Pressure Test

I can’t remember who it was, but I once heard a comedian tell a joke about relationships that went something like this: “Figuring out who to marry is easy. If you like someone and think you could spend your life with them then just sit down and eat some raw chicken together. Then, lock yourself in a one bathroom apartment together for the next few days. Soon there will be vomiting and explosive diarrhea everywhere. If during that terrible time, you share a single laugh with the other person then you should marry them.”

There is something valuable about pressure testing a relationship before you commit to a life* with someone. Relationships are fucking tough, but they can start our really easy. Hell, years can go by before you realize you are incompatible with someone or that they aren’t on the same path as you. If most of your experiences with a person are rosy and happy and relatively stress-free then you won’t know if you will be able to deal with the tough blows that life can send your way.

I’m not saying you should eat a raw chicken though (besides my vegan ethics, that is gross). You should probably live with someone, be around them when things are bad, and go on adventures together. You should know what the other person acts like when there is no money and no plan and when things are completely out of anyone’s control. Do you still share a laugh? Or is it constant pain? Do you turn to each other and grin because you know that as a team you can fucking conquer anything? Or do you look to the other person and feel like they are making things worse or dragging you down?

Pressure tests aren’t really about surviving a scenario, they are about enjoying it because you are with a compatible person. If pressure testing your relationship means you barely get out intact, maybe there is someone else out there that is more compatible? When I moved in with my ex-fiance (I wish I had a better title for that relationship), it brought to light a ton of things that we didn’t know before living together. Things seemed easy and rosy when we were in a long-distance relationship because every moment we spent together felt special. Living together ended the “honeymoon phase” and we realized that we weren’t compatible… we were sexually incompatible, had different views on relationships, and wanted to live different places and have different lives. All those things seemed easy to overcome when we lived apart, I think we both figured the other person would eventually “come around”, but that wasn’t the case.

Now, if we had stayed together I am sure we would have found a way to be happy(ish). The mind has an amazing way of adapting to a situation and making the most out of it or even enjoying a situation if changing things seems impossible (see: Stockholm Syndrome). Maybe I would have eventually fallen in love with Myrtle Beach, SC and enjoyed whatever shit job I found. Maybe continuing my education would have seen unnecessary and my political activism at the time felt worthless (in some senses it was, but in other’s it really helped me grow). Maybe the idea of complete monogamy with vanilla sex once a week would have eventually been enough to make me happy.

Or maybe not. Maybe I would have stuck it out for a decade or two before ending the relationship with feelings of hatred and resentment towards the person I loved, leaving me with mountains of debt and no real support network.

I’m glad I’ll never know. I’m glad that my relationship went through a pressure test that we failed. It would have been worse if we survived but didn’t end up stronger because of it. Anna and I have had lots of pressure tests. Biking around a country with someone for two years and living in a tent with them brings out stress. Not knowing where you are sleeping each night or how you will find a coffee shop to get work done can cause friction. Being within 15 feet of someone for years at a time eliminates the honeymoon phase pretty quickly. And now we are facing a new pressure test, living in a stable home and dealing with all the issues that come from that. But, despite the pressure, we’ve come out stronger and filled laughter and genuine love for each other.

If a relationship isn’t making you stronger then it might better to end it. If incompatibilities exist (or develop… we are all changing people) that is something to be taken seriously now and not pushed to the side with the hopes they will resolve themselves. It sucks when things end, but it is better to turn around when you see a dead end than to drive over a cliff just because you’ve committed yourself to that road for so long.

*I actually think committing your life to someone is foolish. We all change and grow through our life and it is impossible to commit to loving someone when you don’t know who they will be or who you will be down the road. Anna and I certainly hope that we remain compatible and loving for a long time, maybe even life, but we aren’t committed to making a relationship last until death if we aren’t happy in it. A successful relationship isn’t one where it lasts until someone dies, a successful relationship is one where both parties build each other up and are reasonable enough to end it if that is no longer the case.

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Just One More

Yesterday I did one more push-up than I did the day before that.

Just one.

That’s not very impressive, but sometimes one more is enough. Progress is made in increments of one. One more push up. One more second meditating. One more word put on paper. One less calorie consumed. One step closer to a goal.

Sometimes I get caught up in the vastness of what I want to accomplish. The mountains of physical fitness, writing a book, creating a practice overwhelms me and I feel so small. Defeat is inevitable. But, I take one more step, and that’s enough. With one more step, I can work my way along this beautiful trail of life and climb any mountain. Of course, the mountain doesn’t really exist, at the top will be more trails and more peaks to shoot for. Endpoints and victories are illusions, all we have is the path and the steps we take.

