).

We landed in Austin in the early afternoon and headed downtown to figure out what we wanted to do with our weekend. Austin was significantly smaller geographically than I thought it would be. Everything is basically 15-20 minutes apart and it seemed uber bike friendly. Once we got to a coffee shop we had our first hipster experience.

One of the patrons of the cafe was wearing a University of North Carolina – Wilmington t-shirt. Which we thought was super strange in Austin, so we struck up a conversation with him and asked if he was from Wilmington. It turns out, he was not. He said that he wore the shirt because “nobody else would recognize where it came from or what UNCW meant”.

Well done Austin, you are keeping things weird.

After coffee, we met with some friends for some drinks. Well, one drink turned into four and before we knew it we were laughing and having a great fucking time. At one point I looked down at my phone and realized that the Kesha concert had started five minutes earlier. So, we had a choice, drive ~30 minutes to the show and sit out in the hot sun to see my favorite artist. Or, we could keep the good times rolling with our friends who we hadn’t seen in a long time. We went with the latter. There was a moment where I was pulled towards the concert because we paid for the tickets, but that quickly subsided. #SunkCostFallacy

Eventually, we grabbed food and headed to bed.

Saturday we woke late and chatted over coffee to plan the day. We decided to bike down to Barton Creek to play in the water.

Side note about Austin/Texas – there is a river that goes through Austin called The Colorado River. It isn’t the same Colorado River that you’re thinking of and goes through the Grand Canyon. No, this is a different Colorado River that is only inside of Texas. Also, they refer to the river as Lady Bird Lake sometimes.

Anyway, we biked down to Barton Creek and hung out in the slightly chilly water for a bit. There were lots of dogs to watch and a 3-foot long snake touched me. After that, we went for more food and drink (do you sense a theme?)

Saturday night some more friends came over and the six of us hung out talking and laughing. It has been a long time since I’ve had deep, serious questions in a group like that. I really miss it and I hope that as I expand my network here I will have friends that can chat for hours into the night about religion, death, sex, science, our past, etc.

Sunday morning I went to church with our friends. It was the first time in probably 12 years that I entered a Christian church for service. I went in skeptically open and it turned out to be a lot like what I expected. Everyone was friendly and I would probably be friends with the ones I interacted with if I lived in Austin, though, I don’t think a church would be what connected us.

The sermon reminded me a lot of my old church. It was a bit fluffy and not particularly challenging. I know that a 20-minute sermon can’t get into a lot of nuances but it always irritates me a bit when anyone makes bold statements without any real citation or recognizing any potential problems. In fact, as is often the case with religious leaders, the bold statements were identified as an objective truth because of god.

The pastor really talked about two things. The first was the Unity of the Bible and how that was a strong argument for the divine nature of it. If not for God, how else could 66 books written over 1,500 years by 40 authors in 3 languages be completely consistent? First, the consistency is up for debate. Second, a good editor. Humans decided which books were official and they chose books that were consistent. There are many non-canon books that were written about the New and Old Testament that were simply not used by the church… well, some churches.

That’s my third problem with this argument, which church was he talking about? The Catholic Church includes books that the Protestant churches don’t, and Eastern Orthodox churches are different as well. So, in order for the Unity of the Bible to be divine then some of these versions of the Bible are wrong, either by the omission of divine works or inclusion of non-divine works. Recognizing these potential issues would go a long way for me, admitting that there are unanswered or complicated issues included would be nice. Instead, in the past, I’ve heard things like “just pray about it” when I had intellectual questions.

The second thing the pastor discussed was the value of studying the Bible. He encouraged the congregation to read a passage, think about it, and write down their thoughts. Good advice, actually, but not really unique to the Bible. The works of Marcus Aurelius, Rumi, the Upanishads, Plato, and many others can also provide spiritual and intellectual growth when studied. Again, it is the monopoly on truth and value concept that buggers me.

Overall, I’m really glad I went to the church. It provided me with an opportunity to stretch my mind and comfort zones a bit. I think I’m going to stick with my Unitarian church here in Wilmington but I’m game to go to a variety of churches, synagogues, temples, and any other religious service with friends and family if invited.

After church, my partner and I drove out to Jester King brewery about 20 minutes outside of Austin. It was actually a really cool brewery in an area that didn’t feel like Texas. The beers were really good, and I normally don’t like the fruity, light beers. After the beer was more food, ice cream, and then passing out.

Monday was the end of our journey and, sadly, we had to return to Wilmington (not really “sadly”, we love it here). We both agree that we want to visit Austin again and do more outdoors activities. It was so great to meet friends and connect in person, social media and email just can’t do the same. There are so many great cities and people to visit in this world, I wish I had more time but we are lucky enough to be able to travel to a wide variety of places for long weekends many times throughout the year.

Wanna stay in touch? Got a question for me? Want to tell me why I’m wrong and are curious how I got everything so backward? Have an idea for a blog post? Drunk and wanna send me a Snapchat? Wanna become penpals and send each other letters in the mail?

Feel free to reach out at any of the ways below while I take a Facebook break!

Email address: pjneiger@gmail.com
Instagram: @peterneiger
Questions:  pneiger.sarahah.com or www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH
Snapchat: @pneiger
Also, I wrote a book about a cross-country bicycle ride I did!
“Wandering Oak: A Rite of Passage”

 

Thinking Time #2 – Story and Mark

I spent another hour today in a coffee shop away from my computer and other worries just to think and read. The first 30 minutes or so was time to think about whatever crossed my mind. No real purpose or goal, just me, a pen, a piece of paper, and my brain.

My mind kept shifting to a fantasy world that I have always wanted to write about. I think I’ve mentioned it here before but the basic principle is simple. The world takes place on this planet but there are two major differences. First, there are multiple intelligent species that evolved along different paths. Humans, elves, dwarves, orcs, etc. all live on what we call Earth and have shared it for a long time. Basically, we know that if there is a Great Filter then it isn’t the move from unintelligent to intelligent life (however that is defined) because intelligent life is common on the planet.

