Winter In Paradise

I share a life-lesson learned every weekday. Today’s lesson is about living where you love to live.

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December 7 , Tampa

 

This picture is from December 7th, 2015. Nicole and I were at Clearwater Beach in Florida, enjoying the sun and sand. We weren’t on vacation. We live in Tampa Bay.

For most of my adult life, I have lived in places like Michigan and Indiana, where cold weather encompasses nearly 8 months of the year. We moved to Tampa at the beginning of 2015. This is our first full winter in Florida, and I have to tell you… I should have done it sooner.

I never liked winter. Sure, the leaves are pretty in the Fall, for a week, and then I am ready for Summer again. I always figured the trade-offs for living in Grand Rapids and Detroit were mostly worth it (MUCH better vegan food, more art and culture, nothing in the water wants to eat you, etc.). I was wrong.

Looking at a tent full of Christmas Trees for sale next to a bunch of palm trees is both jarring and satisfying.  Having one wardrobe is great. Being able to be physically active all year round is great. Maybe most of all, having weekly moments of zen while sitting on white sand or paddling blue surf is great.

I lived up north for the last 23 years. The only thing I wish I had done differently is move south sooner. The ironic part is, it was not my idea. In fact, I resisted it. I wanted to move to Portland or Chicago, and I am sure I would have been happy in either of those places, but only for a third of the year.

If you know where you want to live, go. Don’t wait to live there–waiting is the enemy of success. Living is about living, not waiting to live.

 

 

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The Difference Between Right and Wrong

I share a life-lesson each weekday. Today’s lesson is how to tell if you are doing right or wrong things in your life, how to tell if what you are doing is good.

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I am lucky enough to have people look up to me for advice and answers (which means I was unlucky enough to have gained wisdom through many bad choices and have made enough mistakes to warrant giving advice).

A question I have been asked many times is a variation of, “How do I know if I am a good person? How can I tell if I am making the right choices or the wrong ones?”

I have never felt satisfied enough with an answer to pretend there is an absolute correct response to those types of questions. Of course, in the broadest, universal sense, there is no right or wrong, or good or bad. There is not even life and death (because matter can neither be created nor destroyed). There is only Order and Entropy. So, bringing it back down to socially navigating the world, here is what I have so far, and how I generally answer when I hear a question like that:

 

RIGHT: contributes value to your life without taking value from someone else’s. Doing what is right contributes to, grows, or enhances your happiness and self-esteem without hurting or taking away happiness or self-esteem from you or others. Drinking alcohol is an easy example. I am ambivalent about alcohol but I recognize some people enjoy a drink. I see no problem with that, until you enjoy a drink so much you keep drinking until you reach a point where you rob others of the value you contribute to their lives. In other words, if you drink so much you are damaging your health or the relationship you have with someone you care about, then you have a problem. You are no longer doing right by you or anyone else.

WRONG: Hurting yourself or others intentionally or through willful ignorance. Pretending there is no problem by consciously avoiding it or refusing to admit it… is a problem. The only wrong or bad there is in the universe is that which takes away from life, happiness, or self-esteem. The only time it is permissible to intentionally hurt another (person, animal, bug, tree, whatever) is in the act of self-defense, meaning when a rational value of yours is in danger of being removed (such as your life, property, or self-esteem).

 

In other words, if what you are doing or saying does not contribute to your life, make your life better, improve you as a person, or protect you from harm, then you probably shouldn’t be doing or saying it. Instead, ask what you can do or say instead that makes you proud to be living and drives you toward your happiness.

 

 

 

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A Nice Fall Day

I look back at each day and figure out what life-lesson I learned from it. Then, I share each day’s lesson with you…

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For lunch, I made creamy Tomato Basil soup with shallots and avocado dolloped on top, grilled cheese sandwiches with Chao cheese, and two big glasses of Clementine juice (no animals were harmed in the making of this lunch–all vegan).

We sat down to eat our grilled cheese and tomato soup–a fall staple where I come from. Since it is mid-September (when I posted this), it felt like a great lunch, except for one thing. It was 87 degrees and I was sweating.

When I moved to Tampa, it was February and it was 85 degrees and sunny when I arrived, having left 30-degrees with blizzard conditions in Michigan less than 24 hours earlier. It is almost always sunny and warm in Florida and, at least this first year, the weather has wreaked havoc on my body clock. In Michigan, summer lasts about two months–three if it is a particularly good year. In Tampa, February through April were all very warm months so my body expected Fall to be coming any day. Of course, Tampa had not even started Summer yet!

