Wednesday, February 10, 2010

All Things Must End

Alas, this is sad but true. This blog ends. My other blog begins. It'll be roughly the same content, the same philosophical perspective, but with a bit more thrown in and done a bit more frequently. More details on the new blog.

So alas, goodbye blogger...because you suck and wordpress rocks!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Chaos Theory

"Does the flap of a butterfly's wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?"
-Edward Lorenz, American mathematician, meteorologist

DISCLAIMER: This post is going to start off pretty cliche, but stay with me. Just like me, you have no idea where this post is taking you when you start.

What is the purpose of life?

I haven't meditated on this question for a while, but it definitely bears being referred back to, lest we get lost in the day-to-day trials that we end up not fully appreciating. Is our purpose just to be? To accomplish goals? To procreate and simply prolong the existence of our species?

I think our intended purpose changes day to day. For me, from my vantage of my current purpose, I'm pursuing a way of life I want to live day in and day out. Am I working toward this goal? Toward this supposed "ideal"? As I'm progressing toward this horizon, my day-to-day actions have far-reaching effects - effects I cannot begin to realize.

What effect have you had on someone's life lately?
  • Did you cut someone off this morning on your way to work?
  • Have you inspired someone today?
  • Did you not tip your server well this past weekend?

The way I look at it, we have three different types of effect on people: direct, indirect and "chaotic."

Direct effects are the most obvious ones:
  • You made a quick move into the left lane, knowing it's a bit close, but you can't be late for another meeting or you're fired. You see the guy behind you flick you off and think to yourself, "another casualty of war." Shouldn't have been out so late with your buddy last night.
  • Your friend got dumped a couple weeks ago and can't seem to get over it. You take him out to the nearest watering hole, have a few drinks and let him get it all off his chest. You toss him a few motivational words, then suddenly the next day he's a little more optimistic.
  • You're in a rush at the restaurant and take off as soon as you give your server a $20 on a $19.45 check. You don't leave any more cash on the table. Gotta make it to the bar to meet your buddy - he's feeling a little down since he got dumped.
Indirect effects can be traced back to the source, but would require a bit more research than any of us really cares to do on a given day:
  • That guy you cut off on the way to work got so frustrated that he snapped at his girlfriend on the phone when she called a few minutes later to tell him he left his lunch at the house. The shock of his outlash made her cry. Their relationship had been somewhat rocky in the first place - she ends up leaving him a note while he's at work and is gone before noon. She feels free for the first time in years and decides to head to the park with one of her favorite books.
  • That friend you inspired had a little more bounce in his step the next day. Around noon he goes for a walk in the nearby park. He sees a woman reading a book on a bench and recognizes the author on the cover. Feeling a little more confident in himself, he initiates conversation. After talking for a couple hours, they agree to meet up for dinner later that night.
  • That server you didn't tip was short on her rent payment by just a few bucks and doesn't have anybody from whom she can borrow money. The next day her landlord kicks her out of the apartment, as she is already two months late on rent and is short for this month, even though it's only a few bucks.
And finally, we have the chaotic effects:
  • The girl who finally feels free has a date later that night. Someone approached her in the park and she's smitten. She's running late and gets a phone call from an old friend she hasn't talked to in years. She needs a place to stay because she couldn't pay her rent. The girl, being too nice to refuse, offers to let her stay on her couch for a few days. However, she has to go pick her friend up who is on the other side of town. She calls the guy she's meeting at the restaurant and tells him she's going to be an hour late.
  • Your friend you inspired is excited for his date later that night but gets a phone call from her saying she's going to be pretty late. He decides to go back to his house to wait for a bit and makes a U-turn. He didn't see the F-150 before it T-boned him.
  • Thankfully, the server was able to get in touch with an old friend who is going to let her stay on her couch. Her friend comes to pick her up and when they get back to her friend's place they find that her house was in flames. Apparently she had been in such a rush she had left her hair-straightener on and, being perched on the edge of the sink, it fell into the garbage pail, lighting the contents on fire, which quickly spread throughout the house. The server, after making sure her friend is OK, decides to call up her mom, who she hasn't spoken to in years. Her mom comes to pick her up and they quickly reconnect and reforge a strong, lasting bond.
And because the effects don't stop there, your friend who got T-boned was paralyzed from the waist down. The girl he met at the park visits him in the hospital and they begin to date, falling fast in love. They end up getting married and your buddy ends up walking again in time for his wedding a few years later. He writes a book called "My Journey" and it becomes a best-seller, inspiring millions. You attended your buddy's wedding and hooked up with a bridesmaid. You got AIDS.

All because:
  • You cut someone off on your way to work one morning
  • You inspired a friend
  • You forgot to tip your server
And all you may have been doing was pursuing a way of life you wanted to live day in and day out. In short, you caused:

A break-up, a marriage, a fire, an eviction, a car accident, a strong mother-daughter bond, a best-selling novel, huge profit margins for a publishing company and inspiration to millions. Not to mention the fact that you contracted AIDS.

