Thursday, September 29, 2016

Off-Script in a Scripted World

So this is the prototypical example of everything wrong with my life and my world:

I walk into the post office, set down a package, and say "priority mail, please; nothing's fragile, liquid, perishable, caloric, or depressing," and the clerk glares back at me with unbridled seething hatred.

I didn't expect peals of uncontrollable laughter or comped return-receipt. But, Jesus. Those who decline to follow scripts - who try to relieve boredom by injecting surprise and humor - are inevitably punished for our efforts. No wonder everything's so boring, unsurprising, and humorless!

My ideal epitaph: "The World was Margaret Dumont"

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Nightmares Only Scary at the Time

Every 20 years or so, I have some extraordinarily terrifying nightmare that's completely inexplicable in retrospect. I try and try but can't remember why I was so terrified.

At age six, I dreamed of a small pile of sand growing rapidly into a larger pile of sand, of its own accord. I woke up with a start, ran to my parents, screaming that the "Sooks" were coming. They asked me, naturally, what "The Sooks" were, but I couldn't articulate it. Yet I knew, with extraordinarily clear conviction, that they were a genuine peril. To this day I remain slightly on guard for the Sooks. I'm pretty sure I'll know them when I see them. In fact, in my mind, I'm only 90% recounting a cute childhood mystery. A part of me feels I'm doing crucial work by disseminating this warning.

When I was 26, I dreamed I had died, and gone to the holding place, where I watched the tally of the newly deceased rapidly roll by. I caught, almost by accident, my own name as it flashed by amid all the others. Nothing special. No asterisks. Just the name, done and gone. I woke up inconsolable, in hysterics. Which was very strange. I'm just not someone who cares about stuff like that. My will stipulates cremation without a service. I was a little famous for a minute, but didn't like it. I don't fear death, nor being forgotten. As with the Sooks, I've frequently tried to revisit the dream, but can't retrigger the response (this somehow makes it even more horrifying).

Last night I dreamt I was in the house in which I'd grown up, and discovered a secret door hidden in plain sight. This has been a fixture in many of my dreams - hotel rooms with overlooked massive extra wings, rooftop crawl spaces that keep expanding, wonderful restaurants just outside peripheral vision in otherwise familiar suburban housing developments. But in this case, I felt like my dream world had collided with my waking world. Screaming with terror in the dream, I tried to explain that I'd often dreamt stuff like this, and now it was REALLY HAPPENING. Then I woke up so discombobulated that I considered calling an ambulance.

A nightmare antidote (from this posting): "If you're plagued by nightmares full of scary monsters, the trick is to love the monsters (this was surely the original intent behind giving children teddy bears)."

Hmm, come to think of it, that's also the new Hillary Trick!

Then there's also the Metta Sutta ("Words of Love"), a Buddhist prayer for courage and safety making use of my flipping technique:

With a boundless heart
Should one cherish all beings:
Radiating love over the entire world
Spreading upwards to the skies,
And downwards to the depths.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Hillary Clinton's Beatific New Smile

I've been reading mountains of punditry on last night's debate, but nobody's made the slightest effort to account for Clinton's other-worldly presence. She wasn't angry, nor strident, nor did she recede into passivity. Feminine, positive, warm, happy-seeming, and yet assertive. Something, obviously, was up!

It was easy to spot the hack. She'd been coached to look at him with love...above/beyond what he was actually saying. She was projecting some long-lost beloved friend or relative known to say troubling things but who was nonetheless loved by her. The beatific smile was genuine, not strained. No stridency or superiority or harshness. Well, maybe a little superiority, but much better than usual.

Usually, Clinton dons a mask, but this time she opened up - at least while listening, though she lost it a bit while speaking, which is harder. It was, at long last, the correct approach.

It's also a deep spiritual exercise. Seeing your enemy as a loved one is a profound, advanced move. If you can widen that perspective beyond combat situations, results can be surprising. If she can preserve it while speaking, it'd be transformative. Unfortunately, it takes years. But still, that was a hell of a new trick for this 70 year old to pick up. Impressive!

Looking more broadly, we oughtn't underestimate the use of this rather deep spiritual practice in front of tens of millions of viewers. We may recall this later as an important inflection point (just because it wasn't consciously noticed doesn't mean it wasn't felt). 

It's akin to this.

Loss, Humor and Shakti

I've never been a huge fan of Patton Oswalt (though he shares my undying love for the beloved Trump Leaks Twitter feed), but this short appearance on Conan O'Brien, hilariously describing the repercussions of his wife's recent death for him and his six-year-old daughter, was absolutely beautiful. And it perfectly confirmed my fierce opposition to the notion that there are life circumstances so serious that we're obliged to abandon our sense of humor.

The instinct to turn serious when it hurts is the very crux of how we go wrong. Humor at such moments is not dissociative. It's just humanity's way of restoring some goddamn perspective. It's never "too soon!"