Nicole looked at the grilled cheese and tomato soup, and at me (sweating, reaching for the cool clementine juice), and she said, “This looks great. Why did you choose to make grilled cheese and soup today, though?”

I smiled wryly and said, “It just seemed perfect for a nice, cool Fall day like this.”

It is a good thing to live where you love living.

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Camera Shy

Today’s Lesson: Don’t get so caught up in capturing the moment that you forget to live in the moment.

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There are definitely times when I think, “I should have taken a picture of that!”. Often, this happens after I finish a uniquely tasty meal or when Nicole and I are at the beach.

We have been excited with our new Stand-Up Paddleboard hobby and there was one day where we saw, all in the same day: a school of jumping fish, a crab, an array of stingrays (a completely white one, a bunch of baby rays, and the biggest live stingray I have ever seen–probably 3 feet from wing tip to wing tip), hermit crabs, a baby shark, a dolphin, and a big shark zipping through a school of fish for lunch (which startled me so bad I nearly fell off my board!).

It would have been great to have pictures or video of all those things (especially the shark, dolphin, and giant ray–so cool!). I likely would have dropped the camera anyway and I would have been so excited to capture the next moment that I would not have noticed the one I was in. In other words, I would have been more focused on capturing the moment than actually living it.

It would be nice to post some cool shots online (well, most of them would have been blurry shots or only have captured the tail end of something) or have some record of the moment. On the other hand, how much would I have missed from experiencing conversation, the surprise and excitement of sighting something new, the looks on Nicole’s face, and the sheer joy of living, if I was busy fiddling with my phone camera settings or mounting the GoPro just right?

I like looking at pictures but I would rather have lived the memories (of the moment, rather than the memories of me trying to capture the moment).

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10 (Possibly True) Things I Have Learned About Tampa

As follow-up to my post, 10 (Possibly Crazy) Things I Believe About Tampa, I thought it might be fun to compare to what I have actually learned so far…

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We have been living in Tampa for a few weeks now and it is a little different from what I thought it might be like. Here are a few surprising things I did not know about the area but have learned so far through observation and experience…

 

1. The birds are nuts. I am dumbfounded by the diversity of wildlife here, especially birds. It probably makes sense being right off the ocean but I find myself gawking almost everywhere I drive. There is a crazy array of goofy-looking birds. There are real flamingos, pelicans, and brightly colored… somethings… everywhere! They are brave, too. We watched a bird steal an old lady’s sandwich on the beach (she did not react at all so she might have been dead, but still). The vultures here are BIG. Oh, and there are actual vultures here. They are big. I assume they get that way by stealing babies. If I see an empty stroller, my first thought is there must be a fat vulture nearby.

2. You will die of old age waiting for traffic lights to change. You can seriously walk back to your house, shave, shower, make coffee, check your email, and walk back to your car while waiting to turn left here. The traffic is insane and I am certain it is because the guy who controls the lights has narcolepsy. However, he is not as bad as the guy with sleep apnea who was in charge of road signs.

3. Road names randomly change. I am 100 percent serious about this one. Follow me on this. I turned right onto Gunn Highway, drove a quarter-mile, then turned left onto Gunn Highway, drove another half mile and turned right onto Gunn Highway, and then hung a right on Gunn Highway a mile later. I do not even know how to get to the mall which is less than five miles from our apartment, but I have been there at least ten times (in all fairness, six of those times were by accident). What bipolar wannabe comedian named the roads here?!? I don’t even know who I am anymore.

4. Tampa is prepared for the zombie apocalypse. There are elaborate, large screened in yards everywhere here. Imagine an entire yard, from the ground to the second story of the house caged in giant mesh screen, including the roof. It’s like your yard and roof are made of window screens. It is weird. They call them “lanais” (I don’t know how to pronounce it either) but in reality these steel mesh cages exist so senior citizens can sip sweet tea and watch zombies mope outside their steel caged yards. We are not going to miss a day of sunshine because of a little zombie apocalypse. More suga’, Ethel?

5.  We are weird about hot water. True story. The shower water here is only lukewarm. Nicole called maintenance because she thought the water heater was broken but the complex explained it was fine. They just keep the temperature low for our safety. We actually had to sign a rent addendum saying we are responsible for any burns or scalds caused by our inability to operate a faucet if we ask the apartment to raise the water temperature (not joking–seriously had to sign it before they would do it). I don’t know if this is a legal thing or because many residents are too dumb to turn the nozzle back the other way if the water gets too hot. My understanding is if you want drive-thru coffee from McDonald’s, you have to prove you have a fire extinguisher in your glove compartment. It’s just a Florida thing, I guess.

