A place of my own

Four days in and I’m getting used to it. It feels almost normal. I think I even have the top floor to myself again. And by that I mean it would be the second time I thought I had it. Because the last time, people showed up at about 12:15 AM ringing the bell and knocking on the door downstairs. Woke me up, though I pretended it didn’t. I’m not going down there in my pajamas to tell someone why I can’t let them in, or to explain to them how to use the lockbox, because they can’t follow instructions. I was conflicted about leaving them out there in the cold all night, but I don’t know who’s supposed to be staying here and who isn’t. They got in eventually. There’s a long term resident here, Patrick, who I haven’t met, but I was told by the host, Alexis, who I also haven’t met, that he could help out if I needed something. So, I left it to Patrick and he must have caught on at some point, or they figured something out because they all came up to the second floor, which I had thought I was going to have to myself.

Then the next night, they were hanging out talking and laughing at 3:30 in the morning, waking me up again. It was one person in particular who was louder than the rest. There’s always the one who isn’t aware of the quiet.

The upside is that I didn’t worry about disturbing them when I was getting ready in the morning. And I knew I’d have no competition for the bathroom, because they weren’t going to get up that early.

They’ve checked out now and I never even saw them.

So, if you’re wondering, I was seduced by the affordability of renting (just) a room in a house, in Pittsburgh, “where no one lives,” (the listing said). I was fooled, for a minute, during which time I felt the need to grab this great deal before it disappeared, No one lives here, except the other renters and the long term resident, Patrick, but let’s not quibble over details.

There were other reasons I was able to convince myself that despite the cheep price, which was, of course, too good to be true, I’d have the entire house to myself. The other rooms were “off limits,” they felt the need to say. If there were people in them, wouldn’t that be obvious? Quiet time was 10PM, “because it is a residential neighborhood,” not because you could disturb other guests (like the other guests disturbed me). On the other hand, that there was “absolutely no cooking in the kitchen after 10PM” should have been a flag. I didn’t understand why they would care, if I was the only one using the house.

I checked the listing again.

“Lot’s of privacy.”

“Residential neighborhood.”.

“No cooking after 10.”

“This is one of four rooms in this house that I host.”

Missed that the first time. Oops.

Hey, it’s fine. I have my own room. That’s more than I have at home.

There’s value in doing things the hard way, anyway, like traveling in coach, for example, or taking shorter showers, because there’s only one bathroom, or packing your own lunch, or waiting for everyone’s favorite show to come out on Netflix before you watch it, or writing without a desk. First world difficulties, I know, but still, it matters, because people can have it way too easy, and that’s even what they think they want!

People aren’t just looking for an easy way to lose weight, they’re looking for an easy way to do everything. But this expectation that anything should be easy inhibits progress. I suppose it can help to have a quiet place to think, a good cup of coffee, or something to eat, but when you get absolutely everything you think you need to set the stage for creativity, or productivity or focus, then you end up expecting that the work will be easy too. And nothing you really want is easy to get. Truth. So you might as well stop expecting that anything you do is going to make the work easier.

You might as well do everything a harder way. You might as well just get used to it.

And if you’re like me, soft, then even baby steps could make the difference between having loads of unfulfilled potential to brag about, and actually doing something.

So, this has been good for me. I had a lot of goals for this week off by myself, killing vacation that was otherwise going to expire. Bound to feel a little bit of underachievement, but I’ve been productive. I have written three blog posts (whatever, it’s something), worked on Spanish, translating two paragraphs of a book I’m reading, Todo va a estar bien, By Ricardo Silva Romero, a Colombian. 233 of 224 pages to go. I’ve seen Pittsburgh (or not), walked a lot for exercise (or not) and tambien visité a mi hija when she was available. That’s why I chose to come here, to spend some time with my daughter before she graduates next month, when I will return one last time, to Pittsburgh, and then never again (well, who  knows).

It’s been good. I’m sad it’s almost over.

Seems like yesterday we were dropping her off here, and yet I’m still surprised at how the week has flown by. 


When You’re Smiling

I inadvertently admitted that I self identify as unhappy. I went out on a  limb and shared a poem on facebook that I had written recently.

