Eat A Rock

There’s something floating around the zeitgeist holding that failure is not the end of all things, but the beginning. 

“Fail forward.”

“Have a system.”

“Keep grinding.”

“Failure makes you stronger.”

It’s an idea that’s gaining a lot of traction, it’s proponents now looking like geniuses (Nassim Nicholas Taleb and Scott Adams come to mind).

My high school music teacher–the best teacher I ever had–used to say something to us before every performance: “Eat a rock.”

As in, go out and do something bold. Impossible. Dumb, even. But also glorious. And in order to eat a rock–and here’s the important part–you can’t give up or let up, not even for a second. Because if you do, you’ll never finish. 

It’s a silly metaphor, and it conjures up all sorts of interesting visual imagery, but it’s stuck with me all the same ever since. 

Eat a rock. 

I had a big failure recently. Like, a massive one. But something strange happened when I got the news. I wasn’t angry, or worried, or filled with self-pity. I felt–and this is where it gets weird–empty. Numb. 

Though this is the kind of thing that would make most wail and gnash their teeth, it didn’t move the needle for me one way or the other. It was just a thing, another thing in life that needs to be dealt with. 

Maybe I’ve been internalizing these messages. Maybe saturating myself in the world of self-improvement, systems-thinking, philosophy, and brotherhood so much these past two years is actually rubbing off on me. 

In truth, things will get worse before they get better. Life will get more difficult. But once the numbness wore off, felt oddly exhilarated. I went into my room, hit the knees in prayer, and when I got up, I felt a sense of resolve. 

I have a responsibility and a duty. To my family and to myself. 

There are things, like my thoughts and my health, that I can control. 

And nothing, not even failure, lasts forever.  Continue reading “Eat A Rock”

Fasting From What?

Based on my calculations, we’re about halfway through Lent. And every year certain aspects of Lent get easier, while others prove more difficult. 

Take fasting. No, please, take it. It’s an inconvenience and kind of a drag. But that’s the point. 

When we were kids, at least in the Greek Orthodox tradition, it meant going meatless more often, and sometimes everything-less, especially during Holy Week. We don’t do the “give something up for 40 days” as our Catholic brethren do, but I understand the idea behind abstaining from certain foods and certain things. It’s a great way to introduce children into the concept of fasting. 

So fasting from what? What’s more challenging than not eating the things that you love?

A lot. Three points;

  1. Christianity is one of the only faiths I can think of that has no dietary restrictions. Nothing God made is unclean. Have at it. 
  2. Related to point one, Christians don’t go to heaven or hell based in a checklist of ritualistic behaviors. What you eat, what you say, and how many times a day you pray aren’t the final arbiters of your place in eternity. It’s much more personal and far less mechanical. In other words, it takes hard work, far harder than adhering to a checklist. 
  3. How sad a state we are in when fasting becomes such a deal breaker for many! Americans are surrounded by food. We are drowning in it. Is it really that hard to put the fork down for 40 measly days?

But the food let has become easier for me. Age and maturity will do that to you. And it’s good because a little physical discomfort can sharpen your mind for the things you are truly supposed to abstain from. 

Sinfulness. Your flaws. Things you do that you know you shouldn’t do but that you do anyway. 

These are the things Christ was crucified to help us overcome. 

Okay, if you’re not a Christian, or even religious, I am aware of how silly his may sound. But roll with me here.  Continue reading “Fasting From What?”

Fatherly Rage

No child is bad from the beginning… they only imitate their atmosphere.

Prince

Nothing in life is easy. Nothing. Especially the things that are good. Even things that are supposed to be natural, like parenthood.

Life is stressful enough without adding kids into the mix, and patience is always in limited reserves. Like any scarce resource, patience must be judiciously managed so that one doesn’t spend the last few hours of the waking day a simmering cauldron of rage.

This affects parents, no doubt. But this is not necessarily what has been affecting me. I am generally even-keeled and tend not to let my emotions overtake me, whether I’m at work or involved in something personal. This isn’t my natural disposition, though, but one borne through almost two decades of managing a legendarily short fuse.

And yet, I find myself getting angry at my son a lot lately.

He is four-and-a-half, very funny, and very energetic. This energy has difficulty being dispersed by nature of our having moved recently to a much smaller place in the city. This will change soon, hopefully, but I’m not making any guesses as to when.

So in lieu of being able to play outside, he has to deal with “indoor” stuff, particularly at night, when there are no playgrounds or parks or backyards nearby. And the indoor stuff soon gets boring for a kid who loves nothing more than being out in the open air. 

You can see where this is going.  Continue reading “Fatherly Rage”

Can’t Shake It

I would love to not pay attention. 

And yet, I feel compelled to do more than while away my time as the world goes on around me. 

So I try to put what’s happening together, to paint a coherent picture, and I usually don’t like the results. And so I worry. 