Second, there are subatomic particles called magtron that sometimes replace electrons in an element, giving it magical effects. Magtron particles are found in nature both attached to certain elements and independently. Additionally, intelligent life produces magtron particles to varying degrees in the pineal gland (or something similar in different races). So, maybe 7,000 years ago a tribe of dwarves settled near mountains that had iron ore that happened to have most of the electrons replaced with magtrons. Any weapons they create would be magical. Also, maybe elves produce more magtrons than other races and that is why they are more proficient magic users.

I still haven’t worked out all the ways this would work, but that is the basic premise. Basically, it is a world similar to “Bright” except that the politics, cities, references and such would reflect a world where the races evolved amongst each other and came into conflict throughout different ages. Unlike “Bright” where there is a city called Los Angeles, a gang called the Crips, etc… all things that would not exist if their history was even slightly different than ours.

With this basic concept, I’ve put together a basic history of the world from pre-history to sci-fi. This allows for stories to exist in any genre. Police mysteries, war novels, “non-fiction”, sci-fi, steampunk, high fantasy, romance, etc. can all exist in this alternate universe. I’ve been thinking so hard about how to explain it as a cohesive universe through books and I realized that isn’t necessary (though, I think a video game, RPG, or tv series with this premise would be awesome). I can just write short stories in that universe and don’t really explain anything.

To practice, I wrote a VERY short, VERY rough “story” while I was sitting in the coffee shop just to play around with the idea of writing in the universe, not about the universe. There are new words and such that I hope don’t need to be explained due to context, but I included a glossary at the bottom.

*The Child*

A man and elva walked towards the cayro shop swinging their child between them. The child’s eyes glittered in the bright sun, just like his mothers. The glimmering blue-green a sharp contrast to the dark hair that he inherited from his father.

As they entered the shop the child’s eyes adjusted quickly to the darker environment. Excitement filled his face as he scanned the room. A pair of figures in the corner was particularly interesting to him. He pulled on his father’s hand and pointed wide-eyed at the two.

Realizing that they were the source of a child’s excitement one of them smiled and waved to the young boy.

“Go say hello,” the child’s mother said, encouraging her son.

The boy took a few steps forward and said “Hi!” much more loudly than the necessary. He waved awkwardly and almost lost his balance in all the excitement.

“Hello,” said one of them said, his sharp teeth showing slightly as he smiled and waved his four-fingered hand. Despite being over a spur taller and much more muscular than the boys father the child was not nervous. He was fixated on the blue uniform and badge on the er-og’s chest.

“What can I get you?” the bored barista said to the parents as they approached the counter. She was still playing on her phone as they began to order.

“Just two cayros. One iced and one hot”

“Room for anything to add?”

“No, thank you”

“Alright, that’ll be four silver, two bronze”

The man slipped her a five-silver note and said, “keep it.”

“Thanks,” she said with a half smile, finally looking up at the customers revealing her vertically slit eyes.

The boy, tired of standing next to his parents, pulled a toy dragon out of his pocket and began turning every inch of the shop into his personal flyway. He flew the toy around the room roaring and pretending to blow fire, earning him smiles and waves from the handful of patrons in the shop.

A radio squawk in the corner caught his attention as the two officers conversed quietly. They responded to the radio and headed for the door.

“See ya, tomorrow Kah-lees,” one said while pushing open the door. They were halfway across the parking lot to their vehicle before the barista registered the farewell and half-heartedly waved towards the empty doorway. She finished swirling her lightly blue glowing hands above one of the cups and walked back to the counter.

“Here you go,” Kah-lees said, handing the cups of cayro to the couple.

“Thank you,” the elva said smiling. “Braylon, it is time to go.”

The boy pouted for a minute and then clumsily headed towards the door. As they exited the shop the patrons returned to their solitary tasks of finishing homework, writing, and reading, but happy for the small diversion.

elva = female elf (a male elf is ‘elvo’)
cayro = coffee
spur = about 16 inches
er-og = male ogre (a female is ta-og)

****

Alright, I also dove into the Gospel of Mark for a couple more chapters.

4 – The Parable of the Sowers has kind of stuck with me. From my experience, many Christians are in thorny soil because “the cares of the world and deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word.” I wonder if one of those other things is political power.

Why all the parables though? Kind of leaves a lot open to (mis)interpretation

Gerasenes – currently the city of Jerash in Jordan
or in some versions
Gadarenes – currently the city of Umm Qais in Jordan

So, depending on which version of Mark you read Jesus was in a different city. It is this type of thing that makes it very, very difficult to take the Bible literally. I understand seeing it as a figurative document with moral lessons and such, but if there isn’t even a consistency of cities then why should I believe any other parts are literally true when there could be another version out there with different details.

Why did Jesus give the demons what they want and send them into pigs? They killed off the livestock of some poor guy or village. That seems really shitty, but if Christ is willing to give mercy to demons then shouldn’t we be willing to give mercy to other humans? Even immigrants?

Mark mentions that he wasn’t one of the people who witnessed Jairus’ daughter get healed. I wonder how much else was second-hand information.

6 – It seems Jesus’ ability to heal is based on the faith of others. It makes me wonder if he is literally limited in power or is it a conscious choice not to heal people with less faith. Neither seems like a good situation.

When Jesus made a bunch of fish and bread he instructed the disciples to take their own food (in very limited supply) and give it away to strangers. He may have been testing their faith a little bit. I wonder how many Christians today would give their last bite of food to the hungry, the alien, the poor, the orphan, the widow.

6:52 – What is the point of hardening their hearts?

Gennesaret – currently the archaeological site Kinneret

Well, that was fun. I am actually getting a lot out of setting aside an hour a day without distraction to read and think. I’m glad I started doing this. I probably won’t share the results every time but for now it works well for a blog post.

Wanna stay in touch? Got a question for me? Want to tell me why I’m wrong and are curious how I got everything so backward? Have an idea for a blog post? Drunk and wanna send me a Snapchat? Wanna become penpals and send each other letters in the mail?

Feel free to reach out at any of the ways below while I take a Facebook break!

