Friday, May 29, 2020

Unnameable Breakfast

I don't even know what to call this. It's a breakfast bowl that built itself via unconscious direction.

I entered my kitchen.

I poured some yogurt into a bowl.

I added blueberries and banana slices.

I plopped in a couple tablespoons of chunky/crunchy raw almond butter.

I stirred lightly - to swirl, not mix.

I toasted, intentionally nearly burnt, some leftover fluffy whole wheat pita, ripped it into tatters, and threw them on top.


Wednesday, May 27, 2020

The Awesome Humble Stranger

You know the scene in the movie where the humble stranger's true identity comes to light, and it's awesome?

Has anyone, in the hundred years of cinema (and the centuries of literature before that) ever considered that guy's lot in life for the eternity before the big reveal? And, for that matter, what about awesome humble strangers who go to their graves without revelation?

Put yourself in their shoes. Do you internally giggle whenever you're underestimated...for decades? That amused mega-confidence may persist for a few months, but at some point you'll accept the external world's view of you. We're wired to self-calibrate from social appraisal. When evidence conflicts with what we believe to be the truth, we either bend or we break, depending on how tightly we hold on to the so-called truth.

Insanity is the inability to reframe despite clear environmental cues. Perpetually ignoring every social cue while stubbornly maintaining a certain framing is the essence of cray-cray. Even if you're right.

The awesome humble stranger will either have gone crazy, or would long ago have let go of any notion of awesomeness. Either way, the truth comes to feel like a distant daydream, so, by the time the reveal happens, he'll have nothing left. He'll be as confused as anyone else. He won't accept the mission, or the crown, or the acclaim. Rather, he'll grab his bowl and head back out to the street to continue his begging, because dinnertime's coming. Not because he's crazy, but because he's sane.

We become who we pretend to be ("fake it till you make it"), and we pretend to be the person we frame ourselves as being, and that framing is a blend of social feedback, overall general temperament, and, incidentally, actuality.

This is loosely part two in the "Explaining Demented Old Coots" series. The previous explained why people lost in the desert won't eat your foie gras.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Face Masks: The Centrist Result

Moderates on both sides show blind tolerance for the extremes of their own tribe. The other tribe's extremes, however, are sharply observed, and seem beyond the pale. That's what drives people into the "anti"-posture behind all political affiliation these days.

I abhor both extremes, and try to find a sane middle path, which makes me a Centrist. So it's only to be expected that I've got a Centrist viewpoint re: masks.

The assistant manager of my local supermarket goes maskless, standing inches away from cashiers (who don't dare complain) while waiting to switch out cash drawers. I try to stay clear while he swaggers down the middle of aisles. Spotting me, with my mask (always worn indoors), recoiling from his passage, he probably thinks "liberal pussy".

Outdoors, I walk with a neighbor up our sleepy lane. We maintain the required distance, but do not wear masks. Sometimes we pass tremulous neighbors in enormous masks and astronaut gloves, clearly terrified/furious at the transgressive MAGA brutes despite the extra space we politely give them.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Stamps: Economics Judo

As I worked through my Boxes, I stumbled upon my dad's childhood stamp collection from the early 1940s. I was dimly aware that the stamp market had fallen apart (perception of scarcity -> myriad collectors -> flooded market -> no value), but, wow. Afer a couple of solid hours researching his 19th century Imperial Russian stamps, his obscenely inflated Weimar Republic stamps (denominations of 50 million, uh, Weimarbucks?), and other beaucoup-seeming items, I was kind of hoping some would be worth more than five dollars. But nyuh-uh.

I also unearthed first-day-of-issue stamps from my childhood, sent by various friends and relatives of my parents to fund a nest egg for me. But I remain eggless. You see, everyone on Earth figured these things would appreciate into treasure, so everyone on Earth saved them, so they're less rare than toilet paper (for those clicking in from the future, that's a little pandemic humor). It seems strange that everyone missed the obvious economic fallacy, but flocking is a thing. #flockingisathing.

