Well, nothing clever to say today. Just that this song has been playing in my head, nonstop, for the last three weeks, so, you know, share the love.
Please make it stop.
Well, nothing clever to say today. Just that this song has been playing in my head, nonstop, for the last three weeks, so, you know, share the love.
Please make it stop.
The story about the Buddha — before he was the Buddha — deciding not to get up from where he sat until he had found enlightenment is, in perfect religious fashion, both super-straightforward and endless.
One of the songs we recorded last August, along with “Stop”, was “Under the Bodhi Tree”, which I released today. The idea of being terrified that someone will forget you when they decide to “go find themselves” is such a good theme for writing and music. There’s something haunting about the fear that if someone “wakes up” they will want to leave you. I based the lyrics on this fear.
Anyway, I leave this as it is. The song is done. The fear never goes, does it?
Free download, by the way. Because of course that’s what EVERYONE is wondering.
Yesterday, I rambled on about the difference between what I’m calling loop mistakes and glitch mistakes.
Today I’d like to carry on with this bullshit.
The reason that I find it interesting to think about what exactly makes a “mistake” is that mistakes, like any word, are a painfully elusive thing to identify unambiguously. If I type in “mistake definition” on Google, I get “an act or judgment that is misguided or wrong.” Which seems simple, but isn’t.
Let’s assume, with the dictionary, that a mistake is simply an act that was misguided or wrong, like taking an alternate route to work because you thought it would help you beat the traffic, when in fact it made you even more late. Your boss now hates you, and wants to kill you. “I made a big mistake,” you tell yourself. “I shouldn’t have tried to be clever. I regret using an alternate route that I wasn’t very familiar with. Now I may even die because of my mistake.”
But what if, because you’ve taken that alternate route, you meet someone on the way to work, with whom you strike up a conversation (hey, you’re late anyway), and whom you end up marrying? Was taking an alternate route to work really a mistake, in this case? Or will you, in time, rationalize it as DESTINY, FATE, THE HEAVENLY DESIGN, or, more humbly, the “luckiest mistake you’ve ever made” or whatever?
It’s an obvious example, but it shows that one of the problems with identifying mistakes is that it all depends on your understanding of that mistake: how it fits into what you think your life is about. When we look back, all of us can think of things we’ve done that seemed like massive fuck-ups at the time, but which led to wonderful things. Mistakes that we wouldn’t take back now even if we could. Give it enough time and we can rationalize our way out of the most depressing situations that originally arose from our mistakes. Or at least we learn to live with them.
Nothing is objectively a mistake. It seems a fairly inarguable point, if you think about it that way. Except that, if you say that 2+2 = 5, somebody is bound to tell you, with a raised eyebrow, that 2+2 = 4. That, it would seem, is objectively a mistake. But maybe this kind of mistake — I don’t have a cute name for it yet — doesn’t really fit into our neat little schema, so let’s leave that question aside for now. The point is that the meaning of making a mistake like 2+2 = 5 (its consequences, like accidentally using shitty math while designing a space rocket) is what matters. That’s what would make it a mistake in the sense I’m using here.
All these mistakes, however, seem to fit under the glitch category. That is, they are one-offs, in which we find no immediate enjoyment. And as I said yesterday, glitches can shatter our sense of ourselves. Because of this, we work overtime to reinterpret our mistakes, to acquire some kind of control over them. If they are significant enough, they become part of the grand story we tell ourselves. “Mary left me because of the way I spoke to her sister. It was a huge mistake, and I’ve had to live with the consequences.” So forth.
It seems that glitches lend themselves naturally to evaluation: trivial or serious, ultimately good or even more disastrous than we’d thought. We think of glitches as events in our lives. Hence we talk about the time we fucked up in Paris, or that stupid thing we did last week. We change our minds about the significance of particular fuck ups. These glitches, then, become a sort of currency, something we keep negotiating with our past selves. They become building blocks of who we are, if the original mistakes were big enough, or just something to deal with so that life can go back to normal.