Email address: pjneiger@gmail.com
Instagram: @peterneiger
Questions:  pneiger.sarahah.com or www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH
Snapchat: @pneiger
Also, I wrote a book about a cross-country bicycle ride I did!
“Wandering Oak: A Rite of Passage”

Thinking Time

I finished “Essentialism” by Greg McKeown a couple of days ago and am starting to implement the action items that I’ve developed for myself. Last week was a brain dump in response to the question “What do I want out of life?”. There was no real thinking time, just stream of consciousness.

Today, I implemented the next two items: schedule thinking time and read time-tested works. So, I put 1.5 hours in my calendar to accomplish these two tasks. At about 1:30 pm today I biked over to a local coffee shop with only a notebook and a Bible. The Bible isn’t really my first choice for time-tested works to get into but it is the only one that I have on my bookshelf.

The first 30 minutes was dedicated to just thinking time. No real agenda, just think about whatever comes to mind and dive deep into it. For me, I found myself returning to what is actually essential in my life. When I cut through all the bullshit, obligations, desires, and such, what is at the foundation? What do I really need and how are things going in that department right now?

I’m not going to share all my notes but I really came down to three things that I need: partnership, income, and a tribe. Of course, nothing is completely independent of the other, particularly “tribe” and “partnership” but I think those three categories work for now.

But the question remains, why do I find those things essential? As always, the best way to get to the root of something is to pretend I’m a 3-year old and keep asking “but why? but why? but why?”. Do 3-year olds ask that question? I have no idea… children’s ages continue to baffle me.

Anway, so what are the essential parts of a partnership? For me, an adventure buddy, a responsible roommate, a great friend, a source of support, a source of intellectual stimulation, and sex. All of those things can come from other sources, but all together it makes a great partner. This area is pretty solid for me, I’d say an 8.5 out of 10.

So why each of those things? I don’t know yet, but maybe I’ll dive into them later.

The next essential is income. Income is a means to an end and I need it to fund the necessities of life (food, water, shelter, WiFi), adventures that I want to have now or in the near future (I don’t want my journies to all be after I’m retired), and my retirement. Basically, it needs to get me stable and let me get as much out of life as I can. Ideally, it would provide a sense of purpose, but that is just an extra. Again, pretty solid with an 8 out of 10.

Lastly, a tribe. This is a group of friends beyond my partnership. I need them to have most of these attributes: adventure buddies, intellectual stimulation, support system, shared values, non-judgemental, and local. This area is a little rougher for me, I have everything except “local” in my life right now and that is a big one. I certainly have some friends here and nearby, some very close friends, but I miss having a real, hardcore tribe… particularly people with shared interests in recreational drug use, non-monogamy, and all the other freaky sides of me. LA wasn’t a good fit for me, but at least I could find a drag show in a porn dungeon where I felt very vanilla at 3 pm on a Tuesday. I spend most of my time in Wilmington with a bit of a veil over who I am and what I want to talk about. It is getting better, but I still struggle and my therapist and I are working on action items to address this.

So, that was the gist of my thinking session.

My reading today was the first three chapters of the book of Mark. I chose Mark because the visiting pastor at church on Sunday mentioned that the book of Mark was the oldest version of the gospel. It has been a while since I read the gospels and thought this might be a good time to see what they really say, what the overall themes are, and whether American Christianity is in line with Christ’s teachings. The Christian mythology has had a greater influence on the world today than any other, particularly in America. I do think it is valuable to be familiar with it.

Here are my notes:

  • Mark 1:1 – “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” – First footnote states that some manuscripts omit “the Son of God”. So, right of the bat we clearly have an editorial bias in which manuscript(s) to follow when translating. Makes me want to read Jefferson Bible.
  • Mark doesn’t mention Jesus’ childhood at all. He just kind of jumps onto the scene and starts healing people.
  • Mark 1:16 – “become fishers of men” – Footnote says that this comes from the greek anthrope, which refers to men AND women. So why not put “become fishers of men and women” or “fishers of people”. Seems like an explicit desire to minimize the presence of women in Jesus’ teachings.
  • This whole first section is all about healing people in a modest way.
  • Mark 2:18-22 – I really don’t understand this section or parable. It might be worth reading some interpretations of it. I’m guessing there are some cultural aspects to it that aren’t nearly as informative in today’s world.
  • Jesus sure did break a lot of Holy Laws regarding the Sabbath. It is almost like you should do what is right instead of what is legal…
  • I don’t quite understand why he would silence the spirits from revealing that he is the “Son of God”. Maybe I’ll find out later in the story.
  • Mark 3:31 – “Your mother and your brothers are outside seeking you.” Early transcripts said “Your mother and your brothers and your sisters”, so why not use the earlier transcripts? Why just omit women (again) from the story. I don’t see how removing “and your sisters” from the translation changes anything at all. This just seems like unnecessary sexism and is one of the things that turned me off to Christianity ~12 years ago.

So, tomorrow I will read another couple chapters of Mark. I don’t know if I’ll move immediately on to other gospels or not.

Wanna stay in touch? Got a question for me? Want to tell me why I’m wrong and are curious how I got everything so backward? Have an idea for a blog post? Drunk and wanna send me a Snapchat? Wanna become penpals and send each other letters in the mail?

Feel free to reach out at any of the ways below while I take a Facebook break!

Email address: pjneiger@gmail.com
Instagram: @peterneiger
Questions:  pneiger.sarahah.com or www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH
Snapchat: @pneiger
Also, I wrote a book about a cross-country bicycle ride I did!
“Wandering Oak: A Rite of Passage”

What Do I Want Out of Life?

I’m currently reading “Essentialism” by Greg McKeown (10/10 – Will read again) and, as I normally do, I have a running list of action items inspired by what I read. I’m usually shit at actually following through on these items but I think I actually will this time.