It's all worthless. All these stamps are heartbreakingly worthless:
Sorry, Li'l Leonard....
And all these sets are worthless, too:

All for naught, alas.

The easiest and most productive route of mental re framing (aka flip of perspective) is to turn things inside-out/upside-down. Simply flip it. I once wrote about the eureka that taught me this trick:
When I was shipped off to college, I was given a strange and foreign object: an iron. And since they don't come with instruction manuals, I had no choice but to teach myself to use it. It wasn't long before I discovered the first rule of ironing: you can't iron away a crease. You can reduce it some, but the fabric will always have an inclination to bend there, and there's no changing that, even with the brutest force.

This for some reason fascinated me. I spent time rolling it around my mind. And, eventually, I had an insight, realizing that there is, after all, one - and only one - way to eliminate a crease: flip the garment and then iron to create an opposite crease.

I realized I'd hit upon an essential truth, and have applied it all my life. For example, 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).
So how did I flip the sad result of Stamp Bummer? Think about it! Take a minute!

I bought some stamps! For pennies! It's a buyers I became a buyer!

Sure, I could have simply enjoyed the ones I'm drowning in, here, but they don't do much for me, aesthetically. But check out what I scored (average price, including shipping: $4):

China PRC 1988 Sc. #2157 110th Anniversary of Stamps

China PRC 1987 MNH 1985 T106 Giant Pandas

China PRC 2377 MNH 1991 T167 Outlaws of the Marsh

China PRC 1997-21 Outlaws of the Marsh (there are apparently lots of marsh outlaws stamps)

China PRC 3005 MNH 2000 Spring Festival

Scott 2869 Legends Of The West

I bought these all in "very fine" condition - below the unnecessarily fussy (and marginally more expensive) highest level, but more than good enough for my purposes.

I haven't figured out how I'll display them yet. I certainly won't keep them in a book. They'll go up on a wall, in a cluster. That's why I bought "souvenir sheets", a larger and more showy format, rather than nerdy little individual stamps.

Obviously, I like the Chinese ones. But, for only $7, I also sprung, what the hell, for the Wild West set at bottom. These are impulse-buy prices, and I can always use these to mail stuff - a $5.80 value! This is why American stamps cost a tad more on eBay. Their intrinsic values elevates them slightly from utter miserable worthlessness.

One can afford to be casually extravagant. Were there ever stamps that you liked to use for mailing? Like in the last 150 years? For example, perhaps these Jimi Hendrix ones?
If so, eBay is your oyster. Hundreds of stamp nerds will glumly sell you sheet after perfectly preserved sheet for a nominal premium (even ones you'd assume to be expensive, like Star Wars themes), and then you can thumb your nose at beleaguered philatelists by using them, like a Phyllis Stein, to just, like mail stuff. Too bad for you, suckers!

I've flipped seller's catastrophe into buyer's zeal!

Fixed the Audio

The audio file in yesterday's posting wasn't playing in Chrome browser. I've fixed it. For your convenience, here it is:
I just found a note in one of my boxes, a message-in-a-bottle sent to my future self so he'd remember how kooky it was. In one month, I played with:
  • A flamenco/carnatic/jazz trio in Madrid with Indian tabla drums and Spanish acoustic guitar. Here's a brief sample:

  • (if that doesn't work, click here)
    [etc., etc.]

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Box Break for Music Career Note-in-a-Bottle

I've previously described how ridiculously promiscuous my music career was (setting the stage for my similar food writing career):
"At a certain point in my musical career, after a weekend spent running between a salsa gig in the South Bronx, a brass quintet gig in Midtown, and rehearsals for some weirdo avante-garde puppet thing Downtown, I was feeling satisfied at how differently I'd played in all these places (as I did in the dozens of wildly diverse scenes of which I was a recognized part). I acted differently, too. And talked differently. A typical freelance New York City musician, I was the ultimate chameleon (but I didn't think about this very often; I was too busy doing it).