6. The weather is amazing. It’s for real. I think when you live in Michigan for a long time, you forget the rest of the world looks different in the winter. During winter in Michigan, you can start the hot water for your shower and then go plow your driveway while you wait for it to warm up. In Tampa, I turn on the water and it is already warm. It actually took me several showers to figure this out because I would just turn the water on and then brush my teeth and make tea, being surprised each time the water was already warm when I came back. It creates a bit of scheduling havoc. I have to be certain I am actually ready to get in the shower before I do now.

7. No one believes you live here. Obtaining proof of residency here was like winning an Olympic medal. After you change your address, you have 30 calendar days to prove you are a resident. To be a resident, you have to show proof of bills being sent to your new address (which would happen after the first 30 days, of course), you must provide your Social Security Card, W-2, Passport, DNA swab, have at least 3 friends vouch that you are an “okay guy”, and demonstrate you are within at least 3 degrees of Kevin Bacon. Lucky for me, I bumped into Will Smith coming out of Cliff Bells in Detroit one time and he was in After Earth with Zoe Kravitz who appeared in X-Men First Class with Kevin Bacon… so, it was close but I made the cut.

8. Vegans here think it is 1974. This is a strange nether-world for vegan living. There are no less than 3 Whole Foods within a 20 minute drive from our apartment and they all have the typical vegan options Nicole and I would hope to find at a Whole Foods. We like to eat out, though. Exploring vegan (or at least vegan-friendly) restaurants is one of our favorite pastimes. The vegan restaurants here, though, are basically manufacturing cardboard. The food is straight-up old school hippie vegan with grains and nuts in everything. The other day, after being served the wrong item three times by a 74-year old long-haired waiter in shorts and wearing a headband, I finally accepted the oat-wheat sandwich with sprouts he was pushing. After the first bite, I considered using the bun as a weapon to hold the place up and find out where they were hiding the Daiya cheese. Luckily, Chipotle has Sofritas–a little reminder that vegans can eat like normies anywhere.

9. Florida thinks it has potholes. I drove by a road crew and observed them filling a dinner-plate sized dent in the road. At first, I thought this was just a way to waste taxpayer money and maybe the State was trying to justify union jobs or something. Or maybe there was a small amount of toxic leakage they were cleaning up. Then, after three more separate incidents, I realized they actually thought those little dents were potholes! In Michigan, potholes are where you might find trapped miners, possible alien abductees, smaller cities, and your cousin Jamal who left to put gas in his Iroc-Z 8 months ago. When Nicole and I drive by a pothole in Tampa, we treat it with the same awe and excitement as seeing a puppy. “Awe, look at that little baby pothole. You’re so cute, yes you are!”

10. The lizards are faster than your lizard brain. Some of the only animals that don’t gross us out (lizards are cute, they eat bugs, and they have no inclination to crawl in your mouth at night) still find a way to freak us out. They are literally everywhere. Yes, even there. Literally. The thing is, you can tell the tourists and new Tampa transplants by the sheer fear we have of stepping on one of the cute little buggers. However, lizards are frighteningly fast. You can not step on one. They move like little street magicians doing sleight of hand tricks with every step. And they wear top hats but it is tough to see them because they are so fast and politely take them off before getting out of your way. (I know… where do they keep the top hats, right? I don’t know. They are little street magicians!)

 

So that’s it. Those are the first 10 (almost certainly) true things I have learned about Tampa so far. I should add one note about snakes. I am trying to think of them as “footless lizards” so they don’t terrify me as much… but I still check the toilet before I use it. Footless lizard or not, a person needs a place of sanctuary.

 

Today’s Lesson: Florida traffic lights have never met traffic lights from other states. Tampa is prepared for zombies. Google Maps works as effectively as a Magic 8-ball here. This is the insane asylum for birds too crazy-looking to be in the rest of society. Vegans think “raw oats” is its own food group and exclusively what you feed to other vegans. Instead of “potholes”, Tampa has “pot-dips”. The water is warm, the weather is amazing, and lizards wear top hats (but politely remove them before you see them). Oh, and snakes–I mean, footless lizards–are still creepy, even in Tampa.  

 

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Space For Living

When in doubt, throw it out!

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Part of simplifying my life means ridding myself of non-essential things I carry around that do not contribute value to my life.

I tossed out my old journals along with a lot of bad poetry I have held onto since I was a kid. I did keep one or two good(-ish) pieces, though. Maybe I will tidy them up and share them later.

I also went through my library of books, which I already pared to my 50 or so “essentials”. Still, there were a lot of books I have not read for years. Some of them I have not read at all. I have been saving them for when I have time to pick them up. Of course, when I do make time to read, I choose other books anyway. I have merely been saving them for the sake of saving them, it seems. Same for audio books and music CD’s.