To answer the quotation from the beginning of the post - personally, I don't think it's impossible. The actions that may at first seem to be most inconsequential, the most insignificant...those are the ones that may have the most far-reaching effects. In short, the "butterfly effect."

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Inevitable

"Have the courage to live. Anyone can die."
-Robert Cody, American performer

Why does everybody always get so distraught over the one thing that is certain to happen in life? It's inevitable. We're all currently rolling inexorably toward it. Face it now or face it never in all your ignorance: one day, maybe soon, maybe 50 years from now, YOU WILL DIE.

Kick the bucket. Keel over. Croak. Decease. Expire. Pass on. Sleep Eternally. Perish. Blink for an exceptionally long period of time. Push up daisies. Terminate. Curtains. Pay a debt to nature. Feed the worms. Check out. Demise. Cash in the chips.

However you want to phrase it, it will happen to you. But how?

Burn to death. Drown. Get shanked in prison. Get shanked on the streets. Shot. Stabbed. Sliced. Diced. Drive your car off a cliff. Choke on a marble. Impact death. Cardiac arrest. Overdose. Surgery gone wrong. Alcohol poisoning. Suicide. Poison. Cancer. Bleed to death after being bitten by a shark. Tapeworm. Swine flu. Bee stings. Eating shellfish. Electrocution. Carbon monoxide poisoning. Emphysema. AIDS. Blunt object to the face. Child-birth. Eaten by a bear in the woods.

However you want to phrase the means to your ends, it will happen to you.

Brittany Murphy died at the age of 32. The country is mourning. If you don't think it is, click here. Why?
  • She was so young
  • She was such a great actress
  • She inspired me
  • "It's so tragic!"
I see two problems with the story I linked to: a.) was someone honestly paid to go interview "fans" of Brittany Murphy and get cliche answers regarding her age and family? And that story ACTUALLY appears in my Google feed? b.) Everybody is so damn sad.

People die all the time. Babies die at birth. Soldiers die in war. Millions of Africans die of starvation and poor water quality. Haley Joel Osment gets stabbed outside his school (Pay It Forward reference, just in case you mistakenly thought he really did die...give it time, though). Why does everybody get so damn sad?

The samurai had it right (for the most part). They embraced death. Even welcomed it. They didn't rush toward it in hopes of finding it, but they also didn't run from it out of fear. They believed, and rightly so in my estimation, that the true test of a man's character is faced upon his deathbed. Granted, they also committed a heck of a lot of seppuku, which I don't particularly agree with; but regardless, there was no big mourning process. No crying out in frustration. They accepted their fate and so did their peers.

We need to learn to do that. To accept death for what it is: an inevitability. Brittany Murphy is dead. Let that sink in real nice and deep til you know you won't forget it. Michael Jackson is six feet under - feel that, experience that, let the concept of his death flow through you until you can no longer deny it. Someone close to you died - everyone close to you will eventually die.

Here is a quote from a fan from the site to which I linked about Brittany Murphy:
"This is just tragic. I'm sick of everyone dying. 2009 is the worst year! I am saddened for her family and for the world of entertainment. Brittany Murphy was a find."

If I thought it appropriate to drop the f bomb on this blog, I would do it like this: You are a [f-bomb]ing moron! "I'm sick of everyone dying"? Seriously? Let the fact that "everyone" is dying remind you of your own mortality! Cherish it! Everybody WILL die! To say you're sick of that is akin to saying you're sick of everyone breathing. You're sick of everyone drinking water. You're sick of the inevitable.

Next time you're at a family function, whether you're sitting in a kitchen or living room or playing ping pong in the basement, look at the people around you and imagine them as corpses. Imagine their funeral. Imagine burying them in a cemetery. Imagine them gone forever. How does that make you feel? Once you've felt sad and gotten a little teary-eyed, realize that they are still there. They are still in your life. For the time being, they are alive and well, laughing and full of vigor. Joking with you. Talking with you. Yelling at you. Smiling at you.

But after all the smiles have faded, after all the tears have been cried, after all the songs have been sung, they will die.

Don't tear yourself up over it. Don't mull it over in your head for extended periods of time. Accept it. Embrace it. Love the fact that we're all mortal and our time is limited. If we were happy ALL the time, happy would be the new sad and we would need something more fulfilling.

Death is inevitable for a reason. Discover for yourself what that reason is and you'll find yourself a whole lot happier.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Tiny Indulgences

"I can never bring you to realize the importance of sleeves, the suggestiveness of thumbnails, or the great issues that may hang from a boot-lace."
-Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I bought a 12-pack of Mountain Dew at the grocery store today. Exciting, isn't it? Just stick with me on this one...I normally don't like to drink pop anymore (or soda, whatever you want to call it), but I felt inclined while strolling through the aisles of Giant Eagle. I picked it up about halfway through my aisle-filled adventure, so I had the other half of my shopping spree to ponder my impulsive choice. I hadn't bought a 12-pack of the Dew since college. So why now?