I figured that the safety of poetry, is that people won’t really understand it, so you can be honest.

But when you say things like your bucket list includes only happiness, it’s probably not so hard to figure out that you don’t think you have it yet.

And then people are concerned about you. Or sad for you. Such a sad poem. No. It actually felt good to express it.

I want to say that depression isn’t always so serious. Not to belittle it. It can be. And if someone tells you they are depressed, it should be taken seriously, because no one wants to burden people with that, so if they’re telling you, it might have already risen to a serious level. But assuming one doesn’t wait for that, slips it in a poem for example, by accident, I would make a distinction between any old minor chronic depression like I live with and that which rises to the level of despair. I am not in despair. Hardly ever. Probably never.

There is a lot about my life that I really like and appreciate and recognize. Family. Friends. Hobbies:, music, photography, and drink (he he). I make good money. I know people who make more, I can’t retire whenever I want to, and I wouldn’t mind that, but I’m not naive. I make better than most people. And I don’t hate my job. I wouldn’t do it if I weren’t paid but if I ever complain about it, it’s only because I’m spoiled.

I’m just not always happy with myself. I want to be able to show off what I haven’t been able to do, but believe that I can. I want purpose.

And I don’t always know what to do about it. I’m kind of like, lost a little.

But what is happiness? Do you know that when people self-identify as happy that can be very unreliable? They could be fooling themselves. They may not realize how happy they could be. It’s all relative to their own expectations. We don’t really have objective standards.

So when I desire this, I may not fully understand how elusive it is to achieve something you can’t define. It’s Impossible!

Am I expecting it every second of the day? Yes! Is it a solid state of being that never changes? No.

I’m in Pittsburgh. Using vacation that would expire if I didn’t take it. Came here alone. This is why I’m posting more than usual. I’m on a writer’s retreat. My daughter is here, going to school, so we visit and when she’s busy, I’m on my own. She’s repeating to her friends that I am on a writer’s retreat, which they think is cool, but I have to qualify that it is self-constructed. I want to see if I still can write. Because I haven’t been. I have other goals too, work on Spanish if I have a chance. Walk around the city. Maybe sight-see, eat some good food. I meant to bring drumsticks so that I could work on my chops a bit, on a pillow. But I forgot.

I rented a room through Airbnb, in a house that I share with people I don’t know. Last night a guest showed up at 12:15AM and rang the doorbell and knocked on the door. Some issue, I guess. I ignored them. I felt bad, but how do I know who is supposed to be staying here or not? He or she got in eventually without my help, and I couldn’t sleep until then.

My room has no desk. It’s not particularly conducive for writing. I think that I would be more productive if I spent more money to make it easier, but that’s spoiled thinking. It wouldn’t. My expectations that writing can be made easy by a desk in a room – well, easier maybe. But if I had that, I’d probably be so comfortable I’d just watch Netflix and get depressed about it. It’s an excuse. Writing isn’t easy. Spanish isn’t easy. No way around it. Might as well just do it the hard way.

So, I’ve been working amid distraction at Starbucks and the University of Pittsburgh library, and worrying that I won’t get anywhere. Today I found a nice spot at Crazy Mocha in Squirrel Hill (the neighborhood I’ve planted myself in). It’s quiet and relatively empty and I have myself a cozy corner. It’s starting to work. It’s nice to have some time on your own to figure stuff out. And here is something that I figured out. Vague goals like “happiness” don’t get you anywhere.

You know that song, “when you’re smiling, when you’re smiling the whole world smiles with you…”?  It popped into my head, like an epiphany! I downloaded it. Because I can. Louie Armstrong sang it. Also Regis Philbin. I really want to  hear that version, but it’s only on Amazon Unlimited, which I don’t subscribe to. Darnit. I bet it’s good.   

Do you see where I’m going with this?

I want to smile more.

That’s an achievable goal. It may even be easy. I already smile a lot, I just deny that it represents  happiness.  But what else is happiness? It is a moment by moment thing. I know some of you have figured this out already. WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME!

