Friday, July 20, 2018

The Uncertain Not-Yet

Had an existential crisis today. A minor one. The thought hit me about 8 p.m. that my life, such that it is, will not likely improve in the direction I would like it to. My finances are ruined; my social life is dead; my work is such that nothing I do can bring to it any more meaning than it has. I do know I am serving my family to a degree, that I am helping other non-family member employees to continue to have an income and provide for their own families, but I worry about the future. No one plans very hard for it in my family. Maybe there is a sort of rescue in store somewhere veiled in the mysterious mists of the uncertain not-yet, but I don't see it as very likely. I expect shock. The terrible, unfixable mistakes we blithely wander into because we were not diligent enough to work to achieve something better. Being lost is upsetting not because you do not recognize where you already are, but because you do not know how to get where you want to go.

I've also been chewing on the idea that our physical life in this 'contingent' world is so impermanent. I know this. You know this. But, as I get older, as I mull over my past mistakes, chewing on them as a dog would an old bone, I begin to see how one hundred years—the most time anyone could reasonably, honestly hope for—is so frighteningly short. How do you fix something locked in the past? Atone for the opportunities that have escaped you? But those thoughts are not as worrisome as the one that, in my present, I may be headed to a worse future without knowing how or what I can do to prevent it. I feel uneasy, trying to cope with these emotional fears.

But I am in my forties, so I know that, rather than give into the fear, I have to steel myself to accept the consequences, come what may. I have lived through terrible before. Because I am stronger than some, I know I can live through terrible again. I'd rather not have to, of course, but it's the ignorance, the not-knowing, that has me concerned that I can't avoid the consequences of ignorance and paralyzed effort.

We're, all of us living, sitting on the edge of forever, all of the time. Not quite on either side of it. As I had been hundreds of millions of years unborn in the past, I will be eons after-life in the future. One hundred years, which I will almost certainly not have quite so much, seems so shockingly short. Most of my time on the planet is a journey to something, and as the next something happens to be forever, whatever that forever is, it has to be the most important of the two existences, right?

Maybe these thoughts wouldn't be so difficult to grapple with if I could see the meaningfulness of the present more often. Perhaps there is an infinite ocean of meaningfulness in front of my face that I can not yet perceive. I hope to see more of that in my personal life, in the choices I make, the paths I take. The answer, most wise-men have said, is service to others. Maybe if I start by changing my perspective from one of self-fulfillment to service, that would a good start. But, what actual service do I follow it up with? I did not know. Still don't.

Ultimately, lonely and worried, I shut the shop down for the night, turning off the water valve, and stood by the back door in the softening light of the setting summer sun. I took a few deep breaths, and tested the lock, not trying to listen to the people still at the back doors of the other businesses along the alley. I stood on the sidewalk, looking over the tall bushes on the edge of the parking lot, up into the high clouds of a darkening blue sky. I had the urge to flee to somewhere, but did not know where. It was too late for most coffee shops, most of which, the decent ones anyway, were in other cities. Instead, I drove to the authentic Mexican Fast Food restaurant and had a 'Jamaica' tea with a couple of churros. When I get depressed, I tend to eat a lot of sugar. I rounded out the night, by driving home to do my laundry, later looking for things to distract myself with, and finding them (which only half-worked) in simple computer games and television.

Monday, July 16, 2018

I Do Not Like That Machine

Woke up with a worrying physical problem to add to the mix of the emotional mix of the emotional ones: woke up dizzy. I do not think I have insurance any longer, so I am avoiding going to the doctor to have it checked out. Mom suggested it could have something to do with blood pressure, but I seriously doubt that. I think it is either one of two things. Either it is low blood sugar due to not having had anything to eat for awhile, and going low over night. Or, it is simply that I have not had the rest I need. The sleep apnea machine (which I hate) has a heated hose. The weather has been in the 80s and 90s, so maybe, I think to myself, the extra heat from the hose is too much. Yes, dear reader, I know what you are likely thinking: that is crazy to heat a hose when you don't need it. You're either damaging yourself or your machine or both. Valid criticism. I think the reason I have not turned it off yet is because the mechanism for doing so is rather unintuitive. Which is probably another indicator of how much I dislike this machine and my need for it.

When I first got the sleep apnea machine, I weighed my heaviest. A long term lack of sleep and depression, combined with my carelessness with calories really packed the pounds on. The weight causes the problem and necessitates the machine, and perhaps a significant weight loss would mean that I could give it up. I do not want to become attached to it, to rely it on it for such a basic human function, that emotionally I have been keeping my distance, trying to interact with it as little as possible. Not rational of course, but it is what it is. Combine that approach with my first introduction with the machine a couple of years ago. The supplier of the machine, as well as the supplies for it, was not very good. The technicians were competent, but the whole store eventually began to feel like a giant cash grab. Everyone there seemed to be doing the bare minimum to qualify for the insurance payouts, for which they charged as much as possible. It was not a good feeling I had of the place. Maybe they needed to charge as much as they did, but a little research uncovered multiple issues others had with them, as well as some better alternative suppliers. Therefore, I switched. Still the emotional reluctance remains. I hate the machine. I hope to lose a lot of weight to be able to stop using it and still sleep well. We shall see.

