Did I ever tell you about the time my Father swam in the Senior Olympics?
He competed in a few different races. I’m pretty sure he competed in the freestyle, backstroke, and breaststroke but not the butterfly. He said he loved to swim the butterfly stroke but his breathing wasn’t right for competition.
The Old Man slimmed down and practiced. He trained hard. But more, this was something The Old Man did to prevent from feeling old.
In recent pages, I have discussed a popular explanation of depression, which is living or thinking irrationally in the past and anxiety is living or thinking the same way in the future. The question then becomes; where is peace. The answer is here and now. However, our reaches into the past or projections into the future have also created certain errors.
As for now, we are a mass of different circuits and patterns. We are records of our past. We are lessons from our experiences. We are also the product of our environment. We can say things like, “My parents used to do that to me,” and then we would swear that we would never do the same thing to our kids.
There is a common theme with this book. The theme is the same as it is with all of my books, which is that first, there needs to be a truth of self and self-discovery. Secondly, and especially when discussing personal or transformational change, improvement or calculating the thought machine; we bring our understanding back to us. We keep this person centered to adjust our thoughts appropriately to fit our needs and personal understanding.
It was autumn and the weather changed. The leaves switched from green to yellow and orange and the winds moved from warm to cool. The mornings showed frost on the grass and above all things, it was football season.
The ground was hard and the toes were cold. I was small and played in what was called the pee wee league. My helmet was bigger than my shoulders and my pads were too big as well.
I was no stranger to sports because sports was an important topic in my home. My Father was a coach. He was an athlete when he was younger. My brother was well-known in town for his time on the football field.
I would like to take you on a little trip. So, for the moment, I am going to ask that you rule out the distractions around you. Take a deep breath and find your center.
Unplug from everything and follow along:
Imagine the morning. You are awake and ready for the day. There is nothing pressing and nothing pending. The slate is clean and you are about to leave your home and start the day.
Imagine yourself in your desired surroundings. See your home and decorate this exactly as you would want it. Think about the different rooms and the furniture. Think about the shelves and the entertainment center in your living room. Imagine the way the rooms would flow into one another. The sun is beaming in through the windows and the day is bright.
The idea is to improve on a daily basis. And that’s it. There’s really no secret here. Short, sweet and simple. We want to be better, think better and feel better. We want our life to work out. We want to honor our thoughts, our wants and our needs. Most of all, we want to improve the quality of our life. But first, we have to improve the quality of our thinking. Right?
Let’s go back to that mental picture of a busy day in the middle of Times Square, New York City. Can you see it?
Imagine the weather is neither too warm nor too cool, but perfect in either direction. Envision a blue sky. It’s a perfect day in New York City. People are walking around, up and down the streets. Imagine the different faces that pass us.
Keep it simple . . .
This is the most basic suggestion. Keep it simple. When it comes to change or when it comes to work, life or anything that we encounter; keep it simple.
Life is happening. They underpaid me this week and bills are due. There are feuds between family members. There’s a virus going around that has literally stopped the world, changed our life and the virus keeps mutating. We have life problems. We have emotional difficulties. We have physical concerns and everywhere we look, life is going on.
If we think about it, everyone knows the basic rules to live a good life. We know how to eat and sleep. We know that our body has needs. The mind has needs too.
Everybody knows the dignity of a handshake. We know that a person’s word is a person’s word, which ties to the old question or saying, “If you don’t have your word, then what do you have?”
It’s a good question.
If you’re not being you, then who are you being?
How long can a machine run at full throttle without rest? I’ve seen a movie where the talk about being placed in a blender that never stops and the thought was argued because the machine can only run for so long. Come to think of it, in our last discussion about the thought machine I mentioned my time as a stationary engineer in a central plant. We ran large chilled water systems here. And we had more than one. Why? Because in case one shuts down. But also, it’s better to alternate machines to keep the run-times down. It’s also better to run two machines at 50% than one machine at 100%.
