Zen and the art of riding an atomic bomb

The iconic moment of Stanley Kubric’s masterpiece “Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” features Col. Kong played by a very folksy Slim Pickens who finds himself sitting on top of an atom bomb as it is dropped on Russia. Without anything to lose, he makes the best of it.

It’s only Tuesday, and right now a lot of your are already going through this.

Hell, so am I.

In the last year and a half, we barely recognize the world where we live. The fabric of our society has been changing. I’m reminded of the Eloi and the Morlocks from the Time Machine (let’s bring on some more obscure movie references), where the peaceful (if not completely stupid) Eloi live in an above ground paradise, while the Morloks summon them monthly through a monolithic stone head for a cannabalistic feeding frenzy.

I keep seeing a general glaze of ennui in everyone these days. So many of us are working from home and those of us who had to return to an office to work probably didn’t need to, but the status quo of being constantly supervised by some douche bag is more important to a company than happy workers. If anything the last year should have taught us, it is that we don’t need some kind of Joe Versus the Volcano grey-walled prison experience when it comes to work. A lot of people are appaled at factory farming as they stand around the water cooler listening to the hum of people on phones that won’t stop ringing.

The other day I had a conversation with a friend of mine who never got to stay at home. He got stuck with extra shifts, in the public, during the time when there wasn’t even a controversial vaccine that everyone politicized to protect him. He got to be the bad man at the gates keeping the other bad men out. We were talking about what he might want to do with his life instead. Sometimes that seems like such a far-fetched idea.

Instead? Instead of this? “Living the dream!” One of my bro-istas at Dutch Bros. refered to that expression as a white person’s way of saying they are dying on the inside. That was at the beginning of lockdowns and layoffs and Zoom meetings. Back in the day when you could call in sick from work instead of spending the morning crying in the bathroom. When you weren’t expected to report to work, or school, or anything else because you *cough* weren’t feeling all that hot and (rather than come into work on a day that wasn’t going to do anybody any good) you could take a day to decompress without having to prove to your employer that you were on a ventilator. No one is safe from the Zoom call.

My friend told me he envied my freedom.

Freedom does come with responsibility. And anxiety.

There are days that I still feel that pull of self-worth and productivity that was inculcated into me through years of working a 8-5 job. My life is by no means perfect in my attempt to change that to working for myself. Some days, I feel like I am a complete failure because I am still in bed at 9:30am, petting the dog while other people are deep into a 12 hour shift.

The other day I had a conversation with my dad about how much work I had been doing. I picked up a couple writing assignments and had made $300. He told me I should have been helping him in the shop, working on cars if I wanted to make more than that.

That isn’t the point. The point is that I am still in the beginning of making something for myself. That $300 took about four or five hours of work. The agency that gave me the assignments lowballs the hell out of writers too, which means that once I can get rolling, I could be making much more than this. I have a skill that I have been working on for more than ten years, which is something I have been aiming for as a dream for a lot longer. You can’t put a W4 on that.

Also, in the four or five hours of work, I didn’t bang my knuckles on a hot, sharp piece of rusty metal once. I didn’t have a gallon of 10W40 run down my arm. And I didn’t have to wash whatever crap had fallen into my eye as I tried to break the rust off a stubborn engine mount bolt. It’s honest, hard work, don’t get me wrong–and I could do it–but that’s not what I’m here for. That’s not why I left the city to come here. I took a big risk to focus on writing.

The drawback of course is that right now I don’t have lots of clients and that four hours of writing uses a lot of brain power which must be refueled with coffee, sometimes alcohol, definitely naps, and snacks. But I’ve still done more with writing for a couple hours a day than I did working for 8 hours a day at my old desk job.

I think that’s why a lot of people are fine with surrendering their freedom to someone else (and sometimes we have no choice in the matter). And why we have a hard time with boundaries too. When that call comes from that buddy who you know is already several beers in for the night and all he wants to do is call his ex and tell her what a bitch she is, or that supervisor that you know you are never going to make happy (mostly because they don’t know what the fuck they are doing and are projecting their bullshit onto you) we find it impossible to say no. We are held at ransom.

Working for myself scares the hell out of me.