"When my weekend was over, I hightailed it over to the Skylark Lounge out by JFK airport, a black bar where men wore hats with feathers, to sit in, just for kicks, with one of my all-time favorite jazz drummers (and friends) Walter "Baby Sweets" Perkins, who performed there with his trio. Around 2 a.m., while we took a break (and he practiced paradiddles on his practice pad in the back room), Walter asked me what I'd been up to. I recounted my weekend wryly, ala Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. Walter listened, then looked up slyly. He asked me if this was just another stop on my ride. My eyes widened and I gasped in horror. "Walter, this is home!" I exclaimed.

And I meant it. However, I had to privately acknowledge that the South Bronx salsa gig was also home. As was the chamber music gig, and the avante garde thingamajib. There were many stops on my ride, none of them not "home". "I'm like a whore," I remember thinking to myself more than once in dark moods, "who really believes it."
I just found a note in one of my boxes, a message-in-a-bottle sent to my future self so he'd remember how kooky it was. In one month, I played with:
  • A flamenco/carnatic/jazz trio in Madrid with Indian tabla drums and Spanish acoustic guitar. Here's a brief sample:

  • (if that doesn't work, click here)
  • An (otherwise) all-woman samba band
  • An Irish experimental folk-rock duo with a singer/songwriter
  • A swing band led by a midget pianist (literally) old enough to have once rented a room from Scott Joplin's widow (Shorty Jackson; I'm just out of camera range in this shot)
  • A latin pop gig led by a Brazilian midget heartthrob (Nelson Ned, a helluva nice guy).
  • A rock band - also featuring a harp and cello - created by a Columbia PhD composer
  • A gypsy wake
  • A psychedelic New Orleans brass band (I think that was the week Bob Dorough travelled in from Delaware Water Gap just to sing "Conjunction Junction" with us).
  • A stream-of-consciousness avant-garde duo (with acoustic bass) that deliberately annoyed patrons of an East Village cafe run by a misanthrope (we called the group "Rainbow Love")
  • A group led by an internationally famous painter (Larry Rivers) who owned a saxophone

For a sense of my range (which enabled the promiscuousness), compare the sound sample above with this performance in the early 90s, around the same time as this kooky month.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

The Boxes: Midterm Note

Previous posting
First posting in "The Boxes" series
All "The Boxes" postings in reverse chronological order

A quick observation before I pick up the narrative....

I'm just shy of halfway through the boxes, and something's flipped. It's subtle, but as a veteran reframer, I'm sensitive to mental flips of perspective (I've been working on it since college).

My possessions just became finite.

I don't expect that to mean much to you. It wouldn't have meant much to me an hour ago. But it's an extremely odd way to feel after decades of nebulous blobbiness. I'm now a person with finite possessions. What a relief!

With friends in the Third World, and having spent much of my adult life scraping the bottom American echelons, I am well-aware that downsizing joy is the second most disgustingly indulgent indulgence a Rich World person can flaunt. The top one, naturally, is celebrating having eaten less food and reduced one's weight. America's "working poor" fight perpetual battles against obesity and clutter....and somehow never question their delusions of poverty.

My next projects: wean myself from the unrelenting carnal desire of multitudes of lingerie models (NOT NOW, SABRINA, I'M *WRITING*!), trim down my Ferrari collection, and stay home for a weekend rather than take another time machine ride.

Friday, May 22, 2020

The Boxes: Facile Trashing

Previous posting
First posting in "The Boxes" series
All "The Boxes" postings in reverse chronological order

When I describe the seething demonic piles of “Geez-Idunno” items (things I won’t trash yet don’t need) that have given rise to my Boxes Situation, everyone offers the same suggestion:
"Chuck it all in a dumpster," they suggest, "and don't look back. Pull off the bandaid quickly and be done with it. You won’t remember any of that stuff, much less miss it. Throw the problem away."
"Wallah," as the French say.

The advice is offered like a revelation. It's supposed to catch me off guard and surprise me. But the truth is that we People of the Boxes think of little else. Dumpster apocalypse - along with arson - is our perennial fantasy/obsession. We don't fear it, we yearn for it. But let me explain why it’s a crappy solution.

