Experience

A Story Of Sluts

A friend of mine recently messaged me for my opinion on a subject she’s (ironically) contributing to a blog about.  She asked me for a male’s opinion on “the difference between a woman who is labeled a slut and a woman who’s comfortable with her sexuality.”  She said I she thought I would be a good person to ask, naturally I’m inclined to agree.  However, I would be lying if I said that I believe I represent the general male population’s opinion on this matter… which is most typically unfortunate.

With that said, I really don’t like the word “slut”.  I don’t use it, and it only ranks a bit lower than the “C-word” used toward women, or the “N-word” used toward African Americans… both of which make me extremely uncomfortable.  I have no business using either of those words, and I don’t think males in general have any business calling anyone a “slut” (though, admittedly, I can type that word, whereas the others I really don’t want to.)  Men who label women as such are usually HUGE hypocrites (for example my post back in August back about the “Downtown Alpha Male”) and are using the term to belittle women for the very thing they celebrate for themselves.  It’s ridiculous and just another example of men historically treating women as possessions.  Basically, “Shame on you if you let too many guys get a ‘piece’ of that which is obviously yours.”

maths_1

About that many I think.

When it comes to sexuality, people get all freaked out about numbers.  Specifically: “How many people have you been with?”   I literally scared off a girl I was actually interested in dating once because of my sexual history, and my “number” isn’t nearly as high as my reputation might suggest.  (Truth be told, I did stop paying attention at some point… so I would have to sit and think about where I’m at now… but I digress…) Regardless there are huge flaws in judgement based on said numbers.  First of all, you’re over-generalizing multiple, specific situations with details that are important.  Second, you’re making broad assumptions based on very little evidence/fact (even if you ask questions.)  And Third, you’ve got no pre-established parameters or reasoning by which to quantify measuring the statistics on which you are basing your judgement.

For instance, what if a specific girl decided she didn’t enjoy vaginal sex?  Technically she may have only been with one or two people in the ten or more years she’s been sexually active.  But, maybe she’s one of the few women that really enjoys anal sex.  Does that count?  Depends on who you ask.  Further, what if instead of anal sex she really, really enjoys giving blowjobs?  She’s had intercourse with two guys, but probably given a hundred times that many blowjobs.  Does that count?  What if she didn’t swallow? Then does it count?  If she gave YOU that blow job, should it add to that number?  Or does it not count because you know you’re better/cleaner than anyone else?

What about women?  If a girl’s sexuality includes women, and she has been with over a hundred women in all sorts of awesomely kinky ways, but has only been with one guy, is she a “slut”?  Or are you just envious of her far supirior ability to woo females?  What about group sex?  Does that count as one encounter?  Or should we count each penetration?  If so, which penetrations?  If we count all of them a girl could rack up double digits in just a few experiences compared to another girl who has had sex hundreds of times but with only nine guys since she became sexually active.  The point is, any “criteria” is flawed to say the least, and depends on the individual and their (very often flawed) beliefs.  There is no correct way to quantify who is or isn’t a “slut” because it’s a highly subjective term (which really shouldn’t even exist.)

However, for the sake of answering theSlutwalk Aims To Raise Awareness Of Sexual Assaults question, I suppose I’ll come up with the most obvious differentiation I can based not on the general actions of said women, but whether or not they are using their brains.  It’s time for a story of sluts.

Subject A is a junior at the University of Washington.  She did her first two years at community college, and is eager to mingle on the university level, but also focused on her future.  She’s always been intelligent, level-headed, good in her studies, has a great attitude, and is a finance major.  Let’s call her “Monroe” (please note that these examples are based on my personal experiences, but NOT any specific people.  I chose that name because I literally don’t know anyone who has it.)

Subject B is a high-dollar, celebrity level escort of roughly the same age as Monroe.  She’s always been blessed with good looks, and she comes from an (unfortunately) typical broken family.  She did the best she could to get through high school, but was forced to go to work to support herself and her younger siblings whom her parents otherwise neglect.  She went to work at a strip club because it was the best money she could find in a tough job market and with no vocational education or schooling.  Through her looks and street smarts, a chance meeting  introduced and groomed her into high dollar escort work through which she was able to become financially independent while providing for her family.  Let’s call her “Chastity“.  

So, I ask you, which of these ladies is more likely to be called a slut?  Seems obvious that would be Chastity.  But let’s continue with our hypotheticals.

girl-silhouette-vector3Monroe is pretty and has had little trouble making friends in class, but her studies keep her from going out too often.  However, she is being courted by various sororities and and is invited to an event known as a “mixer” with an associated frat house.  Though she was never really the party type, she’s excited to “live her life” and decides to go with her new friends.  At the party, she has a great time, and accepts drinks from a succession of very attractive and charming men in the fraternity.  They don’t seem anything like the obnoxious stereotypes she’s heard; these men are intelligent, charming and very nice to her, all while bringing her drinks so she doesn’t even have to leave the dance floor.  One thing leads to another, and she finds herself alone in the room of one of these charming young men… David.. she thinks..  Though she’s not been drugged, she’s already drank more than she should have and makes the poor decision to go along with this young man’s advances (he’s very pretty.)  But when they finish up (or rather when he does… he put a condom on.. she thinks…right?) he makes a remark about how the night is young, and they should rejoin the party.  Thinking they will follow-up later, Monroe agrees as she is hurried out his door.

Chastity:

Meanwhile Chastity is having a good night, there’s a convention in town with a lot of very rich executives looking for company.  She’s decked out in a Gucchi silk chiffon gown and her power heels – Christian Louboutin.  It’s only midnight and she’s looking for her fourth (and probably final) client of the night.  She prefers her regulars – much more comfortable and fun – but scoring four big pays in a night is well worth any initial awkwardness.  The last guy was aggressive and she liked that until he tried to shove himself inside of her bareback.  Fortunately she knows her business and was able slide out of position while giving a coy purr that said “you’re forgetting something big boy…”  he complained but all she had to do was give the serious look and hold it up for him to get the message: “No condom, no more playtime.”  That’s one of the first things you learn as a sex professional; not matter how clean and intelligent they seem, every guy is one shitty decision away from fucking up your life permanently.  The profession is risky as it is, and Chastity is proud of her many negative testings.  She plans to keep it that way.  Finally she spots her next potential… time for him to buy her a drink.

So at this point Chastity is up on numbers for the night (we can pretty much assume she’s up on numbers forever…)  So that would label her the “slut” of the two, right?  I mean, sure Monroe has made an obviously stupid decision, but Chastity has been with three guys and is not done yet.  Let’s see how the night plays out.

Monroe:WK-0612-teenagers0_3127905b

The world is blurring a bit for Monroe.  Drinks keep happening (though it seems like they are
spaced just enough apart to keep her from being sick…) and she’s feeling good.  She lost track of that first guy.. Daniel.. (he was so nice!) but now Michael has been dancing with her and has the prettiest eyes.  She’s afraid she’s going to hit attention overload… never in her life have this many hot guys been this into her.  Michael says he has to tell her something and leads her back to the rooms.  He tells her that his little brother in the frat, James (oh! he was cute!) has had his eye on her all night, but is not very confident.  He says his plan was to bring her back to the room and introduce them so he would talk to her.  But James isn’t here, and Michael tells Monroe that he feels a connection with her… she thinks she feels it too… but that could be the vodka.  There’s been a lot of vodka…  Now Michael is kissing her.. his hands are warm as they make their way down her back.. they feel good but she’s still blurry… “maybe this isn’t a good idea..” she thinks.. but fuck it, it’s not like this is normal for her, let’s have some fun.  Maybe there’s a connection
there…

Chastity:

This guy was tough.  The prostitute stigma was strong with him and he’d really liked her.  Sorry champ, no freebies for being cute.  He kept her for a while, she accepted more than one drink (one is her typical rule before business), but she knew she was still totally in control.  She started to walk away and he’d stopped her, disgruntled, and asked what her time would cost.  He said he wasn’t concerned about the sex, but that’s only because he didn’t know what he was in for.  He agreed to compensate for time – the same price – and dinner was excellent.  He asked if he could call her another night (sorry champ, I said no freebies) and that maybe he could support her in exchange for her allowing him to court her legitimately.  She told him maybe, but she knew it was a no.  He wasn’t the first rich guy to offer this, they all think they are different… better than the other guys.  The truth was she actually preferred the guys who were straight up for the sex… much neater and less work to get around their emotional hangups.  Her magic charmed them for whatever they were looking for, it was her job to steer them to what she was willing to give.  Nobody was going to own her.  If someday she decided she wanted something more, she would bring it up on her terms. But she doubted it would be a client, most of them already had somebody waiting at home anyway.  Chastity was a fantasy, and she was a damn good one, but when business was done she would ae8e1ff54665d9f8ad11f7e16e17275a1lways say goodbye.  By the end of the night he had champagne delivered to his hotel room.  “Nothing is going to happen” he said.  Bullshit.  She could see he was already trying to hide a raging boner.  She unzipped his pants… it took her fourty-five seconds to finish him the first time.

So now the score is two to four in favor of Chastity.  But who is the slut?  The naive college girl making multiple poor decisions?  Or the call girl who is totally in control?  They are both having sex, so how do we judge them?  Let’s wrap this up.          

Monroe:

Naked.  They are just laying there, but at least he didn’t push her back out to the party again. Granted the party is dying down.  It’s… what?  3 AM now?  Where did her friends go anyway?  It’s okay though, despite a whirlwind of a night, Monroe isn’t upset or afraid.  Nobody has been mean to her and sure, they’ve been forward, but she wasn’t forced at all.  They are really hot guys and she enjoyed herself both times.  Both times.. wow.. that wasn’t something she was expecting.  She turned and felt the wet spot on the bed near her groin.. there’s no way that was all her.  “You used a condom… right?” she asked.  “Yeah.. yeah I did.”  he paused “But you know, sometimes they break or something.. so maybe you should get the morning after pill just in case.”  The first twinge of frustration hit Monroe.  She wasn’t stupid, this dude lied to her.  But before she could say anything, he sat up and let out a deep sigh. “Shit… I’ve been stupid…”  At least he admitted it… but he continued “This wasn’t supposed to happen.  I was going to hook you up with my little bro and I got greedy.”  He seemed genuinely remorseful and for a moment Monroe actually started to feel bad.  “I’ll talk to him.” she said before she realized what she was saying.  “Maybe he and I can hang out, bring him out of his shell a little.”  Sure.  What’s the harm in that?  “We can keep this between you and I.” she assured him.  Thier connection was faded now, and she didn’t think she was going to see Michael like this again.  “Alright cool.  You know, you’re a pretty cool girl.  I mean, you’re hot, but you’re also cool.”  He handed her the drink she’d carried in with her “Finish that up and I’ll go grab us some more.”  It was three-quarters full.  “No no, no more for me.” she said.  It was still hitting her and any more would make the world spin out of control.  “Alright.” he said “Just finish that and I’ll get you some water.”  Well fuck it, it’s the last one anyway.  She emptied the cup and laid back down while Michael life for more drinks.  For a little while the world went black.

“Holy shit she’s naked…” a voice whispered.  Shocked to consciousness Monroe scrambled to cover herself.  She looked up to see the shy (but cute!) one… what was his name.. James peering down at her with Michael behind him.  “Wait.. did you?  Did you already fuck her??” James asked.  “No no bro, we were just talking and got into it a little… I just warmed her up man!  Look at her!  She’s in your bed, ready.” Michael said.  His bed.  Shit.  His room?  Thier room.  It was harder to think straight after her nap.  “Look, I’m sorry…” she started to say… she had no intention of hooking up with James tonight, no matter how cute he was.  She started grabbing her clothes and then she heard James say “I can’t do this… she’s not here for me.  She doesn’t even like me!  Why did you bring me up here?  She doesn’t want me, she wants you.  I’ll go find somewhere else to crash.”  Shit.. she’d let herself go with Michael on this poor guy’s bed and now she was going to ruin his confidence.  Michael was looking at her now.  He was pleading with his eyes and motioning at her.  Fuck.  “Hey.. uh.. James!” she said.  She wished she wasn’t so fuzzy… damn you vodka.  She sat up on his bed and motioned next to her.  “Come here, let’s just talk for a little while.”  “Are you going to put your clothes on?” he asked.  What a gentleman! “Do you want me to?” she asked playfully (she was already naked on his bed after all…) “N-No.” he replied. “You look hot like that.”  Well fuck it.  She was already here, might as well be naked.  But she was absolutely not sleeping with James tonight.  No way.  Michael left with a smile on his face and James sat and talked to Monroe for a while.  She got sleepy and they agreed to lay down and “cuddle”.  She was still naked, and before he laid down he was too.  It wasn’t long before she felt him hard behind her.  He started kissing her neck and in her sleepy haze it tingled a bit.  He had been sweet to her and they had talked for nearly half an hour before they laid down… she couldn’t bring herself to reject him now and hurt his feelings.  So when his hand made it’s way between her legs, she allowed it… she was still very wet, though somemaxresdefault of that might not be from her.  Hormones took over and she tried to say something about a condom before he could push his way inside her.  He reached over and grabbed at the nightstand drawer.  Then he was behind her again, and she felt him.  Did he put it on?  It seemed too quick but everything was a blur.  She told him to be gentle, he was and she enjoyed herself despite a bit of soreness.

Morning came with a headache and more soreness.  James was gone.  The room was empty.  Monroe couldn’t believe she’d had such a night.  It was a little exhilarating, but also way out of control.  That wasn’t happening again.  As she made her way down the hallway she passed by some of the brother’s rooms.  She vaguely remembered the faces, but all she got was a few amused smiles.  She looked like hell and had to get back to clean up before class.   After class she went to get the morning after pill.  She felt gross about it, but she knew it was the smart thing to do.  Days passed and nobody called, she didn’t see any of those guys again for a while.  She thought she saw Michael once, but when she went after him he had vanished.  Probably better, what was she going to say?  “So, I fucked one of your frat brothers the other night, then I fucked your little after I fucked you.  Good times right?”  It was tremendously embarrassing and part of her hoped she never saw them again.

Unfortunately, they haunted her anyway.  First in the burning sensation when she peed three days later, and then with discharge and something worse than cramps.  Her doctor told her she a combination of a UTI and Gonorrhea.  She was lucky it wasn’t herpes or HIV.  Those assholes!!  But it didn’t stop there, she finally ran into her new friends from the sorority that had been courting her.  They hadn’t contacted her since, but she approached them and was met with awkward looks.  They knew.  In fact, they told her “everybody” knew.  She was the slut that banged three frat boys in one night.  Those guys were 361298283-sad-alone-crying-girl-on-bedhigh-fiving and telling everyone that came to their house how they passed her from brother to brother.  The girls told her they couldn’t have her in their sorority, it wouldn’t look good to have such an openly slutty girl associated with them.  Monroe was understandably livid at the boys, but she
was more upset with herself.  She was depressed for a while and kept to herself and her studies.  Eventually though, she started to feel normal again.  Fuck what those people thought.  She didn’t want anything to do with greek life anyway.

I would like to say that was the end with a lesson learned, for some people it is… but months later she was invited to another party at a different house.  A friend of hers in statistics that was very smart and very handsome invited her along.  Some more alcohol, and some very pretty boys happened.  They had heard about her from some friends of theirs in another frat house.  But that’s another story.   