I can buy new books or buy again the old ones I meant to read but never have (and probably never will) and it will be cheaper than storing them for decades and lugging them around wherever I move. With CD’s, outside of a few rare singles, local artists, or hard-to-find albums, most of my music is available online (which means it does not have to take up space in my apartment–less cleaning, storing, and clutter to move around).

If I do actually miss anything, I can always buy it again, but I usually find I do not miss things that much. There is so much new music, new books, and new gizmos and gadgets produced that there is no need to hold onto things for the sake of holding onto them.

Today’s Lesson: The less clutter you keep, the more space you create for living. That’s why we call it “living space” instead of “clutter space”.

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5 Ways To Live Better: Live For You

This week, I have a theme: 5 tips that have helped me live better. I hope one helps you live better, too…

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I have covered the importance of curiosity, eating more plantsbeing active, and having great integrity.  Always keep your word (even to yourself), live an active life (with or without “exercise”), eat more plants than animals, and question everything. I think those habits have transformed my view of the world and made my life wholly my own, which brings us to today’s post.

5. Live for your Self. Life is barely the whisper of a thought forming in a nigh-infinite universe. Life is so fleeting that I refuse to believe it should be lived for any one other than the individual living it. Many people think there is value in living for others or under the rule of others or by the guilt of others. They would have you feel ashamed for any success you achieve and expect you to share your health or wealth or property with others who did not earn it. I think those people mean well but are terribly misguided and perpetuating evil in the universe.

If you made a billion dollars from an idea that changed the world and improved the lives of millions, there are those who would demand you give away your profits as a penance to “pay back” or “pay forward” a debt to society you never incurred. Such people would shame you to give away your riches until you are as poor in money or health as they are in character, despite your having enriched their lives in the first place. This, to me, is the essence of misaligned evil–the idea that we should punish others for achieving.

I do not accept that “guilt” should be the default motivation of humanity.

There are many ways this concept of valuing the Many over the Individual has pervaded society like a parasitical cancer and brought down the living wages and mean success of all people. For example, consider how much of your money is stolen from you in the name of charity. Every cereal box or candy wrapper or clothing line or big box store that cleverly markets thievery under the guise of nobility by claiming to offer 1% of its profits to some charity or other or 5% for the world or a 3 cents to fight hunger… is taking money you earned and using it to subsidize what they should be paying to a charity of their choice. How many dollars have you given to nameless charities you are not even sure if you actually support?

How many tip jars have you dropped change into because you would feel socially guilty if you did not? How many homeless people, with shameless signs shaming you to give up the pay you worked hard to earn, have you felt chastised into giving part of your salary to?

Do not misunderstand. There is nothing wrong with charity or contributing to the homeless or other causes. There is everything wrong with giving away your money or time because you have been socially bullied into doing so. Imagine if, instead of having robbed from you 1% of the price of goods for unknown alleged rain forest coalitions, or cajoling your quarters from you for this association or that legion or those children who you have never met or heard of prior to someone schilling for change outside the supermarket… imagine if you could keep ALL your money and either spend it on enjoying the life YOU dreamed of, or at the very least, if YOU could consolidate your own funds and choose which person or charity you wish to give that full amount of your own earned salary to?

What if you could have all those nickels and dimes thieved away from you by social guilt or cleverly disguised bullying and were able put them toward your ailing parent or child if you needed to? Imagine if everyone had that same opportunity… to actually keep all the money they made and designate however much they chose to the thing or things they care most about.

That is the difference between living for yourself and living for everyone else. There is no shame in thinking for yourself, in questioning so-called truisms, and choosing a life on your terms. There is only shame when you accept the guilt of others as your burden for living.

This does not only apply to charity or money, of course. When you are in control of your destiny, you challenge yourself to create ways of turning the fiction of your dreams into living goals brought into reality. Living for yourself means living a life of adventure based on your moral code instead of whatever other people have told you is good or bad. It forces you to distinguish right from wrong based on logic and rational thinking because those are the primary tools of the self-made man or woman. Our bodies are living machines with external senses designed to provide data to our brains so that we may use our minds to navigate through the real world successfully. Our minds are not designed to be subjugated to other minds. This is obvious. We exist as individual beings, not as one collected homogeneous and amorphous jelly of tissue, nerves, and brain cells (by the way… gross!).

Living of my accord, however, means I can not rely on tradition, superstition, or mysticism to make decisions for me. It is at my own peril that I abdicate my ability to judge and define my world to other people or ideas instead of living on my terms.