So, the question remains. How long can an engine move at its fastest speed? How long can the gas pedal be pushed to the pins until the engine blows? Or better yet, how long can a person last without backing off the throttle?
The idea of the thought machine has been with me for years. I came up with this idea when I was a stationary engineer in a commercial office building. I view the thought machine as a little control room with switches and lights. I see this the same as the control room I worked in. Outside of the room is the plant with large machines that run the comfort cooling of almost 1 million sq. ft. of office space. Inside the control room is a person who works the control boards and checks the systems.
This is the main control room. There are printouts and readings and lights flashing and charts. There is everything here that one would imagine a control room would look like. However, rather than switching machines and adjusting temperatures, the thought machine has different volume switches and faders that select what we hear and what we choose to listen to.
Now that we have started our talks about motivation, I think this would be a good place to talk about our fears and our distractions. Our thought machine stores these things and keeps them in different compartments. Perhaps now is a good time to empty these bins and let go of the unwanted materials that keep us from reaching a better level of awareness.
It’s time to put everything into perspective, why people shine and why people fade. I think this is the right place for this chapter. This is where we talk about fear and our doubts, what holds us back, what sets us apart and what distracts us from being our best.
And what is it anyway? What is motivation?
What does this mean?
Where does this come from and how do you find it? Better yet, what do you do if you find it? And how do you keep it?
I have seen people on their first day of employment. I have seen them show up an hour early. They created a route for themselves. They narrowed down the best possible commute, They woke up extra early, set their pace, then like a shot from a starter’s pistol they were off.
“This is me,” they say and off they go.
Stop for a minute. Turn it off.
Turn off the noise around you. Shut down, just for a second. I’d like to take you someplace with me. I want to show you a quick glimpse from my point of view, which I hope translates clearly to you. I want to share this now, right here, because this is a good time to check in with our hopes and dreams. This is a good time to see where we stand and why. What keeps us stuck and what sets us free.
Worst are the assumptions. The irrational ones. Worst are the ideas and the thoughts that something is about to go wrong or that someone is against you. This keeps us from the moment. But more, this keeps us from being our best. We have our guard up. We don’t want to be sucker punched by fate so we prepare for the pain.
Worst are the ideas that trigger the dominos and next are the assumptions and the judgments. Meanwhile, none of this is real. It’s only real in our mind.
It is morning, mid-week and the temperature outside is in the single digits. As I write to you, the sky is mainly clear. The wind is mostly calm with a mild gust. It is cold and peaceful. I went out to start my car so it will be warm when I make my morning drive.
The white snow on the ground absorbs the moonlight. I love this. This somehow brightens the land around me. I am in the mountains and approximately 30 miles north of New York City.
Behind my home are a string of mountains that weave together. They are snow covered as well and the empty trees stick out from the snowy ground like hairs from an old man’s arm. I am no stranger to this scene and by now, I suppose neither are you.
I think it is only fair to be honest and clear. . .
I was never much for daily affirmations. I never liked much of the wellness routines that I saw and as for mindfulness, the only thing that I was mindful of is that my life was not working out. I was unhappy and easily triggered. My thoughts were prewired to anxious or depressive thinking. I was quick to fight and quick to give up. Meanwhile, I was following a blueprint for a life that I had outgrown. Or, maybe the life I had was never the right plan.
Of course, this is where I struggled the most. I was always trying to adapt. I always looked to adjust myself so that I could fit. At the same time, I never knew why. I only knew that I needed this to change.
We were talking the other day about the weight of our emotions. I was telling two friends about my ideas of something I call our self-destructive response disorder. Some could say this is a model of self-harm. Some could say this is what happens with alcohol or substance abuse disorders. And me, I like to explain that this is what happens when the emotions get too thick. This is a reaction. This is what happens when life turns in ways that we struggle to understand. Thus, we respond.