Chastity:

He had asked her to stay the night.  She usually didn’t but he offered extra.  Money talks.  He wouldn’t try to fuck her again, she’d worn him out and she knew it.  Sometimes it was nice to not rush off, and the sheets at this hotel were to die for.  She woke up to an empty bed and an elaborate gourmet breakfast.  He’d left his number on a card on the tray.  Very cute.  But she knew the game.  He wanted her because he couldn’t have her.  Prostitutes are looked down at because the perception is that anyone can have them.  But a high-class escort knows how to turn that around.  They got what she was willing to give, on her terms, and nothing more.  No matter how they tried.  She sometimes had referrals or friends of previous clients who would tell her that somebody had fallen in love with her or that they would treat her like a queen forever.  But Chastity was her own queen, and she liked it that way.  She gazed out the marble atrium with it’s floor to ceiling windows on the 72nd floor as she ate breakfast and smiled.  Not a bad life.

When she had more than enough money to do so, Chastity enrolled in college.  She required no loans and saw some of her regulars as time allowed for spending money.  She avoided frat parties and that sort of life because she had zero patience for the ridiculous attempts those young boys made to get in her pants.  She tried it once, and all they did was attempt to feed her alcohol and get her alone.  One guy even tried to guilt-trip her into sleeping with his “little bro” who was shy with women.  Please.  One look at the shy boy and she knew that he knew exactly what he was after.  He was no stranger.  Howsport many stupid girls had fallen for that?  After that she kept to her studies and went downtown when she wanted to have fun.  Her company was classy and on her terms, just as she liked it.  

Chastity graduated with a Masters in Business Management and a minor in Accounting.  She went on to become a highly sought after business consultant and developed a reputation for being a no-nonsense problem solver for many fortune five-hundred companies.  She eventually hired an assistant, a cute college dropout who desperately needed a job and had a background in finance to help her manage her accounts.  She was very bright, and had a pretty good attitude, but you could tell she’d been through some things… she was a little rough around the edges.  Chastity hoped she could help her rise above it as she had not so long ago.  But that’s another story.

So what’s the point of these long, drawn out stories?  Well, for one thing, apparently I like to write semi-fiction.  But  the other thing is that either of these girls fit classic examples of “sluts”.  They are both rather extreme cases, but it brings us back to the question my friend asked me: What is “the difference between a woman who is labeled a slut and a woman who’s comfortable with her sexuality.”  The actual answer is: not a damn thing. (Because it depends on the subjective veiwpoint of the person labeling them.)  But again, since we’re making an attempt to differentiate anyway, the difference is based on the choices that are made, the process, and the results.

A woman like Chastity can sleep with literally hundreds of men, in control and smart about every encounter.  Meanwhile a woman like Monroe can sleep with three in one night, out of control and making bad choices.  If somebody put a gun to my head and said “label one a slut or you die”, I would have to go with Monroe.  She made poor decisions, and allowed people who’s sole purpose was to have their with her do so without asserting herself.   That said I would not fault her, or anyone, personally as I know that some frat houses are a well oiled machines (as I tried to illustrate) designed to take advantage of naive women. But the fact remains that I have personally watched a situation like this happen in a far less understandable way than Monroe’s, with a girl who was not nearly as naive, and that sort of blatant bad decision making and irresponsibility qualifies somebody as “sluttier” in my mind than a woman who has intelligently and cleanly slept with many men.

In closing I want to reiterate what I said in the first place though.  The word “slut” is a ridiculous double-standard. The question put to me was specifically in regards to women, so I focused on that angle, but the majority of the time, that word is simply a tool used by men (like those frat guys) to shame women that they previously had no qualms about trying to get with.  It’s just another representation of the still-present archaic societal misogyny that would be better off killed with fire and forgotten forever.

 

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You Don’t Have To “Follow Your Dreams”

“What do you want to do?”  “What do you want to be?”  “What’s your passion?” “What do you want to be when you grow up?” “What do you dream of being?”

Rich.  And Happy.  With Kids.

Oh, you want to know how?  Well fuck off, I don’t know.  Except I do, and that is: whatever I can do that will get me there while keeping me happy, letting me live my life, and allowing me to keep my dignity intact/stay true to myself.

I suppose that’s awfully specific for somebody that doesn’t know, but as a thirty-six year old single male that achieved “full yuppie”, and then spent months unemployed until just recently, I’ve had a lot of experience and a fair amount of time to mull this over.  What I figured out is that all those questions above seem encouraging and productive, but they can, in fact, be exactly the opposite.  They can demotivate and even create insecurity where there doesn’t need to be any.

Napping Guy Disappointed Girl

Obviously they had different priorities…

The thing is, some people have dreams when they are little, but as we grow, we change and (hopefully) so do our priorities.  When we’re kids, a lot of us really hate taking naps.  Sleep is so boring!  But years later, as an adult, nap time is a close second (and let’s face it, depending on the person, it’s possibly not second) to the horizontal mambo.  We grow, we learn, priorities change, and so does what we dream of.

When I was a young boy, I wanted to be a fighter pilot so badly that I studied different aircraft, their capabilities, their combat roles, and even the engines that powered them and who made them.  I thought the SR-71 Blackbird was the coolest thing in the world.  I grew up, took the ASVAB, aced it, and made the Marines love me (yes, I know I should’ve talked to the Air Force first, but that Staff Sergeant talked a good game.)  They told me I could take my pick of assignments between the AV-8B Harrier II (the jet that can take off vertically and hover) or the F-18 Hornet (The fastest and most maneuverable mainstream fighter the US produced at the time.) I was sold on the F-18 and made a soft commitment to enlist   I trained with Staff Sergeant Johnson to prepare for boot camp while learning more and more about the program.  It would entail military “basic” school, the Naval Academy, and then Flight School specializing (in my case) in fixed-wing aviation.  The long and the short of this was a minimum of a fourteen year commitment once I signed on the dotted line.  And when that day came, my eighteen-year-old self thought about my friends, my girlfriend, and the person I thought I would become, and I walked away (Sorry Staff Sergeant Johnson.)  Once I got realistic about my childhood dream, I didn’t want it any more, and that as okay.

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Most dreams seem to involve mountains and sunsets…

But especially in recent years, society has moved to this obsession with goals/dreams.  People who don’t have a specific one are in danger of being labeled as unfocused, distracted, lacking direction, drifters, or any number of relatively negative terms.  This, in turn, can make people who don’t really have a specific dream feel insecure about the lack of that dream.  They can begin to think there might be something wrong with them and feel like they need to invent a “passion” to define themselves.  This can have the opposite effect, and lead to an abundance of wasted time pretending to care about something that is ultimately unfulfilling.  Such a situation is much more common that we might think and can easily lead to a number of psychological issues.  Ironically, inventing your passion is a very effective way of stifling a real passion you may not know you have yet.

For instance, I remember looking at characters in movies that weren’t the good or bad guy, but were the “right-hand man” and thinking “That would be neat… I could totally be THAT guy rather than the main good/bad guy.”  It wasn’t a dream, it was just a respect for that sort of person that I identified with passively. A couple of decades later that’s the majority of my recent professional experience.  Even better is that I (generally) like it and have made as much, or more than most of the people I know who are “following their passions”.  I never thought to myself  “Someday I’m going to be this awesome Executive Assistant!” but by being open to it and accepting the natural evolution of my career in that direction, I realized that I was, in fact, actualizing something I had passively envisioned more than a few times.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not hating on people who have and follow their dreams.  I have a ton of respect for them.  Many of my very close friends have pursued their dreams and passions and are reaping the rewards of their dedication over the years.  They worked hard, put in their time, (most) suffered to some degree, and are rewarded by the option of doing what they always wanted to do.  But that’s not everyone, and more importantly it doesn’t have to be everyone.  We have to dispel the idea that dreams = life success.  They can most certainly create motivation to succeed, but they are not a requirement.  There are a number of other ways to motivate yourself.

