Isolation

In an age of unprecedented connectedness, true isolation has become a decadent, almost obscene luxury. It’s been almost two weeks since I’ve unplugged from the matrix. How did I do it? I turned off my cell phone, not vibrate, silent or airplane mode.

Power Off.

I can feel you shivering just thinking about it. Without the digital shock collar lashed to my wrist I felt a wave of nauseating anxiety practically drown me for the first two days. Then something strange began to happen. I began to regain my attention span. Driving, cooking, walking, simply breathing became enjoyable. But it was a timid happiness lurking like a battered and abused refugee escaping his tormentors for the first time in decades. I caught myself still flinching at the hyper reactive mental scars where I was most plugged in. If I heard other people’s ringtones I would still feel a rush of panic rise in my chest. Being unplugged in a world where everyone else is still doggedly plugged in is surreal to say the least.

Everywhere I went I saw people glued to their devices, security guards, diners, parents, joggers, baristas, waiters, moms, nannies, dads, grandparents and especially drivers (everybody drives and texts…truly disturbing.) We are all stumbling around with our attention divided between the real world and the digital realm where we are interfaced with hundreds or thousands of daily distractions from our lives. The aggregate effect is a general purgatory like trance where we are all neither here nor there more self absorbed than ever before. The tyranny of incessant demands for attention from everyone and everything must be eating away our souls.

If I were the paranoid type I would say this is the first assault by Skynet to domesticate their future biochemical batteries.

So I am ironically “unplugged” by not having a smartphone or even a cell phone. Yet I am still hacking away at this blog hoping that the message reaches those who still have the capacity to disconnect. I urge you to try it if even for 48 hours. Just turn off the smartphone and reconnect with your humanity.

Who knows how much longer we will have the option?

Knowledge versus execution

Knowing versus doing. The roots of our habits reach deep into our being, the fundamental neurophysiological patterns are so ingrained in us that to create lasting change in our behaviors is such a monumental task that relapses are practically inevitable.

How’s that for an uplifting message?

Health, finances, relationships. Three of the most common sources of dissatisfaction within a person’s life. The secret recipes to optimizing them.

Eat less than you burn. Exercise daily. Consistency beats intensity.

Spend less than you earn. Consistently invest the difference in tax efficient vehicle with compounding interest.

No rhyme for this one, just treat your partner when you’re with them the same way as if you were still chasing them . Consistently do NOT keep score.

That’s it.

A handful of sentences encapsulates the collective wisdom of all humanity in these three arenas. The knowledge is simple and has been regurgitated in countless forms spawning billions upon billions of dollars worth of industries.

Simple knowledge and information alone are absolutely useless. The inter webs are rife with endless pages on every facet of conceivable knowledge yet we are left increasingly bereft of wisdom, satisfaction and peace. Perhaps the solution is that there is no problem and we are all just a hypochondriac Lady Macbeth grappling with imaginary psoriasis.

Reversion to the mean

Two years ago at this time I was on the upswing out of one of the darkest periods of my life. I was celebrating Halloween with the first steady girlfriend I had in a long time and life was challenging, but fulfilling. I was rebuilding from the ashes and bootstrapping it to glory. A year ago I was in Los Angeles putting together a ten million dollar real estate acquisition with pure chutzpah and friends and frenemies accumulated over a year of hot deals.

Today I am once again sidelined watching the flaming ruins of dozens of relationships, friendships and another company gone to the wolves. This time was supposed to be different, I had built a better plane with better wings. How did it turn into an Icarus inspired Hindenberg again? Trick or treat indeed.

As the saying goes, “wherever you go, there you are.” Destiny seems like a lazy word used to cast off responsibility for my own actions. The emergency management protocols are in full effect.

Accept that you’ve lost.

It doesn’t even matter.

Do everything you can anyway.

Good luck.

Success is the ability to move from one failure to the next with no loss of enthusiasm. Great words from a great drunk. Cheers!

 

Silver Spoons

I read a NYT Magazine article about an Eritrean woman’s struggle for legal status in Israel. She walked through the desert to illegally enter Israre el and due to her lack of status forced to work menial jobs for substandard wages. Eventually she was given the unpalatable choices of being relocated to a prison camp in the Negev desert, sent back to Eritrea to face likely execution or being given a $3,500 stipend and a plane ticket to Rwanda. She chose door number 3 and faced a similar situation when she arrived in Rwanda and was ultimately forced to Uganda where she continues to face a permanent alien existence cast off the the margins of society reviled as a refugee and scorned as a transient leech. A similar fate faces millions of other displaced individuals around the world.

