I stopped at the local inconvenience store a little bit ago. As I entered, I saw two stoner skateboarders talking to the cashier. The cashier is in his 20s and is a reserved person. He speaks Nepali, English, and probably a couple of other languages too. Because I take an interest in people, I love that he works at the store. People assume his job, reservedness, and accent indicate that he’s not smart.
I LOVE to find people working in regular jobs who are far smarter than me.
The secret? He’s brilliant. He’s finishing his master’s degree in genetics. The two stoners were astonished that he was getting an advanced degree in genetics and started excitedly talking to him about Crispr, asking if he knew anything about it. I laughed and wanted to say, “Uh yeah, he is finishing a master’s in genetics!”
The cashier, in his way, answered their questions quietly and politely.
He might be the CEO of the company which cures cancer one day.
I knew the first time I talked to him that he was hiding a huge dose of brains.
He hides in plain sight, undeterred by how people misjudge him. People like that go far. As they should.
That there are people like him everywhere and in all manner of jobs gives me hope for us all.
Plot twist/spoiler: he hit me a lot harder than he thought he was going to. That I was paying him made it hurt a little worse.
This is a personal post. It might be upsetting to some people. Fair warning. As always, I’m setting aside perfectionism or worrying about getting the content or tone exactly as I want it. I can’t control how what I write might be interpreted.
Backing up a little in this story. I have a secret. I hate secrets. I wasn’t sure I’d go through with it.
Several weeks ago, I had a Bobby Dean moment. It was one in which I realized that the only way to diffuse the potential for violence was to step in and confront the person as if I were willing to be hurt or hurt him. I’m glad I did it. As much fear as I felt, I stepped toward him to signal I was willing to find out how far I’d go. Despite his size, he wasn’t certain. I’d already told him that people misjudge me. I don’t want to say that I’m proud that the latch for violence inside of me is dormant but still present. My confession is that a little sliver of me WANTED him to make the mistake of forcing me into action.
That’s not the secret, though.
My Dad violently taught me to fight by hitting me unexpectedly. He also hated that I was non-violent and passive. But one of the lessons he taught me is that it is always a mistake to delay the pain. You have to step in and strike as hard and dirty as you can. The first punch often determines the entire outcome of the altercation. Most people spend a bit of time talking or trying to lull the person they’re threatening. If you know you’re going to be hurt, it is always better to hit them with everything you have, quickly. (If you can’t walk/run away.) Though my Mom had great dental and health insurance through Southwestern Bell, I only went to the doctor if it were a case of imminent death or blood spurting. When I was 18, I had a massive cavity that almost crippled me with pain. When the dentist examined me, he said, “How’d you crack your jaw? It’s almost aligned perfectly again.” Although I had many mishaps in my youth, I knew the break probably happened when my family lived on Piazza Road in Tontitown. Dad came home drunk to our luxurious trailer. I’d lost a lot of weight at the end of my 9th-grade year running the roads there. Dad hated that I’d gotten into shape running several miles a day, lifting my brother’s weights in the downstairs storage space, as well as doing pull-ups until my arms were dead weights. I don’t recall his exact slurred words, but he said something like “I’ll teach you to be a man!” Despite being on my guard, or so I thought, he hit me with a savage right slight uppercut. My head snapped back and I fell, hitting my head on the stone fireplace at the end of the trailer. “What did I teach you? Always expect to get hit.” For weeks, I knew something was wrong with my neck and jaw. I kept running, though. And even though it hurt to play my French horn, I still made the All-State band that year. Only the band director Ms. Ellison knew at the time that something was wrong. I’m sure she knew the cause, too, though she never said anything out loud. In time, the pain disappeared. Until the dentist mentioned it, I hadn’t thought it was anything serious. I was lucky. Not only that time, but dozens of others.