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And that’s OKAY!

Achievement and/or success often breeds motivation, and sometimes it takes a whole lot of trying things and failing to find it.  Further, you may very well find that what you succeed at is something you never even considered before.  That’s where business roles that I call “tool” types come from.  They aren’t what you typically think of when you dream of what you want to become.  Therefore they often aren’t “visionaries” or well-known business leaders.  But instead of having their own dream, they enable/assist the dreamers in order to grow and take their visions to whole new levels.

Maybe you never dreamed of being an accountant, but you find you’re naturally good at it, and it rewards you well leading to job satisfaction and general financial success.  That process can make people pretty happy.  The same can be said for what I do as an Executive Assistant.  I get to live vicariously through extremely successful CEOs, Inventors, Celebrities and other notable dreamers.  I am compensated well and often enjoy a number of (expensive) fringe benefits without the drawbacks of being imbalanced as said visionaries often are (out of necessity really.) I stay balanced and I help to balance them, leading to a great deal of personal and job satisfaction.

There are countless roles that can lead to professional success as an “enabler” or “tool”.  So I’m not saying don’t dream, I’m just saying that if you don’t have a specific dream, don’t stress it.  Provide for yourself (and those you need to provide for) and take pride in that accomplishment.  Just keep trying to improve yourself.  Try things, fail (more than) a few times if you need to, and focus on what you want for yourself.  You don’t have to have a direction  as long as you keep yourself moving forward in some way.  Keep making your own path, cutting through the jungle of life and you might just find that you look up and discover something that you or nobody else had thought of yet. Accidents like that have made a lot of people both rich and happy.

 

Martial Arts University 2015 – Afterthoughts

First, this post is far longer than average, and I’ve already trimmed a bit, so bear with the novel and I hope the content keeps you entertained.  Second, I’m going to admit right away that I will have trouble writing as candidly here as I have for most entries. This is primarily because I realize that a fair amount of my audience from Facebook is comprised of students (and at least one Master) who are members of Martial Arts World. However, I am nothing if not honest and I do not wish or expect my opinions to be shared by them. In truth, anything that could be perceived as negative at any point in this post is a result of my own issues and not necessarily the fault of MAW or those who operate their schools.

The beginning of a long post, and more than just a hobby.

The beginning of a long post, and more than just a hobby.

With that disclaimer said, this was probably the best Martial Arts University thus far. Generally speaking the attitude and experiences were very positive. Grandmaster has greatly refined his speaking and philosophy to a level that is much easier for his students of all levels to digest. Meanwhile the team of Masters and CEOs that lead the week-long event appeared unified and supportive of one-another (for the most part…) Having been away for a time now, I found myself approaching the same questions with new answers and some level of uncertainty. I think the best approach in attempting to explain this to you is to quote some of said philosophy and comment on it so you have an understanding of the sort of discussions that go on both internally and externally.

“Discover who you really are. What do you do? What do you want to do?”

This is, and always has been difficult for me. At any given point what I want to do changes. I want to write, so right now I am writing. Am I a writer? Sure. But it is certainly not anything close to the majority of what I do.   I am also a Photographer, Graphic Designer, Executive Consultant, Mentor, Uber Driver, Assistant, Teacher and Martial Artist.

These are all things I want to do… sometimes. But some aren’t feasible as a career, some aren’t something I want very often and some, frankly, I’m just not good enough at. So then I’m left with the question of how to define myself. Which leads me to…

“Your habits make up who you are.”

 Well… shit. I don’t have the best habits, but I like them. What are my habits anyway? I try to write here at least once a week on average (months of hiatus notwithstanding… I DID say “try”) I take tons of photos on my iPhone and contrary to popular belief they are not all selfies and food porn… I currently drive much of the night and sleep much of the day (granted Ramadan facilitates that) and when not fasting I make it a point to do something physical (be it Running, Lifting or Martial Arts class) every other day. Meanwhile the search for ideal steady employment continues.

But that in itself is an entirely different question: Is what you do for work who you are? Some people say yes, others absolutely refuse to let their work define them. I’m not sure where I fall on that spectrum, except that I must find my work fulfilling or I will get bored easily. There must also be a good work/life balance. Many at the executive level preach more of a work/life synergy, but most of the people who do so successfully are the founders of the company to whom their work is more or less a part of them, even a hobby, so to them it will never feel the same as it does to any other employee who is there out of some level of necessity.

“Successful people often set their goals by their talents.”

Sometimes

Sometimes “mediocre” looks kinda cool though.

Well then what are my talents? I write this blog, but does that make me a good writer? (If we’re talking about editing, I think not, but perhaps content sometimes…) I’m a mediocre Martial Artist on the physical side. My photography skill is good, but unpracticed and still developing and my photo-manipulation work is meticulous but much slower than some of the pros I’ve seen.

My real talents are a bit more intangible: I’m highly adaptable, versatile and capable of adopting new concepts to a functional degree in a very short time. I have high mechanical reasoning ability that allows me to recognize systems (including people) and figure out how they work and what I need to do in order to alter them (as in repair or modify… or destroy in some cases.) This makes me relatively good at tech work, assistant work or anything involving multiple tasks over multiple disciplines. Basically I’m pretty good at finding the button and pushing it, wherever it may be.

But how does that translate to goal-setting? It means I can pretty much set my goals to do anything and everything and eventually reach them. It also means I will probably take a fair bit longer to do so and never quite to the level of somebody with a natural focused talent in any particular area. But with no clear talents, I suppose it is up to me to decide what to shift my energy towards and what goals to create.

“Positive goals with clear deadlines create purpose.”

Remember this?

Remember this?

Ah, my eternal weakness: “What do you want?” That’s why we set goals right? To achieve what we want?   Well as I said in my “Who Am I Anyway” section; I don’t know, I just want to “make it”. My only dream is that of the iconic “Christian Grey” style setting in which I stand at the top of a tower in a lavish marble-clad setting overlooking the city below me through floor to ceiling windows. There I watch the sun setting and smile because I finally made it.   But I don’t know what “it” is, and I don’t know how to get it, so there’s a small chance that will never happen simply because I can’t even decide what direction I want to go in to get there.

And then there’s the issue of family. Since I was a boy I’ve wanted children. I don’t know if it’s a biological thing or if I just like myself so much I want to make clones, but part of me feels that a happy family/children is one of the greatest legacies we can leave behind when we depart this world. However, trying to balance this dream with the one above will require a delicate balance, as I said, I want my children happy. Of course I have to find the right person to make those children with first, and almost nine years later the search continues.

“Without goals you have no reason to wake up early.”

 These days I don’t really…

“The moment we commit to a huge goal is the moment we invite obstacles into our life.”

This scares me less than anything else that was said, but I found it pretty profound. It’s just a really good way of saying once you’ve chosen your path, it’s going to be blocked in places and we have to work our way around in order to continue. I don’t mind the work as long as I can find the motivation.

“How can you lead others if you can’t lead yourself?”

50 Shades of Green at MAU.

50 Shades of Green at MAU.

About that motivation, the truth is I don’t much care about being the leader. Except that it drives me absolutely bonkers when the person who is supposed to be the leader is completely inept in some form. It usually boils down to either leadership skill or specific skills toward the task at hand, but I expect both from the person I choose to follow. When it’s obvious to me that I can do better, I feel motivated to either remove said leader, enable a replacement to somebody more qualified, or move on to somewhere that I feel is better suited for me.