Loops don’t work that way. If a loop is a pattern of mistakes in which we are somehow invested, like binge eating or getting drunk all the time, then clearly not all of the incidents which collectively make up the history of that loop will be significant. If I got stupidly drunk fifteen times last month, I am not likely to regret one of those times in particular (unless it led me to a serious and unique problem as a direct consequence of getting drunk that time, in which case that becomes a glitch). The whole “getting drunk all the time” thing is the problem, the loop, and that’s what people will reprimand me for.
I think this is because loops or mistakes that we make in order to maintain our sense of who we already are. In a way, a loop is a series of mistakes we make in order to create the illusion that we can control which mistakes we make. Regular infidelity, as a way of dodging commitment, is a prime example. So are some kinds of gambling.
So, a glitch cracks you open for a bit, and asks you to incorporate it into your life — one way or another. A loop, on the other hand, does the opposite. It makes you feel like you have some control over whether you have to crack open or not.
I’m beginning to feel like an even less convincing Malcolm Gladwell than Malcolm Gladwell himself, so I’ll give this a rest for now.
Let’s say, for the sake of simplicity, that there are two basic kinds of mistakes: mistakes we want to carry on making, and mistakes we only want to make once.
The first kind of mistake, which we could call a loop, involves enjoyment. The second kind of mistake, which we may as well call a glitch, does not bring enjoyment.
Enjoyment, here, means that you get something out of the mistake, as a direct consequence of making the mistake. In other words, if you enjoy making the same mistake over and over again, you are likely to carry on that way. If you get absolutely no enjoyment out of it whatsoever, you are likely to decide never to make that mistake again.
So, a loop mistake is a mistake you make regularly, like getting totally drunk so often that people say you “have a problem”, or compulsively cheating on your spouse, or snacking on sugary treats even though you’re trying to lose weight. When you form an emotional connection to a certain mistake, it’s hard to stop making it over and over, even though you know it’s “bad” for you.
By contrast, a glitch mistake is something you really wish you hadn’t done, like accidentally hitting a pedestrian with your car, or dropping your phone into the pool, or telling a lie and getting caught in a humiliating way that will destroy your social life. It is, essentially, a glitch in the ordinary functioning of things, and you want to fix it as soon as possible.
This distinction, while highly simplistic, helps us see that some mistakes are not really mistakes; they’re part of a bad habit. Getting drunk once, at your boss’s party, can be a big mistake. Getting drunk twice at two different parties can count as two big mistakes. But regularly getting so wasted that you end up starting bar fights and creeping out your coworkers… that amounts to something more than the total number of times you’ve been drunk. The mistake you’re making is not that you’re getting drunk, but that you keep getting drunk. Clearly, a loop is a behavioral mistake. The problem is in the relationship that you have to your own actions. Something of your basic character is revealed when you’re in one of these loops. There’s something about this kind of mistake that you enjoy — the escape, the predictability, the sense of identity. It may not bring pleasure or make you happy, but it gives you a feeling of being alive.
The glitch interrupts the daily functioning of your life. Tripping and falling down the stairs is a big problem if you get badly hurt, but it’s not a behavioral problem. You didn’t fall down the stairs as a result of some problematic relationship that you have with your own behavior. If you’d been more careful, it wouldn’t have happened. And although you may blame yourself for your mistake, you don’t think, “Oh my God, why do I keep hitting pedestrians with my car? This is so annoying!” If you did think that, you’d be dealing with a loop, not a glitch.
It can be a big mistake to eat five tubs of ice cream because you’re just that hungry, and plus your eyes are bigger than your belly, and you haven’t had ice cream for three years. You feel sick, you start to hate ice cream, and you can’t imagine ever wanting another ice cream again. Then you spend all night vomiting. That’s a glitch mistake. But if you over eat as a matter of habit, knowing full well that it’s bad for your health and it’s sabotaging your fat-loss efforts, then it’s not the five tubs of ice cream that are the problem.
The problem is the loop you’re in. It’s that your relationship to the mistakes that you’re making, the way that you interpret your mistakes, is itself a mistake. In other words, the real mistake in an “consistently overeating-ice cream” loop involves thinking that every time you eat another tub of ice cream, you’re making yet another mistake. Nope, it’s not a series of mistakes; the series of mistakes is the mistake. It has become a loop, and that’s your big problem.