A large part of my evolving philosophy throughout my life has been to notice the smaller happenings, the minute developments throughout any given day; to appreciate the moments that can in no way be replicated by anybody else in any other situation via your perspective. When I graduated high school, and even college, I was not ecstatic. I didn't jump for joy. I stayed on my even keel of free-spiritedness and rolled with it. To prove my small point, here's what I specifically remember from my graduation:
  • The drinking fountain was out of water
  • Not sitting next to Barnes because the usher messed up the count
  • The smell of the girl sitting next to me (she smelled good)
  • The first bad joke of a great keynote speech
  • A soon-to-be co-worker I saw right after I walked
  • Not standing on the right spot when my picture was taken
  • Not moving my tassle over because I didn't want to...it's the small victories that count :)
For those of you who are married (or divorced), what are the things you remember most about your wedding? For those of you with kids, what do you remember most about them growing up? For those of you that have served in the military on the front lines, what do you remember most about a battle?

Sure, you'll have a recollection of the major events in your life, but chances are the major share of them will be lost in the wheel of time as your brain keeps turning and your body keeps moving forward. You'll remember the look your soon-to-be life partner gave you before you kissed on the altar. You'll remember the fear you felt when your kid rode his bike without training wheels for the first time. For the soldiers, you'll remember the first cigarette you smoked after your first gunfight. It's not the grand affairs that you'll vividly recall, but rather the small occurrences that happen within them.

Every day at work, one of my co-workers comes into my office and performs two back kicks. Weird? Maybe. Awesome? Quite. It's a small inside joke between the two of us, and it never gets old. Because one day one of us will quit, get fired or switch departments to where our offices won't be close enough anymore. But the back kicks, for as long as they're there...now that's a memory that will stick with me.

The real memories we make, the important, lifelong ones, belong to the unexpected, to the roll of the dice.

My 12-pack of Mountain Dew is something I remember from my college years. It was a small comfort, a tiny indulgence, and still is. It brings me to a place, much like a song can, that I can be content, if only for a moment, or a few minutes, or an hour.

What's your tiny indulgence? Your distant memory upon which you can reflect and smile.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Live Like We're Dying

"We only got 86, 400 seconds in a day to turn it all around or throw it all away."
-Kris Allen, "Live Like We're Dying"

(I knew where I was going when I started this blog post...just not sure where I ended up. Enjoy!)

One of the most prominent themes in my life, paraphrased at first by Tim McGraw when he spoke those words I first heard at the intersection of Lorain Road and Great Northern Boulevard: "And he said 'One day I hope you get the chance, to live like you were dying.'" Now brought back to light by Kris Allen in his first single. When compared according to quality, we're talking apples and oranges. Funny how two totally different things have the same end-result.

I wrote a short (very short) poem a couple weeks ago:

Live wild, live free
For what has come, let it be
For what will come, will be
Live wild, live free

Is this what it means to live like you're dying? I think it pitifully scrapes the surface, but it's a start. The way I look at it, you just gotta let it go. This is impossibly hard sometimes, but that's why we have the likes of Muhammad Ali to let us know that "Impossible is nothing!" Seriously, just...let...it...go.

It reminds me of a post I wrote more than a year ago: here.

Most anybody can understand the concept of living like you're dying. However, very few REALIZE how to do it. There's a very distinct difference. In order to realize how to live as if your life might end literally any second, I firmly believe you have to achieve Nirvana. But for us unenlightened fools, we can take a look at eastern philosophy (Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism, etc.) for a start. You don't have to buy into it all, but trying to understand it is a good first step.

If you don't want to bother with eastern philosophy, go ahead and try this one for size:

Breathe the stale, breeze-less mid-afternoon air. Watch the cold, naked branches of trees caught in the clutches of February. Feel the cotton sheets as they stick to your sweat-soaked skin while you toss and turn during a sleepless night. Read a terrible book. Smell the worst gas you're significant other has ever emitted. Feel the itch of two-day-old sunburn in the middle of your back. Bend a fingernail backward. Listen to a baby wail in Denny's after you get cold food that turns to ash in your mouth because you're terrified of a phone call you have to make later that day. And above all......

......revel in it. For it won't happen again. You are alive. For such a brief interlude in time. A brief flicker of a candle among a roaring forest fire. That's all you are. Just make sure to burn.

With desire, with passion,
with your hatred for fashion.
With purpose, without answers
no one to help when your hands hurt.

With freedom, self-reliance,
with painstaking compliance.
With direction, with strides,
that stretch a mile wide.