“Essentialism” is really the perfect self-help for me right now. The chapters are short, accessible, and easy to re-read when needed. In fact, my plan right now is to finish the book today or tomorrow and then read one chapter each morning for the foreseeable future. I’ve said similar things before but something about this book is sticking with me. Maybe it is the timing because I am kind of at a crossroads in my life and I’ve started receiving mental help. Or maybe the book is just that damn good.

Regardless, it has earned a permanent place on my desk next to my printer and each morning before work I will spend 15-minutes reading it until my neurons see the path of Essentialism as the path of least resistance.

The first action item on my list is to do a brain dump that responds to the simple question “what do I want to do with my life?”. Simple exercise, but not easy. This action item came from a story the author told about how he decided to drop out of law school. Basically, he did this exercise and realized that nowhere on the paper was anything to do with law school or to be a lawyer.

He was in law school because it was a “good” decision. It was a safe bet, it would provide options, and he was expected to. He realized that good doesn’t necessarily lead to great, particularly if the path isn’t one you are passionate about or feel truly drawn to. And I think we all have something we are drawn to. Just like Stephen Pressfield says in “The War of Art”:

Look in your own heart. Unless I’m crazy, right now a still small voice is piping up, telling you as it has ten thousand times, the calling that is yours and yours alone. You know it. No one has to tell you.

That calling we all have. Maybe it is to write a book or paint or travel the world or have children or invent a better solar panel or create board games or teach English abroad. If you are like me, the calling is difficult to articulate. Defining it as a task or interest doesn’t really seem to work, it is like describing a mountain based on a reflection in a lake. It shifts and changes and wobbles, the basic outline is there but it seems inaccurate, fragile.

Like a good Burner, I went into this exercise with as few conscious expectations as possible. I had no real goal, just dump my brain onto the paper and see what happened. After 15 minutes this was the result.

Questions: What do I want to do with my life? What brings out interest and passion?

Travel the world, have adventures, accomplish feats, struggle and challenge myself. Become a better person, major weakness is interpersonal and not feeling like I’m really doing anything of value. I enjoy discussing and reading about taboo stuff like sex, death, “fringe” politics. I want to understand. I miss my radio show from college. Maybe I should do podcasting? I love DIY stuff and figuring things out on my own, pushing forward until I hit the limit of my skill or my interest. The things I’ve maintained a long interest in don’t fit well with traditional jobs. Drugs, sex, death, altered states, I will need to either keep those as hobbies or forge a new path with them to make a profit. I think (hope) everyone actually cares about these things. One skill of mine is that I let my freak flag fly. But how can that be leveraged? And do I want to? Some sort of creation, contribution, art, talks, intellectual instead of a product. I keep mentally leaning towards a podcast and writing. And touch. Massage and touch. I think that is more my calling. It is going to require time and lost wages. I’m not sure how it is going to work but I think I can. So, podcast, writing, massage, my current job, a social life, personal growth, sleep… that’s a lot of logs on the fire. But it is better than the status quo. What would that look like?
M-R
0530 – Wake
0600 – Exercise
0800 – Shower, dress, prep
0900 – School
1630 – Home
1700 – Work
2100 – Downtime
2200 – Sleep

F
0530 – Wake
0600 – Exercise
0800 – Work
1700 – Podcast, Write, Neiger Consulting, End-of-Life doula, house stuff, other)
2100 – Downtime
2200 – Bed

S
0530 – Wake
0600 – Exercise
0800 – Work
1200 – Off

N
0530 – Wake
1015 – Church

That could work. I’d still make enough money to live and stuff. It would only be for the six months of school. Shit. That could work.

 

So, that was my brain dump. For those interested, here are the other action steps from the book so far. I’m not sure if I will blog about each of them or not. The first word in each item is the chapter name from the book so that I can reference easily.

  • Escape – Schedule thinking time with no books, phone, or work. Just sit down and think. Pen and paper are okay. Should this be daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly?
  • Escape – Schedule time to read “time-tested” classical works.
  • Look – Keep a daily journal, write “less but better”. Review the journal every quarter and look for patterns/themes.
  • Play – Figure out how to play! What brought me joy in the past as a child, teenager, later? How can I do that now.
  • Sleep – Get 8 hours daily and schedule 30 minute naps
  • Select – Be more selective. Ask myself three questions: What am I deeply passionate about? What taps my talent? What meets a significant need in the world?
  • Clarify – Create “essential intent” for my life and business
  • Buffer – Add 50% to all expectations
  • Subtract – What are my biggest constraints/Herbies? How can I remove them?
  • Progress – Create a progress visualization. Get started on projects immediately with at least a very small initial step, even 15-seconds of prep for a new project gets the ball rolling.
  • Flow – Develop a routine. Different for each day?

Wanna stay in touch? Got a question for me? Want to tell me why I’m wrong and are curious how I got everything so backward? Have an idea for a blog post? Drunk and wanna send me a Snapchat? Wanna become penpals and send each other letters in the mail?

Feel free to reach out at any of the ways below while I take a Facebook break!

Email address: pjneiger@gmail.com
Instagram: @peterneiger
Questions:  pneiger.sarahah.com or www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH
Snapchat: @pneiger
Also, I wrote a book about a cross-country bicycle ride I did!
“Wandering Oak: A Rite of Passage”

How Easy It Becomes

There is an old joke (saying?) that I remember hearing when I was younger (as opposed to when I was older). I can’t remember if it was when I was in high school or the military when I first heard it, but it stuck with me.

Remember, for every hot girl there is a guy that is tired of fucking her.

Crude… yep. Harsh… absolutely. Contains a nugget of wisdom… I think so.

We humans get tired of things relatively quickly. My dog, Higgins…

Wait, does anyone reading this not know that I have a dog named Higgins? That would be weird. But just in case, I have a dog named Higgins. He is a black lab, bulldog, American Staffordshire terrier, American bull terrier, unknown 1, unknown 2, unknown 3, unknown 4 mix. He is 55 lbs, black with little white paws, and kind of lazy. He also traveled with my partner and I when we bicycled around the country for a few years because we don’t really understand how people can foster without adopting.

