The Upside to Anxiety?

Since seeing a therapist and getting on Bupropion my anxiety levels have become much more manageable. I very rarely freak out, enter downward spirals, or procrastinate to the point of panic. Life seems much more manageable and not as overwhelming. I am much more at peace with myself, my relationships, and my future.

But, the results of this healing has not been a Pareto superior move. Sure, parts of my life are better off but there has been a cost and parts of my life are worse of. Specifically, my motivation to excel.

Anxiety, a feeling of doom, lack of satisfaction, catastrophizing… those things all lead to me pushing harder and harder towards whatever goal I became fixated on at the time. It as absolutely no coincidence that my motivation to work out has somewhat peetered out. I am still in fine shape and I am much more emotionally satisfied with my fitness level now than usual, but I am not at my healthiest and I have neglected some practices that I really should be doing to become healthier.

Anxiety pushed me very hard because I felt like I had no choice. It was like an eternal Sword of Damocles hanging over my head and my distorted thinking thought I could outrun it if I just had a six pack, fucked enough people, read 100 books an hour, or made a bazillion dollers. That last one isn’t true, even at my most stressed out I never really concerned myself with money. Coming from a poor family and spending literal years without a house means I am pretty comfortable with being broke and in debt. Weirdly, money almost never stresses me out.

Now, I no longer really feel that inevitable doom but I also have yet to develop a healthy way to motivate myself to a place of reasonable moderation. I am no longer at an extreme but I’ve shifted to the other side of the golden mean. I am struggling to find a healthier way to motivate myself, which really isn’t surprising since I am undoing decades of programming.

I wouldn’t undo my decision to see a therapist and seek help, but it hasn’t been a clear path to my desired goals. Progress is not linear and I am facing new struggles with procrastination, excuses, and motivation. I’ve got about 10 days before Iceland and I’m not nearly in the shape I wanted to be. I can’t do anything about the past but I can get things moving again today. I’m going to go for a short run, hit the gym today, and try to get my diet under control a bit.

I can’t start to fight these new challenges yesterday, but I can today.

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”

Three Dreams

Last week, I had three memorable dreams. I usually don’t remember my dreams but I took some 5-HTP last week and that always helps me remember my dreams. So, these three dreams left me thinking and I decided to ask my therapist what her thoughts were on them.

I started by asking what her thoughts on dreams were and I was happy to hear her response. She said that she thinks individuals are the best at interpretating their own dreams. Books that try to generalize or universalize dream interpretation are unscientific and usually wrong.

I basically agree with her. Personally, I think dreams there are two sources of dream interpretation. First, the dreams are our subconscious working something out. It taps into stuff we have suppressed or struggle with and tries to find purpose and healing. Second, I think some dreams are absolute gibberish but we interpret them using our unconscious perspective, like seeing something in a Rorschach Test.  Regardless of the source, I think there can be value in analyzing our own dreams and running them by a therapist who can provide a somewhat removed perspective.

Okay, on to my three dreams.

Dream 1: I had a dream that Anna and I were at an event (rave? festival? random travel?) and she basically ignored me the entire time. Instead, she spent her time hanging out with friends and left me alone.

Interpretation: I am struggling with working from home and not having much of a social life here in Wilmington. Part of that is because we’ve been travelling so much that scheduling stuff with friends has been difficult. I also have some buried frustration (jealousy? resentment?) that Anna has a friend group through work and I don’t. When she gets home I am antsy to be social, go out, and do things, but she has been surrounded by friends all day and is more interested in relaxing. I definitely don’t want this to metastasize and this dream has reinforced the need for me to be more proactive in being social.

Dream 2: I am laying down with my head on my therapist’s lap. I’m in the fetal position and crying. My therapist is significantly larger than me (which is strange because my therapist is fairly petite and definitely smaller than me), I am basically child-size, and there is some sort of transparent aura that extends out from her body around me.

Interpretation: I increasingly view my therapist as a safe, protective, and maybe even maternal support system. A lot of what my therapist and I have unpacked are things about my past, my childhood, and how I tend to hide the “child” in me. I also still have some very strong subconscious issues when it comes to feeling safe or secure with women because my first two serious relationships ended because I was cheated on and, in one case, abused.

