Frank Herbert, author of Dune, has an oft-quoted section about fear.
“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
Frank Herbert, DUNE
In the last few weeks and months, I’ve come to see much of my own emotional response to the world is driven by fear. Anger. Anxiety. Depression.
Good old Yoda from Empire Strikes Back, had something to say about fear as well…
“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”
It all comes down to the same thing, right? Much of the fear we face is the root of irrational thought, which leads to poor decision making. Poor decisions lead to consequences we may not want to face.
But what if you’re afraid of what else life is going to throw at you in some arbitrary time period? The last 6 months have been throwing personal challenges at me left and right, but I’m left wondering if that’s truly the case.
Through it all, I’m left asking what it is I truly afraid of? Lack of control probably. None of the things that happened really happened to me, they happened around me to other people. Crises of mind, body, and emotion.
Turns out that I don’t have much agency in those crises. In one case, I was able to help a bit, but all the rest have largely been completely out of my control. Couldn’t or can’t change any of them. Eventually I came to realize that, but it took a lot of mental anguish to get there.
All I truly have control over is my reaction. Reaction to events directly affecting myself or others. But still it comes back to fear. I’m afraid for other people and the challenges they are facing. I feel for them, which means I feel their fear and possibly project it onto myself. Empathy is a double-edged sword. I fall on it both ways.
But all I can do is let those people know I’m thinking of them and help in some small way if they request it. I can’t force my help upon them. I can’t force them to see the world differently than they do. We all have our own way of seeing and interpreting our lives.
So I’m left pondering how to accept that sometimes the fear I feel isn’t my own, but a mirror I’m projecting back at myself from the people I care about. Can I change my own thinking to wrap my mind around those emotions and modify them to avoid falling into the traps of anger or anxiety or depression?
World weary and soul tired, ground down by the daily grind, I wonder where to recharge my batteries so my heart might sing again. Gone down the tubes and down the drain, trying to find bottom only to sink in the muck, I seek a quiet place to find my center and reconnect with a world gone mad. Instead I am downtrodden, beaten senseless and feel like I been hit by a train. Where is the peace I need to survive in this mad place, I ask the universe. And then I realize the quiet has been inside this whole time, waiting.
The stars above lay clear for miles and miles hinting at a cloudless sunny morning to come. Left pondering these twinkles from long ago unobstructed for a momentary glimpse through billions of years of history. Ironic that we can see those burning dots and yet our path through tomorrow is impossible to pick out through the debris of recent yesterdays.
Thanks to the Daily Stoic, I get an e-mail every morning to ponder. Some days they magically seem to smack me upside the head. Other days, I can push them aside as irrelevant.
Today’s e-mail? “Beware the Voice in Your Head.” And it takes the words of Seneca when he spoke about Crates, expanding on them… Crates was walking and noticed a young man muttering to himself. When asked what was going on, the young man replied “I am communing with myself.” Crates’ reply? “Pray be careful, then, and take good heed; you are communing with a bad man!”
It’s not that the kid was necessarily a “bad man,” but that we sometimes get led astray by our own dark thoughts.
I can definitely identify, as I struggle having unproductive conversations with myself on a regular basis. Sometimes it’s easier to listen to those voices of self-loathing or despair than face up to the fact that they are wrong because they are always in our ear — the devil on our shoulder as it were leading us down dark paths into darker days.
But we can’t always listen to the angels either or we start to believe the stories we make up about ourselves. There has to be a balance between the good bullshit and the bad inside our heads.
This is a very real battle for me, as I am constantly trying to reconcile the positive words I hear from others about my acts and deeds and the dismissive nature of my own interior thoughts about those same things. I never live up to my own standards and sometimes I need to give myself a break — that’s the balance and the challenge.
Dwell in the dark too long and it becomes impossible for the light of the truth to reach you. Maybe I’m full of crap, but it’s taken me nearly 30 years to figure out how to take a compliment more gracefully — and I’m still awful at it. Those are our angels offering praise. And our devils are right there to tell us how full of shit those people are.
I remember a “talent show” at a holiday party years and years ago when the daughter of a coworker told me I sounded great and I let the devil lead. I said something to the effect of “Nah, I sucked.” And she laid into me pretty good explaining that I needed to learn how to take a compliment. I was young and stupid. 🙂
Was it a great performance? I honestly don’t remember — I think I played my guitar and sang a song. We had a couple of years where we had big holiday parties and different folks would perform (I did a duet with a friend one year and sang on my own another). I’m an ok musician and have an ok voice some days — that’s the balance I’ve struck with the angel and devil on my shoulder. It’s not — “I’m fantastic, I should perform on The Voice!” And it’s not — “Never do this in public again, ever.” It’s somewhere in-between. 🙂
That’s the battle – achieving some sort of happy medium and using my own insecurities to temper any sense of glorious achievement I may get from the world outside my head. And I’m sure I’m not alone in watching the battle lines push back and forth on a daily basis.
At what point did I, as a youth, pull my head out of my ass and actually take a look at the world? I have to wonder now, as I approach 50, and marvel at how some folks seem to see things these days.
