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A Ferret Called Wilson

Chasing Happy, Chasing Dreams

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fear

Fire

I am full of fire. Full of fear. Full of life.

I am a beacon of hope and light to all those around me. I fight the fight against death. I fight to live and to breathe. I fight for beauty and for joy.

I am alive with beauty. I am alive with passion. I walk. From my skin emanates a fire that can not be put out. Burn with me.

To see me is to burn. To touch me is to burn. You cannot touch me without my fire spreading to your skin and setting you alight.

See me. Touch me. Feel me burn.

I am alive with passion.

I will not be crushed by the cold metal of civilization. I will not be bound by rules or propriety. I will not be tame.

You cannot tame me.

I am alive with fire. I burn with the passion of all that is living.

My heart screams, piercing like the call of the eagle. It pierces through my chest. It cuts through the thick, layer upon layer of insulation that protects me from the cold outside. It tears through me and it opens me

And from the wound bursts forth my fire.

I am alive. You cannot conquer me. I know no fear of death. There is nothing that is impossible to me.

Give me one life. Give me two lives. Give me a thousand lives for all the mistakes I will make. Still I charge ahead. Freedom is what stands before me. Far in the distance, I can see it on the horizon.

I am a beast of fire and I lead the stampede.

Run with me. Run with me and burn for fire is the only defense against death.

Love

When I entered college, I cheated. I did two things that were technically against the rules.

1. I applied as a transfer student because I had missed the deadline to apply as a freshman. It got my application a lot of attention.
2. Instead of a statement of purpose, or an admission essay or a cover letter, or whatever those things are where you say why they should admit you to their school, I wrote a two page essay on how love can save the world.

Out of 900 students applying for admission to Yale university as transfer students, my tricks got me one of only 25 available slots.

Today I wonder to myself how I got so far from those beliefs. I wonder to myself how it was that ten years passed and I forgot the power and the audacity I had as a teenager when I bucked the rules of admission at the top university in the entire country — and got in. I wonder to myself how I ever got so tame.

There is another thought that plagues me these days. Love can save the world. I love passionately, wholly, unreservedly, and more often than not, one sidedly. I have asked myself here on this blog on more than one occasion: If I have this paradise to offer, why does no one take me up on it?

Today, I think I have found this answer, too. I have not actually invited anyone.

Often I feel desperately alone. I don’t think it’s because no one cares about me. I think it’s because in our world we are raised inside invisible barriers that separate us from one another. These barriers take the form of propriety, manners, ettiquette, and respect. The only times we are allowed to breach these boundaries are in romance, and we are only allowed to be in love with one person at a time. This is a recipe for perpetual isolation in no small part because we cannot even see that the cage that holds us is of our own making.

So, why have I not invited anyone to my paradise? My paradise is built of infinite, unbounded love. It is love for myself, love for my fellow humans and love for the awesomeness of the earth that holds me. I have not confessed my love to anyone, not in earnest, not openly and plainly, and this is why I am alone in my world.

It’s scary to confess your love. We are taught that confessions of love must be met with reciprocation or refuttal, but nothing in between. We don’t know that it’s possible to be loved by someone without that person requiring anything from us, so we don’t know how to respond when unconditional love is offered to us. Most of the time, we mistake it for infatuation, romance, or sexual attraction. If we don’t feel this way towards the person loving us, more often than not it spells the end of our relationship with each other. That’s why it’s so scary to offer your love. It’s not because we fear the other person might not feel the same way, but that we fear we may be rejected as humans, that our most precious gift will be scorned, and this is no trivial fear.

But I am a trailblazer. I am an alpha, a loner, a wild beast and a goddess. I listen to all, but take counsel from my heart alone. I shall declare my love! I shall do this honestly, openly, and without hope for reciprocation. I shall take steps to guarantee that my confessions do not manipulate or pressure the humans that I love, and I shall declare my love only to those who I know I am ready to accept immediately and whole heartedly into my paradise.

This frightens me. But I have learned most recently that fear, deep, smouldering fear is my surest sign that I am traveling the path I have been seeking. We only fear when we know what we have to lose. Fear is replacing my anxiety, a kind of nervous unease that all I did and all I am is worth nothing. Fear burns.