It assumes that my problem is that I'm clingy and materialistic; I'm over-identifying with my stuff and need to be freed from such bonds. And while I understand why someone might get this impression, it's comically off-kilter.

I'm unusually likely to walk away from this life and go live naked in the woods. If you told any of my friends "Hey, Jim left his keys in his car and a note on his unlocked front door reading "Take It!", and he's striding around a forest in a loin cloth," there wouldn't be much shock. Perhaps mild surprise. They might wonder "Why now?", but probably not "Why?"

Chowhound actually started out as "Jim Leff, The Chowhound", but I pulled myself gradually out of it, which is not how the world normally works.
And I shed my food-crazy persona immediately upon leaving CNET, feeling like Kevin Spacey losing his limp at the end of "The Usual Suspects":

Looks like you need to click into YouTube to watch the clip. Weird.

I have always opted to downshift, my signature move. There's less and less me as I self-combust in my work, and I started out with exhaustive letting go as a child yoga prodigy. Critical chunks can break off while I remain blithe. In short, I'm not someone who needs to restore perspective and loosen his grip. If anything, I could use to tighten up some.

So why hold onto unnecessary stuff? For the same reason I hold onto anything! Because I opt, for now, to keep the house and the car and the life, and I don't throw away my TV or toaster just because I can. I choose to pretend to be this guy in this place with this story, and the house, car, toaster, and TV are a part of are my high school yearbook and press clippings and 3D glasses!

Arbitrarily throwing away significant-seeming things because they're uncategorizable would be just as ditzy as hoarding every object that comes into my possession. I want to avoid extreme solutions and keep pursuing a sane middle ground between mindless eradication and mindless hoarding.

Will we human beings ever learn to react to extremism with enlightened moderation rather than with reciprocal extremism?

Thursday, May 21, 2020

The Boxes: The Bad Room

In the previous installment, I described my multi-decade ordeal of accumulating and hauling a slew of cardboard boxes from apartment to apartment:
They grow as I go, and I'm pitifully unable to organize them. Or go near them. I've tried a few times over the years, and it went poorly, and I've blanked it out. Bad, bad, bad, bad. Bad boxes.
The Boxes had become my Achilles albatross, the embodiment of all failure. So when I was looking for something to work on during this bizarre lockdown - something that would, years from now, make me say "In retrospect, I'm grateful it gave me the opportunity!" - I realized it was time. So I dug in.

I dumped the first Box on my living room floor, and long-repressed issues flooded back. Most obviously: previous efforts had winnowed the chaff...multiple times. No pizza boxes, tissue paper, or non-working cheap pens remained. No obvious toss-outs. Obama used to say that easy problems never make it to a president's desk. Similarly, nothing easily discardable can be found in these Boxes. Every last item has, at some point, enticed me enough to be evaluated, and - very much against my own interest - wind up back in a Box.

None of it is quite enticing enough to be yanked into the center lane of my life, either. No stock certificates or quality screwdriver sets. This is a super-distilled syrup of things I can neither use nor discard, as dense as neutron stars.

But I persevered, working through it very calmly, without agitation or time awareness. We're on lockdown, after all. I've never knit, but I adopted a knitter's mindset of affably relaxed repetition. Tunnel-visioned away from the greater titanic burden of the Box Totality, I zeroed in on the items before me.

Over the years, I'd felt haunted by the prospect of handling every last scrap of note paper, every photo and love letter and business card. But that's just what I did. Knit one, purl two. I did, however, avoid launching into full-scale reveries. I declined to lean back and read all the letters and ancient takeout menus and appointment books. I gave each item respectful consideration, setting aside things requiring further thought or action, and moved on.

Whenever possible, I shot a photo and threw out the original. For example, this NY Press article by Caroline Knapp (a terrific writer who was under-radar at the time and later had a hit book called "Drinking: A Love Story"), which I'd been procrastinating reading for 30 years. The yellowing original is gone, and I have a tidy PDF (first link, above). God bless tech.