I wrote above that a loop brings you enjoyment, in some way, while a glitch doesn’t. But the real distinction, I think, is between the kinds of enjoyment you can get out of both types of mistake. After all, if you “accidentally” sleep with your secretary, just once, and immediately regret it, you’ll have found some pleasure in the act, nevertheless. But, assuming you regret what you’ve done straight away, your sense of your own identity is probably compromised. “I never thought I’d be the kind of person who would be unfaithful!” “I can’t believe I dropped my child! I’m a terrible parent.” “Why, why, why did I take the bus when the underground would have been three times faster? Now I’m late and this day is ruined.” So, you come away from a glitch feeling “not like yourself” somehow, even if that only means that you’re in a much worse mood than earlier.
Some glitches can bring you a lot of enjoyment, in the long run, when you’ve rationalised them or seen that your life got better from the way you reacted to your mistake. For instance, you screw up, you make a truly sincere apology for the first time in years, and you come away from the experience with a deepened understanding of what forgiveness really means. But the pleasure doesn’t come from having made the mistake itself. It comes from having had to deal with it, which means growing up.
Loops don’t make you question your identity, even though you think they do. Loops like overeating, or always being late even though you know it upsets others, or just not getting enough sleep for months on end for no good reason, are loops for a reason. They give you something to chew on, to fix your sense of yourself. After all, although you may hate your drinking problem, at least you know you have a drinking problem, you know what you should not be doing, and you know where this is all going. There’s some security there. I know, from my days trying to break out of eating ice cream and gaining weight, that one of the hardest things about my bingeing loop was that I got a sense of stability out of it, even though I wasn’t aware of it at the time. I could comfort-eat my ice cream, or not, and feel bad about it or not, but the complexity of my situation seemed vastly reduced.
So, glitches confront you with your basic freedom. Loops keep you from having to face your freedom. Glitches are real mistakes, and they’re scary because they wake you up. Loops keep you asleep.
I’ll return to this tomorrow. (Edit: I did!)
I was just at the gym, where I delighted in the potential for tragedy implicit in little ordinary situations.
I’ve been trying to make proper use of the rowing machines they have over there, because those things are gorgeous and expensive and tire me to the point of tears. There’s nothing like a good night’s sleep induced by the exhaustion of rowing. But this time, as I was settling into a sweet, intense groove, using what I suppose must have been pretty good form, this young woman comes to sit at the rowing machine next to mine, chatting on the phone. (No, this is not going to be one of those “Can you believe people talk on the phone at the gym?” posts.) She stretches her legs out and just sits, not rowing, not even sweating.
That’s cool. Most people are like that at my gym. They go there to socialize, to flirt with the attractive personal trainers, to get suckered into buying expensive protein shakes that aren’t nearly as good as other expensive protein shakes, and to use the sauna.
But what this girl is saying on the phone is fascinating. Here she is, in her pretty little pink top and baby blue gym shorts, telling whoever’s on the other line that Tony committed suicide. She’s saying this in a cool, detached, neutral, only mildly bemused tone of voice. “Tony killed himself.” A pause, then: “About three days ago. Yeah. Yeah. I know, it’s not the funniest thing. Very sad. Yeah, he had a wife, well, an ex-wife. I think he was really depressed. Who knows, he was Tony. Right?”
Then she changes the subject.
Now, I know it’s none of my business, but I want to know exactly what were the circumstances that led to this woman talking about this recently deceased man in this way. I can’t help it. It’s just too enticing.
Who is on the other end of the line? Who would know Tony, but not know that Tony killed himself? Presumably, someone Tony did not know well. That would also explain why that person didn’t know that Tony had an ex-wife. But then, the woman on the rowing machine clearly didn’t know Tony well either. At most, she seems to have known Tony a little better than her friend on the phone. Since she’s clearly not hugely distressed by Tony’s suicide, I gather that she wasn’t surprised to learn about it, which in turn suggests that there was a “thing” about Tony that people knew about, like his depression, which made him a likelier suicide than someone else.
So. Did they work together? Was the young woman next to me hiding something about her relationship to Tony? Can he really have been the only Tony that she and her friend knew in common, so that it was perfectly possible for them to talk about “Tony” without specifying which Tony, while still making clear to an eavesdropper that neither of them knew much about him?