It’s time to put things in a simple construct. I am not one for the wordiness of programs that teach about wellbeing, nor do I understand the often unappealing hokiness of certain methods. However, I am only a person who understands what works for me. This does not mean what worked for me is something that works for everyone. Then again, my aim in my journals and my research is to find a commonality between us. I want to figure out in the simplest, most followable terms, what works, what makes sense and what simplifies the complicated thoughts that trigger anxiety or the anticipation of impending doom.
I don’t know what age this started. Safe to say that I’ve always been me. Safe to say that I’ve always identified with some kind of concern. Perhaps not everything was always so tragic but nevertheless; for as long as I can remember, I have always connected my thinking to a concern or a worry.
I never knew why. I never understood where this came from and at best, I thought this was only me.
Who else thinks this way?
Who else worries all the time and feels like something is always lurking around the corner? Who else believed there was this impending doom, lurking and waiting for me around the corner or hiding in the dark.
So, you say that you have anxiety disorder. Is that right?
Me too . . .
Ever freak out?
Ever come to the point where the walls are closing in and nothing works?
Nothing stops. Yell if you want, but nothing helps. You can’t calm down. You can’t rest. And you can’t get out of your own skin.
I’ve been there and if you’ve read this much, then I assume you have too.
In order to find clarity, we have to create clarity, which means this part will take some housekeeping. This part will require honesty and personal inventory. Afterwards, this will come down to an honest assessment of the company we keep. This will cause us to recognize some of our behavior.
But, let’s keep this simple . . .
We are who we are. Am I right? Or, is it more accurate to say that we are the sum of our surroundings? We are the boundaries we keep. We are the friends we have and the job we have. We are the total of our family influence and the culture we come from. Is this it?
There is a word I remember hearing when I was a boy. The word was long and strange but nevertheless, the word is real. Are you ready for it?
Back as a kid, The Old Man used to tell me that I lacked a sense of sticktoitiveness and I remember thinking, “Is that even a word?” And it is.
Stick-to-it-iveness means determination and to be persistent even in the presence of difficulty. My Father would tell me that I needed to toughen up. I had to thicken my skin. He told me that I needed more sticktoitiveness or otherwise, I’d become something soft and habitual.
I will be going back and forth from the adult mind and the child’s mind on this one. . .
I have seen different places in this world. I have seen the faces of children when their eyes are open wide and completely amazed. There is something to this. There is something beautiful and pure. I am amazed by this.
I am amazed by the way a child sees the world, all new, all the time, and always wanting and searching for more. I think about the different phases of understanding and how age takes away some of our rights. I think about the absolute wonder of youth and how our version of life is this limitless thing.
I say this because there are no limits to childhood dreams. I say this because youth is nothing more than a plethora of dreams. It’s filled with hopes, imagination and fantasies.
I know I’m not alone when I relate to having a case of monkey brain. I know I’m not alone when I say that my thoughts can be all over the place. I can think myself into a million different directions. Whether in the past or the future, I know what it’s like to not be present because my mind is somewhere else.
Enter the thought machine . . .
I find myself back at another starting point. Today is the second day of the new year, which means we are back around the sun again and the world itself is physically back where it was at this time last year. Once more, we have accomplished another full revolution around the sun and what have we learned? Who have we become and what have we accomplished?
I will post this as my last entry for this particular journal. I am not sure where the winds will take me. I don’t know who will come with me or go the other way. But then again, none of this is within my control. All I have is this. All I have are my thoughts, which I have shared with you. All I have are my recollections and the stories that I have shared with you, honestly and to the best of my ability. All I have is this moment, right here, and right now.
Everyone knows there is a beginning, a middle and an end to everything. We know this but nothing ever prepares us for that last goodbye. Nothing ever helps the realization that this might be the last time we see each other. And we hurt and we weep. We mourn and we lose and still, the world turns. The clock ticks and the eventual or inevitable countdown never stops. This never changes speed and never allows us to pause because there is no pause. There is only life and its brief course in a short span of time.