You can even fake it, and the thing is when the whole world smiles with you, then it’s contagious back, and suddenly you’re not faking it anymore.

I can do this. Watch.

I can’t quit facebook

At least, I have not been convinced yet that the cost is high enough for such a HUGE sacrifice. Because I get a lot out of it. It is the only path I’ve found for keeping in touch with people I don’t see anymore. It is what classmates.com never was because it wasn’t free, for one, so it wouldn’t help to join if you were the only one. And it was only for old classmates.

I am back in touch with people I haven’t seen in almost 40 years, and I am in constant touch with friends and family near and far. I know family that I otherwise would not even know. I have met up with people, gone to events organized online, because of facebook, a tribute for an old band teacher from 9th grade and the 50th birthday party of two friends I hadn’t seen in 30 years, for example.

I am aware that what I post is not secure. I keep that in mind when I post. I don’t post anything that is particularly private. I do post my opinions, sometimes, but as I am reminded by the coffee mug that my family bought me when I was probably late teens, and I still have it, it’s on my desk at work, where I bring mugs to die, because I always end up breaking them there, and I figure I’ve had this one long enough, only it won’t break, “Everyone is entitled to my opinion.”

The thing is, I’m not completely frank on there. Who is? Some. Maybe the warnings are more for them. I use it mostly to keep in touch, and everything else I post on there is relatively non-controversial. But that’s a shame. A part of me wants people to be even more forthcoming. Maybe it will follow you everywhere for your entire life, giving employers, governments, fascists, material to judge you by, and maybe even punish you for, but if everyone were honest then that would make it kind of hard to judge, wouldn’t it? Am I going to pass on a candidate for something stupid they did when they were young, when I know what every other young person did that was stupid when they were young, and for those I don’t I can assume they also did something stupid?

I believe in the right to privacy. But I also think the more we share, the more we understand. And what greater path to salvation is there than understanding each other?

That said. When I do share on facebook, it is only my intent to share with friends. If other people have access to it, I don’t necessarily think that will hurt me, but it isn’t my intent. I agree that facebook shouldn’t share it.  In fact, I was pissed with facebook when they had this feature where if I posted a comment on any public post, they would actually put it in the feed of all my friends: “look what Andy said!”. I ranted politically on my cousins page. I knew it was public and I didn’t want it seen by co-workers, but since they didn’t know her, I considered myself pretty well protected by the probabilities. At least until facebook decided to point it out to them. I didn’t necessarily think that was illegal, just stupid. I don’t think they do that anymore.

And what about this charge that an analytics company working for the Trump campaign got a hold of Facebook data to use in targeted advertising for the election.  What data, is my first question? Was it really everything we posted? Or was it just what we show interest in? And is this really the worst accusation you can level against them? OK, not a fan of Trump, but targeted advertising is a way to find people who might actually be interested in what you’re selling. If they have an idea that you are conservative and want to target you to get out the vote, would the person targeted be complaining? If you care about a particular issue, and they want to target you to tell you that Trump also cares, or that Hillary doesn’t, is that not information you could use? Now of course they could be lying to get your vote, and sensationalizing for people they think they can get worked up, and rallying around hate, but that’s a different issue. We as a people need to see through that. Complaints that these tactics allow companies or political campaigns to manipulate the populous assumes that we are all children, and maybe we are. But we need to grow up. That’s the solution. Don’t complain to the teacher. Offer the student other alternatives.

None of this means we shouldn’t negotiate the waters to encourage better  behavior. If we don’t like how Facebook is making money, then maybe we can make it less profitable for them. We are, in fact, making a deal with them. It is not, as I saw written somewhere, “to use their service in exchange for security.” That’s not the deal we make with them. They have no interest in providing us security. They are not hoping that we join up so that they can provide us security. What’s in it for them? The opposite. We are making a deal that in exchange for this free service, they can monetize our participation. Otherwise, there’s no incentive for them to provide this service. And they probably can’t make enough just by showing us advertising, especially if they can’t target our interests based on data analytics they share with the advertiser.