My brother Mike, who was a big, well-trained ex-military meathead and later a policeman and detective, often got exasperated at me, especially when we were younger. I still have a tooth imprint on my left index finger, though. I hit a bully so hard that I thought I killed him. His tooth hit bone when I punched him. He underestimate the anger I had toward him. That anger was honed by my brother Mike screaming at me that if I didn’t confront the bully, HE was going to punch me silly. Growing up, Mike and I had infrequent conversations about why it was that a higher power didn’t protect us. We both knew that the world didn’t work that way, but we still fantasized about someone stepping in and either beating our Dad senseless – or killing him. There is no question that Dad would have deserved a brutal death a few times. He had violent demons, ones which combined with alcohol and anger, made him capable of incredible acts of inhumanity. How he survived as long as he did still astonishes me. I do know that before he died, he realized that he had done considerable evil to us; I’ll never know how much road he would have needed to directly admit it and change his life once and for all. My optimism tells me that he would have made amends. He died at 49.
Because of that recent near-miss with violence, I decided that as contradictory as it might seem, I had to learn to hit more effectively – and to be able to turn off the switch that controls aggression. Living where I do, I don’t worry per se about getting robbed or hit. Let’s be honest, though. It’s much more likely. It turns out that the biggest threat I’ve faced so far has been extremely close to me. That’s usually the case.
I have paid someone for 1/2 sessions to teach me the mechanics of responding harshly to being threatened.
I messaged two people, asking them if they’d teach me the harsher side of self-defense, one that would enable me to channel a version of my Dad’s loathsome philosophy about fighting. Only one person replied – and he had misgivings about distilling his method to what I wanted to learn: not to diffuse, but to hurt. He relented when I explained that I am non-violent and had no intention of being the aggressor in any situation. I went on to tell him that circumstances in my surroundings necessitated that I be prepared if I couldn’t escape the threat of harm. He understood that he couldn’t hit me in the stomach, for obvious reasons, or throw me unexpectedly.
The first time I met him, he taught me the basics. Don’t go for the chest, as it never works. Don’t try to sweep the knees as a beginner. He liked that I understood that the first few seconds are critical in avoiding getting really hurt – and to try to get away if at all possible, but if not, hit hard to dissuade the attacker from choosing you as a target. It’s not about winning, because it’s not a competition. It’s about getting away, diffusing, and if that’s not possible, hurt the attacker as brutally as you can, immediately. (And get away as soon as possible.) Any altercation that drags on is almost always going to end badly for you. Run – or end it quickly.
A couple of days ago, he walked me through strategies to hit someone in the nose with the palm or side of my hand, strike the throat, hit in the stomach, or in the groin, in that order. He further instructed me, if you know you’re going to have to hit, hit immediately, and don’t pull back one iota of everything you’ve got. Break your hand if you need to: just hit violently. If you’re defending yourself, you need to ensure your safety without needlessly hurting the aggressor. As we repeated the same moves, he moved faster. Because he told me to keep moving, I went to the right just as he tried to hit me in the neck. He didn’t hit me with full force, but the side of my face felt like I’d been whacked with a stick. “Ha!” I said as I stepped back. “Picking on a post-surgery client like that!”
He laughed but also said, “Your attacker won’t care that you’ve been in the hospital, X. If they’re out to hurt you, it might entice them. You dropped a lot of weight. You’re in great shape for 54 but not having the weight means you have to be much faster when the time comes. If they get you on the ground, your options go to near-zero very fast.”
I thought about that for a few seconds, especially about the would-be aggressor not caring about my physical condition.
He added, “Your dad wasn’t wrong. If you’re surprised by an attack, use anything nearby as a weapon. Anything. Just use it with full force when you pick it up. Don’t hesitate. The other guy is the bad guy and you have every right to protect your safety and life.”
He spent a few minutes telling me that because my hands aren’t large, it would help me to improve my grip strength and to practice punching something relatively firm. I demonstrated that I’m quick – and doubly so if I need to run, no matter ridiculous I might look doing so.
I’m not violent. Fighting is ridiculous. There’s always someone stronger, faster, and probably armed. No one wins.