Living this way forces me to break down concepts like “integrity” and “love” that otherwise have no intelligible definition for most of us (what is Love?). I have to think hard about the essence of these things and define them for myself. I must decide if murder is bad or religion is good, not based on news and hearsay but by really inspecting the essence of their values until I have found their intrinsic nature and motivations, and only then can I make a choice about their merits.

It is not an easy way to live, admittedly. I am ever skeptical and vigilant. I try to be both arrogant enough to know I am right because my decisions are made based on my values, yet also humble enough to accept when I am wrong because I have misunderstood or miscalculated something. That means accepting there are things I am simply not qualified to have an opinion about, either because I have not given appropriate attention to them or because I do not know enough about them regardless of what agenda popular media or friends or family might be pushing me to believe.

For example, I am sometimes asked where I stand on Genetically Modified (GMO) food because I am vegan. People on both sides of the debate are usually disappointed to hear me say, “I do not have an opinion. I am not a food scientist. I do not have degrees or extensive knowledge in chemistry or genetics and I don’t accept pop journalism or good camera work and narration as truth at face value.”

The value of living for yourself, though, is straightforward. Living for yourself means living for your Self. You can not rely on the esteem of others to build your “self”-esteem any more than your car’s engine can rely on fuel from other cars to run itself.

The nice thing is, applying the other 4 tips I mentioned at the top of this blog basically do the steering for me. Living for yourself starts with keeping your word as a matter of integrity–the essence of being true to one’s Self. Staying active ensures the machine of your body is able to continue providing good feedback to your brain. Eating plants instead of animals is the fundamental choice of Life over Death (no matter from which side you look at it) and the first step to morality and building ethical character. Being curious enough to ask questions and avoid assumptions, “Why do I think that? What if everything I have ever heard is not true? How does that work? What if I do this?”, helps provide the foundation for making decisions and living a life that is truly yours, beholden to no one else’s ideas, shame, guilt, willful ignorance, or self-destruction.

 

Today’s Lesson: Live your life. Live YOUR life. Or, think about it this way: if you are not living for your Self, then who are you allowing to live your life for you?

 

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Why I Gave Up Holidays and Birthdays

Each year, I find more and more people are following this trend for many of the same reasons, and each year I meet new people who want to know why I choose not to celebrate holidays or birthdays. This has been posted before, but it is worth re-iterating for the curious…

 

I understand why people like me are perceived as cold and insensitive for having strong moral fortitude. It is not always easy for me. However, it is, I think, the burden of becoming Human—of seeing something which others choose to ignore because it is less difficult to live a dictated life than a consciously chosen one.

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HAPPY(?) BIRTHDAYS

Birthdays are an obviously ubiquitous ritual most everyone accepts (or even demands) conformity to, but I rarely meet people over 30 who authentically look forward to birthdays and growing older.

We complain about the stress of gift-giving (for birthdays, weddings, Christmas, bar-mitzvahs, etc.) while at the same time we are told holidays are joyful, merry, and happy. I know I am not alone in saying it is often difficult—maddening—to find a gift for your parents, in-laws, or spouse. There is fear of judgment, criticism, or suspicion of false platitudes. Will they really love the gift? Is it the right size? The right brand? Are they going to think you are cheap? If you have not spent “enough”, will they worry you are in financial trouble or think you are ungrateful for all they have done for you? If you spend too much, will they feel bad about their (cheaper) gifts to you? Will they return the gift or tuck it in a drawer never to be seen again, or will they feel obligated to display the gift in case you visit? Do they already have this gift, or did you buy them the same thing last year? Did somebody else already think of this gift and beat you to the punch?

Children and young adults aside, I think most people are not particular to holidays. I have often secretly resented having to stretch my budget for gift-giving to friends, the children of friends, my family, in-laws, co-workers, bosses, etc… It can be made worse when several holidays or birthdays occur in the same week or month (Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s is a quadruple whammy to the budget for many families). I have dreaded my own birthdays for the stress I know they have afflicted on others (budgetary and otherwise), and knowing my gratitude can not match their sacrifice. Let’s face it. If I was that excited about a gift, or if it was that important to me, then I probably would have bought it already.

 

OFFICE PARTY

Consider the office workers who either barely know, or barely like, their boss but are inclined to pander compliments on birthday cards filled with generic non-substantive prose (“Have a great one!”; “Happy B-day!”…even though the card already implies that…, or my favorite—the simple, nondescript signature of someone whose face will not be remembered when the card is dug out of a box ten years later). I know some people will protest, but I firmly believe the boss does not really care about the office gift, the office party, or getting older as the life he dreamed of disappears into the career void he probably accepted over following his dreams. The employees, mostly, do not really care either. Employees are pressured to share their money for a collective gift that will likely be unappreciated, except in false graciousness by the boss—“Thank you everybody; I have always wanted a…one of these… things. That’s exactly why… I… never bought one.”

