Zooming Out: Catching Up With Myself at 32

It’s time to zoom out. And so, I’ve come to write: where all my major honesty and resultant growth occurs; for without writing, I’d have no free will, no ability to edit the scripts running in my consciousness – scripts as in stories, and scripts as in programs, i.e., JavaScript.

And perhaps these metaphors feel palpable to me because I write fiction and I code, but I’ve definitely come to think of myself as a mind hacker – a title I covet because I think it’s my gift: I can change how people see things.

And that’s really one of the jobs of the artist – as Malcolm Gladwell so aptly defined it: art is using your humanity to create change in other people. 

And one thing I can confidently say for myself is that I am growing immensely in my humanity. In fact, I’ve never felt more humbled by life – and it’s all been the result of shifts in my perspective.

I’m not saying I can teach you something about life, but I can tell you about what it means to be human. And my whole life has been spent trying to make that duty [being human] easier – very often making it harder, but that’s life – that’s what it means to be human, to err.

I think human life is remarkable in the sense that it involves constant personal growth: you’re born one person, you die another. I used to think life was some series of stages, and I think this is because society views it this way: adolescence, youth, adulthood, old age. But life isn’t that simple, it’s not automatic: we age, yes – but whether we grow fully is up to us.

Jung’s Four Stages of Life Development, which follow, presents some interesting paradigms for growth, aging, and maturity, particularly in the youth and middle life stages:

Childhood: (birth to puberty)
Childhood has two substages. The archaic stage is characterized by sporadic consciousness, while the monarchic stage represents the beginning of logical and abstract thinking. The ego starts to develop.

Youth: (puberty until 35 – 40)
Maturing sexuality, growing consciousness, and a realization that the carefree days of childhood are gone forever. People strive to gain independence, find a mate, and raise a family.

Middle Life: (40-60) The realization that you will not live forever creates tension. If you desperately try to cling to youth, you will fail in the process of self-realization. Jung believed that in midlife, one confronts one’s shadow. Religiosity may increase during this period, according to Jung.

Old Age: (60 and over) Consciousness is reduced. Jung thought that death is the ultimate goal of life. By realizing this, people will not face death with fear, but with a hope for rebirth.

I feel that, in looking at these criterion, I’ve just now reached youth at 32, having spent so long operating more from the childhood, and, more recently, the middle life stages; however, regardless of where you might appraise yourself across this list, it’s doubtless something capable of provoking some valuable self-examination (Unfortunately, being human entails dealing with some absolutely shit base code).

Another great lens for self-examination are the Big Five Personality Factors (Traits):

Openness to experience: (inventive/curious vs. consistent/cautious). Appreciation for art, emotion, adventure, unusual ideas, curiosity, and variety of experience. Openness reflects the degree of intellectual curiosity, creativity and a preference for novelty and variety a person has. It is also described as the extent to which a person is imaginative or independent, and depicts a personal preference for a variety of activities over a strict routine. High openness can be perceived as unpredictability or lack of focus. Moreover, individuals with high openness are said to pursue self-actualization specifically by seeking out intense, euphoric experiences, such as skydiving, living abroad, gambling, et cetera. Conversely, those with low openness seek to gain fulfillment through perseverance, and are characterized as pragmatic and data-driven—sometimes even perceived to be dogmatic and closed-minded. Some disagreement remains about how to interpret and contextualize the openness factor.

Conscientiousness: (efficient/organized vs. easy-going/careless). A tendency to be organized and dependable, show self-discipline, act dutifully, aim for achievement, and prefer planned rather than spontaneous behavior. High conscientiousness is often perceived as stubbornness and obsession. Low conscientiousness is associated with flexibility and spontaneity, but can also appear as sloppiness and lack of reliability.

Extraversion: (outgoing/energetic vs. solitary/reserved). Energy, positive emotions, surgency, assertiveness, sociability and the tendency to seek stimulation in the company of others, and talkativeness. High extraversion is often perceived as attention-seeking, and domineering. Low extraversion causes a reserved, reflective personality, which can be perceived as aloof or self-absorbed.