For one thing, there is some security in knowing that the checks will keep coming if I just put out enough effort to not be fired. Working for yourself means that being fired is the day when you finally starve to death because you didn’t put in the work. It’s like Columbus burning his ships on his second voyage. My 20 years in Higher Education taught me some really bad habits. Especially the more efficient I got at doing my job.

Most of my days in Higher Ed were spent on Facebook. Before that it was internet forums, YouTube, and at the end of the day, I could pack an entire weeks work into the last two hours on a Friday afternoon. If the big boss wandered in and said, “Let’s go home early, people!” I did, because I was just following orders. But you see, my work ethic told me that was okay because I was getting paid to do the job I had been hired to do. I had no joy in the job I was doing. I got lazy. Complacent. It didn’t bother me that I was cheating myself out of doing something that I found joy in doing. I was being rewarded with a steady paycheck for doing almost nothing. Certainly getting no spiritual reward out of it.

When I would have been happy working my ass off for something I enjoyed doing at the cost of that security.

In a few days, I’ll be 46. I don’t have many years left to realize my dreams. Not everyong has a chance to chase their dreams either. I am fortunate.

I worked with a lady who spent 99% of her time surfing the internet. She was reading about the Kardashians or downloading recipes. She was always talking about how unhappy she was. She moved her house several times in the years we worked together. I think jumping through all the hoops of real estate gave her something to do. She was always on the phone with her bank or realtor. If it wasn’t them, it was her insurance companies, dentist, retirement/Social Security, etc. When she was given something new to do at work, she balked. So I wound up taking on most new tasks–for no more pay. Eventually I got tired of that and declined the offer to take on another responsibility at my job. I knew my name was on the layoff list anyway.

So, I said No.

It was empowering. Intoxicating.

Well, I also got yelled at by my supervisor in the middle of the office, with people walking in and out. It was an indication that I had made the right choice. Or at the very least one that was too late to roll back on now.

Maybe that’s the problem with this depression that has taken hold of many of us. We got to take a step back and see the absurdity in sitting at a desk all day, when we could be doing that at home–and probably getting more done. But that would mean that we had free will. And for whatever reason, constant monitoring, overseeing, and environmental control are more important.

The trade off being, however, these jackasses somehow feel entitled enough to step into your life, into your home, whenver they feel like doing so. And now a lot of them are saying they shouldn’t have to pay as much because you don’t need the money for gas to commute. They want that dependence.

Am I terrified that I don’t have the motivation to achieve my goals? Absolutely. But maybe I can tell my fears NO for once too and see how good that feels. After all, a bad day doing what you love beats a good day doing something you don’t.

So, for anyone who has a dream and needs to hear it, don’t fear it. For anyone who isn’t happy with their life, you can change it. For anyone who is feeling stuck right now, it’s just one day–keep going. It will not happen instantly. It WILL be painful, terrifying, anxiety inducing, extremely difficult…but it will be worth it. Even if you have to put people you care about on hold, they will understand. If you have to make sacrifices, they will be worth it.

I just keep thinking of that lady with her microwave fish dinners and how you can be miserable and secure, or happy because you are doing something that has called you. Dying slowly inside living a life of quiet desperation…or starving to death slowly until you hope you catch a break.

Where was I going with this again?

Oh yeah. I guess just ride the bomb and enjoy every second of it.

Take care of yourself

Today I had my first medical check up in over a year and a half. Now that I have insurance again, I get to become a member of that thin level of society who can do this without having to leave a kidney with the front desk. I’m usually not concerned with my health whenever I go to the doctor. I try to take care of myself, even though a year of this time has been stuck indoors most of the time. My blood pressure was a little bit high, but I can get that back down if I walk more or figure out a way to get in some more cardio.

My weight is down more than it has been in a while. I knew this without a scale because I’m down to the last notch on my belt, my clothes hang off me lately, and I have been able to wear the same shirts I wore for my UK trip a few years back.

If my son isn’t around, I don’t eat as much because I don’t like cooking for just me. When you cook for just yourself, you have three or four days of leftovers you were over with after the first time you ate. So, I tend to have one decent sized meal per day and suppliment the rest with coffee or snackier foods like crackers and cheese or a can of soup. Maybe a bowl of cereal. Where I live there are fewer options for eating out, so I just don’t.

