Feeling Far Away

It was one of those nights when you feel far away from everything, like you’re drifting through an emotional outer space every bit as dark and empty as the real one, but closer; when you’re walking around your neighborhood with your five-year-old dinosaur aficionado before bedtime and he’s using a “power stick” he found in the road to beat back a charging T. Rex and you run around the elementary school to “headquarters” where you’re safe and you wonder how it is that this kid exists. You’re five years in now. You haven’t wrapped your head around it any more now than that first night when you heard he was coming and you were elated and dizzy and you knew life was going to be different but had no idea—could never know—just how much.

It was one of those walks where you hear your shoes crunch the first fallen leaves, and in the late summer air the cicada song no longer plays but the crickets croon from weary lawns. The boy’s stick scrapes the asphalt behind him and cuts a dissonance into the calm. You realize, even with the crickets and the rocks and the leaves and the footsteps, that silence looms. It bears down upon you.

With no forethought you stop and look at him. “I want to tell you a secret that’s not so secret,” and he stops and stares back at you. The cricket sings. “It’s that I want to be close to you for the rest of my life. I want to always be buddies and friends.”

“I want that too,” he says.

And then you say something his young brain can’t follow:

“Someday, when you’re a grownup, I’m going to do things that annoy you.”

“Why?” he asks, frowning a little.

You chuckle and say, “I won’t try to. It’s just a thing that happens in life. You’ll be my age and I’ll do things that make you say ‘why does my dad do that?’ But I hope you’ll still love me and still want to be my friend.”

“I will,” he says, lifting his stick and thrusting it at an imaginary raptor.

You laugh and look both ways before leading him across the street and pretend you aren’t weeping inside from the loneliness that hangs over life like a pending autumn.

One of those nights where you wave off sad realizations like horseflies. Like that winter is coming and there’s not a thing you can do to slow it, and though you have food and shelter and warmth, you still hope you’re able to survive. We’ve conquered the elements without; the elements within still threaten. Realizations, like that your kid is changing and he doesn’t ask you to play with him at lunch anymore like he used to every day. After enough times being told no, he has learned better. Realizations, like if we stay in this house much longer I’ll be sitting at our table in the same dining room in the morning and I’ll look at the chair where he used to sit across from me and I’ll wonder why he doesn’t visit more. The quietness which is so scarce now will be ours in abundance then, and we’ll wonder how it all could have gone so fast—when day after day we heard dinosaur noises without refrain in his every waking moment and all of a sudden it’s gone. He won’t ask if he can have a graham cracker or watch more TV. He won’t stomp through the backyard, roaring until our ears hurt, whining when we say it’s time for bed. His face won’t ignite when he sees me drop to my knees to be a Triceratops. Realizations, like that the very things I find a nuisance now will be far away treasures I covet.

It was one of those nights when, lying in the den in quarantine, isolating even from your wife because you tested positive for COVID, you begin to wonder if the prolonged feeling that God isn’t there isn’t more than a feeling. You begin to realize that faith will never be to you what it once was, and that maybe that’s a good thing. This brings a comfort, but it makes you feel alone. Alone in this world with the thoughtlessness of all people. Alone with your inadequate self, feeling thirsty and unclean.

It was one of those nights.

In that space you drift, and had you gone to the moon itself, you wouldn’t be lonelier. From this cosmic distance you stare at the planet of your life and ponder that in a universe so black and severe there should be a circle of color as meaningful as this.

Restraint

Restraint is a key factor in all the art that really moves me.

Example: music. If a guitar player goes nuts for an entire song and pays no attention to dynamics, I don’t care how technically good he is or how much he shreds, my emotions are dead.

It’s not just art. When a person tries too hard to make a good first impression and smothers an organic conversation with self-assertion, I start looking for an exit.

Underdo it. Leave people wanting more. When you leave it all on the table, you take away the suspense and people lose all reason to pay attention.

How I Lost 106 Pounds

  1. Exercise – Full body exercise 3x per week. I used a Total Gym, yes, the iconic Chuck Norris bench machine. I did the same routine every time: 18 exercises, performed back to back with no rest, 15 reps each exercise. It was intense, meaning a discomfort level of 8/10. Each workout took about 20 minutes.
  2. Diet – No sweets. No snacks. No sodas. None was easier than some. No up-sizing my orders. No second plates. I didn’t count calories. I didn’t even know what macronutrients were. (A cup of tea with a little honey before bed was the exception to the no-snack rule.)
  3. Eat Slowly – I only ate until the hunger was gone. Sometimes I was still hungry when I finished. It’s one thing to feel full, it’s another thing to feel satisfied. It takes a while for a meal to set in. If you’re full the moment you swallow your last bite, you’ve eaten too much. If you’re still a little hungry when you swallowed your last bite, you’ll probably be satisfied in a few minutes.
  4. I stuck with it. – It only took 8 months (two 4-month periods) of unwavering consistency.
  5. I was motivated. – This is the most important factor. Our problem with weight loss isn’t a lack of information. I was happy to not feeling full. I was happy going to bed mildly hungry. I didn’t consult myself on whether I wanted to workout, I just started it. How does one get there? It’s different for each person. My first period of weight loss happened the months leading up to my wedding. My second period happened because our new health insurance had to charge us an additional $80/mo. due to my waist measurement. In both of these situations, there was no possibility of failure in my mind. I was all in.

Everything I did was successful for weight loss. My new goal has been to build muscle and lose fat, which has proven to be much more difficult than weight loss in general.