Anway, my dog, Higgins, doesn’t get tired of things. He will chew on the same type of bone until the day he dies. If we let him, he would eat peanut butter until he was sick and then he would come back the next day to do it again. He is never bored and he is always content with the simplist things. He is kind of lucky. Even my cat, Poncho The Cat, seems to want some variety in the color of hair bands that he will fetch.

We humans are not like Higgins. No matter how important, amazing, special, loving, or influential a person, place, thing, or idea is, we want something a little different. Since my brother is only 16-months younger than me I guess that is about as long as I was special to my parents.

I guess it is part of human nature. Kind of shitty, but not necessarily bad for the species. The relentless pursuit of the new probably helped our primate ancestors survive.

So, why do I bring this up? Because I have found myself bored with my daily reading of “The Daily Stoic”. I read through it last year and actually spent a fair amount of my morning routine reflecting, highlighting, and commenting on it. But I’ve found it has just become another mindless routine and I generally forget what I read by the time I finish my coffee. Sure, it is possible that what I read is still lodged in my subconscious somewhere and is helping me make better decisions, but I want more than that.

Today, when I read my daily reading I tried to really focus on what the old Stoic was saying (in this case, Epictetus) as well as the younger Stoic (Ryan Holiday). Additionally, I tried to really expand upon it.

The key for today’s post was in Holiday’s half where he lists the attributes necessary to win a war, because “life is a battlefield”. I actually fucking hate non-combat references to “war” or “battles”. I side with Jim Halpert on this one. Unless there are guns, explosions, and bloody body parts flying around you while some old Boomer dickhole sits in an air conditioned office and decides where to send you to die, then no, you aren’t in a battle or war… no matter how shitty your job is.

Ugh, I’m off track.

The things I focused on expanding my understanding of are the parts of Holiday’s list. He simply put the words down but I decided to write down what they mean to me.

Discipline – Doing what you should even when you don’t want to. Fuck motivation, motivation is a flighty dickhole. What I need is discipline.

Fortitude – Gotta have strength to stand up to the rough times and weather the storm. Stand strong like a fortress. Hmm, I wonder if fortitude and fortress share a common word ancestory. (Quick wiki search later… yep, it looks like it comes from fortis meaning “strong”. Good job Latin)

Courage – Do what is right, even when it is difficult. I feel like this is kind of tied in to the above too but I can’t articulate how. Any way, do what should be done even when everyone else sucks.

Clearheadedness – This is totally a Stoic addition. They are all about being clearheaded, knowing what is real and not, understanding what is under our control and what should be ignored, etc.

Selflessness – I’d like to hear Holiday explain this one a little bit more. I guess it is all about degrees. Total selflessness probably won’t win any wars, whether it is against al-Queda or the neighboring coffee shop who is stealing customers by providing better service, cuter baristas, and free non-dairy milks instead of charging for them.

Sacrifice – You gotta figure out what you want to suffer for. Life is about trade-offs (I have a BS in Economics, I should know) and you can’t let FOMO get you down because you will miss out on 99.999999…% of the things in this life. You are sacrificing all those options every time you make a decision, so it is probably best to try and make a good one that is in line with your values and goals. Basically, if I want to lose these last five lbs. I should probably ignore the non-dairy milk in my coffee even if it is free and Allyson sounds cute when she says “almond milk”. Abs require black coffee.

So, there you have it. A completely meandering blog post that has left us all unsatisfied. I hope you have had a great week so far and the summer is off to a glorious start!

Wanna stay in touch? Got a question for me? Want to tell me why I’m wrong and are curious how I got everything so backward? Have an idea for a blog post? Drunk and wanna send me a Snapchat? Wanna become penpals and send each other letters in the mail?

Feel free to reach out at any of the ways below while I take a Facebook break!

Email address: pjneiger@gmail.com
Instagram: @peterneiger
Questions:  pneiger.sarahah.com or www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH
Snapchat: @pneiger
Also, I wrote a book about a cross-country bicycle ride I did!
“Wandering Oak: A Rite of Passage”

 

Learning How to Paddle

During the last week or so I have been really reflecting on my mental health journey, which really only began in an intentional way in the last couple of months. I think I’ve been thinking about it because I have several “a-ha” moments and things seem to be working.

In the past, my motivation, moods, and overall emotional state seemed to shift back between highs and lows. It was never as pronounced as a bipolar disorder but I think it could be classified as cyclothymia, though I don’t know if it is technically serious enough for that. Regardless of whether I could get a diagnosis, this cycle of ups and downs every few months was causing problems in my life. There was rarely more than a week or three of stability, I was either up or down. Motivated or depressed. I was never just “good”. I was at a point where I had the resources to seek help, so I did.

Sidebar: It is worth noting that I took into consideration my diet, sleep patterns, exercise routines, etc. While all these things helped they did not get me to the stability that I needed.

I felt like I was rafting on a river without paddles or map. I didn’t know how to maintain a steady course and I was just thrashed around without much real control. I could put my hands in the water and guide myself a little bit (maybe even a lot in an emergency) but that was exhausting and rarely fruitful.

Getting mental help has assisted with that.

First, after consulting with a psychiatrist and psychologist with the VA I was prescribed Buproprian. This helped, but it certainly wasn’t a “fix”. Taking this medication was kind of like finding a fairly calm and predictable part of the river that I could get my raft into. I didn’t have much control based on circumstances but I was in a position where circumstances weren’t as jarring.

Second, I started seeing a therapist, specifically one that uses Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and mindfulness meditation. Therapy has been like finding paddles for my raft. These tools help me navigate the river. Sure, it is difficult at first because they are unfamiliar (and there is a tendency to ignore them because they are difficult to use) but over time my muscles and skill with the paddles have grown. Now, when I see rapids or an eddy on the horizon I can prepare myself a little bit.

I still have a lot to learn and my skills are developing, but I’m happy with the progress. A big thing I’m focusing on right now is understanding the reasons for my fears, preferences, and such. Some of it surely linked to my upbringing and military service and being cheated on by the first two women that I loved, and others are linked to my feelings towards death and love. Unpacking those reasons allow me to address them and/or avoid them. It doesn’t fit really well into the river analogy but maybe discovering the source of my struggles is like finding a map of the river.