More and more I’ve felt like perhaps despite my hesitance I am meant to lead in some capacity. I don’t fear it, I’ve been advising people for a long time, I just don’t care about the spotlight. Recognition among my peers is enough for me. But if I am to lead I need to figure out where I’m leading to, where I want to lead to, and to believe it’s best for everyone involved.

 “You cannot live for even four seconds without hope.”

While I understand that this is probably not meant to be literal, I believe I’m the exception. I have very long periods of simply existing. In fact, I find that hope is a dangerous thing because it is when that hope is combined with expectation that breeds disappointment. On the other hand, to walk without hope is to walk in darkness, so it is indeed necessary for happiness. But life doesn’t always have to be happy (certainly ideally so,) sometimes it’s okay for it to be grey for a while.

“If water stays in one place for too long, it becomes stagnant.”

Sometimes the flow is looks very still, but it is still moving.

Sometimes the flow looks very still, but it is still moving.

In context he meant that you must keep growing, learning and innovating to be successful in your life. But part of me also wants to relate this to “You’ve gotta keep moving.” Though I’ve traveled much in my time and lived in many places, where I sit now I the longest I’ve stayed still since I was a boy in the Seattle area. Obviously much has changed while I’ve remained here, but I have to admit a part of me was excited to move on to a new place again.

On the other hand though, remaining in one place, having a “base” is the best way to establish roots and relationships. Granted, as I will comment on later, I may not be great at forming long-lasting relationships on any level regardless of my location.

Closing and my MAU Insanity: Among them but not one of them.

 There’s a lot more than above, but this is enough for one post. The final admittance/revelation is that every year that I go to this thing, about halfway through it drives me a little insane. What I mean is that something in my normally composed self goes off-kilter and it throws me for a very odd, often negative loop. The all too familiar feeling of separation that I struggle with takes hold and despite being surrounded by hundreds of people, I feel alone. These camps almost always take place over the full moon cycle, so that’s one explanation as the full moon has been known to… unbalance me a bit (among other things.)

Another more obvious reason is that until this year I’ve always had the role of Grandmaster’s Assistant, which is much like I wrote above; among the students at camp, but separated because my focus is Grandmaster. There is both security and isolation in this position, and it is possible previous years have simply imprinted this mentality on this particular event. Further, the stress level for anyone who takes serving Grandmaster seriously has been quite high historically. It seems this year we saw a slightly more balanced, kinder grandmaster than in previous years, but this may also be because I was not directly involved with him this round.

Balance Pieces

Balance Pieces

With all that said, there is some evidence to support that this isn’t all in my head. With the exception of the Masters and some of the CEOs who are more familiar with me, the other students, (including those I was close to from my home school) for the most part regard me at a distance. There are exceptions of course, especially from a particularly outgoing school from the west coast, but in general it indeed feels like I am seen as not another student, but something else. Respected for the most part, but separated.

For instance, there was an abundance of photos taken, selfies, group pictures, and celebrations throughout camp and after testing on the final day. But never was I approached to be a part of these groups. I was not excluded purposefully (this is not a rant!) but more it was as if I was invisible. Sometimes I was of course, serving one of the Masters as I did required that I slip away at times, but other times I simply went about my business and was paid no mind. Again, this may simply be a matter of that being how it’s always been. As Grandmaster’s Assistant, even when I received my own Black Belt certificate two years ago, I had perhaps twenty minutes for pictures with a few close friends before I had to vanish.

The offset of this is that I have the honor of spending a great deal of time with Grandmaster and the Masters of my organization to the point I can speak my opinion over meals and discussions and be regarded with consideration and respect (that’s not to say other students wouldn’t, they simply have far less opportunity.) So that is, in effect, my “group of friends” as a substitute for the ones that pay me little attention since I stopped actively working for Martial Arts World.

Stay tuned!

Stay tuned!

Admittedly, my training has been sparse over the last eighteen months or so because I have little reinforcement from anyone other than my master. My peers that I trained with over the years have either left the organization or simply don’t much care when I try to motivate them to take class with me. Though I appreciate the training, a huge draw of martial arts has always been the people, and when you don’t have those people to train beside, or motivate you, motivating yourself becomes more difficult.

Fortunately this camp has renewed my resolve a bit, and renewed my selfishness. I have never needed people before and I don’t need them now. My plan is to train, refresh and test for the rank of instructor next year. When I do, I want to be qualified to do so in my own mind, meaning that even if my technique is not perfect, I know my philosophy, physical curriculum and the physics behind it well enough to pass it along. I will do it, and not for anyone but my master(s) and for myself. Hopefully along the way, new connections might form and I may not feel so isolated among my peers. If not, I’m pretty used to being different, and I’ll just have to take pride in that as well.  I can, and I will.

About Change and Where We Belong

It has been a busy holiday season and new year, but finally a chance to get back into routine, and that includes my blog!

One of my best friends was visiting from her new home in Japan this last week.  She’s  stayed with me a couple nights while also visiting her other friends and we’ve been catching up on the changes in the sixteen months or so since she left.  I was a little concerned, because sometimes when people travel abroad and start a new life in a difficult, unfamiliar place, it’s easy to come back and latch on to what’s familiar.  So we were on our way to a friend’s house and I asked her if she was feeling at home again (more or less baiting her for my underlying question: “are you not going to want to go back?”  Her immediate answer was: “No.  I don’t belong here.”  Wow.  In that moment I realized how much she’s grown even since she left.

She looks Japanese.. right?

She looks Japanese.. right?

I should clarify that she’s one of my best friends because she’s always been wickedly intelligent, friendly and otherwise awesome as a person.  She took the time to get to know me better than anyone had in a very long time, and to this day reminds me when I’m repeating my cycles.  When she was accepted to the prestigious JET program, she had been scared and excited to leave everything she’d know.  But it was her dream to live in Japan someday and it won out over any fear she had.   When she arrived, the first few months were tough, and on and off she struggled with homesickness and bouts of depression. But now, that moment in the car she spoke with such resolution that I knew she’d gotten past it all.  She made her home in Japan, and she knows, she feels that where she is now is where she belongs.

So the new year is upon us, and though the dates and turning of the year are very often in the minds of those who recognize it, there’s something to be said about powerful tradition and the influence of so many minds on the same wavelength.  Our cycles are reflections of our minds, so it’s silly to think we have no influence over them.  We break and remake them as we learn and grow.  The predominant theme of a new year is (of course) new things, new lives, even a new you.  But while everyone wishes for “new”, many are hesitant to wish for the same thing: “change”.  New does not happen without change.  Even if you’re only adding to your existing life, it will inevitably change it.  People fear the idea of “change” because they are afraid to lose what they have and what they are comfortable with, but it’s all about your attitude.  Embrace change and the excitement and experience that come with it are your rewards.  What you should retain will stay with you in some form anyway, the only things you will truly lose are the things that are probably holding you back now anyway.

In a sense, my friend gave up her whole life here to travel to a new place and begin again.  But now she visited over a year later, and she has actually lost nothing.  She came back to friends, family and even pets and could easily have stepped back into her old life as if she’d never left.  However, many people (including myself) noticed she was different.  She has evolved, and further,  instead of sinking into routine, she felt far away from home among us.  It sounds bad, but in essence it means she has embraced her new self and her new life.  It means she has grown.  Some people embark on journeys or make resolutions to change, but many (probably the majority) end up sinking back to what is comfortable.  This involves locations, relationships and professions.  Comfort is easy, and that’s not always a bad thing, but if we rely on comfort too long and do not push our boundaries, we become stagnant and that gives rise to many major issues from boredom to depression.  In order to be fulfilled, we have to feel as if we are growing and/or working toward something.

It's hard not to feel like you belong in moments like these.

It’s hard not to feel like you belong in moments like these.