There's a depth to this that's more than just his witty reparte. It's earned - which gives it shakti. That's why it's so deeply moving and inspiring. BTW, if you like this, check out Tig Notaro's legendary "Hello, I Have Cancer."

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Rare Musical Treat

I don't like pop. But Ariana Grande gave an astonishing, inspiring performance the other night on The Tonight Show. There was even a bit of this going on.

Being Bob

Back in the day, I was friends with a brilliant guitarist, who I'll call Bob.

Bob had devised his own harmonic landscape (for non-musicians: the chords he played were unlike anyone else's), and it was a joy to hear him play. He was freshly unique. We all assumed he was "going places".

However I found playing with Bob a frustrating experience. First of all, he used lots of reverb, making him sound like the Voice of God in some cosmic cathedral while I was forced to toot my trombone in the dry sonics of the actual room. And Bob's unique approach to harmony forced everyone else to navigate an obstacle course. As soon as I'd scaled some impossibly dense and puzzling sonic boulder, a fresh impediment was laid in my path. It was exhausting, and I could never comfortably express a musical thought, because there was always some twist.

I'd run his gauntlet, ala Super Mario, doing my best to survive and make do. Fun for kicks, but not something I wanted to make a habit of.

I couldn't be annoyed at him, because I understood that Bob wasn't trying to be a bully. He was just playing the music in his head, which is what we all aim to do. Often, I didn't feel like navigating Bob World. And Bob didn't work much because many others felt likewise. But I was Solieri enough to understand that every musical collaboration means navigating someone else's world, and the distinctiveness of Bob World was a feature, not a bug. Real artists create new worlds.

It took me a while to connect my thoughts, but I've come to realize that while my musical sensibility is much more conciliatory, I am in other ways an annoying Bob.

Most people (I know from eavesdropping!) speak in highly scripted bursts, much as most musicians play the same tired riffs and licks. I'm not saying there's no surprise or provocation, but those things come in tinges, not clobbers. People say the usual things the usual way, adding dabs of personality via adornment: a nuance here, a slightly skewed upshot there.

I get bored with that. And, following the golden rule, I long ago resolved not to be boring. So I rejected the dull same-old and became a conversational Bob.

Of course, no one wants to run a gauntlet. From the standpoint of a Bob, everyone seems sluggish, rigid and stuck. They seem like squares, unable to escape convention. But that's not entirely true. Bobs never understand how specific they are. Having transcended the boring same-old, they assume they're working at a higher level, but they fail to see how they've seized an unfair advantage. You operate in You World. Not their world, and not some greater and more expansive Every World, but the world of your own creation. So if others seem sluggishly unable to keep up, that's not surprising! It's not that you're superior; it's that you've got the reverb, and you're planting the obstacles!

I'd like to say Bob wasn't trying to be one-sided in his music, nor do I in my conversation, but there's an uncomfortable truth. Bob and I share an aversion to comfort. Comfort is the essence of dull uniformity; it's the thing all creativity seeks to overturn (the Gods of Creativity inevitably do double duty as the Gods of Chaos, despite their sincere protests that they're just trying to make things better)

So although I complained, above, that I could never comfortably express a musical thought with Bob because he was forever adding twists, I myself live to add twists. I enjoy other people's twists - so long as there's some give and take, and we're operating at a level of mutual comfort (rarely possible with Bobs, who game the system to stake out a higher ground in order to "be themselves") - but others don't really appreciate twists. They prefer comfort. Creativity abrades.

It's not that they're sheep and I'm clever, it's that they simply don't want to run someone else's gauntlet; navigate my twists. To them, a conversation with me feels like an overbearing imposition of Jim World. (At least this helps me remember this).

I get it. And I'm mortified, recalling my exasperation, to realize I'm a Bob. But at least I have some Jims, who, while weary and exasperated, recognize I'm just playing the music in my head, and who appreciate it even if they don't want to make a habit of running my gauntlet.

Feel free to pass this on to any Bobs in your life.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Evolution of a Perspective

Most human dissatisfaction is the result of asking yourself: What's missing? What don't I have? Who or what is not here? How does my current circumstance fail to measure up to expectations? What about the current moment is imperfect? We are princesses constantly scanning for mattress peas.

None of it has anything to do with what's actually happening (what's happening is what's happening!). It's about indulging a conception of yourself as living in a movie, and viewing your outcomes from the vantage point of the audience, measuring how far circumstances stray from the script as you envisioned it.

It is, quite literally, insane; a narcissistic fantasy world, none of it real. But this is how people with idle time (an unusual human condition found only among the rich, and you - yes, you! - are very very rich) make ourselves needlessly miserable.

