Thursday, March 31, 2011

Nomad (part 3)

As of yesterday I have been alive for twenty four years. Tomorrow the sun will rise and I'll begin work on my twenty fifth year. Since I am always restlessly awake I'm going to take this time between years and think back on where I've been and where I'm going.

I'm almost certain I've discussed the idea that I observe my own life not as a historical record but as a story. Actual time doesn't matter so much as subjective time, so I describe events as being X many pages or lines in my life. Weeks passed in the spring of 2010 which could all fit into a few sentences, but the few minutes I spent in tears, fighting fruitlessly not to say "I love you" the first time I took Bridget to the airport could only be described in pages. Stories have to have a certain order as well. That scene in the airport wouldn't matter if you hadn't read the chapter about her visit which precedes it, or the several chapters describing the torrid lifestyle I was leading in the summer of 2009. Lives are also like stories in that the present affects the past. In an odd way we create our own foreshadowing.

Years back, in the car although I don't remember in what context, my dad said "I wonder if some day you'll be a great spiritual leader." In my first years of college, when I was putting my logical intelligence to full use in pursuit of a lucrative career as and engineer I would have told you that it was ridiculous. I was a scientist, son of a scientist, with a science background, and I was going to build things and get money. I wouldn't have said it, but the common narrative of society would have added "and be happy" after getting money, despite the fact that I was miserable through my early college career.

"I wonder if some day you'll be a great spiritual leader." Three months ago I brought up this memory because it made me realize that I've been a spiritual person all my life. The lack of spirituality in my life makes it hollow and incomplete. I'm not practicing any conventional religion, but on the surface my style of neo-pagan Taoism isn't that different from the more common religions in America. I've taken up daily prayer. I've taken up saying grace before I eat. I'm still working on making these committed practices I do every day. Sometimes I forget, or get lazy or busy, but my quality of life suffers for it. It's always been true, but only recently did I realize that I am a spiritual person.

'I wonder if some day you'll be a great spiritual leader." Today, or rather tonight, I wonder if it isn't foolish to think that I could be anything else.

I love saying that, but it would be disingenuous to say it without mentioning that it terrifies me. It doesn't make me scared, it's not something that worries me, it terrifies me. It's not fear, or dread, or worry, or concern, this is Terror. That's why I've been dancing around this subject for so long. When I discuss fear of success, I'm really talking about fear of embracing this. In all honesty I'm a little bit afraid of even posting this. But it must be discussed.

Lets start by considering why I'm terrified. The first thing that comes to mind is that this isn't the plan. The plan is to go to school, get training at being a professional, be a professional, and meet society's model of success. Across all of my major changes in life path I've never deviated from that plan. It seems childish now that I felt so much anxiety about changing from engineering to psychology. When I was in elementary school The Plan was to be an Architect, then it was chemist, then electrical engineer, then bio-engineer, then programmer, then psychotherapist. A lot of these felt like big changes, as though I was heaving the course of my life onto another track. Really I was just changing the fill in the blank section of the plan.

I know very little, essentially nothing, about my cousin Mark, but what I do know matters. I know that he's got a passion for fitness, and that he's dedicating his life to it, doing what makes him happy, and trusting that the money will come. That, that, is enlightenment.

I've been following the plan. It reminds me of an old Zen parable. There was a man at a crossroads when he saw a horse and rider charging towards him. The horse's entire body was in furious motion, galloping at incredible speed. When the rider drew close the man called out to him and asked "Where are you going so quickly?" and the rider replied "I have no idea. Ask the horse." that, is the plan.

I'm beginning to understand that the life I want to live, the life that will make me happy in a way that goes beyond pleasure, is not going to be conventional. The things that matter a lot in my life are likely to have a great deal to do with health as opposed to medicine, and practices associated with Chi. I worry that my family will disapprove of this, but as I type that I find myself wondering how much of that worry is the specter of self doubt finding a new form, and how much really stems from what I know of my family. I wonder how much of my fear of disapproval comes from breaking from a culturally normative path. I also laugh, just a little bit, because when I was a bitter teenager I said a lot about not following the beaten path. I worry, perhaps more then I should, but I know I am making progress. I know this for one simple reason.

I'm not running away from this anymore. It would be very easy to just not say any of this, but that's not right. It's time to face these fears.

Understand that I'm not going to be doing anything rash or impulsive. I still want to finish college. I have no intent to drop out of society, or be a permanent dependent. I'm honestly not 100% sure where I'm going to go from here, but I wanted this to be said.