I was actually somewhat scared to share this dream with my therapist. I was afraid that she would interpret it in a sexual way and decide that it wouldn’t be right for her and I to keep seeing each other. I guess because I tend to view things through a fairly sexual lens then she would as well. I told her about my fears and she reassured me that there was nothing wrong with my dream and that even if I told her that I had a full-on sex dream about her there would be nothing wrong with that and that wouldn’t be cause to stop seeing her. She assured me that she wasn’t going to abandon me or push me away or shame me for my thoughts, feelings, or actions. I cried a little bit.

There is a part of me that is actually a bit surprised that I haven’t had particularly strong sexual thoughts about her. She is very attractive and kind of my “type*”, but I think that is why I’ve been so comfortable opening up with her. I tend to be more open with women I am attracted to. As time has gone on though my sexual attraction to her has diminished and a platonic friendship(?) has come to the front. I think that’s a good thing.

Dream 3: I was sitting at a table gorging myself on food that I’m ethically opposed to eating. I felt like a huge sinner but couldn’t stop shoveling meat into my mouth.

Interpretation: This really goes to the core of some of the things that she and I have been working on. I feel like I am very flawed, guilty, and unlovable. I also catastrophize things where every small mistake, misstep, or “sin” causes incredibly anxiety and I can’t forgive myself (or others). My medication has helped significantly but I still have not completely rooted this out of my system.

I think this all comes from my upbringing. Being raise in an environment where something like masturbation could lead to burning eternally can really fuck with a child’s self-worth and ability to accurately judge reactions. That child then becomes an adult who can logically see the errors in that way of thinking but the ruts have been worn in those neuro-pathways and it is difficult to create new ones.

My therapist gave me some homework, as she usually does, that will challenge these beliefs and work to untangle my mind a bit. The most awkward assignment is that she instructed me to write a daily affirmation that I should say daily out loud, as well as recommended a book with daily readings on this subject, “Daily Affirmations for Forgiving and Moving On”. So, my morning routine has a couple extra steps that I’m going to integrate.

This feels super awkward and vulnerable, but here is my affirmation draft:

I am a good person who deserves to be happy.
My friends value me for my honesty, openness, and loyalty.
I am loved by many and I love myself.
There is nothing wrong with loving myself.
I will continue to be kind and patient with myself.
I am a human being with flaws but there is nothing wrong with that.
My pursuit of self-improvement and education is admirable,
but I am great here and now.
I am a good person who makes the world a better place.

*I don’t really have a “type”, I tend to be attracted to an overall aesthetic that can vary significantly in body type, outfits, attitude, etc.


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”

The Upanishads

As part of my pursuit of personal growth I am spending some time reading spiritual texts. First, I read the Book of Mark and shared my thoughts on it (see earlier blog posts). Now, I am reading through some of the texts that influenced Hinduisms, the Upanishads. Like my exploration of Mark, I am going to share my notes, questions, and random musings in kind of a free-wheeling format. But, unlike Mark, I am completely unfamiliar with the Upanishads and will be viewing this through a lens that is very different than the texts. Namely, my Christian American upbringing will impact my perspective and references. I intentionally did not read the introduction to this translation or anything, I am entering it pretty much blind.

Anyway, on to the Upanishads. First up, Isha Upanishad.

*Okay, these are written in a poetic format. That will make things a little more difficult for me. I tend to work better with story format.*

1: Reminds me a lot of Christianity, to be honest. “The Lord is enshrined in the hearts of all” is a lot like the “god  shaped hole” that I was told everyone has. To me, this points to a united search for answers and spiritual meaning, similar to the Huxley’s Perennial Philosophy.

1-2: “Covet nothing. All belongs to the Lord… Thus alone will you work in real freedom.” Definitely some Stoic vibes… did the Stoics encounter Eastern philosophy? Happiness, satisfaction, joy come from coveting less, not acquiring more.

After verse(?) 2 the discussion moves from the Lord to the Self. I’m not sure exactly what the interaction between the two is. They seem separate, but both can be denied with tragic consequences. To deny the Self is to be enveloped in darkness and devoid of love for the Lord.

The Self has a shitton of attributes… it is swifter than thought and senses, motionless but outruns pursuit, and is necessary for Life. It seems to move but is still, seems far away but is near, within all, transcends all… umm, okay.