In six months I am down from 204 to 187.

So the reason for this post is I am of mixed feelings about the whole thing. On one hand, it’s nice to trim down just a little bit. I feel better. My clothes fit better. And when I work out, I feel like I can see results better. It’s funny, because a couple years ago I was dating someone who seemed to be making a point of putting weight on me. She used to tell me she liked how “solid” I was. Whenever we would eat out on the weekends, I would eat my share of dinner and then wind up finishing her plate too. That’s how I broke 200 again for the first time since my marriage.

She used to get insecure when I would tell her that I was going to the gym to work out. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a gym rat, but working out does a number of things for me. It helps me feel better. You get an endorphin hit when you do cardio or weights regularly. Working out helped me to feel better about myself physically too. And it does wonders when dealing with depression or anxiety. You just don’t have the mental capacity to worry about things that don’t matter when you are sweating your guts out.

I was talking with a friend recently about why someone would be insecure about my going to the gym. Especially since part of me wanted to not only look better and feel good for myself, but also I thought she might have appreciated that too. I was reminded that I went to the “Kids’ gym” at the university. It was my 43 year old self surrounded by a bunch of 20 year olds. I guess I never really saw that as a problem.

The college kids might as well have looked through me like I wasn’t there. As a matter of fact, I prefered that gym to the VASA fitness that I went to where I felt like I was being leered at as I walked through for just the tour. I know so many people who are always getting hit on at the gym. That’s not my thing. It really puts me off. The college gym was nice because I could just go and do my thing and be left alone, and I had no intention of bothering anyone either.

The other thing about conditioning myself is that I have no expectations for anyone else in my life. I’m not an evangelical gym-goer. I can only say how working out has helped me, as I have done above. In that relationship, or any other situation, I’m not going to look down at anyone else. I know how hard it is for me to keep up a routine, and if anyone badgered me to do it, I wouldn’t. I feel like it’s a matter of choice. Just like anything else. Would I push someone else to do it? Hell no.

You have to want it to do it. You can be happy with yourself at any weight or size.

The funny thing is that right now dad bods are in style. Everyone on TikTok talks about wanting a bearded chubby man with tattoos and here I am watching my love handles disappear.

I guess a motivator for this is the other day I wore my kilt for the first time in years. I finally got down to a weight where I could buckle the damn thing up. My kilt was bought for me as a birthday present when I turned 21. It is still the only tailored piece of clothing I own. At the time I had a 30″ waist and they also did hip measurements then too. When they took my measurements, I was almost too thin for an adult sized kilt. They told me to drink more Guinness. A few years later, longer straps were added because I took their advice to heart. They let it out to a 32″ waist. I’m probably at around 34″-36″ right now. It’s a tight fit. It looks tight. The apron no longer reaches the pleats on the other side. The topography that the plaid reveals is complicated.

The $500 kilt my gf at the time bought me with her student loan money was tailored too well. When you buy off the rack stuff, there is a level of flexibility you get with fit. If it’s tailored, it looks really rough if you exceed those margins. It’s made to fit a certain way.

Right now, it doesn’t hang right. It doesn’t fit right. Even with extenders. So, I’m left with the choice of replacing it with a new one (which the cost for these suckers went up to about $700–which I would much prefer plane tickets) or just keep avoiding beer and working out until I can pass for having a 32″ waist, maybe.

A man of my age, however, runs the risk of exchanging that “Solid” dad bod for an early case of having no ass to even hold up my pants, much less a kilt. Will I be nixing myself from the bearded chubby man category? How will this affect my hug game?

What I do know is I’m not going to stress over any of this stuff. I’m fine with the size and shape I am now. Could I get a little stronger and a little healthier? Sure, why not. Do I really have anything to wear a kilt to? Absolutely not. Do I think that one day having a full grey beard and a washboard stomach would be hilarious? Sure! I doubt I’ll get there. But as nice as the attention dad bods are getting these days, it still doesn’t feel right for me. I like being a little leaner. Lately, I’ve been feeling that.

Who knew?

Noah’s Raven

I used to work with a lady who was a technical writer for a non-profit entity that was housed in my office. Let’s be honest, the entity was a pet project from the University president that was paid for out of a slush fund. The director was never around and nobody really knew what they did anyway. But the lady who wrote press releases and whitepapers for them was nice. Her name was Kitt.