I wonder though, how much money do they really make off of me, if I never buy anything, and if I only use the service to keep in touch with people? And what if I can minimize the extent to which they can monetize me? I don’t even like facebook all that much. I used to blog. Before facebook, I kept a blog in a blogging community and read other people’s blogs and it was kind of like facebook, in that we shared personal information about each other, but it was less superficial. We wrote longer pieces, and elaborated on our thoughts. We did not generally post pictures of what we were eating that day, though we may have posted pictures of our vacations, while also writing about it. I actually met new people that way, got to know them well enough to trust them, and I am now, even after that blogging community has become defunct, facebook friends with many of them. I think it was much better sharing in that way, and a more effective use of time. I do not grow as a person as much from reading most facebook posts.  

Can I convince any of you (the small percentage of you who read this far are good candidates) to start a wordpress blog? We could all subscribe to each other and comment on them, and have a real exchange of ideas. And then we can post a link to it on facebook, but without actually putting any of the content on facebook.

Not everyone will be up for that, takes a little more work, and that’s not what everyone is looking for, but it has its benefits. It takes learning about each other to a new level. It can be more intimate, and more enlightening, and even spiritual. WordPress is easy, and it is free, and they even have an app.  See how pretty this site is? Who is up for it?

Even if it’s shit

Heart palpitations, broken collarbone, depression.  These are the things that are in the forefront of my life experience right now.  I know where the broken collarbone came from.  I fell on my shoulder on a ski slope at Winterplace ski resort in west Virginia.  I even know what contributes to the depression, in that I don’t write, or do the other things I say make me who I am, but to top it off, the thing that despite it all helps to keep the worst of it away, exercise, I can’t do, for 6 to 12 weeks because my collarbone is broken.  The heart palpitations are an annoyance.  They are supposedly benign, but despite the fact that coffee brings them on quitting coffee has not gotten rid of them.  I take magnesium, CoQ10 and a multivitamin and even some potassium.  I’ve basically quit alcohol, because it can bring them on, and sometimes I’ve thought it has, but really they come anyway, I’m having them right now, so probably has nothing to do with alcohol other than keeping me from enjoying it.  So I go to gatherings and not only do I have to watch other people drink I have to deal with people pushing me to drink.  “you’re winning too much at poker, let me get you a drink.”  “Want a beer?”  “What kind of bourbon are you drinking?” “You’re not drinking?  Why not?”

“I just don’t want to is that fucking all right?”

Jeez.  Like it’s not depressing enough, I need help to rationalize why I should be doing it anyway, like it’s the worst thing any or my friends could imagine.  They think they are empathizing, but they’re not.  They’re projecting.  

And my cardiologist wants me to go on statins because my cholesterol is high.  I’m not going to give into that, but that doesn’t mean I won’t take some measures to reduce my inflammation, and by proxy, my cholesterol and my BMI etc, if for no other reason to get said Cardiologist off my back, and also because being a little skinnier and healthier feels better, but it’s hard to make those improvements when I can’t exercise.  And when I don’t feel good it’s hard to do anything else. 

And I’ve been wanting coffee lately, or hot chocolate or something to make me feel good, but I can’t do those.  So, I can write, maybe. Even if it’s shit.

Wasted Days

I broke my fucking collar bone.  God damn it.  When one skis, one is supposed to be able to fall down and get up again and continue skiing.  I skied for a day and a half without even falling and the first time I fall, I break my collar bone. I didn’t even hit a tree this time.  My ski caught and I just fell.  I’m batting .333 over the past three years .500 if you count the first time I skied a decade or so ago.  That sounds better than it is.  I really need to up my average.  And with 3 ½ more days planned for, it seems like wasted vacation days, but at least I’m not working.  And I do have a book I can read.  And I can write.  Maybe I’ll work on my novel.  Or maybe I’ll plug into netflix and catch up on Justified.

When I’m sitting still I can almost forget that I’m hurt.  I start thinking that I’m fine and I’ll be able to ski after all, until I try to move.  And the longer I stay still, the harder it is when I do move.

I’m kind of bummed about the whole thing.  I was really starting to enjoy myself.  And I was skiing well, with one exception, obviously.  I did something I shouldn’t have done. Why do I always have to learn the hard way?  And then wait another year before I can put what I learned into practice.  

