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”

On Divorce

Divorce was basically a four-letter word in the home I grew up in. It was something that simply wasn’t done. When people got married it was a covenant with God and that shouldn’t/couldn’t be broken. It might be the most important decision a person could make, with maybe the exception of becoming a Christian in the first place. Ironically, despite the absolute and life-long importance of this decision, many people get married in their early 20’s when they have very limited life experience.

Think of it this way. For convenience sake, let’s say that adulthood starts at the age of 18. Realistically, the human brain (on average) isn’t done developing until the age of 25. In fact, the part of the brain that takes the longest to develop is the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that is of primary importance in making rational decisions, responding to situations with good judgment, and understanding long-term consequences. Also, adulthood isn’t binary, you aren’t either an adult or not an adult, it is more of a spectrum as our brains develop and we acquire life experiences.

Anyway, let’s go with 18 for the hell of it for adulthood and let’s say we will live to be 80 years old. The median age for a first marriage is 27.4 years for women and 29.5 years for men… let’s keep that at 28 years for convenience sake. Oddly, research shows that the best age to get married if you don’t want to divorce within the first five years is 28-32, so maybe this is a weird market equilibrium.

So, remembering that an average means that half the people are younger than 28 we are still gonna roll with that. These numbers mean that people are marrying after being an adult for 10 years and having a fully developed brain for 3 years, or 16% of their adult life and 5% of their fully developed brain life. That means they are committing to one person (unless they have a more relaxed view of divorce) while only experiencing a very small portion of their lives. To enter into that type of very important commitment without a way to change course when we each inevitably change seems foolish.

Sidenote: One of the most interesting concepts that is common throughout sci-fi is how relationships start to change with longeviety. In some sci-fi stories marriages are contracts that last a specific number of years and many relationships are considerably more open to new sexual and romantic partners. I just find that interesting and see value in our society moving in that direction. There would surely be fewer divorces if marriage expired and/or it was common to allow more diversity within the marriage.

Now, I’m not saying people shouldn’t get married young if they want to. Get married, have babies, do what makes you happy, but don’t put your head in the sand. Love feels awesome, each of us feels like a special flower immune to relationship-ending struggles or personal growth and changes that pull us apart. Life feels like a Disney movie when you are with someone you love, but that isn’t reality and we should face our future problems head-on, and that means talking about divorce in very real terms before marriage and throughout the marriage. Open, rational communication is key, particularly when it comes to important subjects like marriage, divorce, sex, finances, and all the troubles or desires that come with them.

What if one of you ends up $1,000,000 in debt? Talk about it before it happens.

What if one of you discovers that you have a major kink or are bisexual or fall in love with a co-worker? Talk about it before it happens.

What if one of you comes down with a gambling addiction? Talk about it before it happens.

What if one of you is in an accident and can’t work or walk or take care of themselves? Talk about it before it happens.

What happens if one of you is in a coma on life support indefinitely and will likely be brain dead for the rest of their life? Talk about it before it happens.

What if one of you no longer believes the religion that brought you together? Talk about it before it happens.

What is cheating specifically defined as (flirting, kissing, something else) and is it an extinction level event? Talk about before it happens.

And in what conditions would divorce be the best option? Talk about it before it happens.

Personally, I don’t think divorce should be viewed as negatively as it is. People can be great parents and friends while divorced. Removing the romantic and/or sexual component of a relationship can allow you to see the person more clearly and can strengthing the relationship while giving you both more freedom. Divorce can eliminate hostility and resentment, and it can save a friendship. I have several friends who have gotten divorced. The process varied from cordial to hostile but one thing they all have in common is that they are better off now than they were in the relationship. They are happier, have found new partners, and have been able to stay true to themselves instead of shaping themselves to appease someone else.

But, if someone has a religious or spiritual or ethical objection to divorce then they should be more cautious and take their time analyzing and possibly waiting longer before marriage. If, for example, when I took out a loan for my house I was told that I absolutely could not sell it or pay it off early, basically that I was going to live in this house for 30 years no matter what, then I probably would have been much more cautious about the purchase. It may take me many years to find a home and I may not ever find one that I agree upon. Even more so if the commitment was for life.

A life partner is MUCH more important than a house. I’m glad that there is a system in place for me to part ways with my house if we are no longer compatible, and the same is true for my partner. My partner and I have discussed many times, both before and since getting married, what would be a cause for divorce and how we would like to handle that. We are pragmatists, we realize that in the next 45 years (or 73% of our adult life) we are both going change and grow and that growth might not be in the same direction. What we want out of life and out of a partnership may change and we’d rather end things on good terms and remain friends, than force a relationship that is destined to make us unhappy. In the end, it comes down to the fact that we both love each other and want the other person to be as happy and fulfilled in this (probably) one life we get, even if that means it is without the other person.

Life is long and complicated. There is a crazy diverse amount of experiences that we can have in it. I certainly hope that I’ve found the partner that I will get to explore those things with. I want to climb mountains with her, build a home with her, have the flu with her, and grow old with her, but that may not happen, and that’s fine too. Because if we get divorced I know we will find someone else to spend some of our life with and we will be happy. Divorce is not a four-letter word and any of my friends who may go through it have my love and support, always.

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”

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”