But if I get into another Bobby Dean situation, please remember that I want to be cremated. After I’m dead, for those who would do otherwise.
It’s a strange juxtaposition to go to a counseling session and then thirty minutes later to be discussing the physiology of hurting someone in self-defense.
I didn’t expect to ever go to counseling. I certainly didn’t expect to be living where I’d more likely need to channel my aggression effectively. Here I am, though.
The person I had to confront several weeks ago is one of those people who seem like they aren’t violent. I know better. I shut him down by convincing him that he needed to be wary of me. I trust my instincts: it’s obvious he’s hurt a lot of people in his life and doing so didn’t bother him like it would a good human being. There are a lot of “hims” in the world. He said a lot of vile things, ones which telegraphed that he has hurt several people, including women.
Learning these basics won’t make me over-confident. I’m a terrible fighter. The truth, though? I had a premonition that I will need the skill and ability to channel Bobby Dean at some point. And if I do, I hope the aggressor realizes that I, like so many other people, have a history of seeing (and feeling) how failing to defend oneself is a greater danger than being able to let the fire flow when it is necessary.
My brother Mike died a year and seventeen days ago. He would be laughing at me. “You JUST realized this?” he would say. “What have I been telling you your entire life, dipsh*t?”
I will probably need a neck tattoo to add a little menace to my appearance. The brooches I wear probably send the wrong message.
Hi. It’s me, X, the guy who learned the hard lesson of discovering that I’m as stupid as anyone else. We’re all stupid; we take turns wearing the dunce cap. Mine fits a little too well. It opened my eyes to blind corners in my periphery, ones I was responsible for and failed to illuminate.
That’s my teddy bear in the picture. My friend Leigh gave it to me as a surprise when I was in the hospital. I named it Azon, short for “corazon” in Spanish. (It has a heart on its chest.) Because I didn’t want to breach her privacy, I didn’t say before that my ex-wife Dawn came to the ER and stayed there until 1 a.m. when the surgeons cut me open. She got to experience the joy of watching me throw up countless times, roll around on the cement floor, and semi-scream/groan at least five hundred times. Not many ex-wives would do that, especially with the rawness of the divorce so close. I won’t forget the kindness. Neither of us will forget the spectacle. It’s important to note that such kindness is the most difficult when we’re hurt. I’m not a Christian, but it’s as close to the ideal of “do unto others” as you’ll likely find. If she needed to see me suffer to get over the stupidity I put her through, this should adequately fill the need.
Life looks different when you’re older, after making mistakes and watching people around you mystify you with their decisions. When I was younger, I had an anger that has dissolved into recognition that I, too, contained slivers of the demons that possessed them. I’m grateful that I’ve avoided most of the dreck that worsened their lives. As a bystander, though, I paid the price.
I’m writing to a specific subset of friends and family, ones who might not otherwise see something like this and realize they have someone in their lives who needs attention.
There can be no preambulation or proverbial beating around the bushes. Time is short, even if you don’t realize it.
I wrote this with love in my heart; I’ve learned that my imperfectionism often jabs people unexpectedly, no matter my intentions. I’ve crossed the line a little by sharing parts of my experience that overlap with other people. It’s risky, but it’s also the most rewarding. Someone is going to read this and have a light bulb go off in their head.
Because of my history, I have a lot of experience around addiction. An inherent danger of such exposure is to fall into the hole, believing oneself incapable of succumbing to something that always originates with free will and repeated choices. Every addict started with no intention of losing themselves in the abyss and misery of addiction. Addiction is a byproduct, not a goal. I also hated to SEE that though I’ve acquired significant experience with addiction, my ability to pivot and behave differently in response to those in the throes of addiction hasn’t necessarily improved. I’m as helpless and stupid as the next guy when confronted with someone in my sphere who won’t “snap out of it.” When friends or family members ask for advice, you’d think I would be one of the most qualified people to answer.