It seems trite to point out the money the employees pitched in was earned by sacrificing time out of their lives to pander to the whims of the boss and his peers. That is not gift enough?!? Are we bosses so vain we require a material token of worship on top of taking their very lives from them? I do not accept that or want it over my head. I do not want gifts from my employees. I employ them to make money for me in exchange for helping them make money for themselves. It is insane that I should then expect them to spend their money on me.

I am sure many employees who are genuinely friends with their bosses do give thoughtful gifts. The same is true of family and friends, but it is, to me, shameful this sort of obligatory worship is required on top of whatever we do to express gratitude, camaraderie, or kinship every day. Setting aside that holidays like birthdays should be deeply personal and private affairs, why should anyone else know (or care) on what day I was born? It is really only a matter between me and my parents–and frankly, I am not that interested to be reminded each year of how I came to be born.

I say by conforming to the ideology of birthdays and holidays, we let a very large and out-of-control media machine dictate how we live our lives.

 

Celebrating birthdays and holidays obligates me to allocate time for Love and Family the same way I make time for tasks such as laundry and buying groceries. Should I let Hallmark and Walmart mandate when and how I show affection or appreciation for others? Should I let a national jewelry chain declare how much money sufficiently shows my love for my companion—is it 3 months salary? If I only spend 1 month’s salary, does that mean I only love my mate one-third as much as I should?

This system of blind tradition diminishes precious time to being no more than mandatory social proceedings. I resent being told when and how to love others, and how much is an acceptable amount of my hard-earned money to spend on someone. I resent being told how much time I am expected to spend proving my love in worship of other people. Why should I celebrate a birthday instead of a birthmonth or a birthyearMaybe I can decide how much time I wish to spend celebrating somebody’s life, on my own, and why on earth would it only be one day, once per year?

 

In short, I resent assumed control of my life. Everyone should.

Because I care for my family and friends, I wish them to be successful. I wish to see them enjoy the rewards of their hard work by spending their precious money and time on themselves, as they see fit.

 

A MARKETING MEDIA MACHINE

Holidays and birthdays in this context are a sham to fleece pockets and swindle people of what they have legitimately earned. Businesses and marketing media push holidays and birthdays to promote their profitability. They have no interest in protecting yours.  However, if I save up and buy for myself what I want when I can afford it, and if I do not obligate others to buy things to please me, then everyone’s  profitability is protected. I get what I want (because I have more of my money to spend on myself instead of buying gifts for others). Others get what they want (because they have more of their own money to spend on things that are most important to them without having to buy me and everyone else gifts). Businesses get what they want (the money keeps coming in, and even better, businesses can focus on creating and marketing things people really want instead of the hordes of plastic junk tchotchkes that fill stores every season–who really needs, and is hoping somebody buys them, an electric tie rack?).

When your time and money belong to you, and my time and money belongs to me, nothing more is expected or required of anyone… as it should be.

 

BESIDES, WHAT ARE WE REALLY CELEBRATING?

Most people and businesses do not know the origin of  the holidays they are celebrating or promoting (or, let’s be honest, pushing). The public is willingly conned through inducement of guilt and status discrimination in the name of altruism, for the profit of one party—whoever is pushing the event.

Personally, I would rather not spend time with friends or family who insist on “caring” for me by making me share in a cult dictated by something they never sought to understand. Think about this… if you really cared for someone, would you expect to trade trinkets whenever Target runs a bunch of commercials, or would you instead plead with the person you care about to keep the pay she earned rather than spend it frivolously on gifts you probably do not want or need? I wish my friends and family preferred to spend their hard-earned money on themselves and would allow me to enjoy watching them relish in the fruits of their own success, rather than giving their pay to me. What could make me happier than watching my loved ones enjoy their own success? I will take that over the electric tie-rack, another bottle of cologne, or a pair of plaid socks and matching underwear any day.

It is rare to meet people who understand the actual origin or meaning behind a given holiday. It is rare because people who learn the history of holidays often choose not to celebrate a holiday once they realize what they are actually endorsing.

 

Birthdays, for example, are supposed to be a celebration of the day a person is born. Of course, people are born long before they exit the womb of their mother. Forgiving that, at best a birthday is celebrating a random day when someone’s would-be parents probably had casual sex. Our parents had no intention of producing, specifically, the child or children they have (if they were hoping to produce a child at all).