As for this morning's dizziness, I am currently not sure what to do. Dad has told me that there is a letter from my insurance company at home for me. If it indicates that I have insurance still, and if I feel dizzy in the morning, I will make an appointment to figure out what is wrong. Aside from blood sugar or physical exhaustion, I suppose it could be something weird like pneumonia, but I dislike doctors too. Not for any serious reason for who they are or what they do, but because of the simple knowledge that I cannot afford them. Sometimes I think that, had I been born in a different western nation, my greatest expenses and debts: college and health care, would not even exist.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

A Person Who Likes a Plan

Part of me, the part that sits in the shadows of worry, and feeds like a beast on dark prospects of ruined hope, is afraid that I have broken myself in a way that I cannot repair. Almost every morning when I wake up, I sense that I could have had something better, could have fit my life in a neat niche of spiritual success, but I am confronted with the sense of loss. I struggle, I think to myself, because I have wandered too far in the path of error to return. It's not a clear sense of what is wrong, just a worry that I fear is nibbling on the truth.

Here is a dream from last night I had: I am in a government building of some kind. I have a strong sense of justice, and what needs to happen. At the same time, there is a child who is intent on doing all of the wrong things. He persists in upsetting everyone around him. He's no more than nine. He enjoys spreading unhappiness to others. He does not care because he does not expect any consequences. I find him in this building, after he has upset some people, including fellow children, and I see him standing in front of a video game arcade cabinet. He is blithely playing a game, oblivious to the hurt around him. I come up behind him, intent on delivering him to justice, and grab him by the arm. Suddenly, now faced with the fear of being caught, of having to pay a price for disobedience, his manner has changed. He is fearful and in tears. I remove his protective helmet, and he is revealed to be a giant insect. He does not want to be squashed. With a voice filled with power and determination, I say calmly and firmly: "Let him feel the fear of consequences." And then, I wake up.

I do not sleep as long as I need to. I have been trying to readjust my diet so that I can lose weight. More healthier foods, less calories overall. Unfortunately, not sleeping through the night fights against weight loss. The doctors have told me that most of one's calories are lost in respiration. You literally breathe out your spent calories. When you do not sleep well, this does not happen. Your body, lacking oxygen, is out of a kind of balance. I know this is not uncommon among people my age. I can see it every time I am out and about in society. The perfect bodies without illness, weight, or ugliness exist in the young or, more often, in the media. I always wonder how they do it. If maybe the perfect vision of health is the result of unhealthiness like starvation, tempting kidney failure, or some other bodily malady.

All thoughts which bring me back to the central problem of my life during these last few years. I do not know what to do.

Every aspect of my life feeds directly back into this ignorance. For example, I know what I need to do spiritually: morning prayers, reading sacred texts, a little meditation, and talking with others. The question in that regard is not the "what," but the "how." Am I reading enough? Should I read other things more regularly. Which prayers should I say, and how should I work on my virtues?

Regarding my career and interests: it used to be that, when I was younger, I thought vainly that perhaps I would like to be a successful artist. But why? And for what reason? All of the silly things that I admired in my youth have largely been forgotten. I see other people a bit younger than me obsessed with certain movie franchises, cartoons, or TV shows, and their art, much more accomplished than what I could do, feels hollow. Did I want to draw an homage to an 80s TV show? What point would that serve? How would that help anyone?

I guess part of the whole issue of not knowing what or how to do something is my search for personal meaning.  I do not want my life to be filled with vain pursuits of my own interests, most of which can be easily focused on media creations and products. But, I do not know how else to go about life and how to cut through all of that. Retiring to a cave and begging for food is out of the question. How does one be in life and not "of" life, especially when culture, family, and the whole outside world is largely in a stage of development where only the bodily comforts and pursuits are sought after.

I am the kind of person who likes a plan, even if it turns out not to be workable. At least a plan is a position to work from, even if it takes you somewhere else. I am going to continue to think about this. I hope God will help me discover a plan that can carry me forward in that positive path to personal meaning.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Aging Disappointments

Trying right now not too feel demoralized about life's disappointments. As my body ages, gets heavier, and slowly breaks down in ways not easily fixed, I find that I am having to confront the end of my life with increasing seriousness. Of course, I do not expect it to end anytime in the next thirty years. Still, life's realities make one pensive.