Fear wakes the beast and the beast is in love with life.

Still in Pain

First, I would like to apologize. That title is a pun. It’s not appropriate to make puns about being in pain because puns are funny (even if only in the “har har…groan” sense), and pain is not funny. So, sorry for the poor pain pun.*

Recently I had the opportunity to practice being still in my pain. I have mentioned in previous posts about the Numbness — that feeling of excrutiating pain in your soul that just cannot fully manifest itself into tears, and ends up filling your body with an overwhelming numbness that claws at your heart and dims your vision, making you feel like an empty shell in a world made of cardboard. The Numbness is a kind of existential pain, and like all pain, it eventually passes.

I say I had the opportunity to be still in my pain because being still in pain, particularly the numbing kind, allows us to fully experience it, and by experiencing it, allow it to pass. For most of us, the reflexive reaction to pain is to tense up and brace against it. This is true of pain in our bodies, but pain in our hearts can do the same. We also instinctively try to run from the source of the pain. Pain in our bodies is easier to deal with because our bodies know how to deal with pain: remove the source, place a protective scar over the wound, then repair the damage. Pain in our hearts is more difficult. Sometimes we don’t know what the source is, so we run around in panic. Sometimes we put a scar over the wound without removing the source, sealing it in and preventing healing. Sometimes we place a scar so thick, and then forget to remove it later, so that we are emotionally crippled. Stillness is the salve that cures the wound and removes the pain.

Because I was able to sit in stillness for three solid days, doing absolutely nothing to relieve my pain or my fear of more pain to come, I think I was finally able to understand where the pain was coming from. As I sat on my porch, sipping a bitter sweet drink of cool honey-vinegar, the shade over my eyes began to thin and brighten and I began to see finally that my pain was bubbling up from two sources.

First, there was the pain I was experiencing from forcing myself into a role that does not allow for complete expression of who I am. I speak here of my job as an economist. In the past, I thought I was feeling a sense of inadequacy (maybe I was?) that perhaps I am not suited to be an economist because I’m not good enough at it. I thought that my lack of publications was perhaps the result of some flaw in my character — I don’t put in enough hours at work, or my attention deficit disorder prevents me from being able to focus on the minute details of formatting and submitting my work to professional journals. I also felt at times that my pain was perhaps being caused by the incessant judgmental nature of academia. Until you have tenure, you are constantly being evaluated and your livelihood depends on you outperforming in some measurable sense most of your other peers. It is nearly impossible to focus on producing good quality work that answers truly important questions when doing so puts you at risk of going against the greater body of academics who hold the power to decide your future.

In the past, when I have felt this pain of inadequacy and uncertainty about my job, my reaction was to run from it by taking steps to secure my future position. This meant spending more time and more energy devoted to something that did not fulfill me and brought me more pain and more discontent. Even as my conscious mind was aware of the reality that there is nothing particularly special about being an economist that I should bleed my soul for it, I was at the same time unable to see that my actions were at all times reactions to the pain and fear of losing that identity. Put another way, I was stuck in my unhappiness because I kept attempting to escape it by looking backwards at where I came instead of forwards at where I wanted to go. I had no idea where I wanted to go and I didn’t even know that I didn’t know. Rough, no?

The second source of pain that became apparent to me was my relationship (or lack of relationship) with my friends. I have always fought to have good friends and I to this day do not understand why it doesn’t happen. In the past I have often blamed myself for not being proactive enough; I didn’t tell the boy that I liked him (Thunder, I like you HARD, like I want your penis to like my vagina: HARD! There. I said it. Are we friends now? Hmm…), so I’m the only one to blame if our relationship never deepens; No one ever invites me out to play with them, but if I don’t invite them out, then I’m equally to blame that we don’t hang out. Right? What I learned from my stillness is that it doesn’t matter. I am not in possession of the friendships that I crave, and this lack causes me pain.

It took three days of silent, still, intentional inaction to finally understand where my pain was coming from. These days were difficult for me. At every moment, even as the Numbness threatened to suffocate me, I forced myself to remain still. If my thoughts reached out to try and find solutions to my pain, I brought them back. I said to myself, “No, mind, you cannot find a solution to a problem that you do not truly understand. First, let us understand why you hurt so much.”