Why should we shake our heads so violently at addicts? Most of us become obese, smoke, or routinely engage in detrimental behavior. We say, “It hasn’t killed me yet!” That’s true. Just as in the case of addiction, we don’t address our misbehavior until we are forced to. Addiction becomes unmanageable due to money, exposed behavior, or a decline in physical health. Addiction to things like heroin brings consequences more quickly than our national pastime of alcoholism.
In case you didn’t know, I drink. I love a good beer (and many bad ones, which many people claim tastes like dog urine), whiskey over ice, or vodka and sweet & sour. Oh, and wine, champagne, port, and several other things. Luckily for me, my like didn’t devolve into an unquenching thirst for it. I recognize how few punches it might take to drag me toward danger. I’ve experienced risk factors such as loneliness or uncertainty.
I’ll tell you a secret: no matter who you are, someone in your sphere has a secret addiction. Some take years to escalate to a point where the secrecy can no longer be maintained. Missing work, a DUI, increased self-isolation, loss of health, financial issues; these are but a few of the symptoms. By the time you note the signs, it’s challenging to pull someone away from it. In reality, you almost can’t. All such changes must start with the person in question. The harder you attempt to use logic and appeals, the more defensive the addiction becomes. They’ll appreciate the love and concern WHEN and IF they overcome their addiction. Until then, you’re just another person pointing a finger and drawing attention to their secret; disloyalty is always grounds for rejection. The agony of it is that if you love them, you’re powerless to resist the urge to try. That’s the bittersweet tendrils of love at work. It’s why I wrote the Bystander’s Prayer. All answers are unworkable. Until they’re not. Those who escape addiction look back and feel so much regret for what they’ve done to themselves and the agony of pushing away loved ones in preference to something they couldn’t escape. If the addict fails to survive, the friends and family always suffer regret.
For anyone who doesn’t know, I’m susceptible to addiction. Part of it stems from my childhood. Studies have shown that abuse and exposure to neglect or addiction hugely impact the likelihood of someone being an addict. My full siblings, parents, cousins, several aunts and uncles, at least two grandparents all suffer(ed) from addiction. For instance, I don’t have a single family member I know of who successfully stopped being an alcoholic. A few of them vilified me for my rejection of being around those who used alcohol to justify destroying their lives and those around them. It was a difficult road when I was younger. Addicts despise perceived disloyalty most of all. I was loudly disloyal and judgmental as hell. Part of that responsibility is on me. In my defense, the very environment that almost killed me taught me the lesson of escape, one I only partially implemented.
Paradoxically, I understand the addicts in my family much better than I did when I was young. As I’ve grown older, I’ve witnessed such a vast spectrum of people fail to “pull up” as their addictions wrapped themselves into their lives. It’s not about being intelligent, rich, having a family, or a good job. Addiction cuts a blind swath. I see many people doubt that their loved one or friend is addicted. They focus on the superficiality of there having been no crash. Yet. I don’t want to alarm anyone, but I can see the allure of yielding to something that gives dangerous comfort.
For years, I’ve known that addiction would be an easy road for me. As much as I got angry at my sister for her more outlandish behavior with the rougher end of the drug spectrum, I watched in horror and regret as my brother chose the traditional and cleverly hidden method to reach his addiction. He chose the slow way of drinking excessively for years. He lost his job, his health, and he died much too soon. I lost him as a brother more than once on his journey. He was as intelligent as any human I’ve ever known. Truthfully, his intelligence made any attempt to address his alcoholism dangerous and impossible. Like so many others, he had a massive wall of rationalizations to explain why he did what he did. That people fiercely loved him had little impact on his behavior. He used it to create an anger shield. I could have been him with just the wrong push. I see the arc of his progression differently now. I have a lot of regrets. Equally valid is that his addiction and intelligence outmatched me. Every course of action I chose to deal with him was turned into a fantasy of aggression.
