Month: December 2015

Online vs Offline

Ancient Angkor WatLast

Last night I got up at three in the morning and wrote some stuff I can’t remember writing, and then mailed it off to people the next morning without reading it again. Upon inspection the next afternoon, I’m happy to say the piece I wrote last night was fairly well written, but full of gloom and self-pity, as were the dreams that caused me to wake up at 3 a.m. and flip open the laptop. I feel that I should apologize to those I bothered with my writing, but then realize that nowadays nobody reads anyway, so my apology would likely fall upon deaf ears.

 

I don’t have an Internet connection at the place I stayed last night, so being off-line forces me to think of my laptop in a different way. Indeed it’s a bastard computer, a chromebook, which means that it’s really just an android telephone with a full-sized keyboard and screen, and is crippled without wi-fi.

 

It’s quite a feat of discipline for an Internet addict to face a chromebook offline. He feels lost, cut-off, abandoned by man and machine alike. He plunges ahead, typing away hoping that this effort is not mere folly, that eventually it will be shared with the whole world-wide web, and join the digital flotsam and jetsam that already clogs the servers of the world. But until that happens, the content created is just a promise, an unbaked lump of dough that may someday rise into a muffin or pizza once it’s finally been irradiated.

 

So the second I found wi-fi, I uploaded my three a.m. missive which now embarrasses me. Why was I so down, so troubled, so gloomy, and why did I send it to my friends and family? As far as I can see, it was the sober equivalent of a blackout drunk making long distance telephone calls, or ordering things from Amazon which will be delivered the next day because you’re Prime, and delivery is free and nearly instantaneous!

 

CARGO CULT

CARGO CULT

 

I’m always wondering what I should be doing rather than simply doing what I am doing. Instead of being fully engaged, I’m haunted by wondering if this is the right thing to do, and even if it is, am I doing it right? Maybe I’d be better off if only I were doing something else, with someone else, somewhere else.

 

If I could change one thing about myself, this would be it, and I have it on good advice that such a change is possible by cultivating what the Buddhists call “mindfulness.” They suggest that doing whatever you’re doing wholeheartedly is the ticket to peace of mind and satisfaction. Sometimes it’s called “one-mindedness.” The catch-phrase for it is “chop wood, carry water.” I haven’t done a lot of wood chopping of water-carrying, but during the little chopping and carrying I have done, I can guarantee you that my mind was somewhere else. I was either daydreaming or waiting for this prosaic activity to end so I could get on with something “fun.” I didn’t want to waste my time with activities that weren’t tailored to my personality and its special needs. In this regard I set myself up as a sucker for advertising, with its promised customization and tailoring, which extends from hearing aids to vehicles.

 

In fact, all my life I was hoping to become the kind of person for whom someone else chopped wood and carried water. Scuba diving, parachuting, motorcycle racing, sex with strangers…these were the kinds of activities I wanted to save plenty of time for. My imagination reveled in what wasn’t yet happening, but would finally come about when conditions were right. My ship had not yet arrived. When it did, then I would finally be relieved on these haunting doubts and fears of lack. In my dreams and plans, the cargo on board would put the world I had known so far to shame.

 

There was a religious cult that sprang up in Java or Borneo, one of those kinds of places, shortly after World War II.  These Pacific Islands had been briefly occupied by Allied Forces who built air strips, radar towers, housing and mess halls and then, almost as quickly, everything was dismantled and taken away when the war ended.

 

The natives of these island were dumbfounded, and the older ones told the younger members about the glut of cargo they had experienced. So one village wise man, who had managed to hold onto a pair of headphones that had been left behind, proposed that they build replicas of the radar dishes, antennas, in order to attract cargo once again. He would don the headphones and then chant to the gods, summoning cargo.

 

In a way, my dilemma is the same as his. I am waiting for something outside myself to fix me, to arrive and finally make all this worthwhile.

Wisdom From a Geezer

Wisdom From a Geezer

If you want to be full of gratitude, you have to cultivate the ability to be grateful for small things. Thinking that you will finally be grateful when something enormous happens at first seems like having high standards, but it’s merely a con to keep yourself perpetually peevish. It seems like discernment, but it’s just a setup for perpetual misery.

When you’ve become grateful for the smallest things, you will find you haven’t lost the capacity to be grateful for bigger things. If you do win the lottery or some coveted honor, that will feel just as good as if you hadn’t bothered to appreciate all those lesser gifts.

Consumer culture and its handmaiden, perpetual advertising urge you to finely tune your preferences. After all, from a shopping perspective, they define you. Fashion magazines promote the idea that the way you dress tells the world who you really are! Your hair-do is you!

This road leads to the notion that if only you could be more discerning about your shopping choices, and avail yourself of the right accessories, then you would be more truly yourself. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Most of the institutions we respect sell the same notion. They peddle certifications in place of knowledge. Anyone could acquire knowledge on their own with a modicum of curiosity and humility. Find someone who knows how to do something you’d like to emulate and then work out a deal to apprentice. Or try on your own and discover what works. Either way is preferable to turning your will and time over to an institution.