I worry about how we use history as a how-to guide and not a cautionary tale. No matter the lessons the record provides, we seem to return, like a dog to its vomit, to the worst of what humanity has to offer. 

I worry about what kind of world I’ve brought my son into, what kind of inheritance he and his progeny will have–though I will be dead, I still worry about them. 

I worry about eternity

And I worry if there is any hope for us in the here and now. Continue reading “Can’t Shake It”

Other People

It’s always about “other people,” isn’t it?

When we judge, we act like we alone are uniquely above any criticism. Everyone else is the problem. We’re the solution. 

We all do it, even those of us who try to be aware of it

Judge not, that ye be not judged.” Words to life by right? 

Yes. But this isn’t a command to never judge–take a look at the next part:

Judge not, that ye be not judged.

For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.

–Matthew 7:1-2

In other words, be very careful what you say to others. And don’t be a hypocrite. 

Of course, evil should be judged harshly. Or things that can lead to evil. But don’t be so self-righteous to think yourself immune from this, or bristle when you get the same treatment from others. 

To many, evil is subject to interpretation. I tend to stick with immutable principles like those given by God, but your mileage may vary. 

So that’s evil. But what about stuff you disagree with? Or that you just find silly or annoying?

What about other people’s habits and mannerisms that just irk you?

“They do this, they do that, they just piss me off!”

But maybe it’s not them. Maybe it’s you.

If what other people do doesn’t affect you, or isn’t evil or doesn’t lead to evil, who cares?

In other words, pick your battles. Make them worthy of your time, energy, and judgment. 

As with most good things, though, this is easier said than done. 

I fall into this all the time. Social media makes it easy. 

Mockery is fun. Ridicule is a coping mechanism. Complaining lets off steam. 

But I wonder: What do people say about me and people like me?

Probably stuff I would object to as untrue

Exactly what other people say. 

Someone has to be right though, don’t they? Something has to be true and the other false. 

Usually. 

I know we’re a divided nation, and that’s fine. There needs to be a contrast between different ideas and their consequences. 

This is why my maxim is to attack ideas and not people. Continue reading “Other People”

Theater of the Mind

There is no more powerful force than the human imagination. People live their lives according to what they think is true more than what actually is. 

No kidding, right? It’s a pretty good heuristic: “That mean-looking son-of-a-bitch over there with the knives and stuff sure looks dangerous…think I’ll stay away from him.”

But there are also those, shall we say, less-than logical manifestations of this tendency. 

Let me provide some context: I work in DC. The presidential inauguration is in a few days. You can imagine the talk swirling across the country finds itself here. 

And I have to laugh at a lot of it, even though a lot of it scares me. 

Scares me?

It absolutely scares me. Because some people’s actions are guided solely by what they imagine is the case. 

There are people with important, high-stakes jobs like airline pilot, doctor, and lawmaker who think that we are one step away from having things like internment camps and death squads. The one-hundred percent think–no, know–that slavery is this close to being reinstated. 

And how many times do people tell you “All X are Y”? “All Christians are bigots. All Muslims are terrorists. All blacks are criminals.” And so on. 

Again, this goes back to heuristics: One bad experience with a group taints one’s view of them, yet one good experience never changes anybody’s mind for the positive. 

Survival. I get this. But letting our imaginations get the best of us has huge implications 

When somebody thinks they’re Napoleon, we sent them to the loony bin. But act like we are all dead if we don’t pass a certain piece of legislation right now, and you become a national hero. 

And back to Inauguration Day: “All Republican voters are evil and Trump is Hitler reincarnate. Let’s throw bricks at them!”

Which leads me to an important point: If we all live based on what we think is going on, who is right? What is what?

I don’t know.  Continue reading “Theater of the Mind”

What Is Enough?

“How’s work going?” my father asks me during Christmas dinner. 

I kind of shrug and tell him the truth: I like it well enough. My co-workers are fantastic. The pay is great, especially in comparison to my old jobs. It’s just that I amount of money or friendly colleagues will ever make the law interesting to me. It’s a slog almost every single day. 

“Sometimes I have an existential crisis about it,” I say, “like ‘what am I doing with my life’?” A little dramatic, but sometimes there’s no other way to express yourself. 

“You’re there to provide for your family,” my father said, “just focus on that.”

And this is true. But is it really enough?

Work is where a man spends the vast majority of his waking hours. Providing for a family is almost a compulsion–I certainly have nothing against stay-at-home-dads, and I was one for several months while I was unemployed–but I always knew I wanted to be the breadwinner. I had to. 

And it’s not like we really have the opportunity, or need, to go out and hunt or fight or anything. So desk-jockeying is the closest thing many of us have to “providing.”

So when said desk-jockeying is neither intellectually stimulating or particularly difficult, it does call into question what one is doing with one’s life. 

In other words, it’s clear proof that extrinsic rewards (pay) aren’t always enough. That intrinsic piece (meaning) is missing.  Continue reading “What Is Enough?”