My cousin Jimmy, who I loved, struggled with alcoholism his entire adult life. Both of his parents ultimately died from it. Cancer got Jimmy; had he lived longer, I would have loved seeing him beat his love of alcohol. I think he would have. It’s no irony that the job he loved best was for a beer distributor. He loved that job.
Recently, I posted my Bystander’s Prayer, one which outlines the grief of those around someone suffering from addiction. No matter how intelligent you are, no one owns a playbook that effectively helps us reach out to someone at the bottom of the well. I wrote it for my brother but finished it for others who were peering down into their own well, helpless, afraid, but possessed by a love that compelled them to try. Thank god for love, even as it stings as mightily as any emotion can.
Most of us approach the issue of addiction as if it is a logical one. It’s not. It’s not genuinely emotional, either. It’s a strange, impossible alchemy of pain that resists easy confrontation. Most of us walk toward the battle with underserved confidence and a lack of appreciation for how powerful addiction is. Words will not work. Love will not work. Love compels us, though. The addict can’t see our intrusion as love. It’s one of our most significant errors when we try to encourage someone to change.
People suffering from addiction loathe attention. Secrecy and omissions govern their lives. So much of a person’s life begins to tighten in on itself like a series of perverse and elliptical constrictions. Sunlight itself serves as a living metaphor for how reduced a person can become. The next black buzz or unrestrained and unseen high becomes its own reward, excluding more and more as it tightens. People, friends and loved ones alike, get flung off the carousel.
Addicts need time alone with the thing that gives them the most comfort. As the addiction grows, time and energy directed to friends, work, and loved ones diminish. Addiction is a zero-sum game; its presence removes vibrancy and connection from lives. It reduces the possibility of a full life. This results in loved ones feeling an increasing emptiness and drives them to greater heights to “get through” to the addict.
For those who don’t suffer from addiction, it’s hard for us to imagine it. We foolishly believe that it is a question of willpower or intelligence. It’s not. Addiction is the parasite that wills its victim to the next high. It is the worst of diseases: it is both physical and mental.
Alcohol is a painkiller, just like other drugs. It grants oblivion from the shortfalls or pain that the addict experiences. All addictions are subject to the law of diminishing returns. Even addicts know this. But the pursuit ensues, no matter how dark of a road it leads someone. If anyone has trauma in their past, it’s that much harder for them to give up the relief of the high to face a drug-free existence. Drugs and alcohol allow us to shortcut our way to temporary oblivion. I viscerally understand the temptation. I’ve been on guard about it most of my adult life.
Prescription painkillers are so popular because they inexplicably don’t carry the same stigma as using street drugs or liquor. There’s no distinction in terms of the effects, though. Usage of prescription drugs continues to rise. I don’t see it abating.
Most people don’t become addicts, even if they try drugs or alcohol. This fact confuses many people who’ve done drugs or drink lightly without falling into addiction. They fail to see that their brain chemistry, environment, or circumstances are not the same as that of an addict. Willpower and motivation do affect people’s tendency to fall into addiction. They are bit players in the drama, though. I won’t go into the complicated realm of brain chemistry or trauma. Science clouds the essential truth of why some are prone to addiction while others are not.
An addiction is ANYthing that grants temporary relief or pleasure yet causes later harm. And even if you’re aware of the effects, you can’t stop. It can be shopping, work, sex, food, and several other things. I’m just addressing the common usage of the word.
I learned from experience that addicts resist connections and thoughtful concern. Even mundane expressions of affection, much less pointed inquiries about someone’s well-being, can be catalysts to rejection. There is no subtle way to ask how an addict is doing without significant risk of being flung away.
With addicts, a straightforward thing you can and should do is learn the habit of lifelining. If you’re not familiar with lifelining, it’s just a word to encompass letting people know that you are, at a minimum, still alive – or available if you have an addict in your periphery.
Addicts who survive the ordeal also face the backlash of loved ones who endured anger and pain due to the addiction. It takes a long time for people to forgive such damage. Many families are forever torn. Forgiveness is a personal choice.