What I want to believe about Tony, in my voyeuristic fascination, is that he was lonely. He was the kind of lonely that goes beyond simple emotion. Tony was the kind of guy, I want to think, for whom loneliness was a central part of his existence, second only to his face.
Tony was so lonely, for so long, that he became agonizingly sensitive to any signs in the world around him that he was irremediably isolated, cut off from everyone and everything. He was so convinced that he would never find someone to see him as he really was, and so fascinated and horrified by this thought, that he became incapable of making sense of any contrary evidence. He refused, unconsciously, to believe that every single human being is lonely, in similar ways, and that one of the great paradoxes of loneliness is that the more it grips you, the less you realize that your loneliness is one of the things that most unites you with others.
I imagine that when he met people who tried to reach out to him, perhaps sensing that he needed a friend, Tony’s response was to push them away, perhaps because he misinterpreted their friendliness as condescension, or mockery, or a well-intentioned but naïve attempt to trick him into feeling better.
Tony so strongly identified with the feelings that came from thinking that his loneliness was uniquely powerful, uniquely incomprehensible to others, that eventually he decided it was time to die, to die alone, in the one way he could think of that would show everybody how little he could relate to them: he killed himself in his barren, silent apartment. And his body was only found three months later. I want to believe that the girl sitting on the rowing machine next to mine this evening hasn’t even understood that the Tony she is gossiping about did not kill himself three days ago, but three months ago, and that it was his body that was found three days ago. And it was found, not because somebody wondered where Tony was and went over to visit him, but because the smell coming from his apartment had become intolerable.
And, because I’m in a mood of special schadenfreude, I’d like to believe that this girl on the rowing machine next to mine had to been perfectly friendly to Tony, and even willing to have lunch with him, in a platonic way, but that Tony by that point could only believe that women hated him, because they had all heard from his ex-wife that he was exactly as unlovable as he felt.
Sleep well, Tony.
Perhaps your true progress in life is measured by tiny things of which only you are really aware. For example, for years I have been unable to sleep in the same bed as someone else, without ever being sure why. A few years ago, I had a girlfriend who would stay over at least three or four nights a week, and whenever it was bedtime, I would go sleep on the couch. I just couldn’t stand to share the bed with her. She accepted this. Poor girl. But she wasn’t the only one. Before her, I’d had the same problem with others. After her it carried on that way too.
One of the things that I most hated about beginning new relationships was knowing that I would have to explain to her that, no, this had nothing to do with her, and no, there was nothing disgusting about her in particular; I just wanted to be alone. Bed time was Phil time, and nobody was allowed to share the bed with me, no matter how cuddly and in love they wanted to be. I hated it.
I hated feeling someone else breathing next to me. I hated being ultra-sensitive to every movement they made as I tried to fall asleep. I hated waking up in the middle of the night because someone next to me was snoring, and I hated not being sure whether it was okay for me to get up earlier than them in the morning. Was it bad form if I accidentally woke them up by getting out of bed before them? Even after one night stands, I wouldn’t sleep next to my temporary partners. I would just lie in their bed and think, or something.
This has become much less of an issue in the last couple of years. It’s nothing that I worked on in particular. I didn’t decide to get over my obsessive need to be alone, in a really cold room, at bed time. But I’ve noticed that as I’ve worked out a whole bunch of other shit, by looking at my fear of intimacy and my need to dodge my own emotions, and changing my eating habits at night, and upping the amount of physical exercise I get during the day, and communicating the right things to the right people at the right times as often as possible, without getting paranoid about it, things have changed for the better in my life. No duh.
And one way that I’m able to track this, unintentionally but conveniently, is by looking at how easy it is for me to sleep next to somebody at night. Because if I have the right amount of exercise, and I eat healthily, and I say what I need to say what I have to say it, and I’m aware of what’s going on in my own body and mind, and I don’t hate what I’m doing in my life, and I’ve dealt with any lingering resentment over petty or important things, sleeping next to somebody is no problem.
Especially if they make me breakfast.
This is probably not the most interesting intellectual limitation that I can admit to, but it’s one that I feel I have been aware of for long enough now, and come to good enough terms with, to admit to right now: I am utterly incapable, maybe at a physiological level, of going beyond a certain basic philosophical monism.