The long lonely silence of lockdown fostered this deliberate, patient approach. In the past, I'd felt anxious about giving previous life eras short shrift. But, this time, I wound the wind-up toys and took pleasure briefly scanning my second grade teacher's comments about my autobiography and enjoying my baseball cards as I hunted for valuable ones. I reconnected. This is a key balance: respectful reconnection without endless reveries.

I decided to summarily trash all takeout menus, food clippings and restaurant notes, since they're all over 20 years old. This purge - along with my shoot-and-scrap backup credo, plus a few other trashing mantras which I'll share in a later installment - helped me throw away more than I'd expected.

70% was trashed, 10% positioned to reenter the center lane of my life, and a few things went into an "ebay-or-donate" pile. This left one unspeakable demon pile sizzling with malevolence. A pile I knew well, though I ordinarily won't speak its name.

The dreaded "Geez, Idunno" pile contains items I can't part with yet will never need. My high school yearbook. Chowhound press clippings. 3-D glasses. My blue ribbon winning science fair project. I felt a strong urge to toss it all in a box and throw it into the basement, but that's how I'd gotten into this mess! This is what gives The Boxes their strongly repulsive charge! It hurts to even type this!

I paused for lunch, and returned to a war zone. Piles everywhere. Dust coating everything. Musty smell. And a demonic sizzling pile that was not going back into a Box if I could help it. The most traumatic memory of all suddenly flashed. Such piles, in previous organization attempts, would remain in place, often for years, as I was distracted by life stuff, until my next apartment move, whereupon I'd throw them hastily and miserably into - yeesh - boxes.

The foundations of my horror had all been laid bare:

1. Cleaning is filthiest work of all. The more you clean, the more intolerable your living space becomes. Who sees the actual clean end of it? God? Is that who? Do the angels delight in the scrubbed leading edge of it all while I sit mired in filth?

2. Let's call this Leff's Law of Taxonomy: With any project of categorization, no matter how thoughtfully you preestablish categories for every contingency, you will unavoidably produce a spillover of miscellany - uncategorizable items leaving you ghoulishly rocking and mumbling to yourself.

3. Such "Geez, Idunno" items are a virus. They have an agenda. They want to multiply until they've taken over all mental, emotional, and living space, compelling you to endlessly re-distill them into a diamond-hard state of utter invincibility.

The living room was not the only part of my house annihilated by dust and seething demonic perma-piles. My office, where the computer lives, became strewn with items brought up to research potential ebay listings. Another pile! This is how piles happen - which, in turn, is how Boxes happen. The cycle of pain floods back in a wave of deep nausea: cleaning -> piles -> boxes -> cleaning -> piles -> boxes, ad infinitum. Jane, stop this crazy thing.

But this time, I had an idea.
I'd venture to call it a brilliant idea, but only after observing that there are two routes to brilliance:

1. Actually be brilliant (which is hard, so forget it), or

2. Reversing deep stupidity.

My favorite financial writer, Andrew Tobias, insists that it's far easier to save 20% of your money via smarter consumption than it is to gain 20% via smarter investment. He notes, correctly, that it's the same 20% gain, regardless. The Brilliance of Reversed Stupidity is the same general idea. It yields the same relative elevation. And that’s what my idea did. There's nothing smart about it, yet it fixed absolutely everything.
Many Boxes live in a small room. They're not all in the basement because I figured that if I stored them all down there I'd never dive in and tame the beast. If they took an entire room hostage, I'd be forced to work through them. So I've been calling this The Bad Room.

I entered The Bad Room, pushed Boxes out of the way, and set up a folding table, a chair, a lamp, an air cleaner, a dust cloth, a dust buster, an old laptop computer plugged into AC, a Box cutter, a sharpie, multi-use labels, and tons of high-quality large-but-not-crazy-large trash bags. And I resolved that the project would happen entirely within this room.

Nothing would leave the room but garbage and packages bound for charity or postal delivery. And while I would inevitably wind up further distilling my clutter by reBoxing certain stuff, at least there'd be a lot less of it. And it would all stay right in this room, so there'd be no house annihilation or creepy frozen perms-piles. As Boxes emptied, I'd bring up more - up from the basement and out of the closets - for processing in The Bad Room. Big chaos would be processed into smaller order. Not a perfect plan, but viable.