The world does not owe us anything. Neither do the people in it. We get what we get and try to make the best of it. If we don’t like it, we do our best to change what we can and move on. That’s it. End of story.
Maybe I’m jaded, but I don’t expect others to do shit for me these days. In fact, I hardly ask anybody for anything any more. Why be disappointed when it doesn’t happen? Or if it does happen, why be disappointed by the way in which it’s executed if it’s not up to our high standards?
I used to expect things of people. In fact, I thought the Golden Rule was meant to convey that if I treated people the way I wanted to be treated, I’d be treated better. Turns out that’s a fallacy. It’s bullshit. You treat people the best you can because that’s what decent people do — and you don’t expect anything in return. You just hope they’re decent people too.
Now I won’t say this attitude isn’t a new thing for me, since I often sound like a broken record when dealing with my daughters; telling them “You can only control one thing in the world — you.” I think it’s just taken this long to finally sink into my own thick head.
I recently read somewhere that instead of railing against the world and how it is constantly acting against you that you should simply say “yes” and roll with events as best you can. That one little piece of advice has changed my point of view greatly.
Ask my family — I have always been hung up on my preconceived notions of how events should play out. So far as I can tell, nothing ever goes according to plan and never works out the way it does in my head. The disconnect between those two things has always been a problem for me. I have alternated between angry, depressed, or sad when that happens — not that it changed anything.
Now I still get a little hung up these days, but not nearly as badly. As my sister might say, I “pulled the stick out of my ass.” And it’s about time.
So when I see some of the folks I know and love get pissed off at the world or the people in it because they didn’t get something they wanted or someone else didn’t get what they wanted or even that someone they don’t feel is deserving of something gets something good… it gets under my skin a little. I know how it feels to not have things go according to plan. But I think to myself that they better get used to it. The world isn’t going to bow down and give them everything they think they deserve unless they’re very very lucky.
I don’t know anybody that lucky. Everything has a cost.
What really ticks me off is that I hear some of these folks badmouth people whose decisions they don’t agree with. I’m not saying you can’t disagree with others, but unless they’re really pushovers, your opinion isn’t going to mean much. And why should it? They have exerted the power in their lives to make decisions. After all, that’s all they can really do as individuals, isn’t it?
As a result, we are left with ripples on the pond we all float on. We can choose to fight the ripples and ultimately rock the boat, but all we’re really doing is getting ourselves wet in the process and maybe splashing them with some inconvenience. Or we can ride the wave and see where it takes us. If it’s not in the right direction and we have the power to change paths, we can do so. If not, all we can do is roll with it until it ends.
And who are we to second guess some of the folks who make the decisions we are not in control of? They have their own lives and bodies of experience to pull from and I bet they’re making the best decision they can with the information they have at their disposal, both from past life experience and whatever just happened today. Who says your decision would be better than theirs, knowing what they know?
So to those people rankled by the decisions of others, I wish you luck fighting the waves. If you can’t go with the flow, do your best to change boats or ride it out until the next opportunity for change presents itself. To change, you have to put an oar in the water and that causes its own ripples. Just keep in mind that your ripples may affect others just like the ones that affect you.
For now I’m going to choose to go with the flow on this one. It’s the only logical choice I can make. After all, I don’t have any control over anyone else’s behavior but mine anyway.
Last year I started tracking my media consumption during vacations, holidays, and trips — just to try and take advantage of that time in a way that feeds my creative soul with images, sounds, and words.
I took the week of Thanksgiving off this year, as I have for a few years, and here’s how my consumption stacked up…
Wind River (Netflix) – Amazing film starring Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen that’s been out a while, but not on my radar. It was about a hunter (Renner) who helped an FBI agent (Olsen) investigate the murder of a young woman on a Wyoming Native American reservation. Not for the faint of heart and based on a true story, this was surprisingly excellent.
Equalizer 2 (Amazon purchase) – Starring Denzel Washington (reprising his role from the first one) and Pedro Pascal, I have to say I liked the sequel better than the first one. Solid story. Great action.
Overlord (at the theater) – This one had been on my radar for a while — a zombie film set during a World War II story. I enjoyed it, but I won’t say it was the best thing I’ve ever seen. 🙂
Hurricane Heist (Netflix) – Not a great flick, but fun just to listen to how horrible the dialog was with Maggie Grace and Toby Kebbell. If you need some background noise and have fond memories of Twister — this might be right up your alley.
Voltron, Season 7 (Netflix) – AJ and I have been enjoying this reboot of one of my childhood favorites and look forward to the next season in December.
A Darker Shade of Magic (book by V.E. Schwab) – This was an impulse buy at Barnes & Noble and ended up being a fantastic story.
Daredevil, Season 3 (Netflix) – I think this season was much better than season 2 and almost on par with season 1. Great action and some amazing new characters with a lot of depth. Once again Foggy & Karen both take center stage over the titular character — and that was fine by me. 🙂
Revolt (Netflix) – Watched this on a whim and hung on to the end. Science fiction set during an alien invasion in Africa and it was surprisingly good.