That is to say, basically, that while I can understand theoretically the proposition that there is more than one thing at the ontological level — that it is only only in appearance, but in reality, that various things exist — I don’t really get it. To me, no matter how hard you try to explain to me why it would make more sense to think of two completely individual things existing, or innumerable things all existing at the same time, than to think of all things as being so many expressions of only one thing, I will not understand. For example, if you tell me that this rock, that chair, and Britney Spears are three different things, I will automatically think: yes, to the extent that they seem uniquely determined, they are different things, but they exist only because something has made their existence possible, theirs and the existence of many other things as well.
That something doesn’t have to mean God or some self-conscious Absolute, but the fact that a rock and a chair and Britney Spears all exist simultaneously, or in the same “universe”, suggests principally that all three exist under certain conditions, which you could misleadingly call “conditions of possibility”, and that because they exist, they must exist together, obeying certain rules for existing (again, a misleading image). And that by existing together, they in some sense have to exist as one. As “that which exists”.
And as I said, I realize this is an intellectual limitation, rather than a case of me understanding the truth while those who insist that a plurality of things can exist simply have it wrong. Because sadly, it suggests that, by not “getting” the point of the most fundamental critiques of monistic thinking, I can’t offer a truly informed reply.
It’s bizarre to me that it doesn’t make any sense, at the gut-feeling level, to think of things existing independently of each other, totally independently of each other, or of things existing together but as unique things. I remember being a child and already thinking that you could reduce everything that existed to a word like “universe”, or “this”, or “everything”. Whether you can use “everything” as a helpful and meaningful shorthand in this way is itself a question that I can’t really answer, except that my gut tells me yes. And gut feelings don’t belong in the philosophical arena…
Blogging’s hard, mama.
One day, I want to talk about psychoanalysis. The next day, I want to talk self-deprecatingly about being fascinating. Then, it’s why snow reminds me of shit, and then it’s something about recording music. Although I’ve written about what I consider to be an unhealthy culture of trying to cultivate an author platform, and have repeatedly told myself, hey, man, it’s okay, you don’t have to try, author platforms are for dweebs anyway, I’m not always able to believe myself.
The truth is that these days I can’t even maintain a regular blog. I don’t know what this post is about, because, well, I don’t ever seem to write about anything consistently and it’s catching up with me. Part of my problem at the moment is that I’m not writing anything consistently at all. I’m angry at myself. No, even that’s not true, I’m not angry at myself. I’m just noticing this, with a little “Hmm.” So, forget building a platform, because the first thing I need to get working on is regular blogging. (How many bloggers must have said this to themselves before getting distracted by something else and disappearing forever? (see, I’m drawing attention to my self-awareness here, showing that although I’m a fool, at least I’m not that naive about how most blogs work (awesome stuff, Phil, triple-brackets, high-five)))
But what’s the point? I don’t even read other people’s blogs. And when I do, I don’t leave comments, or interact with the bloggers in any way. Blogs bore me the way the first two seasons of Breaking Bad bored me (and no, I haven’t watched further, because it was boring. Fuck you). My own blog posts bore me. I find my tone, which I would describe as natural, slightly aloof, irritatingly sincere in a kind of insincere way annoying. I don’t resent myself for adopting this tone, I just don’t care for it. And all the other tones also annoy me. I don’t care enough to find a better voice anymore.
That’s the problem, isn’t it, deep down? The problem is that whether I like it or not, I just don’t give enough of a shit about building an author platform, or about blogging, interacting with potential readers, finding people with common interests, writing blog posts that change peoples lives.
The other side of it is that I do care. Of course I care. I see value in the idea of regular blogging. For one thing, it makes me get out of my own head. It forces me to commit to a regular practice of self-expression, which nowadays would otherwise consist mainly of private scribbling, in the hope that some new book will emerge eventually.
So, on the one hand, I care about blogging, about creating some kind of regular blogging practice, and on the other hand, I really do not care enough. The primary evidence I have for not caring: the fact that I barely blog, barely think about it, and don’t respect other bloggers, I don’t make time for the whole blog thing, and most of my posts or half assed attempt at mixing sincerity with practical wisdom. They don’t lead anywhere. And still I care. The evidence for my caring, I guess, is: I’m still writing, I’m writing this very blog post.