I bought 18 gallon tubs - big enough to fit loads of objects but easily hoisted even full of books - and numbered them and created a spreadsheet itemizing their contents. One tub holds stuff to give away, another is for sellables, another holds items requiring examination/action, and a couple are slated for re-Boxing of Geez-Idunnos, which will happen not in frantic panic years hence, but methodically and smartly, with everything photographed and listed in the spreadsheet. No object would be unaccounted for, so everything would be easily accessible going forward. And no piles. And no raggedy cardboard. I'd tame my foggy warren of disconnected crap and actually posses my possessions.

Like a crazy person locked into a padded room until the madness lifts, I strode into the room, threw open the windows, cranked up the air cleaner, and got to work.

New tag/label for the Slog: Organization. Like all tag/labels, it's indexed in the left margin (below the Popular Entries), and calls up all postings thus labeled in reverse-chronological order.

Monday, May 18, 2020

The Boxes: Making Hay Under Quarantine

I've hauled a slew of cardboard boxes from apartment to apartment since college. They grow as I go, and I'm pitifully unable to organize them. Or go near them. I've tried a few times over the years, and it went poorly, and I've blanked it out. Bad, bad, bad, bad. Bad boxes.

You wouldn't particularly notice them, because they're artfully scattered and concealed. A few behind the sofa, beneath the piano, atop the closets, around the basement, etc. I distribute them as craftily as squirrels hiding nuts. I'm as skillful as any alcoholic at maintaining the appearance of normalcy. If you took a photo of any room in my house, you could have endless fun playing "spot the box".

Sanity note: No, I'm not a pack rat. I do not navigate through narrow pathways between towers of teetery mouldering boxes. Nothing like that. I'm high-functioning. The three behind my sofa contain extra books that don't fit on my bookshelves. Four boxes of office supplies and lost gadgets lurk in my office closet, too densely-packed and inaccessible to be useful (so I keep buying fresh). A shocking number of historical, borderline-usable pillows gather in the laundry nook. A couple dozen boxes further out of sight harbor things like Chowhound press clippings, coin collections, Matchbox cars, Hot Wheels cars, baseball cards, wind-up toys, queued magazines from 1992, my high school diploma, my father's high school diploma, extra Palm Pilot batteries, a chin-up bar, several thousand takeout menus and business cards....
Business cards might be the single most foolish element of the human experience. I have no idea who/what any of those people or businesses are, except for a handful that I know so well that I don't need their damned business cards.
....kind, funny notes chowhounds sent along with their "Good Will" contribs (I suspect a few are reading now. Thanks for the good vibes!). My grandparents' silver wedding anniversary party photos and invitations. A backscratcher from Niagra Falls. Rolls of super 8 film from an abortive high school effort at amateur filmmaking. Forty gazillion inexplicable AC adapters, cords and dongles. Gadgets which would have had value if I'd sold them promptly on eBay, and I hate myself for sloppily missing that boat. Quisp beanies. Mounting clips for long-lost Ikea items. Beloved belongings I once took apart to try to fix but couldn't get back together and left splayed out on some surface for months gathering dust until I eventually needed to hastily dump it into a shoe box when yet another landlord gave me X days to vacate because his son/friend/criminal associate needed the apartment (the unmistakable stench of panic permeates these boxes; a pungent tang of a low-end NYC renter's heightened stress).

Whatever I accomplish in this life is trivial in comparison to my pressing, gaping, monstrous failure to tame this beast. I'm not a writer, musician, nor entrepreneur; I'm no food, beer, yoga, jazz, or community management expert. I am, at heart, the stricken, paralyzed owner/victim of these boxes. I don't live in a house. The boxes live in the house, and I'm just their hapless caretaker. They're my ball-and-chain; my cross to bear. My abomination.

Crazy perspective, right? But everyone has some arbitrary pain point they've blown up as the root cause of all that's wrong with their life and world. See "Our Albatrosses are Red Herrings" (which explains how such preoccupations can blow up into major societal issues). More tersely, I once wrote this:
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.