To expect others to celebrate my birthday is essentially asking them to celebrate my parents’ young, and possibly stupid, act of casual sex.

Any other reason I can think to celebrate my birthday is narcissistic. Should anyone have to celebrate the fact I somehow managed to bumble my way this far through life without getting killed? Should I think I am so great, for no reason other than I have not stepped in front of a bus by accident, that everyone I have graced with my presence should be subjected to idol worship of me for at least one full day, every year?

I do not impose the expectation on anyone to celebrate my love of myself. I do not need them to validate my love for me. It saddens me, though, that we are taught it is wrong to love ourselves, and we are bullied into worshiping everyone else.

 

IF YOU CAN’T BEAT THEM… THEY’LL BEAT YOU.

Nonetheless, many friends, family, and acquaintances will insist on wishing me well on my birthday and other holidays. Often, there will be some trickery to have me acknowledge a holiday against my will, dismissing that it is MY WILL (“Just come for the family dinner—no one will mention it’s Thanksgiving to you, we promise…”; “I know you don’t celebrate Christmas, but… Merry Christmas!”; “Here is a hug–not because it’s your birthday or anything…it is just a random hug that happened to occur on the same day as your birthday, tee-hee…”).

I understand the sentiment and the desire to share affection for me, but I nonetheless consider this behavior bullying. I understand what people intend when they wish me Happy Birthday or Merry Christmas. Of course, they believe their intentions are loving, or even pious. However, forcing me to acknowledge birthdays and holidays is not an act of love. It disrespects my conscious value choices and dismisses my intelligence altogether. The intent may not be to insult me, but I am insulted.

 

No one likes to feel bullied.

I certainly understand why people like me are sometimes perceived as cold and insensitive for having strong moral fortitude. It is not always easy for me, either. However, it is, I think, the burden of becoming human—of seeing something which others choose to ignore because it is less difficult to live a dictated life than a consciously chosen one.

 

THE BURDEN OF BECOMING HUMAN

When I first chose my moral stance around holidays, I celebrated the birthdays and holidays of others, but dismissed my own. Celebrating holidays only for others, I thought, did not impose my values on them but still let them have their birthday cake and eat it too. I thought this was respectful to both their value system and mine. I learned there is a critical difference between our value systems, however. Unlike mine, the values of most people in this regard are not consciously selected. Their values are handed-down and accepted without investigation.

I think if a person can not logically defend his or her moral character, then it is not disrespectful if I, having deliberately chosen my moral code, do not acknowledge their lack of one. Clearly, there is no real Easter Bunny. I should not have to pretend there is but I also do not have to point out the logical fallacies of a child who believes in the bunny.

Still, I came to realize that for me to celebrate the birthdays and holidays of others (but not my own) ultimately violates the values of  both  systems.

I am not concerned about violating a fake value system. If I choose to accept the values of my acquaintances and family, though (meaning I celebrate their birthdays but do not allow them to celebrate mine), then it leads to inducement of guilt and unfairness for them. I find people feel it is not fair when you buy them gifts but do not allow them to buy you gifts. Thus, it violates their social premise (everybody gives to everybody). Quickly, the door to a creeping acceptance of their system is forced open. They feel compelled to provide, somehow, gifts or favors in return for my gifts.

The problem is the bullying never stops in this system. It can not stop because we are well-trained to feel guilty about receiving without giving in return.

A violation occurs on my side, as well, because I accept the bullying (I still do, sometimes, because it is simply too taxing to fight it on all fronts, all the time). It is so ubiquitous I must eventually allow small tokens of appreciation, if for no reason other than to relieve family and friends of their sense of debt. This means indirect submission to the bullying on my part, and again, opens the door to creeping acceptance.

There is another difference regarding trying to uphold my values while not violating theirs. The difference is I do not bully others to accept my values. I do not insist people stop celebrating their birthdays and holidays if I do not celebrate mine. I do not push my philosophy onto others; in fact, I am typically reluctant to explain my choices, except in brief quips to move a conversation forward, or in essays like this. Most people are not that interested (it is too much effort to stand against a tsunami of tradition).

It is interesting to me, however, that in the broadly accepted system of piousness, it is okay to bully me into following the whims of others, but in the deliberately chosen values of my philosophy, I do not demand the religious or altruistic to check their belief in holidays or God (Allah, Vishnu, Jehovah, whomever) at the door when they visit me. I do not demand or expect a token gift of worship if they happen to visit on the day I was born, however many years ago that may have been and whether they were actually at my birth. There is an irony to the preaching of togetherness, kinship, and tolerance by those doing the most bullying.