The thing about aging that I haven't fully grappled with is how some problems are permanent with no easy solutions. For example, my biological father seems intent on getting caught in phone and mail scams which no amount of logic, no amount of talking, can convince him to abandon them. His dreams of wealth, which is where he has placed a good deal of self-esteem, has him trapped. Speaking with him, trying to avoid making promises to help him, which in reality are promises to help him become fully entangled in problems, is depressing. He can't understand how he is being taking advantage of rationally, and for some reason, views anyone with money as possessing a magical secret that he is being kept from, the secret of financial wealth. He is a gambler who tells me of his frequent successes at the dice tables. There is not a good way to dissuade him from the danger he leaps at surrounding himself with. How do you prevent a moth from burning up in a campfire. The light, too alluring to be ignored, seduces it to painful destruction.

Saturday, July 07, 2018

A Mundane Summer

Again, I got very little sleep initially last night. Went to bed around midnight, woke up around 4:30 a.m. and couldn't fall back asleep. I surfed a lot on my phone, which may have been a poor use of my time, but what else is there to do at that time of day? I guess I could try to write or meditate or something.

I did, in fact, say my morning prayers, and then I "woke up" officially by going in the house fifteen minutes before my parents had to leave for work. I spoke with them about the day's plans, listened the news, and ended up arguing with my mom briefly, but really, I think I was trying to defend myself. She does not "do well" in the morning, and it is a challenge to talk to her amiably at this time of day. Still, I think we avoided an actual argument, which is progress for both of us.

Then, I was at the house by myself. I still didn't feel very tired. After feeding the outdoor cats, I decided to pick some cherries for dad. The cherries on the tree were ripe, the morning, while light, was still cool, so it seemed like a good idea. I know that dad had hoped to make a pie out of them this season. I figured I could try to help out.

Really, I have been grappling with trying to figure out how to make my life more meaningful. I am desperately poor, locked into certain circumstances of my own choosing/creating, and do not have much of an idea on how to change for the better. I don't really know what 'better' looks like from where I am at. It would be nice to see a step or two ahead, but I can't. I figured picking cherries would help me think about it.

Then I made breakfast, picked the stems off the cherries I picked, and sooner than later, went back to bed. I ended up sleeping until 1:30 am in the afternoon. Mom had told me that Dad had heard me snoring. That might mean, that in addition to not getting enough sleep, the sleep I did get was not restful. Perhaps the sleep mask is not working. Perhaps my difficulty in losing weight is due to not getting the rest and oxygen I need. Unfortunately, when I wrote down my meals for the day, I had to acknowledge that I went over my calorie budget again. I guess I am not yet comfortable with feeling hungry. I need to invest time in preparing meals. Spend less time on the computer.

I opted not to have a shower today in order to get to work at a decent hour. Work was light, which was sort of bad because I need to have a firmer and clearer direction concerning the work that needs doing. I can do a lot of things there that other people can't, but when I am caught up on some things, I struggle to find positive ways to keep occupied. On the plus side, before leaving for the night, I did the work dishes: cleaned the coffee mugs, wiped down the counter, put the silverware away.

I would have gone into the cafe tonight, but skipped it because tonight they were charging an eight dollar cover charge. That, plus the money I would have to spend on gas, seemed too much for me. I contemplated going to a cafe in another city, but when I finally was ready to leave work at 7:30, it would be too late to spend any kind of meaningful time there. I would have an hour at most. Instead, I bought a sandwich at Subway, and went home to eat it. By 8pm, I was in bed playing video games on my computer and watching television.

I know this all feels like a waste of time, but I am not sure how to fix it. In some ways, I feel paralyzed by my choices, and the recognition I tend to make bad ones. We'll see how I might be able to fix this in the future.

Friday, July 06, 2018

Four Hours a Night

Maybe I might have more time in the day and actually lose some weight if I could just manage to sleep more than four hours a night. Mom told me that Dad heard me snoring again. Is the sleep mask (which I hate) not working? I am using the thing in good faith.

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Stumbling in the Dark

One of my secret thoughts, which is not so secret, is that I should try to write a book. I am among thousands upon thousands of people who have had a similar idea, but unlike many of those, I am largely afraid that I can't really do it. I reinforce my negative feelings regarding writing a book with negative thoughts about why I can't and why it would probably be impossible.

First, among the bad thoughts and feelings, I doubt that I am up to it. Having been an English Major, learning about the dramatic curve, remembering some of the mechanics of a novel, and having read the stories of the authors who have gone before, the worries all pile up before me and congeal into a big black ball of fear.