There’s much more to say about this and I hope to talk about it more in the future.

Bookstores Make Me Wonder What I’m Doing With My Life

Walking into a bookstore isn’t simple for me. It’s therapy, and it’s my favorite kind of store, but it also raises existential questions, like:

How many books am I going to read before I die? 

I once asked an associate at Barnes & Noble how many unique titles were in our location. He said about 9,000. If I wanted to read every book in my local Barnes & Noble, and if I live 70 more years, that would equate to 128 books per year. More than ten per month.

What if I only live to be 85? That would require a pace of 163 books per year. It’s already clear. I’ll never read the amount of books in a single store.

My realistic pace is much slower. I’ve read more books this year than ever before, averaging 3 per month. This would put me at a humble 1,980 books when I’m 85.

Standing in the Barnes and realizing that I will only be able to read a quarter of this amount of books in my life if I’m supremely diligent illustrates what I‘ll be able to do with my time, or more painfully, what I won’t.

Not all of those 9,000 unique titles interesting or even good, but some of them are time-tested art which millions of people have found insightful on the human experience.

If all but the good stuff was thrown out, leaving a purified book store of only the best works, this still doesn’t solve all my problems. This is just one bookstore! How many other books are in this world that would illuminate my understanding and leave me speechless? There are words on a page in a book right now that would shift the course of my life, and I will never read them.

I mourn this. I’m greedy for knowledge. I want it all. 

Then I calm down and start to wonder something else.

Which books will I end up reading? 

How can I possibly determine which ones to put on my tiny list? Fortunately, people have been thinking about this for a long time and making lists. But which list?

The Art of Manliness has a good one. They also have a series of posts on the Libraries of Famous Men, like Theodore Roosevelt. A writer on Medium, Joel Patrick, pulled reading lists from the Harvard Book Store, Amazon, the Art of Manliess list above, and 5 other great sources, and hired a virtual assistant to comb through them and find the overlapping books. You can check out his ultimate, refined list here. I’m currently trying to follow this list, but I keep getting distracted with books that are more interesting in the moment.

When I’m standing in the bookstore there’s the thought that towers above them all:

How much work is represented in this room? 

A bookshelf is a skyline. The stacks of books are just as quiet as the view of Lower Manhattan from Brooklyn. For all we know, some of the chapters in those books took as long to write as a floor of a skyscraper took to build. Behind every book is the sweat and blood of an author who showed up to work every day for a long time, which is to say nothing of the life experiences that shaped them from their birth until they picked up their pen.

There the books sit, humbly holding all that knowledge, never shoving it in your face, only beckoning you to search it out. I love the silence of the bookstore, but in that silence I hear the diligent labor of the creators yelling at me and calling me to account.

What am I doing with my life? I grow impatient if a video edit (I create videos for a living) takes 30-40 hours. Do I have it in me to spend months or even years creating something that will for most people only be seen at a distance? Am I capable of the long push it takes to make something significant? Will I ever flip the switch from a habitual consumer to a habitual creator? Not if I waste my time.

Time is the most precious thing we have and we always say we’re trying to kill whatever excess parts of it we find. Giving an hour to a scrolling feed out of mere compulsion is tragic.

As I ponder how significant it is to create a book, how much toil and vision is poured into each one, a counterbalancing thought appears:

Most of these books will be forgotten. 

Some in a few months, some in a few years, some in a few decades. How many will last into the next millennium? Apart from a few best-sellers and classics, most of the books currently in the bookstore are new and by this time next year will have been replaced with more new releases.

Of course, the length of existence isn’t the only measure of meaning. If a book is beautiful, it’s significant. But time is a sieve of importance. Every year that goes by leaves a little less in the memory of the living.

There comes a point when you realize all those mental exercises about what you would do if you only had a year left to live aren’t sentimental. They’re painfully real. Someday we’ll be startled to see that the time we’ve wasted isn’t coming back.

I love bookstores, even if they overwhelm me.

Is Anybody Honest Anymore?

One of my life goals is to be ready at all times to look like a total idiot. I want it to be instinctive to say, “I have no idea what that is, can you explain it to me?” rather than to give the impression I know more than I do.

Isn’t it refreshing to be around people who ask you questions, who listen more than they talk, who aren’t afraid to admit ignorance? These are my favorite people in the world. 

The worst people in the world know it all, and they always make sure you know that they know it all. They would never let you suspect for a second they don’t know what they’re talking about. They would never look you in the eye with a face that says “I respect you and wonder what you have to teach me.” 

This is unfortunately not rare. The longer I live the more I wonder, where have all the honest people gone? Where are the people who are open and fascinated and curious and consumed with thinking about everything and everyone but themselves? 

You can’t find these people on demand, and when you find one, don’t let go. 

But you can be that kind of person, and it’s not as scary as it seems.

When you start admitting that you have no idea how most of the world works—that everything from the electoral college to cooking a good meal seems daunting and confusing—you begin opening up. When you’re open you can learn. When you’re open you’re accessible to people. And you need people, not only to explain things to you when they have the knowledge but to empathize with you when they don’t. They will be so relieved to realize that someone else feels the same way they do.

This breeds connection instead of competition. Everyone feels lighter. We both can breathe. 

Try it: put your ignorance out into the sunlight—paste it across the tallest billboard. Be the first person to say with no embarrassment, “I don’t know!”

All that influence and respect you were trying to get the old way just might fall into your lap.