The pandemic accelerated drug use and alcoholism. Isolation is a precursor to more people succumbing to addiction. We had a record number of people overdose last year. We don’t have the statistics yet to know how many more chose to drink to quench the loneliness and hurt of their lives. People are social creatures, and addiction thrives on secrecy. Depression is also on the rise. It’s often a close cousin to addictive behaviors.
Again, you have a person in your life, closer than you’d imagine, who needs a little extra love and attention. There is time to attempt to reach them. Don’t be surprised if your hand gets bitten. It’s the first step.
Even as addiction rises, we don’t provide people treatment. We stigmatize them. Even with excellent health insurance, many plans will only pay for 10% of the cost, if at all. Everyone else? They have to destroy their health and lives to get help.
Last night, I was out walking on Gregg Avenue later in the evening. Someone leaned out and shouted, “Hey X! You a**hole!” as they laughed. I couldn’t see who it was, but I waved enthusiastically. Only friends shout like that. It brightened my mood for a moment; it was much needed. The walk not only served as exercise but also as an escape. Like most escapes, it didn’t work; most tend to bring whatever’s in your head along for the ride. I envy those who seem to be able to deflect their hearts when necessary.
This morning, way before the sunrise, I got out of bed and walked the streets again within five minutes of arising. Reaching the end of the parking lot, I saw a man and a woman walking, the woman ahead of the man, her socked feet shuffling awkwardly. There’s a lot of questions in my head from that scene. I tried to imagine what events transpired to lead them into the early morning dark, one of them without shoes. They plodded along, devoid of any energy or spark. I soon outpaced them and left them far behind. They were on my mind, though.
Sundays mornings, I see evidence that people didn’t use their best judgment. Near Fossil Cove brewery, I noted an excessive number of beer cars and errant liquor bottles. A block down, someone’s ornate mailbox laid on the ground in tatters, probably from a speeding drunk driver approaching carelessly from the side road. On the opposite side of the road, I stopped and snapped a picture of the Banksy girl painted on the side of a railroad control box. The disparity of the message amidst the realities of the morning gripped me. . Yesterday, as I exited my apartment, a neighbor said, “Hey X, I hope you don’t me asking, but my mother-in-law LOVES your blue lantern. Could you make her one?”
I paused, and said, “No.” I watched the woman try to gauge me. She failed.
I took the blue solar lantern made from an inverted hummingbird feeder and handed it to her. “No, but I will give you this one.” She smiled in surprise.
“Wait,” I told her. I pulled my other metal silhouette lantern from the hanger and handed that to her as she neared her door. “Take this, too.” I explained the rechargeable batteries and how to use them long-term.
She was so happy with the unexpected gifts. Though I was now left with no solar lanterns on my landing, I was happy, too. That’s not nothing.
It’s entirely a coincidence that I’d ordered two more sets of fairy lights on Wednesday. I love how the universe sometimes surprises me. Two incidents yesterday remind me that my neighbors are watching me in curiosity to see what projects I’m up to. . Later in the morning, a neighbor headed out to walk to his job. The skies were ominous and ready to pour. “Hey, how about I give you a ride to work?” He accepted, and I spent a few minutes not only doing him a solid but was able to connect with him as we drove to his workplace and talked. . Other parts of my day were both sublime and tumultuous. The dichotomy of these days never fails to surprise me and sometimes alarms me. I understand that my intelligence often fails me when I try to assimilate the lessons and use my experience to guide me. My experience in life isn’t a detailed roadmap. Like anyone else, my heart sometimes overrides the clear path in front of me.
But I walk on, literally and figuratively.
“There is always hope,” is a truth. Equally valid is that we have to confront the day with the practical tools and options available. We have hope for the future but also must live the minutes as they come. Instead of revising these few words, I’ll post them ‘as is,’ much in the way that life speeds along in front of us.