There are days when I feel super productive and knock out dozens of tasks. I hit a new personal best 2-mile run, I read 100 pages, I write dozens, I work 8 hours, I clean the house and rake the yard. My “to do” list disappears at an alarming rate. I sprint towards my goal on those days and it just feels So. Damn. Good.

Then there are days like yesterday, where my progress is less like a sprint and more like a forward collapse. It is easy to beat myself up for days like yesterday. “Why can’t I be more like my previous self and see huge progress? Why can’t I be more productive with my time and spend less time slacking? Why only one push up?”

Because some days one is all you have in you, but one is good enough. One is perfect. One is progress.

Row With the Flow

I was catching up with my best friend a few days ago and we started talking about my new chapter of life in Wilmington. Settling into a home for a couple of years was not on my life plan four months ago and he was curious how I was doing. I told him I was doing fine and that changes like this don’t really effect me that much, you gotta just roll with life sometimes. He told me that he admired my ability to “row with the flow” (which I find kind of funny because I admire that about him).

“Row with the flow” is kind of a mantra for me (and probably many others). I first explicitly encountered the concept through a YouTube video (see below) by Halcyon when I was preparing for my first Burning Man. My application of the concept kind of goes like this…. we are floating down this river of life and we can either fight the flow, row with the flow, or pull in the paddles and just let the river rush us along. “Row with the flow” is kind of the golden mean of how to approach life.

There are certainly times when we should bunker down and fight the current, but that shouldn’t be our default position. So much of life is outside of our control and if we exert all of our energy trying to fight things out of our control we just end up too exhausted to safely navigate the river. Energy should be applied efficiently to help us reach our goals and not just used up because “we have to do something!”. No, we don’t have to “do something” if that “something” won’t bring about positive change.

On the other end of the spectrum is just letting life push us along. Instead of fighting the river the whole way, we can just let life push us around. This is victimhood and defeatism, we can blame everyone else and every circumstance for the good and bad in our life. This view is to accept that life is based on luck, fate, or God’s plan, and all we can do is forfeit our free will and suffer through it. Every success and failure is pre-determined, so why even try?

Fuck that, I’d rather row with the flow.

Rowing with the flow is to pay attention to your life and alter your course to your desires, but it involves more than that. It involves recognizing that we can only see a short way up the river and someday new bends and splits and opportunities may arise, so we may need to alter course. It means that yesterday’s notions of what will make us happy or bring us success may not apply to today. It also means that sometimes you need to navigate around blind turns into unexpected territory if you want new experiences. Sometimes, you gotta row off the map when the river gives you the chance to get out of the main current and check out an uncharted tributary. It might lead to another river or the ocean or it might dry up and force you to trudge back to your previous course… but no matter what, you will learn something if you row away from the mainstream.

Now that I think about it, I guess we have a fourth choice. We can find an eddy and just paddle our boat into the safe, calm, comforting water and die in stagnation. We can find a place that poses no risk (and thus, no reward) and is “good enough”. We can stay in shitty jobs, never leave our hometowns, and stay in relationships that aren’t good. The fear of the unknown can be overwhelming, I get that, but the unknown is where you create the life you want. You can’t change your life without making changes. You can find an eddy that has some shade and won’t allow you to get harmed, but you’ll be stuck staring at the same rocks for the rest of your life. That might be comfortable, but it certainly isn’t living.

Micro Moments of Mindfulness

The “meat and potatoes” of the Headspace meditation app is the multi-day series programs that it offers (I’m in the middle of a 30-day focus on creativity right now and I’m really enjoying it), but there is more to mindfullness than that. The app also offers one-off topics on a variety of subjects and I noticed one on eating. The idea of mindful eating has crossed my path from time to time, I even think I saw a weight loss program based on it advertised on tv at 3am once. After listening to it, I am becoming convinced that the real meat of meditation isn’t when you are sitting on the mat for 20 minutes each day, it is in your moment to moment living.

Take eating, for example. I am so often on autopilot when it comes to my meals. I have Netflix on or I am working while I shovel food into my mouth. I’m not really paying any attention to what I’m doing and I’m just trying to satiate my hunger. Eating takes on a whole different dimension when you shut off distractions and start to pay attention to the sensations. One bite at a time you can focus on the flavors and textures in your mouth and the feeling of the food going down your throat. Instead of pushing more food into your mouth before swollowing you focus on living in the moment. For me, it is a realy pleasant experience.

Eating is just one example of how I can take a few seconds out of a normal experience and try to be mindful of what is happening. Instead of my mind wandering while riding my bike I can scan down my body and check in with each joint and muscle or I can look around me and really try to take in the beautify of the world. When I’m peeing I can leave my phone in the living room and while sitting on the toilet I can focus on the change in pressure and how little muscles in my body tighten and release as the fluid leaves my urethra. Instead of chugging my morning coffee I can savor the flavors, drink slowly, and appreciate the magic of such a wonderful drug.