I used to head to this noontime meeting near Madison Square Garden on Tuesdays and Thursdays. There was another meeting up the block on Monday, Wednesdays and Fridays, which was good for me at the time. I made these meetings because I was told this is what I needed to do. I was told about the 12-steps and how to work them. I was told about a program and the need to come to an understanding with a higher power. And I took the suggestions. I showed up early and I helped set up the tables and chairs. I agreed to go under protest, but I still went and stayed out of trouble (for the most part).
And then there’s life. Then there’s the things we see and the things we think and feel. There’s the little things we pick up and the big things that we miss.
Life is eventual and inevitable. No one gets out, pain free, and no one goes without a scratch or without a trip to the hospital or a fever. No one goes without a stomach ache and nobody goes through life without the touch of a broken heart. I know this. I’ve seen this. And it’s true. Life happens to everyone.
Big wallets can go empty. Poor people can have the richest hearts. Success is a mindset and so is rejection. But before we go on from here, it is important to note that there are people who have built empires out of nothing and there are people who’ve been given the golden ticket and threw it all away.
I was moved by the lyrics of a song that went, “It’s been a long road, without you my friend. But I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again.”
Not sure if you remember but I was hospitalized when I was somewhere around the age of eight or so. My memory of this has faded. At best, my memories are minimal. My only memories were the window and the view from the bed. I overlooked a golf course. The air, the sky and the world around me looked clean as ever. But me, I was in a hospital room and in a bed next to a large window with the sun shining through. I can remember the green from the trees and the grass. I remember the sky was so incredibly blue with puffs of white clouds like pillows of cotton that flowed overhead. I remember this feeling inside of me, as if the entire world was living.
We were moving closer towards the last moments. I suppose this is when family pulls together. This is when differences are put to the side and that regardless of whatever happened in the weeks, months or years before, this is when family shows up. And it’s always amazing too because at the time, we always promise each other to get together soon and for better reasons. But somehow, life just seems to happen. It seems there are seasons to life. There are the seasons of birth and the seasons for birthdays and then weddings. And then there is the birth of the new generation. And then there is a time like this one and we all gathered in the waiting room of a hospital called Hempstead General in the Coronary Care Unit.
It’s amazing what a little separation will do. Even more so is the amazing realization that comes when we see ourselves exactly as we are. And it was strange to see my bedroom. It was strange to think that I had only been gone for a little more than four months and already so much had changed.
The Old Man got older. He was laying up in a hospital bed with machines and tubes, all tied to his body. My life was about to change into the unknown. And there was a void; there was a strange space of emptiness. It was hard to believe that this was me. This is life and this is mortality. After my trip to the hospital, I went home to wash up and get some rest. But I couldn’t go into my bedroom. There was an overwhelming presence of energy. This was my room and this is where my secrets were hidden.
There is a certain numbness that comes over us. Maybe this is a state of disbelief. We hear things as if the news is not real yet, we know this is real. We know what’s happening but somehow, the news is like a funnel of water and we lose to it like the water loses to the drain. At best, all we can do is surrender.
No one is ever ready for bad news. Then again, no one is ever truly ready for life when life happens. No one expects bad news to happen on days like Christmas. No one expects the phone to ring and have someone on the other end say, “You better get home fast.”
I started to tell you about Christmas Eve on the farm. At the time, I was four months into my agreement with the legal system. I was somewhat coasting and flying beneath the radar but the rules on the farm were hard to avoid.
The day is December 24, 2021. Christmas Eve. The time and date is interesting to me. The weather interests me as well. We are currently seeing light snowfall, which will make this a white Christmas. It is shortly after 4:00am and according to my time zone, my side of the world is mainly sleeping. But not me. And not for bad reasons either. I am up because I have work to do. Plus, I’m up so that I could have my coffee and sit with you for a while. Know what I mean?