My father once said to me "I wonder if some day you'll be a great spiritual leader." and today I wonder if it isn't foolish to think that I could be anything else.

Saturday, March 05, 2011


Let me start out this post by saying check out my cool hat.

I like this hat for a few reasons. Like a lot of the things which eventually take on great meaning it started with something simple and kind of shallow. There are websites which allow you to upload any image you're willing to say isn't copyrighted and put it on pretty much anything you might find a corporate logo on. Stickers, mugs, shirts, hats etc. I on one of these sights, basically window shopping, and I decided to put in "World of Darkness" as a search term. For those of you not familiar with it, World of Darkness (WoD) is setting for a number of pen and paper roleplaying games, sort of like Dungeons and Dragons. In this setting the person who is running the game is known as the Storyteller, and this is where I first saw a hat which had the word "Storyteller" written across the top of it.

So that's where this started. But the simple desire for another piece of nerd paraphernalia isn't really enough to sell me a hat. What eventually sold me on the hat was how much the word Storyteller came to mean to me.

I started a lot of bullshit ideas while I was a teenager, most of them broad ranging, dramatic, and poorly thought out, as befits the role of a teenager. One of them that made it through the purging fires of maturity has stuck with me. I want my life to be an interesting story. When I reflect on things I'm often struck by a kind of pleasure not from the memory of the actual act, but simply from the fact that that memory is a part of my story. This has lead me to do a few stupid things in my time, but the only things I really regret are the ones that were damaging, and weren't good stories.

I also love a good story. It's one of the few things in life where the word love is truly appropriate. My love of stories is why I'm a listener, a reader, and an explorer. It's why I tend to listen to more NPR then music. Lectures, Stand up comedy, audio-books and podcasts make up 75% of my "music" collection.

The thing I recently came to understand about all this is that lessons that I really learn I learn from stories. I have a theory, which I'm making up on the spot right now, about the things I've learned. They all fit into two basic categories. Tricks and Stories. Tricks consists of all the techniques, everything from physics to programming to art can be summarized as some trick I know. It may help you to think of trick in a circus or skateboarding context, where the meaning is essentially the same as technique. I know a trick that lets me make banana bread, I know a trick that lets me rapidly fold sheets, I know the trick to getting to places in downtown Olympia, I know the rather difficult trick that involves driving through downtown Seattle, and of course I know the trick to operating a car. When I showed a kid a top and told him about rotational momentum what I was really doing was showing him one of the physics tricks that I know, and that through the magic of the human experience, he now also knows.

So Tricks are everything I know how to do. It is, in essence, the Yang aspect of knowing. Stories are the facts and figures, they are the characters and events, they are all of the things underlying the tricks, and ultimately every trick I know is rooted in one story or another. The trick to banana bread comes from the story of living in the University District and constantly throwing out old bananas. One day it had gone too far and I made my first loaf. That was the first time I used that trick, and it's evolved since then. The story evolves with it, since it now includes the time I brought banana bread to a potluck and was later asked via e-mail what the sweetener in it was. I thought about it and couldn't think of anything in particular, so I replied back that I thought it was just from the actual bananas. Five minutes later, just after I had shut down my computer, I remembered that there's a quarter cup of brown sugar in it. My e-mail had included a link to the recipe so I figured they would realize my mistake. That story is still intrinsically wrapped up with the trick.

Stories are more then just the source of tricks though. Stories are the conduit through which we, particularly I, can gain wisdom, and the trick that you learn from wisdom, is life. And that's the trick I'm really trying to learn. The thing is that wisdom is hidden amongst every story. The tragedies, the triumphs, even the cliches have a little bit of wisdom.

And this brings us to the real point. I've spent a lot of time over the last six months thinking a lot about why I want to be a therapist. The thing I've realized is that what I'm really trying to do, or rather trying to learn to do, is heal people's stories. Being a Healer is an interesting idea, because it encompasses so many practices. The Surgeon is a healer, the personal trainer is a healer, the teacher is a healer, and I think the most important type of healer may be the friend. Everyone has something different they do to heal. Some of the most profound acts of healing I've performed were through storytelling. The only thing that stands as a peer is the act of listening. These stories, the ones I tell and the ones I hear, are important in ways that we may never truly understand. This is why I think of myself as, and simultaneously aspire to be, a Storyteller.