Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Woodpeckers and Guilt

This woodpecker was an unusual guest on the lawn, a couple of mornings ago. I can't remember ever seeing a woodpecker sitting on the grass, pulling out grubs.

But there it was.

It was "unusual" enough for me to pull out my camera to take a picture or two. Which-- in turn-- required getting fresh batteries for the camera, finding a good angle for the photo, waiting for the right moment and yadda, yadda... followed by offloading the images, choosing the decent ones, cropping and color correcting, formatting for blog use and yadda, yadda.

And so, old familiar feelings of guilt over "wasting time with something useless" when I could be doing "something more productive" with my life arose.

Which, in turn, led me down a rabbit hole of considering why we feel what we feel, and especially why we feel what we feel when we are experiencing negative feelings.

I enjoy nature photography. I enjoy observing the world around me, and then sharing what I see with others. I may not be the world's greatest conversationalist, but I am a passable story teller and illustrator, so I write and add pictures.

Now, I was not raised in an environment where I was made to feel that work-- by definition-- had to be "something you DON'T enjoy doing." Far from it. I was, however, raised in an environment that revolved around "duties (work) first, fun later." And if "duties" took ALL your time? Too bad. If we were to consider Aesop's fable about "The Ant and the Grasshopper," I have pretty much always been closer to the proverbial Ant... in spite of the fact that I am-- to a considerable extent-- a "slacker." These uneasily live side-by-side because my sense of responsibility and conscientiousness (the Ant) does battle with my desire to be "authentically me," which is more about BE-ing than DO-ing.

So I am sitting here, writing these words-- which takes (valuable work) time to do-- feeling like I am not being "suitably Ant-ish" because these words and pictures are (a) primarily for my own enjoyment, and (b) not income producing and (c) will "cost" me $30 because the time is NOT being used to generate income. And there's an attendant feeling of guilt; a sense that I am "wasting time with frivolities, again."

But don't many people photograph and write in their spare time? Or walk on the beach? Or paint? Or collect stamps or belly button lint?

Few things are truly as simple as they look-- especially when it comes to the human psyche.

I don't have any "spare" time. And therein can be found an answer, of sorts: Even though I am-- in many ways-- "an Ant," I have mostly been singularly unsuccessful at "Anting" because for most of my adult life I have made choices leading to a reality that doesn't have any "spare time."

Sure, I have "made my own way," and I "work from home in my sweats" but at what price? Yes, I may be living "authentically" and "on my own terms," but the ostensible "reward" has so often been that there's (metaphorically speaking) only a twenty-dollar bill between me and living on the street. It's not a question of when the electric bill gets paid, but a question of remembering the last time I wasn't worried whether the power would go off next week. A year? Five years? Ten years? Twenty years? And sometimes that's to close to "reality" to even consider a true metaphor...

One of the things I have been considering recently is the well-known saying "Do What You Love, the Money Will Follow" (which also happens to be the title of Marsha Sinetar's landmark book from 1989 ◄ highly recommended!) and its deeper implications. I have been doing that for almost two decades, so I have started wondering what (reality?) I am not seeing: I am doing one thing I love (beach combing), but dealing with an ever depleting resource. I am doing a second thing I love (being a rare postage stamp dealer) but am dealing with a hobby that's slowly "graying" and dying. I am doing a third thing I love (writing) which is notoriously hard to make a living at, and focusing on HSPs (who often believe things "should be free") so there has been very little there. I am doing a fourth thing I love (being creative, artistic and painting geometric designs-- Alchemy Stones), but art is a "luxury" which makes it something most people "do without" in hard economic times, such as these.

The question that arises is "How do you MAKE IT, when your passions may be authentic, but just aren't very popular, on a greater scale?"

Anyway, the woodpecker came to me in this unusual context (it's actually called a "Northern Flicker" and is one of the very few woodpeckers that does get some of its food from the ground) and made me pause and think. I'm a student of synchronicity and symbolism, so this surely had to "mean" something. So then I had to go look at the meaning of woodpeckers, as totem animals and animal spirit guides.