Agreeableness: (friendly/compassionate vs. analytical/detached). A tendency to be compassionate and cooperative rather than suspicious and antagonistic towards others. It is also a measure of one’s trusting and helpful nature, and whether a person is generally well-tempered or not. High agreeableness is often seen as naive or submissive. Low agreeableness personalities are often competitive or challenging people, which can be seen as argumentative or untrustworthy.

Neuroticism: (sensitive/nervous vs. secure/confident). The tendency to experience unpleasant emotions easily, such as anger, anxiety, depression, and vulnerability. Neuroticism also refers to the degree of emotional stability and impulse control and is sometimes referred to by its low pole, “emotional stability”. A high need for stability manifests as a stable and calm personality, but can be seen as uninspiring and unconcerned. A low need for stability causes a reactive and excitable personality, often very dynamic individuals, but they can be perceived as unstable or insecure. 

Here, I can identify that I need to work on my conscientiousness – being less careless and more dutiful / organized, productive – and I need to work on my neuroticism – increasing my emotional stability by zooming out and experiencing negative emotions with ease, rather than reeling in that sick, uneasy feeling I get – the one that led me to smoke four dabs of Yoda OG shatter before I wrote this: a virtuous, sacred act in comparison to my years of problematic drinking in a failed effort to quell the same feelings (Each to their own). That said, Cannabis is a psychedelic and I am a big proponent of the therapuetic and psycho-shamanic value of psychedelics.

Again, I’m a mind hacker. That’s the beauty of having a mind: you can change it.

A large part of my being is rooted in the futurist paradigm of consciousness as a computer. And this by no means speaks to the viability of the idea, but, rather, to the validity of it: consciousness as a computer is a valuable paradigm, one that today enables me to live with a greater degree of stoicism, mindfulness, and ultimately, inner peace.

I am beginning to understand who I am and grow into my potential as a result of having adopted a growth mindset, which, coupled with ideas from people more intelligent than I, have allowed me to change myself in really positive ways – and in doing this work, in facing life honestly, bravely, strongly, I’ve opened up to life in really beautiful, empowering, freeing ways. And I’ve discovered that I’m actually much more than I ever thought I was, and – at the same time – I’m everything I knew I was all along (Good person, writer, romantic), BUT: I’m also everything my ego feared I was (Petty, temperamental, self-destructive). And knowing that, knowing my blind spots and weaknesses, is just as essential.

Look, I must admit, I do not like large parts of who I was in my twenties. And that’s a good thing.

When I was proud of myself I was an asshole. Increased humility and self-knowledge have made me a kinder, more human person.

It’s also made life much easier for me. Things are probably better than they have ever been; I’m getting my shit together, so to speak.

Today, I woke up in a beautiful home in the mountains and wrote fiction, working on what will become my first published novel.

This writing shit is real, is happening.

I’m also in a stable, loving relationship with a beautiful, evolving woman, who is in every way committed to growing with me and doing life properly so that none of it is wasted in negative feeling; however, as we have learned together, negative feelings will make or break you: it is how you choose to deal with them; every emotional reaction to an outside event being a choice.

Will you react with grace, tolerance, fairness and equanimity, or will your lower, base animal consciousness rule you?

It is all your choice.

I am choosing to zoom out from the outside events, realizing that the inside events are far more worth my attention and energies, for it is the inner life – our spiritual needs – that must be met above all – lest we ignore them until our shadow is so overgrown that it takes over, as is the case for anyone that knows what it is to be their own worst enemy.

Two years ago,  I turned thirty and thought I knew what it was to be a man – as if I could suddenly encapsulate and know my twenties with a sudden new wisdom; it wasn’t like that. I wasn’t done clinging to youth, fucking it up for myself.