6-7: Here there is a lot of talk about seeing yourself in other living creatures and all living creatures in themselves. Here is a pretty stark difference between Christianity and this reading. This seems to say humans really aren’t as special as we think and that seeing ourselves in nature (instead of above it) prevents fear and grief.

8: Back to the Self… indivisible, untouched by sin, wise, immanent, transcendent, and holds the cosmos together. This sounds a lot like the Lord. So maybe the Self and Lord are one?

9-11: I don’t really get this part. For people where the world is without alone there is darkness but it leads to action. For people where the world is with alone there is greater darkness but it leads to meditation. With action and meditation we get immortality. Is this sort of a “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” thing? Is darkness inevitable, necessary, good?

Does this mean “time alone” or “loneliness”? I can kind of see that. When I am alone I am not alone I am encouraged to act and when I am alone I am encouraged to meditate. Maybe I should read the introduction to this…

12-14: Here the Lord is given two attributes, the same two attributes attributed to Self.

  1. Transcendent: beyond or above the range of normal or merely physical human experience.
  2. Immanent: existing or operating within, inherent

So the Lord and the Self are spiritual and inside us all. I’m guessing that isn’t self-evident for many people and even those that know it may not believe it. It seems necessary to recognize both of these attributes. We cross the sea of death with immanence and enter into immortality with transcendence.

Shit. I need to reflect on that more.

15: “The face of truth is hidden by your orb of gold, o sun. May you remove your orb so that I, who adore the true, may see the glory of truth.”

Alright, now we are talking to the sun and its orb of gold. This isn’t really clear to me. I get how individuals may have an “orb of gold” that blocks the truth but how does the sun have one? Isn’t the sun an orb of gold?

16: The sun is the solitary source of life. But so is the Self. Are the sun and the Self the same? That actually makes more sense. Self is the sun but we are distracted by the orb of gold that blocks the truth. Alright, some of these things are coming together for me.

18: “You know all our deeds. Deliver us from evil, we who bow and pray again and again.” Sounds a lot like the Lord’s Prayer.

Alright, that is a lot of question marks. Clearly, this is kind of confusing for me and open to a lot of interpretation. My basic summary of this Upanishad is “To reach immortality we need to recognize that the Self and Lord (which may or may not be the same thing) are both transcendent and immanent. Also, picking one or the other to believe alone leads to darkness.”

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”

A Virgin’s RAGBRAI – A Reflection

Last week my partner and I participated in our first RAGBRAI. On the surface, RAGBRAI is a week-long bike ride across Iowa with around 20,000 people. But, like most things, the surface only tells part of the story. There is more to RAGBRAI than riding. The human element ended up impacting me significantly more than the hills, occasional headwind, and boredom from staring at corn for 8 hours a day. Before I get to that, here are some basic stats for you.

46th Annual RAGBRAI (2018)
Scheduled Miles – 464.8 miles
Actual Miles – ~500 miles
Scheduled Elevation Gain –  12,576 feet (or a little more than climbing Mt. Fuji)
Estimated Calories Burnt – 32,000 kcal (or over 700 Oreos)

So, those are the stats. Here is how an average day went.

0530 – Wake up
0600 – Actually get out of the tent and begin morning routine
0700 – Load camping gear onto the truck that will take it to our final city for the day
0710 – Refill water and start cycling
0815 – Arrive at first town and have breakfast/coffee, stand in line at porta-potties (or “kybos”, as people from Iowa call them… WTF?).
0845 – Cycle
0945 – Arrive at second town, drink beer and stand in line at the porta-potties.
1015 – Cycle
1130 – Arrive at the beer tent, drink beer and eat from food trucks, and stand in line at the porta-potties.
1200 – Cycle
1205 – Poop in the corn fields
1210 – Cycle
1330 – Arrive in the fourth town and eat more food or take a nap under a water tower. Drink beer.
1530 – Realize what time it is and start cycling again
1630 – Arrive in final town, set up camp, drink beer, go into town for food
2000 – Start yawning, drink beer, head to bed

Pretty dull, huh? Ride around just to drink beer? Why the fuck would you do that?