Love, X . P.S. I’m adding a paragraph. As I posted this, the putt-putt of a moped outside drew my attention. A man stood by the dumpster, looking for treasure in the mountain of trash. I walked out and crossed the parking lot. “I’m the neighborhood weirdo,” I told him. He looked at me cautiously. Though I don’t have much money (now more than ever), I handed him a $20 bill. He said, “God bless you!” He smiled like the sunrise. “I am, if only I can find ways to see it,” I told him as I walked back to my apartment. I didn’t look back at him, because as happy as he was by the gift, I think he was about to get emotional. .
I have a couple of quotes/rules of mine I made quite a bit back. They are the result of a lot of agony. No disrespect is intended for anyone who has struggled with these issues – or struggled because they love someone with them. Over the weekend, one of the coolest actors to grace the screen, Michael K. Williams, aka Omar from The Wire, died as a result of his struggle with addiction. Don’t make the mistake of confusing addiction with intelligence, willpower, or environment. Once it gets its claws in, there are often no lengths those suffering won’t go to in order to feel something – or to feel nothing. That escalation scrapes everyone around them. If you’re in the periphery trying to get closer, you get entrapped in the ever-tightening spiral.
Here they are:
The M.T. Rule:The surest way to cause yourself heartache and anxiety is to interfere with someone who is racing to rock bottom.
The M.T. Rule Addendum: NOT doing so results in identical heartache and anxiety.
Covid has worsened people’s ability to cope. It’s largely hidden until the spiral does enough damage to draw attention.
For karma, I tip each time I buy lottery tickets. It’s given me so many interesting moments with random clerks at convenience stores. If I have a winning ticket, I try to donate a bit more. The lottery is a fool’s game, one which tricks us into miscalculating the realistic odds of winning. That’s part of the reason I like it. In my heart, there’s not a day that passes that I don’t consider how many against-the-odds things I’ve experienced. It not only amplifies my gratefulness for still being here, but it also reminds me that almost everything that turns out to be magical sounds ridiculous to the reasonable mind. Harry Potter? Not publishable. Haruki Murakami? He had a moment like I did, except in his, he realized he was going to be a writer. Demetri Martin? On his way to being one of the best legal minds in the world and just decided that comedy was his passion.
I sometimes find myself contemplating writing a book based solely on the stories that clerks share with me after I tip them and share my karma theory with them. Most of them realize that I will follow through on my promise to give them a million dollars if I hit the jackpot.
A couple of places in Springdale had clerks who knew me and knew I was going to tip them. I miss the surprised looks on their faces when they saw me walking in. I’m certain they are wondering what happened to the tip-for-karma guy.
Springdale feels like another country to me now. I miss it, especially after having walked 1,000 miles on its streets in the last year. I know Jim at the produce stand is wondering what happened to me. As is Güino, my tuxedo cat.
Lately, I’ve mentioned a couple of times that there’s a clerk here near my apartment in Fayetteville who resisted accepting tips. Now, she smiles, knowing I’m going to leave the money on the counter, whether she accepts it or not.
The last time I went in, I said, “tee-me lie kas-to chaw.” I don’t speak Nepali. But I spoke enough, that day.
As I left her the tip, she smiled.
I’m not sure there’s a value in knowing that I made a human connection.
We all miss the place we call home in our hearts.
A few words of memorization for me. And a gong in her head hearing the words.
The Law of Increments is such a revelation. A couple Fridays ago I did a thousand push-ups. I used anxiety as a trigger to do each set. It occurred to me Saturday that I could also try to pace myself, using an incremental response. I got up at 3:30 today. If I stay up 18 hours, I only have to do 55 push-ups an hour to hit a thousand. Since I know I can easily do that, I can trick my mind into doing twice that per hour. 110 an hour seems stupid to me now after 10 weeks of pushups. So I’m using today as a test. I’ve got nine hours of incremental sets of push-ups to reach a thousand. 12:30. And If you’re reading this, keep in mind that craziness is contagious. The takeaway is that we can accomplish a hell of a lot if we don’t let our goal wear us out before we even start. I don’t have to do a thousand push-ups. Just 110 an hour.