I've broken this particular habit; I simply stopped indulging it. The evolution can be traced via the following postings, especially the third one, which was quite a "eureka" (it's helpful to understand that this Slog isn't where I share my knowledge, it's where I get my knowledge, during the process of writing. It's like an oracle):

The Monks and the Coffee
An Adult View on Preference
The Deeper Implications of Holiday Blues
Labeling and Post-Processing
Lasagna and Depression

Once you've found ease in the repose of what's actually happening (opting out of the business of what's not happening), the next step is to find that same ease amid unexpected change. I greatly admire my GPS, which accommodates surprise with infinite equanimity, always calmly "recalculating" as I ignore its instructions. The following are postings about that part:

The Real Secret
The Stories We Tell Ourselves
The Key to Happiness is Rolling With It
Resilience Means Giving Serendipity a Chance (see also the links at the bottom of this one)
Resilience Postscript
"So That Happened"
Pharaoh's Tombs, Movie Theaters, and Consciousnes
...and, most recently of all, The Problem With the Serenity Prayer

It's a lot of reading, and I readily acknowledge that I'm expressing the same point from multiple angles, but the repetition is intentional and useful, because while the points are simple, they're extremely counterintuitive, and if you'll actually put yourself into this in a practical way, rather than ponder it intellectually, you may find your bumpy life more of a ride and less of a torture test.

Getting to the root of it all, in the end, it's about letting go. Because our tight grip never helped in the first place. Consider The Toddler and the Steering Wheel.

FWIW, some of these postings appear to be listed out of order because I've replayed a few of these, which screwed up the posting dates.

Monday, September 19, 2016

What Can I Do to Defeat Trump?

A friend ponders:
"I find myself wondering what I can do as an individual to help try to defeat Trump."
Easy one. Encourage registration and voting. Drive elderlies to polls.

Even in a "safely" blue state like NY/NJ, it's critical that he lose by wide margin 1. to send a message to world that USA hasn't gone crazy, and 2. to remove Trump's ability to say he lost via fraud and cheating.

Lots of of people don't vote because they assume their state is "safe". So consider on a quiet, one-to-one basis (social media is just noise), I'd suggest working to convince apathetic friends, neighbors, and relatives to 1. register and then 2. Vote. Remind them of how British non-voters felt the day after Brexit, after assuming the electorate would do the sane thing, so their vote wouldn't be needed.

I wouldn't even mention Trump. If you persuade a few dozen people to vote and a couple happen to be quiet Trump supporters, fine. Aim single-mindedly to get people registered and into voting booths, period, and leave it there. If you make your message explicitly pro-Clinton or anti-Trump, your voice will be lost amid the political noise (i.e. stating the obvious). In other words, you'll lose the one-pointedness of your message that this time, we all really need to vote.

As a centrist, I like mixed governance, and a certain amount of gridlock, and I wouldn't want Clinton to completely stack the Supreme Court (I'd prefer to see it more or less balanced). But the Republicans are so crazy this cycle, and have been so emptily obstructionist for so long, that I'd like to see Democratic majority in the Senate, as well as a Democratic president, at least for one term.

I may, therefore, donate to DNC (or to individual Democratic campaigns, e.g. the candidate trying to bring down the loathsome Darryl Issa), but not to the Clinton campaign - solely because I don't think more pro-Hillary ads will help. The smartest thing Clinton can do is let Trump be Trump . There's been no indication - in two previous national campaigns where she's squandered wide leads against seemingly unelectable opponents - that a strategy of increasing the visibility of this extraordinarily recognizable figure is the least bit useful.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Einstein's Self-Image

I have no doubt that, in the most private corner of his psyche, Albert Einstein deemed himself a hopeless loser due to his funny-looking hair and disorganized desk.

If you fully grok what I'm saying, and object that none of us are Einsteins, I'd urge you to bear in mind this quote: "Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid." - Albert Einstein

That quotation elegantly addresses my posting about the limitations of individual human nature in my "Manager's Dilemma" posting).

More great Einstein quotes

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Using iPhone as a Bedside Clock

I charge my phone in a stand next to my bed, so I've tried a number of apps that turn the screen into a bedside clock. Unfortunately, they're all way too bright, and if you crank the brightness way down, the time's hard to see.

But I found a $3 app called Disappearing Bedside Clock, and it's perfect. The screen remains dark, but if you wave your hand anywhere near it, and/or tap the surface it's sitting on, the time appears, for a configurable number of seconds before fading back to black. I didn't even know iPhones had these sensors!

You can't set an alarm, strangely, but the developer says iOs handles alarms better than 3rd party apps are allowed to, so he suggests letting Siri (i.e. the native "Clock" app) handle wake-ups. One problem with that is that you're stuck with a 9 minute snooze interval (read this fascinating exploration of that odd interval). Apple won't let you configure it.

My favorite 3rd party alarm clock app is Wake. The problem (to loop back to the top) is that it's either too bright or unreadable. But the wake-up sounds are awesome (here's a discussion of native wake up sound options on iPhone)

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