“What happened?” about a dozen people asked me.  I fell. That’s what happened.  It wasn’t anyone’s fault.  There weren’t any witnesses.  The people I was skiing with were ahead of me, and they didn’t hear me screaming (well, cursing, I can’t remember exactly, but I know myself well enough that we should assume that while I was lying in the middle of the run, wondering how I was going to get up, I was cursing.  Then I managed to work through the pain, get my remaining ski off, stand up and walk to the side of the trail before anyone else even came by.  By the time they did, I didn’t look like I was in distress, so no one stopped to help.  It was hard just getting my phone out of my pocket so I could call for help to get off the damn mountain.  


Acting was the first thing I knew I wanted to do.  I had a great teacher whose name was Geraldine Teagarden.  We bonded.  I loved acting. She liked my enthusiasm. When I came out of my shell I could be very good. We were both Virgos too. She had a sign in her office that said, “those of you who think you know everything are very annoying to those of us who do.”

We never did improv that I can remember, though maybe we did. That’s a big thing in acting classes now.  What I remember about the classes were trust exercises, and relaxation.  Hardly any acting.  Just activities to get you control of your body and out of yourself.  And then we would put on a play.  A full scale complete production. Where else? It was a unique experience.

And though we didn’t do improv, I remember improvising spontaneously just for fun.

I don’t even know how it would start. I’m inclined to think I started it.  For example, I’d suggest to someone somehow that we were engaged to be married and get into a fight with her.  She’d go along, and we’d keep it going for as long as we could.

Just the other day I blogged about how great it would be to live in another country so that I could find out what it would be like to be someone else.  That’s what that felt like.

I didn’t hate myself, it was how I liked myself. It was spiritual. It connected me to others.

When I lost my way, I also felt like I lost my bond with Geri.  I wasn’t what she thought I was.  But what she didn’t know is that I always regretted not acting.  And then I felt like the window closed and I could never be that anymore.

Years later I sought her out, and we met, and talked. I’m sure it must have been obvious to her then that those times meant a lot to me.  Until I got distracted by other interests it was the thing.

After all those years, feeling so much older, though I was still young, I showed her, I think, that I was still the same person.  But I was substituting writing for acting. And she encouraged that.  She was always encouraging.



Bucket Lists

I haven’t written in a really long time.  It’s hard to get started, cause, whatever, I forget how.  I can’t manage to get up early anymore. But that didn’t work anyway.  I would write, but it was crap.  So I’m scared it will be crap. Not scared, really, though I act scared. It’s just writing. It doesn’t have to be good.  No one reads it anyway.

But it’s on my bucket list.

Most people have things on their bucket lists that are about going somewhere.  I want to be on every continent.  I want to climb Everest.  I want to travel a lot.  I want to go to Morocco.  The Great Wall of China.  Things like that.  I want to go to the Great Wall of China.  But it’s not a bucket list item for me.  I could die without being there and I wouldn’t feel like I had failed my life’s dream.

My bucket lists are the kinds of things I don’t get done sometimes because I travel too much.  And because I spend too much on travel.  Because then I can’t spend the same money on achieving my bucket list.

My bucket list consists of things I’ve always said I wanted to do.  Be fluent in another language.  Write a novel.  Even keep a blog consistently.  Live creatively.  Know what it feels like to enjoy my freedom.  Hell, I just want to be happy.  That’s on my bucket list.  I should have found a way to serve.  I think it was Albert Schweitzer who said that those would be the happiest people, the ones who found a way to serve.

Albert Schweitzer was a German and then French!  Who was an organist, a philosopher AND a physician!  That’s what I’m talking about.  Bucket lists man.  And he was happy, presumably, or he wouldn’t have said so.

There are other things on my bucket list.  Things I might like to read, believe it or not. But it’s not the places I want to go, at least not literally.   Unless, I can live there.  That’s always been on my bucket list.  To live somewhere else.  To become someone else.  Man, I just think that would be cool.

So, there.  It’s a blog post.