I think back to this day and this time of year, December of 1989. I think back to what my ideas would have been about the year 2021 or better yet; I think about the sound of the upcoming year, 2022 and what this would have sounded like to me when I was 17.
It’s hard to believe this but here we are again. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve and shortly after, the New Year will come. It’s crazy to think about the last two years. It’s even crazier to think about where we’ve been and what we’ve gone through. Of course, there have been ups and downs, losses and gains.
Most of us have gone through different degrees of separation. We’ve lived through historic times yet, none of this is over; at least, not any time soon.
There were times when we had to breathe out so someone else could breathe in. But here we are again at a moment when we’ve spun once more, completely around the sun. It’s hard to believe that this is where we are. And here we are, back again in more ways than one.
You hear the word, “Roommate,” and you never know who you’re going to get. Safe to say that I’ve had different roommates in my life. The same can be said about coworkers and new hires. The same can be said about a new student in a classroom or in a focus group or on a team. You never know if this will be a fit. You never know if the change will go smoothly.
Safe to say I have been the “New guy” before. I’ve had the “New Guy” jitters. I had worries and wonders.
Will I like them? Will they like me?
Are we going to be friends or teammates or just coworkers and two people who have to coexist in this world?
I suppose I came to a line in the sand. and I suppose this was a line that I couldn’t cross. I had to hold onto something. I had to realize my worth but more, I had to realize there is a difference between living and existing. The choice was mine.
Safe to say that I had to allow myself an honest assessment. I had to dig deep on this one. I had to look around and see where my life is balanced and on the other end; what throws me off.
There is a saying that goes: you can’t have a positive life with a negative mind. Let’s say that again. You can’t have a positive life with a negative mind. This makes sense. I’m sure this made sense to the author, Joyce Meyer. I’m sure this makes sense to everyone, except of course, for those who live with anxiety. This is when the thought machine races out of control but even in the depths of my most anxious times, I knew that I could never have a positive life with a negative mind. Then again, knowing this fact was like adding another item on the list.
I wonder where the time has gone. I wonder if this is what we expected the end of 2021 to look like. And who knows? Maybe the world can pull a trick and figure out a way to improve. Maybe . . .
Or, maybe something like this will stand as a tale to tell in future stories when teachers teach future students about the great pandemic. And should this be true and this is a document that anyone reads in the future, then please allow me to explain my social view without favoring or leaning towards any agenda or position. But to be clear, I remember the shutdown perfectly.
I am approaching the end of this journal. The ideas of my relationships or my nights out until the early hours of morning and the roads I’ve taken are an outline of my life. I suppose this journal will be limited to a few more entries, which means I have to plan for what’s ahead of me now.
As I write this, we are approaching the end of the year. We are a few days short of Christmas in New York City. We are a few days away from the big ball dropping in the middle of Times Square on New Year’s Eve. The year will be 2022, which sounds crazy to me because I was born in 1972 and the ideas of the year 2000 were much different from what we thought it would be.
Sure, I think it’s great that people donate. I think that charity comes from the heart. Of course it does. It’s great when people get out of their house at least once a year and head down to the local homeless shelter. They hand out presents on Christmas or serve food on Thanksgiving.
Sure . . .
I think it’s great. My challenge is not the charitable heart but more, I become frustrated with virtue signaling. I can’t stand the hand in the air as if to say, “Look at me. Look at what I’m doing!” as if their work automatically gets them a seat for the resurrection.
To better our interaction between us and the rest of the world, it is important to understand our relation between us and the rest of the world. It is important to understand the way we think in connection with the way we feel and furthermore, it is important to understand that the way we feel impacts the way we live.
That’s the point of these journal entries, to simplify the way we think so that we can lose the complication between us. Simplify the truth which is we have to be mindful because sometimes, the mind can be a liar. Sometimes, the mind can be a little brat who screams in the store because it’s not getting attention, validation or even a toy.