I feel much stronger and more resilient now than before I spent my time in Stillness. Ironically, my relationships to my friends have not changed, nor have I found a new career path to replace the one that I am sure I must leave. At the same time, however, I feel that a stillness has come to my soul. Where once it felt like a sea under storm, it is much closer now to a windswept lake.

I think that in our world we are told to take action too often. There is this idea that if you do nothing, then you are at fault for your lack of success. I think that this advice at one time used to be good, but has become warped in a society that lacks opportunity for stillness. When one’s default is stillness, then only action can bring new insight. Sometimes, even the switch from inaction to action is enough to focus our intentions and make clear to us what our hearts are craving. However, when we are constantly bombarded with new stimuli, new claims on our attention, new ways to numb the pain, then action can never be wholly separated from reaction and we cannot know if what we do is in fact what our unique being is directing us to do. When this is the place we find ourselves in, only inaction can be trusted to reflect our true desires.

As a result of my stillness and inaction, I have hope now that, at least for a short while, my actions are springing forth authentically from my own Self. I have hope that the steps I choose to take forward, even as they terrify me, are steps towards something that is better than what I am leaving behind.

To close my thoughts, I want to share with you a conversation I had with the manager of my favorite bike shop. In my frustration at their lack of support for my development as a cyclist, I went searching for a shop or a group that I could ride with. I found, on that fateful day that I decided to chase the boys in their team practice, a shop most appropriately named You Can. I ventured in and they enthusiastically offered to train me and support me as an athlete. The catch, however, is that I have to leave the Giant Store. This hurt, and it was not an easy choice to make, but I decided in the moment that I would do it. There is no other way for me to chase this dream. Out of politeness and respect for everything they have done for me, I went to talk to the manager at Giant. He was understanding. He’s a good guy. He’s very dear to me. As we were talking I said to him, “Lately, all I can think of, all I want to do is ride my bike. In the last year of my contract I should be working hard to bolster my resume for my impending job search, but instead I am riding, even taking shortcuts at work in order to have more time to ride. The reality is, no matter how successful I am at my job, I could win the Nobel Prize for all it matters to me, there is nothing that will comfort me if I don’t find out how fast, how far, how hard I can ride. There is simply nothing that I would regret more than not chasing this dream right here and right now.”

My friend was understanding, supportive even. “Well, it’s not a big deal. Somehow things will work out,” he said to me.

I have to trust that. I have to believe that somehow things will work out. There’s just no other way to do it.


*alliteration is also funny and not appropriate. I will not apologize for my alliteration.

The tyranny of the majority

Why do some mountains have stairs in them? It’s because people want to pretend that they are hiking through nature, but they don’t want to experience the icky bits of real hiking through nature that involve things like getting sweaty, or dirty, or actually having to touch the nature.

Peace!
Two mountain bikers obviously just wrecking this busy mountain trail

I was out riding my bike yesterday, and one of the guys I was riding with commented that he used to have a lot of trails available to him back at home in Yokohama, but in recent years they have all been chocked full of stairs and are now unrideable. This is on top of plans by the Tokyo prefecture to outlaw riding mountain bikes in any of its public parks because they are “dangerous” and “damaging” to the trails.

I love riding mountain bikes. There’s nothing like it! I love riding my cyclocross bike, too. I have been a voluntary bicycle commuter for working on four years now and every year my commute gets longer. This year I’m up to twenty-five kilometers (around twelve miles) in each direction.  When I lived in Philadelphia I was an active member and supporter of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia and between my personal experience and their research, I have come to the conclusion that bicyclists are the middle child of society. Everyone hates us despite how hard we try.