Of course, I recognize the challenge clear and logical thinking poses. To be fair, I took more than 30 years to come to these very basic conclusions and guidelines I now use to remind me (how) to live. That said, birthdays, holidays, ritualistic and religious traditions deserve to be tested and judged.

 

It is up to each man to bear the burden of becoming human or walk blindly into tradition and circumstance.

 

Happy (_____)day to me.

 

 

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How to Live With (Emotional) Scars

During a bad break up, try not to cut off your nose to spite your face.

***

I saw that a friend’s marriage ended because her spouse cheated on her a short time after their wedding. Part of her revenge was to excise everything to do with him from her life, including deleting all their pictures together.

This seems to be standard protocol when good relationships have bitter ends, but it saddens me to think someone would invalidate a huge, important swath of their life to trade it off for being bitter about that part of their past for the REST of their life.

I have been in relationships that ended badly (including a marriage that ended very badly) but I do not begrudge any of my partners their faults or mine (and I certainly have plenty).

None of us were handed a manual titled, “This is How to be the Perfect Human Being”. I am not absolving anyone of their bad choices, only saying it is not worth spending my life pretending their bad choices were mine or that mine were theirs. When we take emotional revenge on a partner who cheated, for example, then we also damage our own well-being by invalidating any part of the relationship that was good. The good memories happened. Why would we be so quick to destroy them yet still cling to the bad? We are clinging to the bad, of course, by taking revenge on the good.

I am happy for the happy parts of my past relationships. I would not want to lose those parts of my life and secretly or publicly hold onto the bad parts. It is foolish to pretend part of my life did not happen just as it would be foolish to pretend there is no scar on my left hand from when I cut it when I was twelve. Everyone can see the scar, even if I deny it. The scar is part of my past, part of my story, and part of what makes me who I am today, even though I regret that moment! Our emotional scars are the same way. People see them even if we pretend they never happened. We just look silly for pretending.

Of course, I understand the need for catharsis when we have been emotionally wounded, but I would rather find that in a positive, healthful way, like therapy or exercise or writing my feelings out or just taking time out of my life to sort through those feelings and heal for a while.

I can understand keeping your past out of sight as a matter of being respectful of both your ex and your current partner, but we do not yet live long enough, I think, to delete years of our lives because we are pouting.

 

Today’s lesson: Emotional pain works like physical pain. When you are hurt, take time to heal and when you are better, move forward. Do not, though, take revenge on your own past and spend the rest of your life living there while pretending you are not. It is okay to acknowledge both happy and bad times in your life. As humans that did not come with instructions, we all have happy, sad, and bad times. Until we can live forever… we do not live long enough to live bitter.

 

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Time to Die, Part 2 (of 5)

If you knew you could never die, how would you live?

 

I believe death will be cured within a hundred years. That may sound optimistic but consider that we have already mapped the human genome and are closer to mapping and understanding the genetic structure of our brain. As computer technology progresses and storage becomes increasingly cheap and widely available, I think the day will arrive when we can essentially upload our consciousness and genetic make-up to the cloud.

Imagine just a little, further, though, that technology will be so powerful in just a hundred years that your mind and the details of your body are constantly and automatically being backed up on a server somewhere, wirelessly, without you having to do anything.

You step in front of a bus or drown in a swimming accident and your last data copy is instantly downloaded into a 3-D genomic printer at your home. You die, only to open your eyes and find you are completely safe, in a new, but identical freshly made body.

Crazy, right? But nearly every piece of technology required to make that happen exists in rudimentary form today. Cloning, Bluetooth and WiFi, data storage, 3-D printing, and DNA mapping are all here now. What will those technologies look like after being refined another hundred years?

I probably won’t live to see death disappear from humanity, but my little brother or his children or his grandchildren might.

What will happen when essentially no one dies anymore? Will we all live as cynics, losing the optimism brought on by appreciating the fleetingness of life? Will we move ever forward with unlimited time to learn and develop, or will we slide backward, knowing we can always get to important stuff later? How long will fearful religious zealots, corrupt politicians, and greedy corporate entities force us to keep death around when the technology arrives to eradicate it? How much will it cost at first and how long until it becomes affordable for most everyone? Will it be the end of money as a means of trade? Think about it; of what use will money be when time becomes unlimited? What will it mean for managing Earth’s resources?

I assert the future is not that far away. We should be thinking about it now.

Today’s lesson, then, is obscure but still buried in here: if you never had to die, how would you live? (And also, why aren’t you living like that now, anyway?)

 

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