So what’s it going to be? Am I going to try blogging properly, or not, and am I going to stick to the decision I make when I make it?
Maybe the secret is to stop trying to make my posts as polished and perfect as I would like. Maybe I ought to just spew words into my Dictaphone, and rearrange them to some kind of semi-final draft that still leaves a lot to be desired.
“Yes!” I can hear one wise old man sing. “At last he gets it!”
“Ugh, no no NO,” I hear another wise old man grumble, “that’s exactly the wrong way to look at it! Don’t get sloppy!”
Why the hell am I even worrying about this, Zen masters of blogging? Why am I sitting around in my apartment thinking about this, and not, say, the direction that my life is taking, or my girlfriend, or my friends’ girlfriends, or what Thomas Pynchon’s next novel might be like?
Fuck it. I’m going to try to update this blog, as a matter of principle and as a way of building my discipline, much more regularly. Nobody reads this shit anyway. This is convenient, because maybe, if I blog every other day for six months, instead of maybe once every three months, there will be some gold amid the shit, and I can then try to do more of the stuff that’s gold and less of the shit, and I’ll build a strong habit of blogging, so that when I truly have something to say, I’ll have a chance at finding readers who will put up with all the failed posts to find what they already know will be occasionally good posts.
Maybe this will mean censoring myself less. I censor myself a hell of a lot. Not in terms of the information that I divulge, but I sometimes find myself inspired, really inspired, to write something, and it’s going to be great, but because the first sentence doesn’t come out the way I had hoped it would when I was writing it in my head on the way to the computer, it just all kind of fizzles away. I start fussing over alternative ways to begin the piece, and I get exhausted and cry and stuff my face with cookies. Such is life, right? No, fuck you, internal critic who doesn’t even have a PhD.
When did I become such an amateur? I wasn’t like this before.
So, here’s an interesting thing. I used to have exactly zero problems with my internal critic. I never censored myself in the way that I do nowadays, worrying that sentences aren’t going the way they ought to. It used to be much easier for me to type 2,000 words out in one sitting then it is for me nowadays even to type up 200 words. And you know what changed, in my life, since then? I stopped taking my anxiety medication.
Nowadays I suffer from much less anxiety than I used to, and there’s no way that I’m ever going to be happy to go back to taking a truck’s worth of Ativan every day, which is something I did for years. I just don’t need it anymore. And it was a bitch to wean off that stuff. But, tragically for Western literature, my inspiration has dried up, and my ability to commit even to basic hack work, like typing out sentences even if they’re not that good, for the principle or profit of it, has dwindled.
When I drink, which isn’t very often because drinking makes me sad or foolish, the words flow better. It’s easier, and I’m happy to write. But that’s when I drink. And I don’t want to drink just because it makes writing easier. But if I were going to go to go down that path, I may as well jump to the heroin. After all nothing takes away your inhibitions like a bit of heroin, right?
Nope, drinking or doing drugs simply because that would make writing feel possible again is out of the question, as is badmouthing Shia LaBoeuf, who is a muse to many of us. Side note: if you send me heroin, that’s different, because I didn’t buy it, and I will thank you.
So, until I learn whether my deepest impulse is to give a shit or not to give a shit about blogging, I’m just going to have to try to blog regularly, much more regularly, until I have a better idea. Hopefully this will get me used to writing often and freely again. And if not, well, who gives a shit.
It’s snowing tonight in my little part of the country. I hate snow. Especially when it’s like this, wet and heavy in that “I’m not going to be around long but everything will still be slushy tomorrow” way.
My hatred of snow comes from the years I spent living in the Alps, at my little rich boy boarding school, where we had to ski whenever there was snow. When I tell people this, they always say, oh lucky you, to be able to ski whenever you wanted, that must’ve been fantastic.