Over the course of the next two years, from 30-32, I would:

  • Meet Sarah and fell in love
  • Move to the mountains
  • Wake to news of my Dad’s death
  • Start two failed businesses
  • Get major wintertime cabin fever
  • Punch my fist through a bedroom door
  • Hit relationship bottom, nearly saying goodbye, before months later when we would become stronger than ever
  • Face a lot more of my shadow, including my twenties, honestly
  • Have that birthday where I woke up and suddenly felt old AF
  • Switch from being a dysfunctional drinker to a very functional stoner
  • Transform from insomniac to early morning happy bed head
  • Release my childhood resentments toward my parents
  • Outgrow my attachments to past girlfriends
  • Accept my mortality, seeing that much of my young life is gone
  • Commit to my dreams as a serious fucking writer (By writing fiction every damn beautiful morning)
  • Go from unsure about my future to decided

And what’s as much, if not more than these things, is that I changed, I grew, I matured.

The events are not different, I am.

Because that’s what counts: who we are, how we see things. This is what makes all the difference between heaven and hell.

Its all in your fucking head. Only, you’re swallowed up, caught in a tidal wave called zeitgeist, so that you never live life deciding every day is going to be the best day of your life – because you’re just like, “Meh”.

And if you are there, I really hope you will open up to the richness of your inner life, which is nothing short of a wellspring for goodness.

My goals this year are centered around opening up to my inner life: the cohesion of soul, spirit, mind, and body; I’m not so much interested in new experiences as I am in experiencing the same things in brand new ways, because ultimately, consciousness is within us – we merely project it onto the outer world – but few people ever discern between inner truth and outer experience, the latter being illusory or what the Vedas refer to as Maya.

From Wiki:

The term Maya has been translated as ‘illusion,’ but then it does not concern normal illusion. Here ‘illusion’ does not mean that the world is not real and simply a figment of the human imagination. Maya means that the world is not as it seems; the world that one experiences is misleading as far as its true nature is concerned.

And:

The Vedas cannot show you Brahman, you are That already. They can only help to take away the veil that hides truth from our eyes. The cessation of ignorance can only come when I know that God and I are one; in other words, identify yourself with Atman, not with human limitations. The idea that we are bound is only an illusion [Maya]. Freedom is inseparable from the nature of the Atman. This is ever pure, ever perfect, ever unchangeable.

— Adi Shankara’s commentary on Fourth Vyasa Sutra, Swami Vivekananda

Liberating our emotional bodies  from the outer world is the essence of the philosophy of detachment, which is “freedom from desire and consequently from suffering” – attachment being seen as a main cause of suffering in Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, and Jainism. While I’m not much for isms, I’ll take spiritual paradigms built on philosophies of the mind over blind religious dogma any day of the week. I mean, who wants to learn more about how perfect Jesus was when the Hindus have Vairagya and Moksha?

Clearly I am on my journey and continuing to learn more about myself and the world, but I am deeply grateful to finally be able to understand that the gap between dreams and reality must either close or pass, for we only have so much time. This is no pressure, but is instead a truth I now understand, and one that drives me, pushes me to follow my heart, asking myself, what matters? What counts?

The answer, of course, always being: here, now.

I’m just now learning what that is; I used to think it was all just, “meh”, but then I realized it was just me.

And I’m Here

I’m looking to simplify life; for, at thirty-one, I find life complex beyond need. 

In my quest to simplify life, what I am really after are my goals. 

I’ve found that as I’ve gotten older my priorities have changed. While writing has always been a thread of my life, from childhood to present, I didn’t always know I wanted to be a writer; sure, I was a consumate reader from an early age, having spent many school lunch hours in the library or on the steps, where I read everything that captured my fancy (Mostly stories involving sailing or the sea.), and yes, I was fortunate to have had teachers who encouraged me to write, which led me to join the Navy at 17 as a journalist, but I didn’t really know I was a writer until around age twenty-eight (Four years into this blog), when my stories began to germinate and develop within me. Up until that point, I had only wanted to be a writer – but at that point, I knew, I was a writer – and I was meant to be a writer. 

The next few years I would navigate a big breakup, take a year off (Which I spent in large solitude, my afternoons volunteering at the library, my evenings on the shore before sunset, my nights reading.), and finally, I would fall back into love, into life. 

And then, seven months ago, at age thirty one, I moved to the mountains, where I planned to write and support myself doing freelance web work.

My desk made its way into my study with the feet removed, and one-hundred square feet of bookcase was constructed, my books neatly arranged on the shelves.  