Well, my inquisitive friend, the answer is “because of the people”. I was absolutely shocked at the number and type of people that were present. I mistakenly expected to be riding with a bunch of fit people who obsessed over cycling, but that wasn’t the case. There were people from all different backgrounds with different physical abilities. I saw people who were missing limbs, were 90 years old, had nicotine addictions, and appeared very unathletic. To watch people push their bikes up hills over and over and over again was fucking inspiring.

While the event had a lot of diversity of age, economic status, ability, and gender, it was pretty much an event that can be classified as “shit white people do”. There were some people of color present but I’d guess it was far less than 1% of the population. I’m not sure why this is the case but I’m sure someone could write a dissertation about the demographics of RAGBRAI. There were more men than women (I’d guess about 75%/25% split) but the younger group of riders seemed to see more gender equality.

There were basically two age groups that were present: Millennials and men over the age of 50. There were exceptions and I saw parents riding with their children of all ages. I saw parents with infants in a trailer and some riding with their teenagers. I met a 14-year old girl who had ridden in 4 RAGBRAI’s before this one. It seemed that if this experience was something that a person wanted then there were no real barriers to entry… well, except for finances. Even being somewhat frugal RAGBRAI can be an expensive endeavor. If you didn’t have a bike and camping equipment already this could turn into a multi-thousand dollar week.

Hmm, I’m having a lot of trouble articulating what I loved about it. I can say “the people” until my voice (fingers?) give out but it really can’t be explained well. It actually reminded me a lot of Burning Man, a point I articulated an annoyingly large number of times. The people were kind, loving, friendly, and helpful. There was no real judgment or criticism. It was a culture very different than the one we generally live in.

One of the major differences was the interaction between men and women, particularly how men act around women. Despite the fact that most women were wearing tight clothing I never heard a single cat-call or witness any derogatory comments. It is almost like the men present viewed the women as equal participants in the event instead of something that is present for their own entertainment. There were camel-toes and moose-knuckles everywhere, women wore sports bras and men went shirtless, people changed clothes in public, but it wasn’t sexual at all. Like Burning Man, the exposed bodies became very normal quickly and lacked the sexuality that we currently attribute to tight pants or an exposed midriff.

I mistakenly thought that the event wouldn’t lend itself to much creativity, but that wasn’t the case at all. There were more than just bicycles riding. There was a guy who rollerbladed the whole thing, someone on a bike made of 2x4s, some elliptical cycles, many recumbent bikes, at least two unicycles, and at least one old-timey bike with a front wheel that was at least five feet tall. People wore costumes and outfits that served a practical purpose, it made them stand out.

I’m not one for bright colors or jerseys that advertise my views, but I think when I go next time I will adopt some of the habits of veteran riders. When you are all cycling it is difficult to stand out, difficult to find a way to relate beyond “Hey, where are you from? How many times have your done RAGBRAI?”. So a shirt that has your home state, favorite beer, or a clever quip can make conversations a bit easier.

The actual riding time was similar to what I expected, lots of corn fields and a handful of Trump stickers. Traveling through a red state is always interesting. There was an unbelievable number of not-so-subtle sex and drug jokes that the towns put forth. The one that stands out to me is “Grab me by the ears and shuck me” (a reference to shucking corn). These people who would support throwing people in cages based on possession of weed feel free to make jokes and laugh about references to drugs. There is just something about that weirds me out.

Overall though, it was an amazing experience. I hope to have more to write later (I should have taken fucking notes) but if you have any specific questions please feel free to write. RAGBRAI, again like Burning Man, is something that I unequivocally recommend people do if they are remotely interested in it. If you don’t have a good time, then that is your fault. It is an unforgettable experience that allows for growth and experimentation.

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”

A Single Factor

I cheated on my partner early in our relationship. We were newly dating and I was coming out of a polyamorous relationship but my partner and I had agreed to a certain level of monogamy and I violated that. It was a one-time event that I admitted shortly after it happened. I wish it hadn’t happened but the end result was that my partner and I more openly discussed our needs and wants in the relationship and we were able to adjust expectations to match. I wish I had been brave enough and honest enough to have that conversation earlier but I can’t change the past.

I mention this only to be as transparent as possible (as I often am).