That’s why finding where you belong can be so difficult; often it’s not a specific place, it’s a situation… it’s a state of mind.  You belong where you can learn, and grow and be made to feel valued for your contributions.  In a comfortable situation, you are taken for granted as much as you take things for granted, but continuing to develop yourself and your situations prevents this on both sides.  That’s not to say that everyone has to uproot and move thousands of miles to find where they belong, sometimes it’s simply a new living or work situation.  But the point is, as hard as it is to to tell when you are there, If you’re honest with yourself, it’s easy to tell when you’re not there.  You feel it when you don’t belong in a situation.  Listen to that, and have the courage to make the change.  I’ve been guilty of clinging to things I was afraid to lose and delaying change in the past, but it turns out that when you embrace change and grow with it, you don’t lose nearly as much as you think.  Especially those who you are important to will make the effort to follow you on some level and reunite with you when possible.  If others fall to the wayside, they have other priorities and probably would have eventually anyway.

That’s the thing about change, be it a new year, a new place, a new relationship or a new profession:  It’s going to happen whether you like it or not.  So, embrace it, direct it and make the most of it with a great attitude. Grow, Change, Love and find where you belong.

I wish I could help you all.

Everyday I see you.  On Social media, passing by while I eat lunch and even interacting with me on various levels.  Everyday I see a new reminder of somebody that feels like they are missing something, somebody, anything to fill that hole they feel.  They feel trapped, restrained or empty.  I get it, because I feel it too sometimes.  But what makes me sad is that you’re wandering, searching, and you don’t have the slightest idea for what.  You grasp at straws over and over thinking “Maybe this will fix it!”  “Maybe this will make me feel better!”  Sometimes it does.  But it’s usually only temporary.

2014-03-26-alone_man1440x9001When I read, see, hear or otherwise encounter you… it’s one of the few times I wish that I could say “I’m sorry.”  I’m arrogant enough to think I know what you need, and I believe that if in some cases you knew me, and trusted me… or in other cases I was willing to compromise myself, I could give it to you.  But in those cases you do not, and in other cases I cannot.

I am fortunate that the universe moves me along the path to intervene in the lives of those where it sees fit.  It is, in fact, an honor to have a lasting effect on any individual’s life.  But when I see so many others suffering, not because they deserve it, but because they believe they do… it makes me angry.  I don’t want to talk down to those people.  I, too, have a darkness and emptiness I wrestle with regularly,  so it’s not pity I feel… it’s kindrid.. and it’s resentment toward the hard lessons people have to sometimes spend their whole lives learning.  It’s not fair.

Ahhh.. but as I said, I am arrogant.  To speak as if there isn’t a reason.  I believe there is, a greater reason to a greater system.  But that doesn’t mean that now, in this moment they deserve to feel like this.  These are good people who only hurt themselves (not literally.. most of the time) and harm nobody.  They have good hearts, better than mine, and yet are subjected to harsh lessons and robbed of their ability to flourish.  Now, perhaps it will make them stronger and they will flourish even more down the road. I like that hope… I like to think everyone gets theirs in the end…In this life.

3620046579_d56a212c10

This isn’t them, it’s the fear and hate of the ones before them, but they may never escape it.

But they don’t.  That’s the reality of this world.  In order to get what you deserve in this world, you must first believe you deserve it.  But often those closest to you rob you of that belief, that hope, from day one.  This too makes me angry.  Society is broken, humanity is broken.  From generation to generation scars are passed down often in the forms of blessings.  Repression, restraint, control, greed, helplessness, wrong.. “you’re wrong because…” This is what assaults you from the womb, from day one, and often from those you’re supposed to trust the most.  Their wounds bleed on to you and you suffer their sins as they suffered the sins of those before them because from the beginning you’ve always be taught that if you don’t do what they think is right, whatever they’ve been programmed to think is right… then you’re wrong.

THAT is where that hole comes from.  THAT is where the emptiness begins.  The ego is chipped away and insecurity wreaks havoc on your soul.  This damage keeps you from feeling complete because you can’t be complete if you don’t feel right being you.  It doesn’t go away either.  It resurfaces over and over again and if you can’t fight, it consumes you.  Sometimes the people who helped put it there tell you that they know what you need to fix it.  But you don’t need to be fixed.  You’re not actually broken, you’re just afraid of who you are, so you can’t be who you are.

I believe in love.  I believe in people that belong together and compliment each other’s lives perhaps even into the next life.  But I don’t ever believe that a relationship is two halves.  It’s two wholes.  And the best way to find your other whole is to do your best to make yourself as whole as possible.  But you’re really, really afraid of that.  In fact, you may not even realize it’s what you Over-Parentingneed.  But I promise you, no matter where you come from, what your beliefs are, or what your heritage is, the one thing you need more than anything or anyone in this world, is to be you.  And be the you that you were born to be, and be so fucking happy about who you are and what you represent that nothing anyone can say or do will convince you that you need to be anything but who you are.

Don’t ever let your family, friends, teachers, pastors, boyfriends, girlfriends, strangers or (for the love of god..) media tell you who you are or what you should be.  Don’t let ME tell you who you should be.  Nobody has to, because way deep down you already know.  And THAT is all you need to listen to.  That is the voice of you in the universe telling you that you’re perfect being you (flaws and all.)

I don’t care about a lot of things… or maybe on a different level I do.  But what makes me feel… what makes me sad, is when I see good hearted, talented, intelligent, amazing people restrained, self-loathing, depressed, repressed, hurt or otherwise abused because they’ve been infected by this thing we call society.  What’s supposed to help people by bringing them together now traps them in shallow lies, evil intentions and empty promises.  It makes them scared to be who they are, and makes them hate themselves because they don’t fit what only a small percentage of people in this world believe is ideal.  These people who could potentially save the world… the entire human race… are squandered because of false pride, rampant ego, and the fear and insecurity that has controlled those before them since nearly the beginning of civilization.

Most of us have been there.

Most of us have been there.

I see it.  It makes me angry.  It makes me sad.  Even though I am privileged enough to know that in a very large picture, even suffering has it’s place, it’s reasons… it doesn’t mean that it’s fair.  The system is balanced, and it will balance itself and we are only a part of a much greater system.   But I see the individual lights.  I see you, there at night alone and afraid to face yourself.  But you have to face yourself, you have to fight all the wrong that been crammed in your head that tells you you’re anything but magnificent.  And I wish i could help you.  I wish I could help you all.  I wish I could help you be you.

The Double Stand-Up

-or- “How the universe saved my ass from the curse of Sea World.”

I make mistakes sometimes.  As I’ve mentioned before, one of my best friends observed that the worst thing I can be is alone for long periods of time, and bored.  When this combination happens I begin to reach, or at least occupy my time with things that are better left alone.  This is the story of one of those times, and how the universe essentially bailed me out of something that could’ve been so much worse.

In my endless search for “the one” with “it”, I pursue many avenues including a now well-known “dating” site known as “OkCupid”.  I’ve had a profile on there since before it had anything to do with dating, when it was a simple quiz site called “TheSpark” that evolved into “SparkMatch” and eventually to the “OKCupid” we know today.  Originally the appeal was takingthe many tests and seeing how you compared to other members, I suppose turning it to compatibility and dating was the next logical step.

No, I'm not linking my profile, go find it. :P

No, I’m not linking my profile, go find it. 😛

I’ve had very little success on the site.  Those I get messages from, I’m generally not interested in.  Those I am interested enough to put forth the effort of messaging respond *very* rarely.  In fact, I don’t recall the last time they did.  I have overhauled the descriptions on my profile many times, to no avail (perhaps because the information doesn’t change much, it’s just presented differently.)  But on VERY rare occasions, something worth at least looking into surfaces… or I’m just at the point where I’m feeling particularly… open-minded (aka alone and bored.)