Only, I did not write. 

My days were spent working on web projects for small, unreliable clients, and, having had Sarah quit her job when we moved here, I struggled to support us, despite the decreased expenses of life in a small mountain town. 

As anyone who has struggled financially knows, it is neither pleasant nor tolerable; although, it is endurable – meaning, it can be survived. Only, I am not much for simply enduring life, merely  surviving. 

That said, I wanted more; I wanted to eat my cake and have it too; I didn’t want to feel small, invisible, obscure: I wanted to regain the financial success I had at twenty-four. 

So I built a new business, a user-experience consultancy. 

It failed. Months down the drain. 

I tried again; thinking my hypothesis flawed, I revamped my business to focus on niche markets I felt I knew; however, my additional months efforts were in vain, and I failed again. 

Not a very fun feeling. But endurable. 

What could I do? 

I carried on, stoically, resiliently, wanting to love all that was fated for me – not wanting to struggle against life. Not wanting to suffer. Not wanting to let another seven months pass without making progress as a serious fiction writer – a novelist – or at least a novella-ist

At this point, we kind of catch up to now. 

I have a good relationship. I am loved. I am healthy. I’ve got a great fucking haircut. But yeah, none of that is really everything. Everything is the books. 

I’ve admittedly never possessed the patience for delayed gratification; however, wanting to make a life as a serious novelist, one has to commit to a long road. 

Also, having failed at building myself a business with which I could support the ideas I had about the life I wanted for myself (Entrepreneur / writer with a house in the Palisades.), I have been forced to re-imagine the path for myself as a writer. Now, I’ve rebuilt my personal consulting site, and I am willing to take the long way round – meaning, I’m willing to take the journey to get there. 

What this all means is that I have my work cut out for me, and until I am a proper working writer, I will be working and writing – however long that may take. 

It’s not necessarily the dream I had of having another successful business, which would allow me to write in relative comfort, but it’s the dream I have of being a writer that I am committing to – comforts and securities be damned. 

That’s not to say I won’t have security: I’ll sure as hell have a lot more than I’ve had in the course of attempting to build two unsuccessful businesses. lol. 

In making this shift, I am giving up great for good. 

To eventually be great.

That is what I want. 

I want to focus on simple goals: x consulting hours a week, x pages a day, x workouts a week. 

I recognize the aforementioned goals may seem rather drab – as if I am attempting to quantify happiness in boxes that I’ll check off. But it’s all very simple to me. 

I want to write. I want the security to write. I want to be healthy. I want to have a social life where I am valued by people I admire. 

I just want to do good, feel good. Be good. And I don’t mind living a simple, quiet, and disciplined life in order to get there. 

I just wish this hadn’t all taken me so long to figure out. But it did. And I’m here. 

Short Fiction: The Exhumation (6 Min Read)

He stood upon the beach beside the seawall, bent over in the cold, gray light of dawn, laboriously digging that endless pit again. 

His hairless, sinewy fingers were painfully fixed around the smooth, well-worn handle of the old wooden shovel, which felt burdensome and awkward in his grip; each scoop of the dark, wet sand straining his tired, underdeveloped shoulders. 

As he dug, the waves crashed softly upon the shore, rolling and receding fifty paces before him, their sound dampened in the thick salt-laden fog. 

The pace at which he dug the wet sand brought forth large beads of sweat on his forehead that rolled down his temples, onto his cheeks, tickling his tanned face. 

He paused briefly to wipe his brow, anxiously aware that some awful, terrible doom had led him there, to a destiny from which he could not escape; although, from which he could awake – as he did every day following the same dream. 

It was only by coincidence, however, that he began to ponder the dream during his waking hours; for, like most people, he never considered dreams to be anything more than a mystery – a strange phantasm of the mind that required no more probing than ones own inner spirituality; his dreams merely were

That was, until he read about the body of a drowned swimmer found by a jogger in the early morning on a remote stretch of Maine coastline.

He came across the story while reading news at his desk one morning, a habit that ineffectually served to distract him from his work as a systems administrator in a large data center – a job he loathed, for he wanted nothing else but to be a writer. 