The hardest thing to see are the parents. The hardest thing to do is deliver the news, which of course, we all know can be devastating. I think of them. I think of the parents and the way they were the day their child was born. I assume they had dreams for their child and the look of amazement in their eyes. I think of the typical hopes they must have had and the ideas they had as parents. I am sure there’s an entire list of imaginations and fantasies. Meanwhile, a newborn child is brought into the world, swaddled in a blanket.
The house was empty. Everything was gone and moved out. All the rooms were vacant of furniture and nothing was left, not anything in the cupboards in the kitchen, not anything in the sink, not anything but the life of memories, which my family had left behind. I could see the outlines of picture frames on the wall, which in some ways appeared like a postmortem sketch of the lives that used to live here.
I was the last one to leave my childhood home. The Old Man had been gone for a while. Mom was about to move to Florida. My brother Dave was about to be married and I was moving out too.
We have spent most of our lives, focused on the things that we do not have. We lose ourselves in comparison to other people. It’s true. We are taught what success looks like. We are shown examples of what our life is supposed to be, which is then compartmentalized and boxed in an almost mass–produced fashion.
I can think of a list of people who told me how to be, how to think, to act, and what to wear, how to dress and style my hair. I can think of people who suggested that I rethink myself; that I reconsider my career choices because for whatever the reason might be, in their words, “There is no room for me in places like this.”
Everyone is there to celebrate. It’s true to say that people love fame. They love the bright lights and the red carpets. Everyone loves the high-life, the fashions and the idea of private jets or vacations in Monaco. You think of places like a stay at Hotel De Paris in Monte Carlo or a walk around the yachts in Monaco Harbor. And you imagine yourself at check-in, approaching the desk and asking questions like, “Excuse me, but is my suite ready yet?”
It’s true. Everyone is around when the lights are bright and the drinks are free. Everybody’s there when the venue is “All you can eat” and somehow, you, yourself are seen as a conduit to a life beyond comparison. Let’s face it, anyone can buy themselves a sunset view.
I figured since this journal is about relationships and friends, I should share a little information about one of my closest friends. And I suppose this friend is not specific to me. However, our relationship is specific to me. This is about music. This is about the real phases of my rebellion and the soundtracks from my youth. Some were loud, hard and fast. Some of the music I listened to was quiet and soft.
It’s been a while though . . .
It’s been a while since we all got together. It’s been a while since we went to a show and screamed the songs and sang with the bands. I miss live music. I miss the feeling after a show when the energy is still flushing through your system. I miss the crazy angst before the concert and then finally, the band took the stage and like a switch, the blood beats faster.
I wonder if kids actually know what music is. I wonder if their love for a song is the same as what mine was when I was their age. I mean, do they even know?
I do. I remember the connection to the albums. I remember listening to the songs, over and over again, just so I could learn the lyrics.
There are times when the world is just right. The city is on my side and the night is brightened by the streetlights and the glow from Midtown’s Times Square.
There are times when I can stand on the roof of a building at Lexington Avenue with a cup of coffee in hand and my eyes geared towards my downtown memories or my old, uptown life.
I remember being a child in a classroom and reacting to the sight of the first snowfall. All the kids ran to the window. Completely amazed. And of course, the teacher instructed us to return to our seats. I swear, sometimes I feel like a kid in a classroom, just waiting for a big snowfall.
I want to see something worthy enough to run to the window and hear the “oohs and ahhs” of the room. I want to feel amazed. And it’s wintertime now. I’m grown. And yes, as old as I am, I am still youthful and hopeful and wishful enough to think about the times when I’d try to catch a snowflake on my tongue.
And then one day, you’re not a beginner anymore. The uphill climb isn’t so uphill anymore and you look back in amazement. Day one became day two and then two became three and four. Next, your “One day at a time” function has picked up and grew legs. Suddenly, the past is not as close as it used to be, which is enough to make you realize your position in life. It’s enough to show you who you were and who you are now.
I say this is amazing.