Be powerful. Be humble. Be present.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

A Little Creative Spirit

"The opposite of war isn't peace. It's creation."
-Mark, from the musical Rent

We all have a little creative spirit in us. Whether you consciously or unknowingly tap it, it's there. The hard part is learning how to foster it. How to cultivate it. How to nurture it and watch it grow. And because it's hard is what makes it so worthwhile.

Of one thing I am convinced - you will never accomplish anything noteworthy unless you tap into this creativity and listen to the voice that speaks to you and you alone. This creativity can manifest itself in countless forms - literally countless.
  • A campaign slogan
  • The Post-It Note
  • A marketing plan
  • The light bulb
  • A stand-up comedian
  • A one-liner you create on the spot
  • The cotton gin
  • A new filing system for purchase orders
  • The comb-over (I mean really, who thought of that?)
  • A dick in a box
  • A simple sentence, with all its commas, prepositional phrases and direct objects
  • A dance routine
  • Mathematical equations - bringing to mind the concept of creativity within a set of rules
  • A different way of saying something that's been said a thousand times before
Clear your mind of the useless mental chatter. The creativity will flow through you if you can do your best to stop unconscious thought. It sounds hard because it is. You must learn to think literally of nothing, or at least of nothing besides what you're creating (and even then, limit the number of thoughts).

When I write, I let the pencil guide my hand. I'll begin a scene and have a general idea of where it's going to end up, but the details along the way are decided by the characters, not me. I've had a scene change its course entirely because of one hand motion from a minor character. I've had a good character turn out to be evil because of something she said. And I've had one minor character take on a leading role because I discovered, during a battle scene, that he was in love with the main female protagonist.

Messed up, I know. But each twist and turn happened when I let the pencil in my hand move of its own free will; when I started the idea and ran with whatever popped into this ol' brain of mine. Only because I was able to clear it and focus on nothing but my writing. On nothing but what I wanted to create.

The greatest minds are the ones with original thought. But originality requires creativity. And creativity represents part of the essence of what defines us as human.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Different Paths


"There are many paths to enlightenment. Be sure to take one with a heart."
-Lao Tzu, Chinese philosopher, author of the Tao Te Ching, founder of Taoism

This past weekend I made a big decision (please note I will not tell you what it was - get over it). I made a phone call, did the deed and hung up. That was supposed to be it. I was supposed to be able to walk away from what I did with no cause for alarm. But for the next two hours, my stomach wouldn't stop twisting itself into knots. I was helping a friend of mine assemble a futon and I couldn't concentrate during the simple act of screwing in a bolt, I was in such a daze. Something in my gut was telling me that I did something wrong, that this was something I would lose sleep over, that what I did was not the way things were actually supposed to be. For two hours I let this gut-wrenching continue until I decided to do something about it. I called back and undid the deed. I then proceeded to sleep like a baby.

For some reason, this brings to the forefront of my mind the concept of fate vs. free will. Which line of thinking is the truer?
  • Are we predestined at the moment of our birth with no way to alter our course?
  • Do the decisions we make along life's road alter our destiny, with different paths leading to different end-results based on our actions?
  • Or is there no such thing as predetermined results? Maybe free will, coincidence and luck govern our lives, all actions and reactions based solely on chance.
It's an age-old argument, and one I doubt this blog post will settle.

Why did I get that gut-wrenching feeling that I did something wrong, making me call a second time? I've said this before, but I'm a guy who goes with his gut. When faced with major life-altering decisions, many people make pros and cons lists, debating the benefits and drawbacks of one course of action over another. That's all well and good for the analytical sort, of which I tend not to be. If my gut tells me I should do something, I do it - the same goes for the negative form of that statement. This past weekend, my instincts were screaming at me that I had messed up. So I listened.

I'm a believer of the second above bullet point, myself. I believe there is such a thing as fate, although not necessarily holding to any religious, dogmatic perception of predestination. However, I think you can change your fate when life-altering turning points are encountered. Think of it as a path through a forest. You start off on one singular path, but along the way many paths branch off of that singular one, and even more off of those. The small, everyday decisions don't necessarily turn you down another way, but the big ones can change your course as surely as you were born: what college you attend, what jobs you take, how you treat your body, what friends you associate with, who you date, who you marry and so on and so forth.

The gut-wrenching feeling I got after I made that first phone call was an indicator to me that I should not have done what I did. That I pissed off the cosmos and altered my fate, but not for the better. Hence, the second phone call.

I am meant for something, just as you are. Maybe I'm fulfilling that "destiny" as I write this blog post, or as I drive to work every day, or as I talk to my girlfriend at night. Maybe I'm just ambling along toward it, not having fulfilled my full purpose. Regardless, I'm going to listen to my gut/heart/instincts - whatever you want to call it - and trust them to guide me along my journey.

And during the journey, I must continue telling myself to "be present."