Only, he hadn’t any real ideas for stories, as nothing had heretofore captured his mind and compelled him to begin writing – until he came across the news story of the jogger discovering a body on the beach; that day, he decided: he would begin writing his first story. 

Driving home that night, he thought about the plot:

A man dreams repeatedly of digging on the beach in the early morning hours, and thinks nothing of it. Then, years later, he comes across a news story of a body that has just been exhumed from the beach near his house, and, while reading the story, his memories and his guilt return to him. 

What does he do? 

Does he turn himself in? 

Is his DNA found? 

He didn’t have answers but he felt the story burning inside him, demanding to be told. 

And so, that night, he announced to his wife Tara, that he would begin writing at once; his mornings were to be spent alone in his study, looking out his bay windows upon the bright, blue Pacific. 

This routine took. Soon, he had written about the dream, he had written about the news story, but the words stopped there. He was unable to pick the story up where his dream and the news story left off. And yet, he was still consumed with finishing what he started – more than ever. 

So, unable to write for lack of palpable inspiration, he began taking long morning walks along the shore near his home, where, barefoot, he would scout-out remote spots, where he would sit and imagine his character digging on the beach. 

Only, it wasn’t like his dreams: he was not digging, there was no fog. 

He imagined his story a film, needing the scene to be just so, in order that he might get into his character’s head; for the story needed to be understood to be finished – yet the dream had always simply left him digging, listening to the hush of the waves, peering through the fog.

Thus he began checking the NOAA website, keeping abreast of any shift in weather that might give him the right morning conditions.

Two months later, he saw a heavy coastal fog forecast. His shovel lay against the front gate, at the ready. 

He set his alarm for early the next morning; however, due to his excitement, he was unable to sleep – not a wink. All night he lay in bed thinking of the dream, deliciously, excitedly. 

As 5:45 rolled around, he quietly dressed, his wife still asleep when he left home and found himself enveloped in a thick April morning fog. 

The grey misty morning was a comfort to him. In it he felt serene, full of the peace of a man who knowingly follows his destiny. 

Grabbing the shovel on the way out, he trotted gaily toward the shore, like a fisherman headed for high tide. 

Walking quickly along the beach nearest the seawall, he arrived in fifteen minutes and stuck his shovel in the sand, where he was to perform his artistic ritual. Pausing for a moment, he surveyed his dig site, amazed that the foggy, gray dawn matched perfect his dream. 

Then he dug passionately, excitedly, clumsily. 

His progress was at first slow, but his pace increased as he continued. Each shovel-full of sand seemed to invigorate him, and his grip tightened on the smooth wood handle as his unpracticed-heaving grew more burdensome the deeper he dug; the weight of the heavy, wet sand now making his shoulders burn. 

He began to sweat, his clip matching the cadence of the rolling waves, his shovel, – the digging itself – now seeming to make the soft crashing sound he heard emanating from the shoreline ahead of him. 

His head began to itch. He kept shoveling. Sweat beaded and gathered at his hairline; however, he could not stop digging to wipe his brow, as he had in the dream; it was as if he feared waking up now; it was as if he needed to see it through to finish the story. His shoulders burned. His sweat itched. The waves rolled. The fog hung. 

He kept digging, madly now, and did not hear her approach. His bent figure, standing in the large hole he had dug, operated violently yet rhythmically, like an oil derrick pumping for ore. 

When she addressed him, he heard perhaps nothing at first, then his wife’s voice trying to wake him from his foggy dream, trying to steal him away from his destiny. 

Then she yelled, screamed, “Michael!”

He immediately twisted around, the momentum of the shovel driving his body toward her, its blunt steel edge striking her across the head with a dull thwack. 

His eyes widened and he dropped the shovel near in-sync with her body, which had gone limp and fallen to the sand without a sound.

He stretched his aching arms beside him and looked distantly upon his wife’s distorted face, as if in a dream. 

##

Author’s note: 

I am going to be publishing more short stories here, which I could not be happier to do. If you enjoy, please subscribe and share. Thank You – LB