“If you’re going to worry, put a saddle on it and ride it out of the barn and into the sunlight. Most worry melts away with activity and exposure. If you’re not riding worry, it’s certainly riding you.” – X
I can’t thrive in the present moment and think about the past or worry about the future. Each of us has a finite amount of time, a limited amount of focus, and each of us probably suffers from the illusion that somehow we’re differently immune to negative thinking. I learned the hard way that intelligence in no way affects these things, other than perhaps to add window dressing to the rationalizations and justifications that people always use to excuse away what they’re thinking or what they’re doing.
Intelligence is both a kaleidoscope and magnifier to our excuses. Creativity grants us further ability to pull the wool over our own eyes. Worse, we push people around us into becoming co-conspirators to our unhelpful thinking.
Every couple of weeks, I find myself able to break my previous pushup record. I started doing them on June 1st, a few at a time, as many times a day I could manage. I’ve experimented with different triggers to do another set: bathroom trips, specific words, times. Friday, I incorporated something I learned in counseling. I started doing a set every time I found myself in a loop of fearful or negative thinking. Though it may reflect poorly on me, I beat my previous record so badly that I know there is no way I will ever do that many again in a single day. I did a lot again Saturday, a normal amount, whatever that is. But for Friday, I committed myself to no excuses. I knew already that I’m like most people and succumb to fearful and negative thinking, probably more than I usually realize. Doing pushups every time I realized I was in a thought loop was an excessive and forceful way to remind myself that I need to continue to do the work to stop fearful thinking sooner. Thinking of the worst possible outcome or scenario is a guaranteed way to rob yourself of happiness.
By taking control and action each time I realized I was doing it, I also learned that my pushup “limit” was as imaginary as a “safe life” is.
And so, despite writing the above yesterday morning, I eclipsed Friday’s record later yesterday. Someone commented to me, “You don’t seem to have done your usual number of pushups today.” I laughed. “I did two hundred just while walking this morning.” Those happened while I trudged through a massive rainstorm and flooded streets. I do hope people saw me and wondered, “What in tarnation is he doing pushups in the thunderstorm for?” Had anyone asked me, I would have jokingly replied, “To demonstrate that nothing will stop you if you’re either motivated. Or crazy.” I doubt saying, “I do pushups for exercise – and I do a set each time I find myself thinking negatively as a means to control my mind” would fall easily into people’s ears.
Likewise, when I finished the day Sunday, I laughed. Goals and records exist to be broken. (Just like the heads of obstinate people who won’t try a different way of thinking to see if it results in a better life for themselves.)
Every time I think I’ve reached my limit, I should assume it’s vanity and simply beat it.
Even though work today was strenuous, I got intrigued by the question, “Can I do this again today and break yesterday’s record?” The answer is yes. And I did.
Friday, I did an unbeatable number of pushups. I did it again Sunday. I woke up with no idea that I’d do it again today. But I did—a Monday.
Friday will stick with me because I channeled unhealthy thinking into a positive outcome. I haven’t mentioned a specific number. It isn’t 1,000. But I realized today that it could be if I wanted to. Now it’s stuck in my head that my pushup curve is congruent with the exact angle of my weight loss.
If you see me doing pushups, you didn’t catch me doing them any more than me putting on my shirt inside out by accident or wearing mismatched shoes. If people can stand outside and do crazy things such as smoke, dip, and ride recumbent bicycles, watching someone exercise shouldn’t be a shock to the delicate eyes of people observing me.
P.S. Not related to the above… today’s prank was that I used a roll of yellow CAUTION tape to make a massive X across someone’s doorway and prevent entry into same without ripping the tape down. No one has mentioned it on social media or to me. I can’t imagine they went inside through the back door. I think not knowing how the prank was received is most of the fun. You can blame the Fayetteville Walmart for reminding me that I needed to do this prank.