Of course, there was a huge amount of information to be had-- suffice it to say that Woodpecker has profound spiritual messages, many centering on returning to, and focusing on, our roots and our original creative ideas. Even Carl Jung observed that the woodpecker symbolizes "a return to the womb of creativity." Woodpeckers are also a symbol of determination-- they will peck away at seemingly impossible obstacles (like an oak tree trunk) till they reach their objective... against all odds. I have surely been doing that... if I had a dime for every time I've been told "Just give up and get a 'real' job-- what you're trying to do can't be done" I wouldn't be alluding to financial hardship here.

And yet? To get back to the "Ant and Grasshopper" analogy... the woodpecker embodies a little of both: the dogged determination and single-mindedness of the ant (hammering through impossible obstacles) and the "slacker"ways of the Grasshopper... it's narrow pointed beak and long tongue allows it to reach its objective with the least possible effort needed.

And the "guilt" bit? It is a fundamental truth of me that I will-- in general-- accomplish exactly what I need, and NO MORE. I feel extremely "driven" to "get by" yet lack any sort of ambition to accomplish much more than that. The guilt arises because-- UNlike the Ant-- I never have a "store room" to draw on, any kind of "reserve" when I just want to take a day to photograph and write about woodpeckers, or when I just want to do something "because I feel like it." Why? Because I feel like I am-- in essence-- endangering my own security when I pay attention to anything other than "the essential," hence a sense of guilt.

Now, if I could only find another passion that's a little more globally popular!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Dear Service Provider...

Dear Service Provider,

Thank you for your recent statement showing that my account with you is, once again, past due.

I noticed the small "please let us know if there is anything we can do to assist you" appended below your demand for payment.

Unfortunately, the only way you can "assist" me is by re-pricing your service at a level that allows me to derive a benefit that's in proportion to its cost. 

The simple fact is that I can't afford your services-- ostensibly designed to "help me make a living"-- because their cost actually contributes to preventing me from being able to "make a living." It makes no financial sense to pay $299 a year for a service that adds-- to the degree it is trackable-- $100 a year to my bottom line. If I am lucky. Your assertions that your service makes me "cooler" than my peers remains meaningless until you can talk Safeway into accepting "cool" in exchange for groceries.

I'm am not impressed by your advice that if I only "invested another $500 in services A, B and C to customize our program" my results would improve. I am not impressed, in general, with service providers whose primary selling point consist of nebulous promises of the "possibility" of better results, sometime in the "future," which may be 17 years away.

But what really does not impress me is the subtle subtext that you get to "charge whatever you want" for your services because you consider yourself to be "the only serious contender" in your market niche. 

I am taking the time to write this letter, because I want you to know that I no longer have any interest in doing business with a company whose fundamental strategy for establishing their pricing is "because we can get away with it.

Me, your customer no more.


The above, of course, is a fictitious letter.

However, it reflects a common "issue" in our world, especially here in the US where capitalism and greed get to run rampant... namely that lots of companies, individuals, organizations and other entities try to get away with (and often succeed in) charging large sums of money for something that amounts to little more than "air."

Why do they "get away with it?" Because we're often "too busy" to be informed and "too distracted" to seriously consider why we perceive ourselves to be afraid of "not having" aforesaid services or products in our lives. Or we believe in the "Big Bugaboo" we've been sold, called "We have no CHOICE."

They "get away with it" because we have persuaded ourselves that we "need" (metaphorically speaking) that 2nd 5-terabyte hard drive, even though our existing 5-terabyte hard drive is only 8% used and will still have empty space in 2050. We also suffer from a sort of "selective cognitive blindness" that prevents us from grasping that we will probably be DEAD, in 2050.

In other words, we keep investing in "more" of "something" we already have plenty of, because we fear we don't have "enough." We have a multitude of reasons for doing so, surprisingly many of which revolve around some variation of the core thought "But what will people THINK?"

Of course, there is more to it than that... but it's really time for people to WAKE UP and evaluate their choices, and to start doing things for reasons other than "it sounded good."