Well, no, it wasn’t fantastic. It was fucking annoying. The magic of skiing vanishes very quickly when you have to do it as part of your ordinary school day. Trust me. You thought it was boring having to sit around in physics or geography class all day? Yes, it was probably boring for you. But try being forced at gunpoint to go skiing every school afternoon after class, simply because that’s what they made you do at school when there is snow. Every afternoon. Even on Sundays you had to go skiing. Imagine that for six years. I was there, man. Imagine having no choice but to ski for your phys ed class, and having your progress on the slopes count towards your final grades. This, in the civilized western world.
I soon lost count of the excuses I used to get the school nurse to write me sick notes.
Yep. I had a very rough upbringing.
However, tonight the snow reminds me of this one kid in particular from school, Nick the Russian. He wasn’t my roommate, but he might as well have been. He spent almost all of his time in my bedroom. Not simply my bedroom, but my bed. Even when I wasn’t in the room, he would make himself comfortable on my bed and eat sausages, drink Diet Coke, and play video games. I never really grokked why he couldn’t do that in his own room, in his own dammed bed. I’m sure there wasn’t any sexual tension between us, especially since, you know, he was Russian, and just about every Russian is grandiosely, Academy Award-winningly homophobic. As for me, I was worried about getting a girlfriend, not a boyfriend. So, as I say, this wasn’t some weird sexual arrangement between boys at boarding school. No, I think Nick just really liked my bed, and for some reason I have no memory of ever telling him not to use it that way. The past is a different country; they do things bizarrely there.
For the record, at the end of that school year, I discovered a bunch of wrappers, sausage wrappers, hidden away under my mattress. Thank you, Nick.
This reminds me, too, of the time someone left a human turd on the floor of my friend’s room. I have no idea why this happened, but I guess Dan had made himself an enemy, and the enemy decided it would be fair to take a shit on Dan’s bedroom floor. The school authorities, of course, were hardly amused, and they threatened to perform a “genetic test” to find out who had done this stupid thing. They said to all the students at our school assembly that the “genetic test” would let them know exactly who had shat on Dan’s floor. They said that whoever had done it might as well fess up, to spare them the expense of the “genetic test”, and if he fessed up, his punishment would be reduced. Interestingly, they never brought it up again, which we, the general student population, took to mean that some idiot had bought the whole “genetic test” thing and decided to step forward as the perpetrator of this shitty misdeed. I asked Dan, but he said he wasn’t allowed to talk about it. To this day, I don’t know who did it. At least it wasn’t my floor. This is what you can expect from sending your kids to fancy boarding schools.
Hey, look at that. Can it be a coincidence that the minute I start thinking about snow, I also start thinking about shit?
I began 2014 with a vow: that I would have more fun. I had noticed that while I could get a hell of a lot of things done, I did not enjoy much of what I was doing.
I was in good shape, but never enjoyed being in my body. I was reading a lot of books, but I was rarely in love with any of them. I knew I liked to go to the cinema, but I rarely went to the cinema. I knew I like to travel, but I still felt like I wanted to travel more than I already did, and to stress out less about the little inconveniences that always pop up along the way when you’re out there exploring.
Well, it’s 2015 now. I had a whole year of, basically, forcing myself to have fun. Has it paid off? Absolutely.
For one thing, I went to the cinema a hell of a lot more. Simple, but so very effective. I watched a lot of bad films, the kind of films that I would once have dismissed snobbishly as a waste of time. They really were a waste of time, but I regret nothing.
I went back to reading more fiction, something that I had stopped doing because my day job for a while had been to edit other people’s fiction, and was the wrong kind of stressful, so that I started to associate reading fiction with a job I hated. So, as with the cinema, I went back to reading, I read a lot of bad books, and no regrets.
My goal in January 2014 was to get out of the country once a month for a whole year. I was successful at this. I particularly liked going to Sicily with my friend Jamie, who has since gone back to live in Italy full-time. I also loved spending Christmas at the beach in Dubai. I tried flyboarding for the first time. It was fun, and brought me closer to living out my jetpack fantasy. I went on a cruise down the Douro river in Portugal, which was beautiful. I went to Spain to launch the Spanish translation of my book, Praise of Motherhood. I went to Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida.
And I spent some nights in a yurt in Wales. Simple things, good for the soul. You could say that in 2014 I learned to take care of my soul.