Recently I shared a post about a New Yorker article titled “In Defense of Adulterers” (kinda click-baity). The article is a summary of Esther Perel’s relatively new book, “The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity”. I have not read the book yet but I’m sure I will at some point. My post did not really spark much vocal controversy but there was one comment critical of Perel’s viewpoint that I feel is worth addressing. The comment got almost as many likes as the original post, so I assume there are many non-vocal people who agree with it.

So, why in a blog post instead of on Facebook? In short, because I like this better and I find Facebook to be distracting. And I have a unique audience that may not be FB friends with me.

The commenter was absolutely right about some things, including the need for partners to discuss their extra-marital desires openly and come to a conclusion about how to address them, which is generally suppression of desire, destruction of a relationship, or an open relationship. Now, none of these may seem like great options to many people, but life isn’t perfect and the reality is that at some point it is likely that a member of a couple is going to have a crush, lust over, or fall in love with someone else.

There are two interrelated points that the commenter made that I disagree with. The first is “the fact that it generally requires prolonged deception.” There is no evidence of that. He may be right, but he might not. Data about affairs is rarely consistent and we really don’t know what is a “fact” or what it “generally requires”. So, I take issue with grouping all affairs into this one category without evidence. I think that it is possible that many, or even most, cheating occurs similarly to mine, a one-shot mistake.

The commenters conclusion from his (possibly false) assumption is that cheating is “indicative of deeper character flaws”. If his assumption is correct then that is possible, but it might not really be a deep character flaw. It could be depression, addiction, an inability to communicate in the relationship (which could be either partner’s fault), or a plethora of other things that I would hardly categorize as character flaws.

That isn’t to say that cheating is okay in these circumstances, what I’m saying is we do ourselves and our relationships an injustice if we decide to paint any action or view as binary: good or evil, right or wrong. Humans are complex, nuanced, and ever-changing creatures and actions should be taken as a part of the whole instead of one behavior or view becoming their sole identity and the sole thing we measure their worth as a partner with.

Say a man cheats on his wife. He does so often but is always safe and does so in a way that his wife never knows. He is also a wonderful father, a generous member of the community, and in all other areas a perfect husband. Would that family and community be better off if the family is ripped apart because the affair is “unforgivable” (as stated by the commenter)? Is it really true that every affair should be viewed as such an absolute wrong that the person who does it is so deeply flawed that nothing else about their character matters?

I don’t think so. This hypothetical man is absolutely in the wrong, but I think we should still see him as a complete, complex, and flawed human being whose actions won’t change due to prohibition or complete ostracization.

To me, this mindset that there is an absolute binary for some things is very dangerous and unhelpful in our society. If any person says, “They support Trump/Clinton so they are evil/wrong/not worth talking to” then they just dehumanize a fellow human whose views may be complex and nuanced. Are they going to change their mind if they are cast out because of one thing?

If a politician says that they are pro-life/pro-choice are we better off if that is the ONLY issue that is important? That we view their morality, their character, their value by one hyphenated word instead of listening to them and trying to understand their point of view.

I think we need more nuance, more discussion, and more forgiveness. If someone is afraid that they are going to lose their family, lose their friends, lose their job, or anything else because they made one mistake or hold one contrarian point of view, what incentive do they have to come clean or to share their thoughts?

None of us can grow as people if we automatically decide one thing makes another person deeply flawed and unforgivable. Not only do we harm that person but we harm ourselves.

 

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”

Is Freedom An Intrinsic Good?

In college, I took a poli-sci class called “Utopia/Dystopia”. In it, we read Thomas More, Edward Bellamy, Ursula Le Guin, Octavia Butler, and many others. Included in our reading list “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley. If you haven’t read or reread it recently I’d recommend it.

For those that don’t remember or haven’t read it, a major part of this dystopian(?) world is that humans are genetically engineered in artificial wombs and indoctrination programs. Before birth, each person has their job determined for them and they are genetically modified to enjoy that job. Adding to the pleasure of the world is the availability of soma, a drug that sounds a lot like MDMA. A happy world, but hardly a free one.

While discussing this book one of my classmates bravely spoke up and said, “I don’t think this is a bad place. Wouldn’t we all like to be happy and fulfilled? Who cares if the genetics were modified if we enjoy our lives?” At the time I kind of internally freaked out.