Monday, October 6, 2014

Staying Conscious with Millions and Millions of Words

I was sitting here, earlier this morning, contemplating "writing."

More specifically, I was contemplating the fact that I have been writing "actively" since age 13 yet have very little to show for the millions of words I have churned out, over the years.

Maybe that's just the way of the world-- we get in the habit of "going about our business" without staying actively aware of having any specific purpose in doing so.

Because "I'm into that sort of stuff" I did some quick calculations. Going by what I have written in my personal journals, and then on blogs, forums and web sites, and then articles, and not missing years of writing for work-- from being a technical writer to eBay descriptions-- and then the eternal string of email over the past 20 or so years; a conservative estimate would be that I write about 2500 words a day, in some form of writing. String that out across 40 years... and you end up with some 36.5 million words... at least half of which were written by hand.

For comparison's sake, let's consider two massive "bricks" of literature that most people are familiar with (or abhor), to some degree: Tolstoy's "War and Peace" (587,000 words) and Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" (645,000 words). So... I've written "War and Peace" 62 times... If that's too esoteric for you, the 66 books of the King James Bible (Old + New Testaments) have an estimated 788,000 words, so I have written the Bible 46 times... in 40 years.

Of course, I haven't. I'm just playing around with statistics.

To someone who struggles to peck out a 100-word email to their mother, this probably sounds like "evil wizardry." Besides, why would anyone want to? Moreover, why would anyone want to write so much and not turn it into some form of "measurable output," like a Stephen King or Isaac Asimov?

I guess one of the most common responses writers give when asked "why" they write is because they "feel compelled." For me, it has mostly been a case of being able to "think better" in writing than I do in my head, and that I usually "express myself" better in writing than I do by speaking.

On any given day, I probably write more words than I speak. I expect this is because writing is a "slow" way of expressing yourself, and I have a "slow" brain, thanks to something scientifically described as "Sluggish Cognitive Tempo." I just think I have a "slow brain," not a "condition," but what the hay... science likes to put a "name tag" on everything.

But I digress...

What led me to thinking about all this is the fact that I so often give lip service to the idea that "I don't have time to write." Which, of course, is patent nonsense given what I have just outlined above.

So why do I feel like I "don't have time to write?"

This is where we start poking at the essence of the human condition-- and it applies to everything, not just writing:

Being Present and Mindful and Conscious.

What I claim to "not have time to" do is really a statement about feeling like I don't have the energy or inclination to put forth enough effort to write with Presence and Purpose... because that calls for me to be "engaged" rather than allowing me to "zone out." And-- to use some of those 21st century buzzwords-- "Staying Awake" and "Being Present" and "Consciousness" all are a lot of WORK. "Sleeping" is infinitely easier... and that's why we can look at the world and feel like "everyone is sleepwalking through life."

In my case, "writing" is merely a metaphor wrapped around the context of my lament of "not having time."

I can punch out 1000 words of random thoughts in 20 minutes, but to write a "Meaningful and Purposeful piece of prose" (or an article) of the same length takes me hours of concentration. Which reveals that my "real" excuse below the words is that (a) "it's too much work" and (b) "I don't get compensated for it," the latter always being a major consideration when your financial life perpetually hangs by a thread.

So what are the lessons-- the "takeaway"-- from this?

Seems to me that anytime we feel like we "don't have time" to take on some project we really actually want to take on... could be writing, painting, creating a garden, building a sun room, organizing a baseball card collection... what we're really facing is our fear of the "discomfort" of awakening from our comfortable "slumber" to become "active agents" in our own lives; to become "engaged" in what we're doing, rather than just "skating by."

Modern society works against us, in many ways because it is filled with "sleeping pills," from television to junk food to "meaningless busy work" to gossip to Facebook to the relentless pressure to pursue more things rather than good things. The pursuit of "more" is particularly odious because it attempts to trap us on a treadmill where we stay in a state of constantly "flitting between things" without paying real attention to any of them... because "we just don't have TIME."

It is time... to evaluate how we really think about-- and use-- our time.