She didn’t come out to talk to us much, but one of the things she did tell us one time has stuck with me. It has been a truth that was hard to accept at first, but now I know the feeling all too well. For days, if not weeks, she would be writing copy for this and a few other clients. One of the things you have to know about writing is that it is a slow process. Nothing happens quickly. She said it was depressing. She said that she never knew she was doing a good job on something until months down the road when the checks came or when she was not hired back.

It takes a while to write something, then you send it out, and it takes someone a while to read it…if they ever do. There is almost no immediate engagement or instant gratification. If you want that, save your writing for Facebook and Twitter. Put it in a blog (which is a big reason I do post to a few) if you want a quick response. Otherwise, your story, content, poem, etc. is probably not going to get you the reception you expected.

That little thumbs up your friends put on your link is about the best you can hope for.

You don’t do this for the accolades or attention. You do it because you are a hostage to whatever story you are writing. The paid work that I do…I wouldn’t do it except the response that I get comes with a dollar sign in front of it. Anything beyond that for company content is just sprinkles on a sundae. I don’t care what anyone thinks as long as the check clears. The chicken sandwich or phone bill I can pay is my literary criticism and theory on content writing. Give it five stars or two–I don’t care–if you paid me, it’s 10/10.

When you are paid, that is as good as instant gratification, because in our culture, we have decided that money is a metric for appreciation. After all, we tip our servers at a restaurant. We tip more if they were outstanding.

Sometimes it’s hard to sit down and work on a story for weeks and weeks. A book for a year or two. Or five. Even a blog post for an hour and know that once it leaves your hands and goes out into the world, nobody will give a fuck.

Well, maybe like six people will give a fuck. Eight tops.

The thing is that we don’t have any control over someone’s emotional response to anything that we do. You can do your best to appeal to their sensibilities, or you can attempt to cause an emotional reaction, but actually achieving that is up to them in how they respond. I dated someone who told me early on that one of my blog posts made her cry. It was one about my kids and how divorce has affected them. It was strange to think that early on in our relationship, the thing that drew her to me was that I was a writer and I was able to awaken an emotional response within her in that way. Ironically (or probably not), it was her response to my writing that was a giant red flag.

She stopped reading.

The person who had been one of my biggest champions just dropped off. Once I asked her about it, and her response was the same as my relationship before her. “It’s just so emotional. It’s overwhelming.”

I agree with that. What I write (unless it is about pocket knives or fender benders or boat accessories) is very emotional. It is very personal. I write what I like to read, which is a highly engaging, emotional story about someone’s life and the challenges they face. It’s a whole other side that people don’t get when I wave at them on the way to the post office or when I pay for my meal.

The worst thing about writing in this way is that when people drop off, I blame myself. I should have held back. I shouldn’t have written what I did. I didn’t want to upset anyone. Or maybe I did in a subconscious way and that means that I did it on purpose knowing what the result was going to be. Self-sabbotage.

But when someone tells you they are a writer, you’re going to get everything that is printed on the tin once you open it up. The contents inside are not going to be pretty. They won’t smell good. They will be hard to swallow.

I tell the stories that I tell because they are burning a hole through my soul. It’s the only way I know to get them out. And I guess when Hemingway said that writing is the loneliest profession, he was right on many levels. The way that you send this story out into the world, like Noah’s raven and it never returns, or the stories you tell isolate you from others. Maybe because they see you in a different light, or maybe because of how they see themselves through your lens.

Beats the hell out of me.

I’ve learned to trust my gut and though that sounds cynical, it hasn’t been wrong very often.

What I do know is when I stop worrying about who I am going to offend, or who is going to check out on me regardless of what I have said, I am generally happier. I would like to think that when Noah sent that Raven to search for land and it never came back, unlike the dove, it found a nice piece of dry land and made a nest and ate snacks and danced in the sunshine until its feathers dried out and shined with that blue black sheen. It left little raven prints on the sand and made things with string it had found and was happy.

It’s lonely. It’s thankless. Fuck.

But Maya Angelou said it best:

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.”

So, I keep doing it for some damn reason. Maybe because it hurts too much not to.