HOW COULD THIS PERSON SACRIFICE FREEDOM FOR COMFORT?

I didn’t actually say anything but I became pretty riled up. I was in the early stages of libertarianisms where I had read enough to feel like I was a contrarian but really didn’t have any philosophical foundation. I think what bothered me most about my classmate’s query  (and in some respects still does today) is that I don’t really have a good answer.

What they were really contesting was the idea that freedom is an intrinsic good. That even if the results of a free society cause pain, suffering, or whatever we should pursue it because it is good in and of itself.

To be honest, I don’t know if I believe that. I think it is possible, or even likely, that freedom is an effective tool to create a better world but in and of itself it has no value. A person on a deserted island is pretty free but that freedom isn’t necessarily good. It might not be bad and I think being free is generally better than being unfree, but that is because I think freedom brings about the best results for the most number of people.

Would I rather live in a less-free country if I had better access to healthcare and more time for leisure? Probably.

How much of my freedom I’d be willing to give up in exchange for a more secure and satisfying life is difficult to say. Measuring freedom is not objective and where I would be willing to, say, give up my freedom to own a rifle with a 200 round drum in exchange for a free gym membership, for others that rifle is very valuable. And I’m sure many people would give up their freedom to put MDMA in their body for a small price because that drug doesn’t have value to them, but it would be a very high price for me to give that up.

Regardless, just having freedom because it is good to have freedom doesn’t really play into life for me. So maybe my fellow student was right, maybe part of the world outlined in “Brave New World” is utopian. If I could lay down tonight, plug something into my brain, and wake up tomorrow and absolutely LOVE running then I would do that.

But would I do the same thing if I would wake up tomorrow and absolutely LOVE cleaning shit out of porta-potties? Right now I don’t think I would, but who knows? If it was the only way to feel a joyous and satisfying life and I would feel no discomfort or harm then maybe I would. Anything degrading about that work is a social construct and we should fight against such things.

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”

 

Finding a Word

Many (most?) of my identities are outside of the mainstream. I’m not exactly sure why that is or even how many different reasons contribute to it (though I have a few ideas). As is often the case, the “why” is not particularly relevant unless I thought these identities were problematic but I don’t. I no longer feel anxiety due to identifying as polyamorous, anarchist, apatheist, psychonaut, sexual fluid, etc.

But, that hasn’t always been the case.

There was a time when I felt completely lost and broken because I was different. I felt alone, I lacked community, I felt like the only one that saw the world the way I did. Luckily, in each case, I found a word, an identity, a flag that I can wave. Words have power, words give strength, words can unite people.

I’ll never forget how I felt when I came upon the word “polyamory”. Throughout my life I’d felt a certain discomfort with monogamy, it felt unnatural and as soon as I rejected my religious upbringing my practice of monogamy fell by the wayside. Being outside of monogamy was, ironically, lonely. I wasn’t someone who wanted just sex and I wasn’t someone that was willing to cheat. I wanted companionship, openness, and love… but serial monogamy seemed pretty terrible and I often wonder if we would have less serial monogamy if we had a culture that allowed polyamory.

So, throughout college, I practiced what I called “responsible non-monogamy”. I had three rules that guided my sexual and emotional interactions with people: I was upfront about not wanting monogamy, I always wore a condom, and I never hooked up with someone the first time if either of us were intoxicated. I wasn’t looking for fuck buddies, I wanted friendship, emotional connection, and sex.

And, you know what? It worked pretty well for me. I’m still friends with some of the women that I had this, what I now know of, polyamorous relationship with.

I was kind of concerned that when I left college things would change. Hookups are fairly common in college but as I moved to Washington DC and “the real world” I expected things to change, but it actually didn’t. I kept being honest and open about my views and I found many partners to connect with. Sure, sex was involved, but there was also going to movies, going on dates, cuddling, hanging out, and loving each other.

Still, I felt alone. There wasn’t a future for someone without an identity and I really didn’t feel like I had one.

Then, I stumbled upon the word polyamory on Tumblr and everything connected. By typing nine letters into the Google search bar I was produced with millions of pages that spoke to me and who I was. I found an online community that leads to real-life connections. I had a label, a word, something tangible to grab on to that helped me feel like I was a part of something bigger than myself… I had a community.