I joined a yoga class which I attended for months, until I moved. This, once upon a time, would’ve been hilarious to me, but it did me a lot of good. I even attended a workshop on trauma release exercises, where I convulsed on the floor for half an hour.
I went to see a lot of musicals, I saw five plays in five weeks, I saw Andrew WK live at last, after over a decade of wanting to.
And then there were little things like trying to learn to cook. Watching a lot of South Park, in fact watching a lot of TV shows in general, something I never used to do. Getting more sleep. Going for more long walks, listening to audiobooks.
And spending almost a whole month recording music in the studio was a lot of fun, if also pretty exhausting.
In September, I got offered a new job editing science fiction and fantasy. I tried it for a few months and liked it. It’s a whole other universe and I’m staying on. Because it’s fun. I can honestly say this time that my job is fun.
But looking back at my year, it’s not the fun that stands out as most important. It’s the other side, the thing that has made the fun more possible than ever before: my ever-deepening meditation practice.
I should really write more about meditation on this blog, if only because I should really write more on this blog if I want to call it my blog (as someone described it in an email to me today, a blog is “a selfie in words”), and also because a lot of my time nowadays goes into sitting around breathing on the floor.
In March, after an especially painful break up, I went on a weeklong Zen meditation retreat. It was quite literally the most unpleasant, difficult, exhilarating and ridiculous week of my life.
Facing a wall from 5 in the morning until 10 at night in silence gives you a lot of time to notice just how much you need a new relationship with your own mind. And that week radically changed how I saw the role of meditation in my life. I was already meditating every day simply as a matter of habit, but after that week I realized that meditation, the act of physically sitting down and shutting the fuck up for an hour or two at a time, is the most miraculous thing that I have in my life. I’m not exaggerating.
The only activity that I do every single day, without fail, it’s sit down and meditate. I am likelier to meditate in the morning than I am to to do anything else that day including eating, sleeping and seeing human beings. To have seen for myself how sufficient and good it is to sit down in silence and do nothing for long stretches of time is one of the great joys of my life.
I went on several other retreats in 2014. They were all interesting in their own way. I had moments of great insight, which I was convinced would change me forever, but which in fact have faded in my memory. The point really does seem to be that it is enough to sit down where you are and forget your old insights. This becomes okay the tenth time you realize you can’t remember the great insight you had last week into the nature of your true self. It’s all just empty blah, you are soon forced to admit, even when a quiet, peaceful part of you knows that it’s not.
But here’s the thing about the relationship between meditation and my increased capacity to have fun. I don’t know if this is why Buddhists so often seem to be depicted as laughing, but after I meditate, I find everything funnier. I noticed this when I went to the cinema to watch movies that I didn’t expect to enjoy, stupid movies, movies I would’ve found predictable in ordinary circumstances. If I’d spent time meditating that afternoon, the films could make me laugh like crazy. Even if they weren’t particularly funny, I was laughing, genuinely laughing, with the rest of the audience, and the old snob in me died in those moments. I was that guy — the one laughing harder than you at the movies.
I also found myself cracking more jokes in general, and laughing at them, even if I was the only one laughing. Now this is always been something I do, but I still laugh a hell of a lot. This may not exactly count as spiritual enlightenment, but it’s great.
Not that I’m particularly good at chilling out and just having fun yet. I found I had to remind myself all the time to take it easy. Even now, it’s hardly an ingrained habit: I don’t spontaneously have fun as often as I’d like to. But at least I became aware over the year of new possibilities. I’m sure that meditation, and especially learning to pay attention to my own internal states, had a big hand in this.
This year, I’ve decided to try to look at the role of fear in my life. I would say I want to spend the year fighting my fears, but it’s not as simple as that. I could say I’m going to do something that scares me every day, that kind of thing, but that’s not what I’m after. Just as by trying to have more fun what I really came to dwell on was the meaning of fun for me, I want to understand the role that fear plays in my everyday life. I want to know when I’m being driven by fear more than by any other emotion, and what causes me to feel fear at random times. Because though it seems simple, I sometimes find myself afraid without knowing why. I notice myself holding back from saying something out of fear, or not doing something that would be fun, again out of fear. Fear of what? Fear of whom?
That will be my challenge for 2015: find fear, and keep looking at it.