And, maybe most importantly, by working to find the root of my struggles I can forgive myself and others, and move on.

So, what are some of the things that I’ve noticed this week?

  1. RIA is coming kind of naturally. Recognizing my feelings when they happen, identifying what they really represent (usually fear), and addressing them in a systematic way is starting to be intuitive.
  2. I’m less anxious about being late for things, which has made my partner very happy.
  3. I communicate more clearly with my partner and am more assertive. I’m willing to say “no”.
  4. I am proactively seeking a social network here in Wilmington. I went to the Unitarian Church (and their after-service BBQ) and have contacted several organizations that I’m interested in working with. I’m also researching volunteer opportunities and may take singing lessons. Oh, and I started yoga again. Six months ago I would have never done these things, I know that because I didn’t do these things even though they’ve been on my “want to do” list for about two years
  5. I sent in paperwork to become an LLC and am actively working towards long-term goals
  6. I feel good, grounded, and much more confident. My body image issues have gone from a roar everytime I step by a mirror to a calmer growl (and sometimes silence).
  7. It has become easier to log off of Facebook and Instagram, or to engage in a fruitful way and then go about my day. In fact, I find social media kind of boring now.
  8. I’m way more productive and procrastinating less
  9. I don’t feel guilty for down time
  10. I’m not really using SnapChat anymore. I realize I was using it for external validation, which usually ended up making things worse when I tried to get it. As my therapist and I have worked on my body image issues a bit I have found less need for that.

I don’t make any universal statements because I think the world is rarely (if ever) universal, but I will say that I think everyone should see a therapist if they can afford it. Everyone. Even if you have no noticeable problems there is such benefit from talking to someone who has an outside perspective and is trained to help with the mind. This is the beauty of specialization, I can turn to a professional to provide knowledge that I don’t have (and don’t have the time/resources to acquire). A therapist also provides a level of accountability that I haven’t been able to find elsewhere.

So, there you have it. I’m learning to paddle along the stream of life. There are plenty of rapids and eddies ahead, but I’m slowly growing stronger and will be able to handle them with more and more gentleness and ease.

Wanna stay in touch? Got a question for me? Want to tell me why I’m wrong and are curious how I got everything so backward? Have an idea for a blog post? Drunk and wanna send me a Snapchat? Wanna become penpals and send each other letters in the mail?

Feel free to reach out at any of the ways below while I take a Facebook break!

Email address: pjneiger@gmail.com
Instagram: @peterneiger
Questions:  pneiger.sarahah.com or www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH
Snapchat: @pneiger
Also, I wrote a book about a cross-country bicycle ride I did!
“Wandering Oak: A Rite of Passage”

I’m Stressed… Wait, actually, I am feeling fear

The following word vomit is based on a couple of things going on in my life now. First, I just listened to two episodes of the “Ologies” podcast that discussed fear (link). Much of what I talk about here comes from that podcast and you should listen to it. Second, working with a therapist over the last month or so has really been an enlightening and educational experience, so some of what I discuss here has come from my therapy sessions.

Sidebar: For those that don’t know, I see a therapist primarily to help me with my anxiety, which generally manifests itself as social anxiety. I’m also on medication (Buproprion), which has helped a lot, but therapy has been giving me the tools to deal with specific circumstances. Even if I wasn’t dealing with anxiety I would probably still see a therapist because I think everyone should, just like everyone should talk to a doctor, personal trainer, nutritionist, etc to maintain and improve their health. End sidebar.

I have been known to talk about how stressed I am, especially to my partner. Work deadlines, financial woes, rainy weather, a dog who eats plastic and gets obstructed, a dying grandfather, feeling like I don’t have a social network, heartburn from too many Coronas… it all weighs on me. My heart races, my stomach is tied in knots, I have nervous energy but nowhere to put it. I get stressed-the-fuck-out!

But that is only kinda true, because “stress” is really just a linguistic trick to disguise how I am really feeling, which is afraid. All stress is fear. ALL stress is really FEAR. Full stop.

Fear is a natural occurrence and it has helped many species spread their genes by not dying, but in today’s world our fear center has been hijacked and is running WAY too much. Fear is either factual or fictional. Factual fear includes seeing an approaching army on the horizon, being cornered by a very angry antelope, or literally not knowing where you will find food or water.

Luckily, if you are reading this blog right now then you are probably in a position where you have rarely if ever, faced factual fear. You are more privileged than 99% of human beings who ever lived were. So, in theory, our fear centers should basically be bored and never stimulated. But that isn’t the case, because fictional fear exists.

Fictional fear is when our body interprets a situation as potentially deadly and gets the “fight or flight” system roaring when there really is no danger to your life. Let’s take the most common fictional fear in my life, sending an email to a client.

Situation: Email client an update on project.
Internal Dialogue: Oh fuck. What if you messed everything up? What happens if when you hit send you accidentally somehow included an embedded image from your computer of your dick? What if you include the wrong people on the email and you lose business? Oh god! Why! Why! Why!
Biological Response: PREPARE TO FIGHT OF FLEE!!!!!!!
Reality: I didn’t mess everything up, but if I did then I can repair it. There are no dick pics on my computer and emails don’t magically attach things. I am hitting “reply”, how would I include the wrong people? And if I did, that is fine. I’m not going to lose business because someone got an email that didn’t pertain to them. Half the messages in my box don’t require a response from me.

I know all these things. I am fully aware that nobody is going to die if I make a mistake at work. Even if somehow I make such a monumental mistake that I lose my job then I will be okay. I have a savings account that can get me through until I find more work. And even if that savings account is somehow drained (as well as my crypto investments, retirement fund, and all other resources). I have friends, family, and a wife who will support me in the short term. But I guess it is possible they could die and the country’s (shitty) social safety net will collapse because we are invaded by… umm, Canada? Then I might DIE!

So, basically, my body is responding to “send an email” with “If you screw this up you will get fired, your savings will evaporate, your family and friends will all die, the country will collapse, and you will be surrounded by polite mounties”.