A fear of failure. Which, frankly, is a sticky nebulous fear that never seems to go away, and often shows up in many places in my life that has nothing to do with writing. Most of the time that fear is not entirely rational, but some places, it actually is warranted. Fear is healthy when it prevents you from injuries, emotional or otherwise. Fear, on the plus side, can be an internal safeguard against danger. However, I have also heard that some people in the health professions will develop a compulsive habit of washing their hands all of the time, beyond what is healthy or normal. Since they know all the horror stories of infections, germs, bacteria, and diseases, they wash their hands all of the time, all to avoid suffering from an illness that was very likely all too rare to begin with. I think this fear of writing is something like that. Maybe I know too much about literature in general to feel safe with the possibility of success, which then freezes my motivation to even try. Of course, the answer to "what if I fail?," is "what if I succeed?" I know that. However, emotions are not rational creatures. They take hold of your heart even while your brain is shouting at you to ignore them.

The second problem is time and regularity. Speaking in specific terms now, I personally find it hard to develop of the habit of doing what I want in a given day or week, and then moving in a direction that I feel I should. There is only so much time in one's life, and no one knows how much time is left. Perhaps everyone dies having a plan or two for the future, even if it is as mundane as having breakfast the next morning. I still struggle with developing a routine for self-care. I need to wash my clothes, cook myself healthy meals, find time for regular exercise to become fit, without slacking on the time for my job and other pressing obligations. Even now, in my middle forties, that is a challenge I have yet to overcome. My family has some demands on my time. And, when my health is not 100%, I find it hard to even do the basics.

I think to myself that what I need to do is work out a schedule on paper and then try to follow it as close as possible. Making a plan, even if you don't end up sticking to it, is a good place to start. For some reason though, I haven't made any plans. Most mornings, I wake up knowing that I need to go to work, but not knowing when or where I will have breakfast, eat lunch, or go home for the day. Will I go into to town and do some art? Is that self-indulgent? Should I have a better plan? A plan for making the world a better place, for teaching, for doing something really sacrificial? Most of my art plans, writing or otherwise, seems to be a form of narcissism. Am I trying to puff up my self-conception by trying to make my indulgences seem virtuous? Am I trying to use virtue to snare my vanity?

This is where my thoughts usually end up. I come up with a conception or a plan of action, which upon some reflection, seems vain in some way, and then I wind up not doing anything.

Is self-improvement vanity? Is working on things that I am interested in vain? Admittedly, some of my early life and earlier desires to be "good," were vain to a degree. I do not think I could help it. I was buried under some unconscious assumptions that my culture gave me as a birthright. It seems our contemporary culture encourages us to indulge our vanities, telling us that the highest virtue is self-actualization rather than service. Even if we acquire knowledge, our culture only expects it to benefit ourselves. We are oriented to self-profit, even with things that should be considered non-material, like love or the other virtues. The more "things" we accumulate to ourselves, and only ourselves, the better as far as society is concerned. Even if service is ostensibly part of a person's behavior, the real goal (in our society's view) is so a particular person/individual can feel selfless and noble, an act that is not focused on the act itself, but on the person who performs it. What is real service, real sacrifice, and real selflessness? What does it look like, and how it is performed? I wish I knew. 

In the meantime, in the middle of not really knowing for sure what to do or how to do it. I think that I should try to find regular days in the week where I can focus on one thing. For example, with my art, I have chosen Friday to come to the cafe and draw. Not that I do that, or intend to do that, every Friday. Just that Friday is the day most often chosen for that. Exercise, something that I am not currently doing, is something that I think I should find regular times for. This might be vain to a degree, but I think that, with regard to investing in my health to prolong my life and thereby be able to serve those around me, this plan has more support for that virtuous life I aim at than my art project does. Three times a week for walking seems reasonable, and walking for at least twenty minutes each time is not unreasonable either. But I have yet to commit to a plan. I have thought of doing it after work, but I am reluctant because I do not want to appear as "the fat guy" walking around the block. I guess having typed that out, it is plain that my vanity is keeping me from doing the right thing for the right reason. (I'll have to remember this.)

Now, we come to my language plans. I am already devoting a small part of each day, usually the morning to learning more words, listening to people speak it on youtube, and reading it, but maybe this is all vanity. It is not a language that many people speak, and there is a stereotype of people my age and gender speaking it. Again, most people in my society, even people who are friendly in their interactions with me, think it is sort of pointless.

Finally, the writing: I am doing it now. But, I mostly use this blog to explore my thoughts and emotions more than anything. Writing fiction, or even essays, is a different skill altogether. I may be too old to do either well.

I don't want to reach the end of my life still aiming at something that is essentially vain. It would be nice to find a meaningful work that will sustain my spirit, even if the jobs and hobbies, and other silly occupations I may find do not, or cannot, provide it. I guess that is at the heart of all of this: finding personal meaning. I do think that, more than most, due to my morning prayer, meditation, and reading habit, I have some of the tools. Now, I must figure out how to use those tools to build meaning in my own life for the benefit of others. An attitude of service and transformation seems key, but translating these esoteric ideas into a practical plan of action, into an engine of motivation, seems difficult. I am still reaching out into the darkness and trying to stumble my way into the light of understanding and knowledge. May God help me.