It was empowering and I’ll never forget it. There is strength in words and power when we can find a word of our own.

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”

Ars Moriendi

 “Technological society has forgotten what scholars call the ‘dying role’ and its importance to people as life approaches its end. People want to share memories, pass on wisdoms and keepsakes, settle relationshiops, establish their legacies, make peace with God, and ensure that those who are left behind will be okay. They want to end their stories on their own terms. This role is, observers argue, among life’s most important, for both the dying and those left behind. And if it is, the way we deny people this role, out of obtuseness and neglect, is cause for everlasting shame. Over and over, we in medicine inflict deep gouges at the end of people’s lives and then stand oblivious to the harm done.” – Atul Gawande, “Being Mortal”

I think most people would agree that there is something fundamentally wrong with the way the general American culture approaches death. It may not be easy to put your finger on the exact issue but we can all feel it underneath the surface. We hide death and sometimes deny it exists. We bury our heads in the sand like children instead of recognizing a very simple truth: You will die.

Our medical system seeks to preserve life, no matter how much suffering is involved at all costs. Quantity rules the day and quality is irrelevant. Children lose their retirement and savings to keep an ailing parent alive but unconscious and attached to tubes for a few more weeks or months. We push the dying into hospitals and away from life and home. We hide them and come up with euphemisms that hide the truth: Your loved ones will die.

Money is funneled into funeral services and homes where chemicals are pumped into corpses to make them seem almost alive. We hide the dying process, the breakdown of our bodies, and the return of the elements that make us up to nature. All to avoid facing the uncomfortable truth: I will die.

This broken system wreaks our psyche. We are unprepared for reality when it strikes. We don’t talk to our aging family members about how they want their remaining days to play out, what they value, and at what point the suffering isn’t worth the longevity. We leave homes cluttered, money unspent, conflicts unresolved, and love unspoken because we always think there will be tomorrow. We go to great lengths to provide hope when we should be realistic. Then, when death comes we aren’t ready emotionally, physically, or economically. It always catches us by surprise even when the signs were there for months or years.

People are starting to seek out a better way. A way that recognizes there is more to life than living another day. Death is a natural process, not a medical one. As the natural process of life starts to get shorter it becomes increasingly important to prioritize the present, joy, happiness, satisfaction, love, experiences, and peace. Safety should not be prioritized. I think the grandpa in “Little Miss Sunshine” had it right:

  • Frank (to grandpa): You started snorting heroin?
  • Grandpa: I’m old! And don’t you start taking that shit. When you’re young, you’re crazy to do that stuff.
  • Frank: What about you?
  • Grandpa: What about me? I’m old! When you’re old you’re crazy not to do it.

But instead of embracing our immortality and recognizing that it is basically a blank check to make the most out of each day we pretend that it isn’t so. We don’t prepare ourselves or our loved ones. It is never too early to talk about these things and face mortality head-on. A young age is no excuse. People my age, people I have known, are dead already. Wealth, position, and age may be able to figure out an average age of death, but none of us are average. There is a possibility that you or I am near the end of the bell curve… maybe that means living to 100 but maybe that means dying this year.

It is best to be prepared and to look yourself in the mirror each morning and say:

“I am going to die. There is no changing that, but I get to decide if I am going to truly live.”

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”

Loyalty

Today, the 4th of July, I can’t help but think of some thoughts that swirled around my head while playing “Witcher 3: A Wild Hunt”. If you weren’t aware, “Witcher 3” is a piece of art disguised as a video game. I haven’t put in a ton of time into it yet but I am incredibly impressed by both the beauty of the world and the storytelling.

Throughout the game, your character encounters a lot of morally ambiguous situations. Your reaction to these situations can impact what you experience in the future and what happens to other characters. Take, for example, a relatively minor situation (excuse me if/when I get some of the details wrong but I think the general gist will be understood). Also, spoilers(ish).

Near the beginning of the game your character (Geralt) is in an area that was recently occupied by an invading army. Geralt has no dog in the fight, he is trying to accomplish something unrelated to the war and really doesn’t need/want to get involved. He soon encounters a leader of the invading army, who seems like a genuinely good guy. He is relatively generous with the peasants and doesn’t seem overly cruel, but he is still the leader of an invading army. So, do you work with him or not? Is there loyalty to him or his cause?

