Being Happy or Just Being There

I was in a colleague’s office and saw two things that gave me reason to pause and think. The first was a sign on his credenza that read “You probably wanted to do something cool with your life, but you never got that job.” The sign made me sad, well not sad as much as distressed, so that during the meeting I kept staring at it and reading the words.

I asked him about it, and he laughed. This is a fellow of very good humor that always seems happy and quick to smile. He said, “That about sums up my life. Now I work in insurance.”

The phrase was uttered by his son when discussing career choices at a school function. He seemed to have come to terms with his fate. I have not done so, yet. I’d like to think there is a cool job out there for me. But how to find it?

I should first consider why I haven’t found it by now, because I’m certainly doing something wrong. When I was about to graduate from high school, I wanted to be a writer, or to work in television, or to be an actor, but mostly to be a writer. I think I’ve always enjoyed the way my brain feels when I think about words, and stringing them together to tell stories.

My father used all of his persuasion to convince me to get a degree in engineering, reasoning that it’d be nice to have a job while I learned to write, and that writing was something that I could always do, but which was hard to use as a source of income. Most of that is correct, in that I have always turned to writing in some form, resulting in these blog entries right here.

I like to imagine myself making a living as a writer, but that is quite a long shot. Still, the ultimate for me would be to rise early and exhaust my thoughts working on stories of some kind. Then spend a few hours on the business of writing. Finally, I’d spend the afternoon boating, swimming, or otherwise playing with family around the house. The evening would be spent in quiet repose, again with the family, discussing life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I would drink coffee all day and wine at night.

It was the other thing I saw in his office that makes me wonder. That will have to wait until tomorrow.

Cleaning House is not House Cleaning

I just threw out a dozen sweaters, all of them too large for me. I recently lost weight, and I’ve had to change my wardrobe. Those sweaters were some of the last things to go.

I don’t even wear sweaters that often but over the years I acquired them. Most of them were gifts from either my mother or my wife. The rest were purchases made by my wife for whatever reason. I probably didn’t wear them for precisely the fact that I didn’t buy them, and thus was not invested in them. Thirteen sweaters and I didn’t buy a single one of them. What am I, a four year old?

So I’ve been cleaning house. It has accelerated since my weight loss, but had actually started a couple of years before, after my father died.

When he passed, and my mother left to go live with one of my brothers, my other brother and I cleaned out their home. Most of that was brutal, because there was so little left that was of significant value to be salvaged. We trashed great deal. I was shocked about how much miscellaneous stuff a closet can hold

After that ordeal, I was intent on not living with miscellaneous stuff any longer. I had many, many useless things in the basement, and I began a process of throwing away a bag of stuff every week. I did leave a few things that I intend on selling on eBay, but I haven’t gotten around to that, either, and now I’m thinking I just need to trash that stuff too.

My daughter did a good thing this weekend in cleaning out her room. The one problem is that she piled the stuff she didn’t want in the hallway, and it actually spread so far and wide that it blocked our doorway. So tonight I spent a few minutes putting all that stuff in a trash bag. My wife still wants to sort through it, but I’m all for trashing it.

More than once the past couple of years I have had the thought that what I need to do, that what would make me happy, is to throw away all the old stuff. I’m surrounded by clutter and chaos (still!) and it really bothers me.

At work I’ve been better about spending a little time each week cleaning off the piles of stuff and filing what is important and then trashing that which is not important.

At the moment I have no joy in this. I really want to look forward to when all the stuff (I don’t want) is gone, and I can live an uncluttered life. In fact, at the moment, I’m just exhausted and falling asleep at the keyboard. With luck, I’ll dream of that uncluttered life.

Down the Rabbit Hole

I believe I would be more productive without the internet. This is a bold statement because the internet means so much for so many people, but I have been using it lately to kill time around the house. I’m avoiding projects I want to accomplish by surfing through random web sites.

In truth, it’s not the internet, it’s me. Before the internet, I would get lost in books. I always had stacks of them or literary journals full of short stories, and I would grab them from piles somewhat randomly, and read. It was very hypertext-ish because of the randomness. In a sense, my reading habits were forward looking and prescient. You might even say I invented the internet.

One of my all-time favorite places is the Dawn Treader Bookshop in Ann Arbor. Many years ago, I would wander into that store on the way back from classes and purchase a few used books. I would do this frequently, and at a pace much exceeding my ability to read.

This bad habit continued after graduation with the Daedalus catalog of remainders. I quickly overwhelmed myself with lovely books, some which I still haven’t read.

To top it off, I subscribed to both The New Yorker and The Paris Review. And I liked to watch TV. What was I thinking? Ironically, it was my obsession with computers that chipped away at my reading habit. Now it’s reading on a computer that chips away at my computer habit.

Did I mention that I’m trying to learn how to play the accordion?

Trouble Sleeping

I have a problem sleeping sometimes, usually because I’ve had coffee late in the evening. There is no small irony in that, after a certain point, coffee does nothing to keep me awake. I turn into a zombie, but not a flesh-eating, undead zombie; I’m more of the kind of zombie with a nervous twitch, clammy, itching skin, and a swollen bladder. I stagger around the kitchen trying to find some morsel of food that will help keep me awake, but I know sugar will be just a nail in my coffin, and almost everything in an American pantry turns into sugar.