Meanwhile, in other news...

The virus situation has stress-tested two major themes of this Slog:

1. It's folly to live in "What's Missing".
This was such an important insight for me that I've created a monster index page cataloging its evolution. It all started one Christmas Eve when I had a devil of a time deciding whether I was having a peak experience or a miserable ordeal, and it all revolved around a choice of framing. I needed to choose which was true: 1. what was actually happening, or 2. what was missing. Choosing the latter is mental illness, so I am a recovered crazy person. But I looked around, and saw, to my immense horror, that it’s the normal approach for most everyone. I've tried multiple angles (this one turned out particularly well) to persuade people to choose Heaven (What Is) over Hell (What's Missing). This simple flip of perspective flicks like a switch, and is utterly transformative. As I once wrote:
Leave a person in a quiet room, and he might meditate and one day leave in a state of vast peace. Put some bars on the window and the same person might decay into a debilitated wreck.
Pandemic version: watching Netflix, cozy on your couch, safe, well-fed, hydrated, in fine health, not under attack, no warlord compelling you to break rocks in the hot sun or demanding your spouse's sexual attentions, isn't Hell. Unless, that is, you live in What's Missing. If so, then, yes, your life truly is hell, regardless of the particulars, because there's always a vast litany of things missing. I love lasagna, but have spent .0001% of my life eating it. So is my life a tragedy?

I once recounted a story told by a woman....
...who'd worked as a driver for some Buddhist monks traveling around California for a series of meditation programs. The monks had fallen crazily in love with a certain brand of coffee they'd discovered during the trip. But while they practically jumped for joy whenever they came upon some, she found it interesting that they never showed the slightest trace of disappointment if they failed to find any. Even when days went by without finding their coffee, they were no less happy. It began to dawn on her that if they never drank that coffee again, it wouldn't bother them in the least. Yet each time they found it they positively basked in the delight.
When I first heard the story, I considered the monks remarkable. But I’ve come to realize that they were merely sane.
It's far easier to live in What Is than in What's Missing. Hell is tough to conjure up (it takes lots of mental horsepower and commitment), while Heaven's a snap. It’s where we actually are. 

2. Resilience is just reframing.
Resilience is about redirecting your attention, just after something goes wrong, toward the next handhold leading to the point where you'll say "In retrospect, I'm actually glad it happened." Rather than lingering post-crash, enjoy the climb to the next peak, like, right away. Don't pause. Don't steel yourself. Don't tighten up and curse the world. Just redirect your attention. Reframing is perpetually available. Be blithe!

I'm not naturally resilient. I've got scads of energy, but when my considerable momentum is impermeably blocked, I'm inclined to spin down into stupor. But I discovered that I can live straight through it all, come what may. Merely living shakes the dice and resets the board. I've opted out of disappointment and the "Oh, Shit" response, as well as other frothy modes of drama, amiably leaning forward like an ant. This attunes me to embrace serendipity as it arises - while other people, in their haughty world-rejecting sorrow, miss myriad lifelines and opportunities. I don't need to reach an acceptance point because I never deny in the first place. I embrace it as it comes, exuberantly playing the cards I'm dealt, and don't love the universe any less when things don't go my way. This makes me extraordinarily resilient.

The quarantine is a proving ground for both notions. There's obviously quite a bit missing in all our lives. And, rather than spin down into stupor, I can reach for a handhold leading to an outcome where, in retrospect, I'll be glad it happened. This can only mean one course of action: working through The Boxes.

The Boxes are the only wine bottle special enough to pull out for this occasion. And so I did it. I'm actually halfway done (I wanted to be sure I'd overcome the paralysis before mouthing off about how I'd done it). Along the way, I've learned about unfreezing frozen processes, and why they freeze in the first place. How to integrate the detritus of previous identities. And, most pragmatically, how to winnow and organize the ugly mound of Stuff so many of us drag around like a ball and chain. I'm far from the only one endlessly hoisting this albatross.

I've received truths. I've developed procedures. Stay tuned.


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