One such experience happened a little over five years ago…  I had spent weeks corresponding back and fourth with a seemingly attractive and intelligent girl.  I don’t honestly recall if I expected it to go anywhere, but I can assume (especially considering my state of mind at that point…) not anywhere other than perhaps to bed.  Regardless I was interested enough to go and meet up with her.  The thing is, at THAT point I hadn’t got my shit together yet either.  I was either unemployed or just coming off being so, and I was driving a crappy, older VW Cabrio with a number of issues (and… standing water that later earned it the name “Swamp Car”.)  Among these issues was the fact that the breaks were all but failing.  They had been manageable but were getting progressively worse.

This + Florida Storm = Swamp Car.

This + Florida Storm = Swamp Car.

So the day came that this girl and I decided to meet up.  She was a manager at Discovery Cove (the upscale park owned by Sea World where you get to interact with dolphins and such) and offered to get me into Sea World for free as our first meeting.  I’d never been, so it seemed like a good idea whether the day went well or not.  From the get-go I was in trouble.  She wanted to meet earlier in the morning so we had time to do a full itinerary (she was an expert at catching all the shows!)  I arrived pretty close to on time, and was supposed to meet her in the parking lot, but my brakes had been really bad on the way there, and when I finally made it to my parking spot… I couldn’t stop.  Instead my car barreled over the curb and up on the dirt before I managed to use the E-Brake to stop it and allow it to roll back down.  Needless to say I was already embarrassed.  When I apologized to her and tried to explain, she said she didn’t see it anyway, but I think perhaps she was just trying to preserve my ego.  Regardless, off we went into the park.

Have you ever met somebody of whom nothing was wrong with them at all, they were perfectly nice and physically attractive, and yet you had absolutely ZERO chemistry?  To the point it made everything really, really awkward?  Well, long story short, that was this day.  We went from show to show, I got splashed by a Sea Lion as a volunteer to impress her, and I got a photo of it for free because she was connected.  But that was the only connection that day.  That night I think I recall sending her a message that essentially thanked her, and (from her reactions) said that I thought we agreed that nothing was there.  Naturally, I never heard from her again, but I still have the photo of myself and the sea lion.

If only I could blame this...

If only I could blame this…

Now, fast forward to about nine days ago, and a potentially bigger mistake.  It began similarly to the last one, but there were some notable differences.  I received a message from a girl on OKCupid.  This in itself is pretty rare, but then the message wasconfident, straightforward and articulate.  So, I was impressed.  I went to check out her profile and found very little to go off of.  A single photo that was… okay.  Physically she is in great shape being very athletic and vegan (there is nothing wrong with this.. but for me!?  Have you met me?!)  Her face was.. not ugly.  That’s about the most I could say.  Now, normally I’m honest with myself and know better than to bother.  Normally I would’ve simply not responded because of the potential to pretty much go nowhere.  However, this day was one of those days.. I was feeling adventurous and “open-minded.”  I was alone and bored.

I wrote a message back saying something along the lines of: “Alright, I’ll bite.  But to be honest I don’t know how we’re in any way compatible.”  This was apparently enough for her.  She suggested Gatorland (which was cool because I’d never been and frankly it’s cheap.)  Numbers were exchanged and plans were made for the following (this most recent) Saturday.  All seemed fine.  If nothing else it “should be fun” I thought.

But as the week went on I came to dread the upcoming Saturday more and more.  Her text messages came across daily with horrible shorthand writing (I hate that…) and she ended up applying to work for my company (she’s nowhere near qualified so it’s not a concern.)  Finally Saturday arrived and we had plans to hang out after she got off work at 2 pm.  At this point I was hoping she would be late, or stand me up, or something would happen.  But she did text, and I responded because I do try to do the things I say I’m going to do (I’m just usually better at saying “no.”)

Then came complication number one: she decided it was too hot for Gatorland, and instead decided (I bet you guessed it) we should go to Sea World!  Immediately I felt the irony of the universe closing in.  Things were different this time though, my nearly new Prius has no brake issues whatsoever and I had to pay my own way in.  I got online and ended up just buying myself an annual pass for $15 a month (resident special!)  My alternative was $90 for a day pass and not including parking, and meeting her just wasn’t worth that in my mind.  At least with the annual I can go back with friends of mine (or see the ones that work there!)

Siri.. this doesn't seem right...

Siri.. this doesn’t seem right…

Despite the purchase of the pass, my motivation was very low.  However, I managed to drag myself out and eventually was on my way… just a little late.  I had told her that the change from Gatorland to the farther Sea World would make me a few min late, but thanks to my lack of motivation, and (honestly) Siri deciding to take me a VERY out of the way route, I arrived about thirty minutes late.  I texted her and told her I had to pick up my pass and I would be along.  Fifteen minutes later I was in the park and sent her another text message asking where I could meet her.  She hadn’t responded to my previous text message, and now, after a few minutes I didn’t get a reply.  Obviously, I normally would be concerned… but in this case I decided to just let it go for a while.

I wandered to the seal exhibit and found a pretty bird to take a photo of.  Who knew seals could give such good puppy dog eyes!?  They are masters of their craft (suckering the tourists!) but the birds too are excellent goal keepers, capable of swiping feed out of mid-air.  I really wished I had a professional camera on me (thankfully I have a pass now!)  At least another half hour passed and no response came from my texts.  I resolved that I had done my part and honestly hoped she had simply stood me up for being late.  Next I proceeded to the sky tower and fourty-five minutes later the sun was setting with no message in sight. It was the happiest I’d been about being blown off pretty much ever.

Pretty Bird.  NASTY Goalkeeper.

Pretty Bird. MEAN Goalkeeper.

I DID get a message, but not from her.  It turns out another old friend of mine who is in the Blue Horizons show was performing and she wanted me to go see.  Finally, somebody I was excited about seeing! (To clarify she’s an old friend and it’s never been like that.)  I got a fantastic seat in the stadium and was snapping instagrams of my friend airborne when finally I got the call from the girl I was supposed to meet.  Well…shit.  Naturally I immediately ignored this call, because pictures, a live performance and loud music wouldn’t make for a good conversation anyway.  But I wasn’t going to just ignore her.  When I had suitable pictures I sent her a text message saying hello, and that I hadn’t been sure I was going to hear from her.  She explained that her phone had die and she’d been unable to turn it on to send me a meeting place.  Since we hadn’t connected she’d seen a show and then left, and was on her way home now. Yessssss!

Feeling properly off the hook I texted her lightheartedly that I had ironically bad luck at Sea World when it came to meeting people, but she was upset and replied that it was “really stupid, or really shitty of me to not bother calling.”   Unfortunately for her, especially at this point, I didn’t care that she was angry and sent a rather curt message back saying I texted her twice, and for all I known she was pissed I was late or gotten cold feet and chosen to ignore me.  Calling would do no good with a dead phone anyway. For a long while she didn’t respond.

In the meantime I met up with my friend after the show and traded stories with her.  She told me dating sites like that would probably never produce anyone worthwhile, and that I needed to get out, do things and meet people situationally.  She backed it up by telling me the adorable and serendipitous story of  how she met her current partner, whom she’d been with only two weeks and was uncharacteristically swooning over.  It was adorable.  I knew her message was pretty on point too.  After a selfie an some hugs I was off to see the penguins of the Antarctica exhibit (It was later and dark, so I was hoping for shorter lines.)

Because Penguins!

Because Penguins!