Once I concede the point and admit that I can not stay awake any longer, my caffeine-induced irregular heart beat returns to normal as my stress about staying awake can finally be released. I fall asleep quickly in this state, and why shouldn’t I? I am exhausted to the point of collapse, and frequently doze off in my chair before finally giving up and going to bed.

I had a sleep disorder briefly, back when I was in the fourth grade. I found fourth grade very stressful, and would worry about the intrigue and politics in the classroom. I didn’t have a good friend in the classroom, and so I was perpetualy on the outs of the dominant social circles. The one friend I had, Nick D., constantly fought with me, tried to make me his bitch, and was somewhat obsessed about sex. When we sat next to each other, he would share his drawings of the sex acts he wanted to perform on various girls. It was, for me, rather uncomfortable.

That was when sex was explained to me in the form of a story told about someone’s cousin who had performed the act. Oddly enough, it was told at lunch. The perfect place for such stories is at a bar while drinking, but we were too young for that.

My fourth grade teacher, Miss Carson, was also drop-dead gorgeous. I don’t know when it’s normal to have a crush on your teacher, but in the era of mini-skirts, it became normal for me. I never asked the other boys if they felt the same way, as I never asked any follow-up questions regarding the cousin who was putting out, because I was shy about such things. So internalizing such intense thoughts was no-doubt a large part of my trouble sleeping.

In fourth grade, I was also susceptible to panic about my future, and I thought not getting enough sleep would cause me great harm, jeopardize my future, cause me never to be worthy of a smoking hot woman like Miss Carson. The panic fed off itself, often driving me to tears. Of course, it just meant that instead of falling asleep at 9:30 p.m., I fell asleep at 11 p.m. Still this caused me panic.

In college, I went for long stretches an five or fewer hours of sleep. I was studying Computer Science at a time when you needed to use punch cards to enter your program, and it was just slower to get anything done. I also wore it as a badge of courage to have stayed up late, later than my friends studying Economics and German, and so that also fed off of itself, encouraging me to stay up late instead of learning better habits and getting my work done at appropriate times. The other Computer Science students behaved similarly, and we fed off of each other, nodding with respect as we passed each other in the North University Building Substation at three in the morning.

It no longer bothers me to miss sleep. I have learned that I can easily function on three or four hours sleep for a day, and so there is annoyance, but no panic in being awake at odd hours. So let me elaborate on the annoyance.

In many cases, I’m annoyed with myself for having drunk coffee so late, making me susceptible to waking up again when disturbed. But I’m also annoyed at the disturber. First and foremost among these are the dogs. They will bother us to be let out, or if they’re hungry, and I may not be able to get back asleep.

For years, the children were disturbers, and my son woke me nightly for a variety of reasons until he was eleven. These were bothersome, but I blamed myself for not having taught him to self-soothe and put himself back to sleep. (I blame myself for a lot of things.)

There is also my wife. We have gotten ourselves on different schedules, so she will often come to bed after I’ve fallen asleep. Her normal routine, washing her face, brushing teeth, and changing into pajamas, is occasionally accompanied by questions such as: “Are you asleep?” and “Did I tell you what the cat did today?” If I mutter a reply in my slumber, this may start a conversation, and that may awaken me. She will then fall asleep, and I will be up until 3 a.m.

But now I don’t panic, and I work on one of my various side projects — web site development or blogging — and count it as simply a time bonus. We lead busy lives, and those late nights are some of the few scant hours I can call my own. If it wouldn’t hasten my death, I might just make a habit of it.

Death comes soon enough, though.

2B or not 2B

I don’t really have a choice, you know. I am 2B, which is my age in hexadecimal. I thought it might soften the blow, but it does not. It is my thirtieth anniversary of puberty, and I don’t believe I’ve changed much. In fact, my priorities from age 13 are probably the same priorities I have right now.

So today was special. My friends at work asked repeatedly what I was going to do to celebrate. I really had not planned on anything. In so many ways, every day is special, and I’m happy enough just hanging around the house. But it occurred to me that it’d be nice to sit around with a beer and learn a new song on my accordion.

That’s when life intruded. I purchase an accordion from a gentleman on eBay last week, and it arrived with a leak. So I decided to correct the leak before playing tonight. It took quite a bit longer to correct and, in the end, I didn’t solve my problem.

There is that adage that life is what happens while you are planning on doing something else. There is also that adage that you can not control what others do, or all the challenges that arise in life, but you can control how you react to those things. So I could have been crabby about things not going my way.

I should confess that I did get very angry at our new kitten when it threatened to jump on my workbench while I was working on the accordion. I really don’t like the little beast.

But for the most part, I enjoyed this strange evening repairing an accordion. They are amazing machines, and are frequently broken. It’s not a hobby I recommend. I am reminded of one of Bob Newhart’s colleagues from the medical office in his first TV show. This was the urologist, I believe, and he told Bob once that most evenings, after dinner, he worked on wood-working projects in his garage until his family was asleep, rarely interacting with them. It was funny because, of course, that’s not a normal way to interact with your family. But every once in a while it’s nice to have something to distract you, and dedicating an amount of time helps accomplish your goals, assuming you direct your energies wisely.

I will strive to make some progress on my goals, as should we all.