How about help? You can only help yourself if you admit that you need help. And we all need help in an roundabout way, because we need people. Even shut-ins like myself (especially shut-ins like myself). But what is it about the idea of self-help that is so elusive, so prickly, while the idea of doing better, feeling better, looking better is considered an ideal. I think a lot of the disparaging looks given towards self-help come from the quiet confidence of having simple answers. I completely get it. The real truth about being a human person in this beautiful chaotic world, is that we quite simply don't know what's going on. Every day we learn more and more about the science, the mathematics, even the social tendencies of our great smashed up globe and the fuzzy little people on it. And every day we learn how much we cannot know. And yet the upturned noses towards self-help heroes are particularly problematic when we look at the open-armed embrace of the newest, bestest diet that stigmatizes food, offers work out short cuts and promises to save you time and money. ITS SO EASY. These are two sides of the same coin it must seem. But I must beg to disagree.
A few years ago, I picked up a little project called 100 days of happy, or some such thing as one would take in a stray, with care without knowing why. I may have even written about it here before. The project consisted of taking a picture (or in my case, writing a few hundred words) of/on something that makes you happy, for 100 days. I can go on forever w/r/t the elastic nature of the word happy, but it is a good cue for writing. And as it were, I've been thinking about the word happy quite often recently. In Mike Mill's new film, 20th Century Women the mother's response when asked if she's happy is (to paraphrase) "asking if you're happy is just a great shortcut to being miserable." The punchline is sharp and wry and it says a lot about the character delivering it. But as I get older, I find myself a little more in line with that sentiment. Obsessing over happiness is not directly related to finding contentment (obsession does not tend to lead anywhere warm and safe). The hounds hunting happiness are not necessarily there to help you look down and examine what you have, and often the hunt for self approval is actually about others. To jam one more quote in here, let's hit up the father of our national parks, Teddy Roosevelt who called comparison "the thief of joy."
I had imagined looking at my 20's from a few different angles in these coming weeks, but honestly that sounds a little boring to me (and I am me). But in this very bizarre and alarming time in America, I do want to talk about one more aspect of my 20s. One that is very important to me. Learning. Not book learning precisely, but the kind of learning that comes from slowly dissolving your egoic, always-right (correct) brain. The learning to overcome my intense addiction to telling lies and exaggerating stories. My conquering of my complete know-it-all stance toward conversation, replaced with a more conciliatory, receptive, listening version of myself. Even someone who, when they know they are right, can simply let it go (this one I'm still working on). Does any of this make sense? Let's delve in.
I'm going to turn 30 this year. And every time I think of it (once I get over the initial shock) I remind myself that I've been looking forward to this age for quite some time now. Which may sound a bit odd, unless you know that I have felt 30 for the past five years. I've always been a dinner party and prep your meals for the week kind of guy. And now that I've exercised my self-care muscles for a few years, I'm awfully excited for my 30s. Though I won't be able to make the much coveted Craftactular Magazine's 30 under 30 (and not just because I just made that magazine up), my twenties will go down as a truly wonderful time of experience, experiments, friendship, love, and learning. And after my declaration of intention for this my thirtieth year on this blue-green world, I thought I'd expand for a few weeks on my roaring twenties.
Happy collection of days we shall heretofore call 2017. What will it be like? How will we cope? How will we fair?
This is the year my passport expires. The year I will finally get a New York driver's license. The year I'll fill my savings and retirement accounts and finally ground myself in this slippery city. This will be the year that Shipwreck attends its first CRAFT SHOW! This is the first full year my family will experience without my father. This year I will seriously cash in on some of my frequent flyer miles (Philly, Louisiana, Texas, Iceland, Japan[?]). I have ambition in the more general swaths of life, too. This is going to be my year, if I have to take it by force and bend it to my will. I will no longer wait for the right time and fairest conditions. I'm going to ask for what I want. I'm going to stand up for myself and what I need.
Though I think it is easily, obviously the most important problem facing the country and world today, I am not yet ready to write my feelings about climate change. But the shuffling of a very obstructive, unpredictable deck of cards does exemplify the powerful question in the months and days before an ensuing panic attack of an administration. How do you separate your individual anxieties from those of the world at large? My mom is coming into town for Christmas this year, and I plan to ask her, having lived through the Cold War and Nixon, how you deal with the looming threat of avalanche, especially when you've just buried your father and are trying to remember how to love and take care of yourself, if not in earnest for the first time.
Isn't it wonderful to think of how many books were written up to the present moment? It used to be a cause of great anxiety to me. The books I would never read and the vault of secrets sealed against me. How could I re-read a book when there are untold millions of writers I've never even heard of working to speaking from their heart, their head or somewhere even weirder and less definitive. I've sinced calmed down a bit, and am now comforted by it. I will never run out of books to be excited about. Never cease to be challenged by ideas and stories I know nothing about. It is puts me at ease. Not to drown but to float on an ocean of collective experience and effort. To ease out on the bay of unread books is the same comfort in the behind the scenes. It feels similar to me as the peace at the idea of the end of mankind coming from the hands of mother nature herself. To me it seems both a fitting end and one that would tip toward the side of justice. But more on that next week. Today I'm talking about my first love, reading.
Sometimes when I sit down to write for this blog, there is a moment where I pivot from doing all the things that precede writing (setting up my desk at the library, sending a text, logging into my web editor, setting a timer) into the downward pass of writing. Some days I know somewhat the trajectory before I sit down to work, but many days it's all fog. But as I settle in, I get a back slap that propels me to start typing. It says, "Worry about what to say after you read what you have said." This push is so automatic to me these days, that it is only today that I remember that this diving into the fog on the regular is something I developed when I was still in high school.
It's been a trying couple of weeks, and I took a little respite from writing here, so that I could accept what the coming four years in America are going to look like. But at some point you must relinquish feeling betrayed by the things you cannot control, no matter how ugly they are and looming they feel. I have rearranged my budget so that I can donate $100 a month to organizations that will fight the dismantling of human and planetary rights. I may attend the march on the inauguration. I plan to become more involved in politics than I ever imagined for myself. But after that, it's just about getting on with things. Especially because it is hard.
I'm sitting in the Windsor Terrace library tinkering with my budget, and thinking about how odd it is that I am just learning this skill in 2016, almost 30 years into my life. Because in the past, though I kept up with what I was spending and what I was making, I just wasn't including the totality of every single transaction, in and out. Which is the only way to budget successfully. This is painfully obvious upon writing. But I'm doing it! And though I failed miserably in September, my October budget is looking very much in the green with only one week to go. Savings account, I'm already very proud of you, but one day soon, if I can stick to this thing, I imagine you'll grow into quite the heartthrob.
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