Seems a little farfetched.

The truth is, our fear centers are overworked because society is constantly putting is in a state of panic. At the foundational level, fear takes two forms and both of these forms are used very heavily by marketing and politicians in order to get power and/or money.

The first form is the fear of not being good enough. This makes sense evolutionarily. My ancestor wants to mate with some hot lady in the tribe but thinks he isn’t good enough. So, the fear powers up and he works harder to acquire resources, grow stronger, defeat enemies, dance seductively, whatever. The fear encourages action towards a necessary goal to spread genes.

But, in our world, most people are “good enough”. We are good enough to get food and shelter long enough find someone to mate with (which is really our biological purpose in life). Modern marketing tells us otherwise though and fills us with this fear. Our abs aren’t six-packy enough, our car isn’t new enough, our retirement account isn’t big enough, our dick/tits are too small, or our armpits don’t smell enough like Harmony, Peace, Gold Temptation, Excite, Dark Temptation, Essence, Apollo, Anarchy, Black Chill, or Phoenix (WTF Ax?). We are NEVER good enough because someone, somewhere is always better than us at everything and marketing would have us believe that perfection is what we should be striving for.

So, we become afraid and each commercial starts the fear process churning.

The second form of fear is the fear of being out of control. Again, this makes sense evolutionarily. My ancestor sees that it is starting to get dark and her shitty primate eyes aren’t working that great. She no longer has control of her own protection and she uses that fear to run to a cave in order to be safe. The fear encourages action towards a necessary goal to spread genes.

Unfortunately for us, we have shit-bird politicians and the media who have decided that keeping us afraid of everything is a great way to stay in power. (I actually don’t know if this is an explicit intention by the individuals or if it is more of a natural institutional occurrence given the incentives in place, but I digress). When you turn on the news we are told to be afraid of fucking everything.

Every time a murder happens we are made to feel like it could happen to us, even though violent crime is at historic lows. Every war around the world is a threat to our safety, even though the likelihood of a war on American soil is basically zero. Every terrorist attack is something that may happen in our town, even though you are infinitely more likely to die because of a shitty diet than a terrorist attack (or, as we shall see in a moment, fear may kill you).

Instead of being afraid of real dangers (of which there are few) and/or dedicating time and energy to minimizing the true things that will kill us like heart disease, cancer, etc. Our minds are constantly in “fight or flight” mode in response to things that have a near zero chance of hurting us or directly impacting us.

But, there is one thing that maybe we should fear a little bit, fear itself. Because fear can kill us (slowly).

Being constantly afraid is kind of like being a cigarette smoker. It slowly, over time, weakens your body, fucks up your system, and leads to an early death. When afraid our bodies go through some awesome changes that help outrun a Mastodon. Our breathing and heart rates accelerate, blood is rerouted to the necessary immediate survival systems, muscles get tense, blood glucose and serum calcium increase, alertness prevents sleep, and our body prioritizes what is necessary “now” over what is necessary “later”. Basically, it says “hey, we want sex and genetic spreading but first we gotta be alive so we will worry about long-term health if we survive”.

Those systems that help us stay alive in a life-threatening situation are supposed to be temporary and they cause all sorts of problems when they are turned on too much. Our biological emergency systems are not meant to be running 24/7. When we are afraid our bodies are not spending resources on proper cell regeneration (cancer is a problem with cell regeneration) or food digestion (affects obesity), and the increased blood pressure puts pressure on the cardiovascular system (heart disease). Too much fear kills, and we are constantly being told to be afraid.

So when I wake up in the morning instantly check Facebook I am killing myself. I find that I’m not good enough because one friend has a better body and another friend got a promotion and another friend is having more fun on vacation and another friend started a business. FIGHT OR FLIGHT! MUST GET BETTER!

I continue to kill myself by checking the news. I find that everything is out of my control and Trump is going to start WWIII, except our allies will be North Korea and Russia, and our enemies will be Europe and Canada. I see that another murder happened in a midwest town that I didn’t know existed. I find out that the stock market might crash and everything is DOOOOOOOMED. FIGHT OR FLIGHT! MUST REGAIN CONTROL!

And all day I inject myself with fear and slowly kill myself, all in response to things that are actually unlikely to harm me and are completely outside of my sphere of influence. Not only that, I am killing my partner and pets (maybe). Fear is contagious. When stressed afraid our bodies release pheromones that tell others to be afraid. Makes sense for our evolutionary ancestors but kind of a shitty system today.

That is why I have found Stoicism to be so valuable because its philosophical foundation is based on figuring out what is in my sphere of influence and ignoring the rest. I can’t stop Trump from saying or doing crazy shit, and I also can’t stop a tornado from occurring on Mars, so why should I worry about either?

So, how do I try and handle fear now? First, I avoid unnecessary fear. I do my best not to check Facebook or the news. I also meditate daily, go for walks outside in nature, and study Stoicism. These practices have helped me calm down and get a better view of both what is truly happening and how I can affect it.

When it comes to addressing fear when I feel it the most effective tool for me is R.I.A. My therapist told me about this and I actually have a little sticky note on my computer screen that says RIA. RIA stands for Recognize, Identify, and Address. Usually, I don’t need to get to the Address portion.

Recognize means labeling what I’m feeling. Sometimes it takes a few steps to get to the foundation. Maybe I’m feeling anxious while talking to my partner. Instead of “I’m anxious”, I’ll mentally or verbally say “I’m feeling neglected”. Why am I feeling neglected? “I am feeling neglected because I feel like my voice isn’t being heard.” Why is that causing this response? “Because I feel out of control” (fear)

I am also really trying to change my language to stop me from identifying with my feelings. For example. Instead of “I’m stressed/afraid” it would be best to think “I am feeling stress/fear”. The stress isn’t part of who I am, it is something I am experiencing.