Many mountain bikers will, of their own accord and because no one else will do it, go out to trails to reinforce them against runoff and erosion. To clear them of fallen logs and to add stones or other solid objects for safer and less environmentally damaging water crossings. Many road cyclists go out of their way to signal to other road users, stop at stop lights, give the right of passage to pedestrians. On the whole, I think people who really love bikes are pretty damn awesome citizens. And yet on the trails we are banned because most people don’t want to have to share with us. They don’t want to have to learn trail manners, wear lights or bells to make their presence known to other trail users, or walk through passes that aren’t boarded up with stairs. On the roads, we are banned from sidewalks because we are dangerous to pedestrians (pedestrians don’t move as fast as bicycles. Simple physics), but are we protected from cars when we ride in the streets? Of course not! Cars are busy being driven by busy people who are too goddamn busy to pay attention to whether or not their actions could kill someone.

It doesn’t matter that bicyclists have been shown time and again to benefit the environment and to benefit the economy. The reality is that most people own and drive cars and most people do not ride bikes. What happens is that an activity which is good for everyone but only practiced by a few, an activity that is beautiful and healthy and clean and provides thousands and thousands of humans a critical sense of freedom and exhilaration in their life, is being snuffed out by the tyrannous majority of lazy, pampered, but most importantly obediently consumptive humans the world over.

Well, if you want to live in a world where the only way to get around is by gas guzzling carbon belching automobiles, a world where the closest you ever get to nature is through the bullet proof glass at the gorilla exhibit in your local zoo, a world where everything is dumbed down and sterilized for your convenience, go ahead and have at it. If you want your stairs, go to a fucking park.

Just stay out of my mountains.

Just Tired, Really

So many things have happened in the past week that I feel, most of all, wrung out. I went to a conference over the weekend and it was full of new experiences, most of them amazing and the rest just ok. Then I came back to an emotional mess at home. I don’t lose my temper often, but I felt like I was going to erupt. When I did eventually lose control the seething frustration and anger seeped out from every crack in my composure and stained whatever it touched. I could barely keep from ripping to shreds the people that were caring about me. Thankfully I’ve developed a habit of extreme dogged persistence and I refused to give in to the helplessness. Truly my situation is a right disaster, but I was able to connect with someone because of it. The sense of entrapment that was so completely unbearable eventually eclipsed my fear of rejection and I was able to ask someone for help, bringing him one step closer to the range of true friendship, which I need very desperately.

The wave of emotions has somewhat subsided, and I feel like I can breathe a little, but I know better than to believe that this will be the last of it. I’ve gotten myself in deep and I know it will be a long way out. I’m happy, though, because today I can see the difference between living a life where the stakes are large and the going often difficult, and the deep crevasse of despair that is chronic depression. The difference, I think, is presence. While I won’t say for a moment that the last few days have been pleasant, or even tolerable, I can say that at every moment I was awake and alive. I felt the suffocating pressure of my limited options and the need to continue moving forward regardless of how imperfectly I was walking, but at the same time I could see, as if from a third eye, that the passage I am currently navigating does eventually open up. I was able to experience, digest and dissolve my circumstances each as the individual pieces of a greater experience and a larger, more permanent existence. In contrast to the view from the depths of depression, this perspective carried the comfort of knowing that things really would be ok, eventually, and that the issue at hand is not whether they will be but simply how to get from here to there.

I think, perhaps, this clearer vision is the product of experience. I have been practicing taking controlled risks and fully experiencing the revelation and resolution of my uncertainty. I think my greatest challenge in life is battling my anxiety. Anxiety is when you worry about something that you know you shouldn’t worry about, but can’t stop anyway. It’s that feeling that you forgot to lock the front door despite remembering clearly that you turned the key and twiddled the knob to make sure. It’s how you never worry about if you locked the door until you are sitting on an airplane on your way across the ocean and there’s no way for you to go and check it. Anxiety, I think, is the irrational fear of the unknown. For me, anxiety is the fear that something will go wrong and then it will be my fault. Either I forgot to prepare for some obvious contingency that everyone else would know about, or I read the address wrong or the date, or maybe I just didn’t work hard enough and people will think I’m lazy. When you live with this feeling of constant inadequacy it’s really difficult to relax and enjoy your successes. That’s where my depressions are born.