Our minds wander all too often from the here and now. Whether we are eating, exercising, cleaning the house, or having sex, our minds are not fully with our bodies. I’m not saying that every moment must be focused on the immediate sensation (that would be an impossible task), but I think it is beneficial for me to bring my mind back to the moment when I realize it has drifted. Instead of worrying about what may happen when a shitty president is elected or what I did in 7th grade (something out of my control) or what I plan to do when I start work (something I can control later), my mind could be in the moment and feeling the sensations. You can’t let life pass you by while thinking about a life that might never be.

It isn’t the time spent at meditation retreats and during morning rituals that bring about mindfulness in today’s world, it is shifting into the here and now during your normal life. It is paying explicit attention to all the sensations that our brain does such a good job filtering. It is really savoring the taste, smell, and feeling of the world around you and appreciating the life you have. I guess the old cliche is right, you gotta stop and smell the roses once in a while.

The Art of Booty

I want to start doing some more artistic stuff, but I’m not sure where to begin. I get random ideas a lot but I never really know if they are possible. I guess I should actually try… So, starting next month I’m going to see if I can make custom wooden coasters. This partly comes from a need of mine, I don’t have coasters and there is a lot of random wood around my house. My plan is to reclaim it and turn them into coasters.

Now, these won’t be just normal coasters, I want to put pictures on them. I realize that isn’t a particularly original idea itself but my hope is to put pictures of my friends… in particular, my friend’s butts. Clearly, this will require some audience participation.

My idea is to set up a website or use some service to anonymously collect submitted pictures of my friend’s butts (or maybe chests and genitals… but butts are kind of funnier to me). The system would prevent even me from knowing who submitted the picture, then I could print it off and attach it to the reclaimed wood that I’ve shaped into a coaster.

So, why would I do this? Well, I think it would be kind of funny to have black and white pictures of butts on the coasters in my house. Also, I like the idea of using my friend’s who have a variety of body types as the models. I could also pay anyone who submits a high-quality image in bitcoin as well, so they could make some cash.

I also think this could become a business. It may not be the next Google but it might bring in a little extra cash for everyone involved. I’m still brainstorming but here are my basic ideas:

  • Basically, sell packs of butt coasters (or chests and genitals) to people, they can either choose from the photos available, submit their own or have random ones sent to them
    • If they choose from the photos available it will cost a little more
    • If they submit their own it can be a one-time thing (with the images destroyed after the coasters are delivered), they can be stored in our database privately for future ordering, or they can be made public so that others can order the prints
    • If they choose random ones it will be cheaper and I would work to send a diverse group of prints from our most popular (or maybe they can filter by gender or other characteristics if that is important).
  • If you want to submit an image you can earn a little extra cash, maybe 10% of any sales from people picking your image (that amount is totally random)
  • There could be seasonal contests and deals like Christmas themed images, etc.
  • Maybe making coasters is thinking too small. If I had the capabilities I could put user submitted butt/chest/genital pics on just about anything (posters, mugs, artistic prints, etc), but maybe that is thinking too big.

So, potential problems that could arise

  1. Too many pictures are submitted, so we will need a filtering process. Maybe limit submissions to only a few from an email address or pictures expire every 30 days
  2. Early entry could be key to popularity instead of actual quality when people who order the images don’t want to surf through thousands of submissions. It is easier just to look at the most popular. I think resetting every 30 days will help with this, but maybe we can also have staff pick some of the “top” choices, or maybe break them into categories such as Black and White, Comical, etc.
  3. We could also have too few images if people are uncomfortable submitting a picture, even if anonymity is guaranteed. Hopefully, this will resolve itself if there is a market for the product. More demand for the product means higher wages for those in the market, which will encourage other people to submit images to get in on that cash.
  4. I’m not really sure how to guarantee anonymity, particularly if I am paying people. Bitcoin is the easiest way for me but very few people use bitcoin, and I’m not sure what the legal issues are with paying people bitcoin. Though, I don’t think there is a high likelihood of someone hacking a small business to expose random people whose email addresses are connected to butt pictures (though it would destroy the business if there is a security leak, anonymity is necessary to gain trust for many people… but maybe some people won’t care about being anonymous, it could be good for some people’s brand)

I guess the key isn’t really what the image is, it is creating an organizational structure that incentivizes submissions from people and provides a product that is desired.

So, that’s what’s on my mind. Next month I’ll probably figure out the anonymous submission details and see if I can gather some images from my network. Hopefully, I’ll be able to figure out the logistical issues involved and see what the price point would be to turn this into a business.