I was born on Queens Boulevard in St. John’s hospital. By pure chance and the grace of God I entered the world as a bona fide citizen of the United States of America with all of the rights and privileges thereof. By inalienable birthright I was bestowed with the protection of the most advanced armed forces the world has ever seen, granted the freedom to be anything I wanted to be, in the most financially sophisticated and culturally envied city on earth. To boot I am also Chinese which added 5,000 years of history creating a cultural emphasis on education, a genetic predisposition to risk and entrepeneurship along with a healthy dose of bilingual ability.

As if all of that wasn’t enough, my parents grew up in Mozambique adding an additional layer of global perspective and a dash of European influence to my upbringing making for a natural icebreaker in social situations.

All of these factors gilding my existence before I drew my very first breath. It almost seems unfair to have so many advantages thrust upon a single individual. Yet growing up I didn’t realize that all of these gifts had already been bequeathed upon me. Rather I grew up with a giant chip on my shoulder aspiring to attain an elusive wealth I believed was requisite to my significance as a human being.

Instead of embracing the cornucopia of advantages I had coming out of the gate, I relentlessly pursued that which I did not need. The result has been complete and utter disaster and I am sitting in the aftermath of a squandered lead, a misguided youth and an uncertain future. If only there was a mulligan card in life.

 

Endings

A journey has come to an end. Old age and death have been weighing heavily on my mind as of late. The process of winding down in life has stoked a morbid curiosity. My first 35 years was her last 35 years. The overlap of these opposite spectrums of life carries with it the lingering melancholy of a cold sunset.

The interconnectedness of our individual lives are in stark contrast to the inherent and undeniable loneliness that we all feel on an existential level. Sometimes our paths are so intimately parallel that we believe that we are part of a greater whole. Yet there is both the physical and mental separation of each of our individual beings that keeps us ultimately apart.

We are like cars on a highway, perhaps traveling towards the same destination or coming from the same place. Yet we remain apart in our individual vehicles. Our entire life experience is parsed separately from every one else’s even if it is the same road or even the same make and model car. There is an unbridgeable gap. The pain of losing someone, the pain of never being able to make things right again. That pain resonates deep within me. The unwavering finality of things truly ending is a gut wrenching dose of sobriety.

I love you. I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you.

Rest in peace Grandma.

The last goodbye

“The last goodbye’s the hardest one to say…”

Our monkey minds are pattern recognition machines. Yuval Harari in Sapiens will explain it far better than I can. Millennia of evolution have hammered it into our DNA literally. Although the singularity looks like it will occur any day now, it hasn’t happened yet. In the meantime I still have to grapple with the nonsense that ricochets around the dark corners of my mind.

When the lights are off and in the final moments before I fall asleep when there is no show to put on, I have often pondered the meaning of life and the vastness of the universe. So much so that it induces brutal panic attacks which leave me screaming at the top of my lungs banging on the floor to regain my semblance of sanity.

The thought of the vastness of space alone is enough to send me into a tailspin into the darkness.

Many lifetimes ago I was an avid student of history. It is replete with tales of abject terror and heroism. The darkest and brightest spots of humanity repeated ad nauseum. Many have suffered orders of magnitude more than I ever will yet we all can only really understand the pain of our own journey. The pain that we feel is real, the pain that others experience is theory for the most part and empathetic pain at best.

We are all incredibly selfish creatures thrust into an existence where we must rely on mutual self interest to perpetuate the species. What the hell does that have to do with George Strait saying goodbye?

I’ve spent pretty much all of my adult life catering to the needs of others and then channeling the resulting resentment into woefully destructive tendencies. These past few days I’ve finally acted as selfish as those usually around me and it feels pretty damn good. I can see why they do it.

The road ahead is bleak and dreary, hence the difficulty of the last goodbye.

This is where the cowboy rides away.

 

Much too young to feel this damn old

With Las Vegas in the rearview mirror and thoughts of the highway on my mind I took a long winding drive through the desert in the pouring rain.

Quite scenic.

Spent a good part of the drive being present and one with the road. Spent a lot more ruminating on the what ifs and the whys that plague my monkey mind. If I had won more, lost more, what would be different. What would I do differently? What could I do differently?

Those are all the wrong questions.

Who do I get to be now?

I have taken the red pill and ripped myself out of the matrix I was confined in. Nothing but time and open road. People often ask what would you do if you were diagnosed with a terminal illness?

How would you live if you knew you were going to die?

Well we all die don’t we? So why do we live the ways that do?

Why do we shackle ourselves to the demands and constraints of convention? Why do we limit our choices to the A,B,C menu? What the hell are we chasing and what the hell are we running from?

I took a long drive, watched the thunderclouds and lightning strikes on my left and the columns of sunlight in the valley on my right. I watched the sunset through the clouds. I enjoyed a meal. I went to Costco. I watched reruns of Martin. I read a book my Scott Adams. I marinated some steaks. I had a couple of beers. I listened to Tim McGraw sing about skydiving, bull riding and bird watching.

Life really is that simple.