It was 10AM the next day before she wrote back.  A three-part tirade about how I was inconsiderate and hadn’t been thoughtful.  I didn’t respond to it until around four that afternoon. I was way beyond caring and was just happy I had escaped and had a good time without investing any more time in a situation I never should’ve gotten myself into to begin with.  The universe had bailed me out of this one.. and I was grateful.  Because I was feeling grateful I sent a friendly message back with the honesty I should’ve shown at the get-go.  I explained that after looking at her profile, I couldn’t imagine that we’d have been compatible anyway (had she even read mine!? It’s a NOVEL!)   I told her that I try to be open-minded, but our lifestyles were completely different and that she was looking for something long term that I couldn’t see happening.  I wished her good luck in her search thanked her for giving me a good reason to pick up an annual pass.  Overall it was an amiable message meant to leave things civil and straight forward.

Her response was three words: “who is this” 

Perfect.

Philosophy of Moderation – Part 2: Emotional

I am admittedly not so qualified to write this entry.  If I had named it “mental” and gone on about self-discipline and such then perhaps I would have a bit more merit.  However, as you saw in my last post, I have to write about what I’m feeling, and this is a good time to talk about emotional moderation, when it’s needed, and when maybe it isn’t.

A few posts back I talked about about what it is to be happy.  I struggle with that a bit as my natural state is to be quite neutral/cold.  On the plus side, I typically don’t get bent out of shape or overly depressed about a lot of things (there are, however, specific things, such as last week’s rape article…)  On the downside, getting me overly excited about any specific concept is tough.  I’m set at a certain level of “happy” that is very moderate.  Though my level is probably lower than your average well-adjusted “happy” person, for most people being set at a certain level of “happiness” is not a new concept.

Hedonic-Treadmill

A bit oversimplified but you get the idea.

The Hedonic Treadmill is the concept that humans tend to return to a specific level of happiness despite major events or life changes (be they positive or negative.)  In essence it compares our emotional state to walking on a treadmill, in which we simply need to keep walking (living) at a comfortable, indefinite pace in order to stay in place (so essentially our “natural” state of happiness.)  When something awesome happens, the treadmill turns up allowing you to run and gain more (happiness), faster.  But inevitably (psychologically) you’ll get tired and have to take it back down to your natural pace.  Likewise when something terrible happens, the treadmill slows to a crawl, slowing your progress and setting you back until you regain your energy, allowing you to return to normal pace.  Another (perhaps less confusing) way to look at it is like a thermostat, your normal happiness is set at a certain level.  The outside world might make you warmer or colder for a while, but inevitably your thermostat will bring you back to the temperature you are naturally set at.

The case is often made with lottery winners and those with near unthinkable amounts of money to the average person.  We always think “Man!  If I had that kind of money I would always be happy!”  But the truth is, those that do have that sort of money are no happier than you are most days.  People adapt to basically anything (good or bad,) and no matter what we have, we always want more (especially if we think we can’t have it…) Some of us are better at it than others, so it may happen faster for some, but inevitably everyone returns to that set point.  Be it Lottery, New Car, Sex, Marriage, Children, Car Accidents, Losing Your Job, Divorce and even a death in the family, life events can extend for months or even years, but your base happiness with eventually attempt to return to a certain level of happiness regardless.

Sometimes "Happy Work" means going to the beach in your suit...

Sometimes “Happy Work” means going to the beach in your suit…

Initially this idea was a little disturbing to me.  To say that no matter what happens we’re always going to achieve the same general level of happiness makes it sound like striving for anything is pointless.  But fortunately it actually gives us a purpose:  Find a way to raise your treadmill/thermostat/hedonic set point.  It sounds simple but naturally it’s more difficult than simply making yourself happy.  You have to figure out what moves you, and what you can consistently to do to make yourself happier than you are now.  It’s a lot of work, but it’s (obviously) happy work.

But there’s a flip side:  depression.  Depression (in this case) is basically the state in which perpetual negative circumstances / state of mind keep you from returning to your normal happiness setting.  This can be any number of consistent negative influences: abusive relationships (usually family or spouse), imprisonment, consistent anxiety, chronic illness and drug/alcohol abuse are fairly common examples.  Something key to note here is that this doesn’t mean the depressed person is “broken”, simply that a consistent negative stimuli is acting as a barrier to keep them from returning to their set point of happiness.  Unfortunately it’s probably possible that an extended duration of some of these could even lower the setting on somebody’s hedonic treadmill.  But the good news is, in most cases studies show that once the negative situation is removed/resolved, the majority of those experiencing this depression bounced back to their hedonic set point.

So, how do we turn up our happiness setting?  Nobody knows for sure.  To some extent it will vary depending on the individual.  Most recent research points to some fifty percent of our happiness/hedonic set point being determined by genetics.  Personally, I’m not willing to allow some unseen statistic (whether factual or not) to control how I feel, so I’m not going to think about the half that I supposedly can’t control.  Instead I’ll focus on what I can.  A pretty interesting study by psychologists Headey and Wearing (1989) suggested that our position on the spectrum of the stable personality traitsneuroticism, extraversion, and openness to experience (wiki links for you psych majors that want to dive in…) accounts for how we experience and perceive life events, and therefore indirectly contributes to our happiness levels (Elaborated via handy wiki-table:)

Neuroticism Extraversion Openness to experience
Anxiety Warmth Fantasy
Hostility Gregariousness Aesthetics
Depression Assertiveness Feelings
Self-consciousness Activity Actions
Impulsiveness Excitement/Sensation Seeking Ideas
Vulnerability to Stress Positive Emotion Values

The goal is minimizing your neuroticism category, while trying to increase your extraversion and openness to experience.  This somewhat supports my longstanding philosophy that experiences are the key to being happy (over material gains… more on this in a few.)  Don’t let the term “extraversion” mislead you though, you don’t have to be an extrovert to be happy, as you can see under that category many of those aspects are present in many an introvert.

wjn-1So WHAT experiences then?  There is no clear answer due to individual reactions to individual experiences.  What should be noted though is that your hedonic set point is, in fact, chemical.  As such experiences that bring temporary satisfaction through chemical interaction (such as drug/alcohol use) can have the reverse affect over time requiring more of said substance to even maintain your hedonic set point. Instead research indicates that maintaining a positive outlook / attitude, adaptability and altruism (due to the personal satisfaction reward) are the keys to staying on the positive side of your hedonic set point.  As a result, reinforcing or strengthening those aspects of yourself should theoretically allow you raise your base happiness.  This might help explain why those with a great deal of those with an abundance of money who appear relaxed and/or good natured are known to be highly involved and give a great deal to charity, whereas others who are equally endowed on a material level but less giving often appear more uptight, irritated or generally disagreeable.

So, long story short:  We all have a pre-set level of happiness we return to.  We should endeavor to live in order to raise that setting for ourselves and those around us.  Money is fine, but it is best used as a key to happy experiences and to help others be happier.  This, in turn, will raise our happiness.  There will be setbacks, but we are, in fact programmed to return to our hedonic set point and as such, no matter what happens, we always have a chance to make more happiness so long as we can get past any circumstances keeping us from that point.

That's a lot of experiences... just sayin'..

That’s a lot of experiences… just sayin’..

On a personal level, as stated above I am an experience seeker.  I seek those moments of bliss and euphoria (note: NOT drug related in any way… though maybe occasionally some scotch or vodka.)  But it is not so much the moment itself that contributes to my hedonic set point, but rather the positive memory of the moment that gets better and better as time goes on.  Though extremely selfish, I am also fairly altruistic towards the people I believe are worthy of it.  Going back to the title (though I haven’t said much of it thus far) I remain at a very moderate emotional state, which allows me to be objective in situations where other’s emotions may get the best of them.  However, that leaves me more vulnerable to falling into negativity, and if I do not properly moderate those feelings, they can hold me back from the experiences that would help me feel better in the first place.  All that said, who doesn’t want to be happier?  I think anyone who tells themselves that is lying.  Maybe when it comes to being happy, the philosophy of moderation should instead be the philosophy of abundance.

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