Community

There was a time in my life when I scoffed at the idea of “community” and was proud of my lone-wolf, individualistic life. Years went by where I felt almost no emotional connection with people, and I was fine with that. The reason for this self-imposed solitary confinement is multi-faceted: I felt betrayed by previous religious and social institutions, my heart was broken by someone I was engaged to, I was basically alone on the east coast while everyone I truly loved was thousands of miles away, my introvert nature made being alone easier than going out, I had embraced an individualistic political philosophy with just enough understanding to be dangerous.

In the end, the reason is irrelevant. I spent years shutting myself off from people, including the few people who knew me since childhood, and it is beginning to hurt. I don’t feel like I have a real community. I see friends who have 2-3 couples who are a tight part of their regular lives but I don’t have that.

I failed to take Baz Lurhman’s advice to “work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle”. I didn’t work hard. I thought my friendships were immune from entropy, but they weren’t. Without new energy my friendships decay. As my lifestyle changed and views on the world evolved I didn’t work hard to keep in touch with those people I knew when I was young. I often wonder if it is too late.

Maybe the geography and lifestyle has become too much to overcome. Despite modern technology, thousands of miles do prevent strengthening relationships, particularly relationships that have not been strengthened in decades. The friendship decays like unused muscles, and the pressure that you could once endure easily now cause you to collapse into a heap of weeping regret.

Lifestyle provides its own challenges. It isn’t just political or religious views, those are easy to overcome. When your friends start having kids and you choose not to you will likely be left behind, unless you work hard… before the children are born and for every year afterwards. It isn’t enough to just to talk, action must be taken. Financial differences are just as difficult to overcome. I don’t fear that my friends love me less because I live a simplistic life below the poverty level, but when my whole budget for social activities is $100 for a month it makes it difficult to connect with friends who see no problem dropping twice that in one night. It just makes things difficult.

It has never been easy for me to make friends. I am skeptical of people and a bit stand-offish. My views on the world are, umm, unconventional, and I tend to advertise my strange views regularly. It is particularly difficult for me to make friends with guys for reasons that may be worth going into in another blog post, and making friends with women when you are married and openly “non-monogamous” brings the assumption that I’m only looking to hook-up. Again, I am to blame for most of this, my fascination with sex is well documented and even I have trouble separating my curiosity from my platonic friends.

So, while I see my acquaintances have deep friendships with a non-biological family I feel alone. My friendships have deteriorated and I’m not sure how to fix them. Making new friends is difficult because there aren’t a lot of social groups out there really looking for new members. I feel like I’ll always just be an after-though, someone on the periphery who moved to Wilmington and kind of hangs out with a group of people who are all best friends.

That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try though. I should try to make friends here. I should also try to repair my old relationships. There was a time when I was part of a four-person group that seemed inseparable. College, the military, and all the travel in between has fragmented that group… maybe it can be fixed, if I’m not the only one who wants to fix it. I often daydream about having adult friends that I go on vacations with and visit each other regularly. And, there are other couples that I feel like we connect with in a way that could provide a family for me (despite lifestyle and geography), I need to learn from my mistakes and work hard to keep those relationships growing. “I suck at communicating” can no longer be my mantra if I want community.

I long to feel like I’m part of a peer-family… something ten years ago I would have never said. Hopefully, my 20’s didn’t fuck things up for the rest of me.

Physical Changes

I buzzed my beard down yesterday, and now my face looks odd and small when I look in the mirror. I’ve been meaning to do this for a while. I like my beard, but I also feel like a change of appearance is good when starting a new chapter in my life. It allows for a reset, an ability to discard the parts of who I was that are no longer healthy or necessary for me.

My beard, and to a lesser extent my hair, was a part of my nomadic ride. I had not really shaved it in over two years. It was a symbol of the journey I was on, a mark of my ride into the wilderness. Now, I am a bit more domestic. I’m still the same person, but in some ways, I am not. My responsibilities and expectations are completely different, but they are also exactly the same. My substance is the same, even if the particulars have changed.

This isn’t the first time I’ve changed my appearance based on a new chapter. The most obvious one was when my head was shaved before the military. But I’ve also buzzed my head before each Burning Man, dyed my hair several times, and even gotten tattoos to commemorate the end of one adventure and the beginning of another. There is something valuable to me about changing my appearance, particularly in transitionary periods. It gives me a feeling of control and of completion.

I’m not sure if any other changes are coming soon. I think I like the long hair (though, it gets in my face all the time… which is annoying) and tattoos are a bit out of my price range right now. But who knows? Maybe some inspiration will come mind soon.