The great difficult in battling anxiety is that unless you become conscious of it, you never get the chance to prove to yourself that you didn’t have to worry. Sure, you come home from vacation and the door really was locked and you didn’t have to worry after all, but the fact is that you did worry. You worry all the time about this stuff and so you don’t have any experience to prove to yourself that it was really ok not to worry. The antidote for anxiety is, to be cliche, to face your fears. You have to go on that vacation knowing that you might not have locked the door, but consciously determined not to worry about it anyway. This part is key. You can’t just tell yourself that you don’t have to worry, you have to really stop doing it even if only for a few brief moments. Only then will you have under your belt the experience of not worrying about something and it being ok anyway.

Many people might think that it’s easy to think of circumstances where you didn’t worry about something and it turned out ok anyway, but that is somewhat naive. I remember my youth pastor saying that “God does not test your faith with easy stuff, because that wouldn’t be a real test. Bats are forbidden to eat, but that’s not a big deal because no one really feels tempted to taste a bat.” Bacon, on the other hand, this can be a problem. To be fair, I’m neither Christian nor Jewish, but I think this makes a good point. Anxiety tends to come with a theme. I feel anxious about being rejected by people. I live with a deep and constant dread of being alone and anything that can trace back to being abandoned will trigger those feelings. I can think of tons of situations where I gave a performance and wasn’t nervous at all and it turned out great. It’s a lot harder for me to think of situations where I shared an intimate piece of myself with someone, suffered the pain of being rejected, and still found the strength to stand up and try again with a new person. Most of the time I dance around the subject so quickly so as to distract them from what I’m really trying to say. This is my anxiety taking over and it robs me of the experience I need to be a stronger person.

So, I attribute my sense of clarity in the face of exhaustion and uncertainty to the growing collection of experiences that I have been building since my divorce. I really think of my divorce as a new birth because that was the moment that I decided I had a right to be happy on my own terms and that I would no longer allow others to dictate to me what should and should not give me joy. Divorce was a big risk, but sometimes that new restaurant with the shaded windows feels just as big. Sometimes simply saying, “I’m tired and would really rather sleep than go out to dinner with you” can feel equally as huge. The difference, of course, is that slowly, over time, I’ve come to realize that I am more resilient than that. The risks themselves don’t actually change, but my perception of them and my perception of my ability to recover from an unlucky draw has changed dramatically. From where I am now, I only see things as getting better.

“It doesn’t get easier, you just get [up] faster”

A Stranger’s Eyes

Have you ever looked into the eyes of someone who is supposed to love you and seen fiery, burning hatred gleaming back at you?

At first I wasn’t sure that that is what I was seeing. How could it be? This man is a fountain of inexhaustible affection and romance. It must have been a misunderstanding. We don’t communicate in our native language, after all, so misunderstandings are bound to happen. I ignored it, telling myself that I would go crazy if I reacted to every glint, twitch and shrug. Communication must be intentional if it’s going to work, and the only way to get that is to be firm about only responding to intentional messages. Then it happened again. In fact it happened several times exactly during a period when our relationship was particularly tense.

I believe I have mentioned that I am polyamorous. I am more emotionally stable in a triad or quad of some form than I am single or as a couple. More than that, I have fuzzy sexual bounaries so that I become stressed when artificial barriers, such as the confines of monogamy, prevent me from expressing myself sexually with others. My boyfriendlike partner is a romantic and a pretty solid monogamist (masochistically monogamous, if I may coin the term) so when he was faced with meeting and interacting with my long term partner he lost it. Unfortunately he wouldn’t admit that he was losing it. Instead he tried to bottle up his feelings and chase them down with a glass or ten of beer every day for three weeks. It was during this period where I became aware of the look in his eyes.

It would happen whenever I tried to assert myself. He wanted me to stay out drinking with him and I wanted to go home and sleep: the look. He wanted me to agree that I misused some vocabulary word and I insisted that I said what I meant: the look. Last night he wanted to cuddle and I wanted circulation in my leg, so I shifted off my side, and there surfaced the look again.

When I see him looking at me that way, I am suddenly in a different dimension where reality isn’t what it was. There is this beast in the room that shouldn’t exist according to the normal rules of nature, but there it is and it is filled with pure, boiling hatred directed entirely at me. I don’t know what it is that contains that beast and I don’t know what it is that calls it out. All I know is the eery sensation of wrongness that seeps through my pores when those eyes focus on me. I’ve never seen eyes like these before.

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