Another character is a freedom-fighter who is fighting the invading army, but his methods are less than ideal. He basically assassinates unarmed medics and such. Is he doing the right thing? Should you turn him in for murder, let him go, something else? Nearly every mission involves some sort of moral grey area. When do the means justify the ends? Do you require peasants to pay you for your monster-fighting services? If someone is suffering from a terminal poison do you let them die peacefully or administer an antidote that may not work and, if it doesn’t work, will make the person suffer until their last breath? When is your mission more important than the overall war or a thousand other things going on? There are rarely, if ever, a clear-cut right decision. And, as such, it is much like real life.

So, that’s the background. I always struggle with RPG’s like this because I want a clear-cut path. If I’m playing a “good guy” then I want a binary choice “kill innocent person or protect innocent person”. I find it difficult to make decisions as another character and instead end up responding how I would respond in real life (or, more accurately, how I would hope I would respond in real life). It is tough, mentally draining, and a beautiful piece of art.

The only time I can RPG in a way that makes the decisions easily is to prioritize loyalty. If I decide I am going to be loyal to Nilfgard then I do what I’m ordered to do or is best for Nilfgard. Loyalty (patriotism, nationalism) in it’s extreme form means forfeiting my own ability to judge morality and giving it over to others. Loyalty is the most cowardly of virtues, it rejects free-will and discomfort and tough choices. Loyalty is for children, not free-thinking adults (and it probably isn’t really for children either. It is the cause of many of the world’s evils. Wars require loyalty instead of thinking. Hatred requires the same.

So, as we sit here on the 4th of July I can’t help but wonder why loyalty has become such a cornerstone for some Americans. The Founders certainly weren’t loyal to an institution, but I guess they were to certain principles. But those principles were antithetical to loyalty. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness… these are pursuits that require one to say “I am going to live my life freely and using my own best judgment, and if you get in my way then I will overthrow you”.

Today may be a day of celebration (for some), but that celebration should not involve a pledge of loyalty or allegiance. It shouldn’t involve patriotism or nationalism. Today is supposed to be about casting off the chains of loyalty, of standing independent (as opposed to dependent), and saying “no, my government can be wrong, is wrong, and when it is wrong enough I will get rid of it. I have no duty to protect 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”

The Most Important Questions

I ask a lot of questions, both of myself and others. I’m fascinated by the “why” of life. Why the universe works the way it does. Why people make the decisions they do. Why people have the views they do. I’m just really curious, particularly about people who live very different lives than I do. So, I ask questions.

Surprisingly, the two most impactful questions I’ve ever asked were not “why” questions. It is hard to decide which of these two questions has had the largest impact on my life. One of them has had a very tangible, direct impact on the direction of my life while the other is less tangible and more abstract.

The first question was asking my partner, “Do you want to go on a multi-year bicycle ride across the country with me?” She said yes without hesitation. She was willing to quit her good job and ride around with no guaranteed source of income or experience with bike touring. She was committed to not knowing where we would sleep at night, where we would get food or water, or where we would shower. It was at that moment that I knew I would propose and I knew she would say yes. Asking her to marry me was pretty much just a formality and didn’t really change anything.

The second question, the more abstract one, is constantly asking myself, “Are you sure this is true?”. More often than not the answer is “no”, and that is awesome. Not knowing has encouraged me to read more, experience more, and approach all institutions who claim a monopoly on truth with skepticism. My politics, veganism, spiritual views, sexuality, and a plethora of other things all come back to that foundational question, “Am I sure it is true?”

This question is where foundational principles help guide my life. (Am I sure those foundational principles are true? Nope.) By committing my life to harm reduction and peace then I come to the conclusion that veganism, drug legalization, libertarianism, etc. are the right views for me. I don’t know where I’d be without this question, I’d probably believe the same things that my parents believe, which would be a cause for concern because it likely means I didn’t question anything thoroughly.

Questions are the foundation of my life and many of them are unanswerable. But that’s okay. The unknown is what makes life beautiful and keeps my curiosity brewing.

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”