Identify involves determining if this is a factual fear or a fictional fear. Am I really out of control? Usually, no. Usually, there is something I can do to address the situation, which brings us to…

Address is doing what is necessary to calm the biological responses down and resolve the issue. Maybe I go for a walk or maybe I listen to music or maybe I masturbate. If something can be resolved then I talk with the appropriate people or take the necessary actions to resolve it.

RIA is so damn simple, but it has really been an eye-opener for me. I am increasingly able to address my fears and live more of the life I want. Thanks, Therapy!

PS: I couldn’t figure out where else to put this but I found it interesting. According to the podcast (seriously, listen to it), highly successful people don’t use the word “stressed”, instead they use the word “fear/afraid”. Stressed implies that the source of the problem is external, it creates a victimhood mentality, it minimizes your ability to change your circumstances. But, by identifying something as a fear you can overcome it or address it fully. Everyone feels fear, there is nothing to be done about that, but the way we address fear can be the difference between life and death.

Wanna stay in touch? Got a question for me? Want to tell me why I’m wrong and are curious how I got everything so backward? Have an idea for a blog post? Drunk and wanna send me a Snapchat? Wanna become penpals and send each other letters in the mail?

Feel free to reach out at any of the ways below while I take a Facebook break!

Email address: pjneiger@gmail.com
Instagram: @peterneiger
Questions:  pneiger.sarahah.com or www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH
Snapchat: @pneiger
Also, I wrote a book about a cross-country bicycle ride I did!
“Wandering Oak: A Rite of Passage”

 

Goin’ to Church

Today, at approximately 10:05 am EST I went to church for the first time in 10ish years. You may be wondering why I decided to go to church today. Or, maybe you aren’t wondering that. I can’t read your damn mind… but assuming you are wondering about that helps my blog post flow more smoothly.

So, to answer that query that you may or may not have (Schroedinger’s Query)… I don’t really have a solid, single answer. It is a combination of at least three things:

  1. I’ve been interested in attending a Unitarian Universalist service for a while but was overly anxious about it.
  2. My therapist is encouraging me to branch out and therapy is working. Sidebar: I actually had several “fuck yeah! this is working” moments this week. Go me!!!
  3. It is increasingly clear that I am not a magical social magnet that will draw in like-minded people simply by existing. Apparently, when you move to a new city in your 30’s and work from home it is really hard to meet people, especially if haven’t mixed your genes with someone else. You gotta be proactive.

Some mixture of all that came to a head this morning and I decided to attend the church service. And, you know what? I’m glad I did. The Unitarians seem like a really good fit for me, mostly because they seem to be focused solely on spreading love and defending the vulnerable. I know most Christian churches pay lip-service to the teachings of Christ but in my experience that is rarely the case.

To be fair, my experience is basically the churches I attended until I was about 20 years old, my parents and their friends, and the public Christian representatives. I don’t really recall anything that I’d call hate being preached from the pulpit but the love being preached was shallow when you start talking to the congregation. They may love Christ, but they are quick to support closed borders and government policies that lock up people for being poor, sick, or sinners.

It has been many years and my memory is likely biased, actually, scratch that, my memory is biased as fuck but it is what I have. Anway, looking back I don’t recall a lot of real following of Christ’s principles in a concrete sense.

For example, in Matthew we read that the King has prepared a kingdom for those that helped those that were hungry or thirsty, inviting in strangers, clothing those in need, looked after the sick, and visited those in prison. I can’t recall seeing ANY of that in the church I attended.

Did my church go to prisons? Nope. But they certainly encouraged policies to grow the prison population. As if most of the main characters in the New Testament didn’t spend considerable time in prison unjustly, many dying in it… <sarcasm> But I guess our government doesn’t make mistakes or put people in prison for bad reasons </sarcasm>

Did my church provide food, clothes, or water for those in need? Maybe once or twice, but it certainly wasn’t something done regularly.

Did my church invite in strangers? SURE! As long as they were American, because I guess in their Bible Jesus was all about closing off borders and letting refugees die (many of whom are Christian). It makes me wonder if Christians in America were persecuted, killed, or just lived in such terrible conditions that they were watching their children die who would they turn to for support? I imagine they wouldn’t go to the Christians in Mexico because that would be pretty hypocritical.

Did my church work to provide a home for orphans? Nope. But they certainly had a lot of people who had many, many, many kids. While there are nearly half a million kids in the foster care system the churchgoers I saw neglected them because they felt their own damn genes were too important. Yep, that is selfish as hell.

The closest thing that I can remember that was focused on helping others was the annual youth group trip to Mexico to build a church or school or homes. But, the more I think about it that really wasn’t about helping the poor. If it was about helping the poor we would have been spending all those considerable resources to provide shelter for the homeless in Portland, feed the hungry, or foster/adopt children.

The annual Mexico trip was actually for the students, not to serve those in need. It was a selfish trip meant to provide an experience for the members of the youth group. The people being “helped” were really just being used. Yes, they got help, but that was secondary to providing a week of learning, study, bonding, sunburns, whatever for a bunch of teenagers.

I saw a lot of money spent on buildings and sound systems and helping those within the church, but I certainly didn’t see much happening with those resources to help those in need outside the church.

Whew… that was a lot longer rant than I expected it to be. But I guess you get where I was coming from when I entered the Unitarian Church today.

Church today was pretty great for me. The format was familiar but the message wasn’t something that I had really heard in a church before. The hymns and messages were about proactive peace, tolerance, and love. They called for justice. It was a message of action. I actually cried at one point during the Pastoral Prayer. I felt welcome, loved, and home.

It was nice and I look forward to going back next week.

Wanna stay in touch? Got a question for me? Want to tell me why I’m wrong and are curious how I got everything so backward? Have an idea for a blog post? Drunk and wanna send me a Snapchat? Wanna become penpals and send each other letters in the mail?

Feel free to reach out at any of the ways below while I take a Facebook break!

Email address: pjneiger@gmail.com
Instagram: @peterneiger
Questions:  pneiger.sarahah.com or www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH
Snapchat: @pneiger
Also, I wrote a book about a cross-country bicycle ride I did!
“Wandering Oak: A Rite of Passage”