Power Rangers (2017 movie, Amazon Prime) – Yeah, I know. Why? Well, my friend Alan Bahr suggested this to me quite a while ago — and I have to say I enjoyed the first 2/3 of the movie up to the point where they put on costumes and rode dinosaurs. But it wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be. 🙂
Incoming (Netflix, didn’t finish) – Unlike Power Rangers, this was too stupid to watch for more than about 15 minutes. Didn’t make it.
Death Race: Beyond Anarchy (Netflix) – Like Hurricane Heist, this was not a good film — but it was fun in spots. Of course, you don’t watch Death Race and expect Shakespeare. 🙂
Trevor Noah: Son of Patricia (Netflix) – The new host of The Daily Show proved he still has his chops as a comedian. Fun and timely.
Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Netflix) – This was out of the blue from the Coen Brothers and I have to say that AJ and I loved it. It was a series of short Western stories and I think we liked them all except the very last one. Some fantastic character pieces however, including one about a prospector looking for gold. The film starts with a singing cowboy and gets better from there. 🙂
Next Gen (Netflix) – An animated flick about a girl and her robot, this was surprisingly good and it had a fun dog as well.
House on Haunted Hill (Netflix, second time through) – Probably my favorite story of 2018 and the last episode made my eyes water like I was chopping onions — AGAIN. Some fun horror elements, but simply amazing writing, fantastic characters, and surprisingly emotional storytelling.
I won’t say that they were all good, but I definitely got some use out of our Netflix subscription!
The saying goes “Adulting is hard.” And this little guy definitely reflects the way I’m feeling at the end of this week. A bit like I’ve been run over by a truck.
Does that mean this was an awful week? No, there were some great highs to go with the lows. I’m just in full on overwhelm mode right now and trying to keep myself together like everybody else.
Honestly it’s a lot of little things. Everybody needs something. And it would be great if I could do it now. Sometimes that works. But the longer the week has dragged on, the more I’m going to have to practice my No face.
One of the highs was easy to spot. We had a great time in Breckenridge for a 24 hour getaway to see the Bluegrass trio of I’m With Her, featuring Sarah Jarosz, Aoife O’Donovan, and Sara Watkins. The concert was amazing – fantastic vocals and insane musical skills – and we enjoyed a couple of good meals and some fun before heading back.
That was in the middle of the week, in addition to dealing with all the back to school craziness for two busy girls, one of whom is starting with a different soccer club at the same time. Add to that the fact that we have car troubles that are driving me bonkers and all the other stuff that’s all wearing me down quickly.
The other high was the fact that I ran three miles in about 49 minutes, with two sets of 50 push-ups and sit-ups between them. One of my miles was a bit over 11 minutes while I ran with a 20 pound weight vest. Even without the vest, 11 minutes is a great time for me, so to do it with the vest was very surprising.
I’m trying to weigh the positives and the negatives. Trying to rise above the crap. But it’s not all wine and roses even if we have gone through a few more bottles than usual lately.
So I will do my best to put one foot in front of the other and keep moving in the “right” direction — wherever that leads me. If you see me and I seem a bit down, just know that I’m doing my best to keep my head up and keep on chugging.
A weekend ago, I attended my 30th high school reunion and I was surprised. Surprised at how social I was this time. Surprised at how some people became more of what they were in high school, just weathered a bit by age and experience. And surprised by how little we all changed.
In the days since, I’ve begun pondering those deep grooves of the past, and how easy it is to slip into them.
What the hell does that mean? Yeah, I’m kind of wondering that as well.
Starting the Groove
We are all products of our own experiences. Perhaps we’ve learned a bit from others along the way, but I’ve found that often we only learn what we are willing to learn as we take in the sights, sounds, and actions of our own lives. Sometimes that’s easier than others and we find a groove right away. And some lessons take a few spins on the record player to scratch that first faint groove.
Once we have that first groove, it’s there in the record of our experience forever, barring some form of injury that affects our brain or our mental state. Like they always say, “it’s like riding a bike.” I haven’t ridden a bike since college, so I haven’t tested that for a while…
Rediscovering the Groove
I’ve never been a social butterfly, but once I get to know people I am more likely to share some time with you. I tend to use that time listening more than talking, but I like hearing about people’s lives and may even toss in some of my own stories, observations, or insights every now and then.
For several hours at the reunion, I fell back into old grooves. I gravitated towards the same folks I did in high school — the nerds and the band geeks. Funny enough, that groove never changed – I still like hanging out with those same people.
Just like at the 10 year and 20 year reunions, the same cliques formed that did when we were in school. We all fell in line easily as the ’80s music played all night long, seeking solace and comfort in the familiar while catching up on what had happened since the last time we saw each other.
But it quickly became apparent that each of us was worn by that time between. Some spent time in the military or the police. Others went into artistic careers. Many married and had children. A few were divorced and single or re-married. Some battled cancer or other illnesses themselves or with family or friends.
We all had new grooves in our records. Some were deeper than others.
One individual had suffered memory loss due to an event, so she was being re-introduced to us all — trying to find those faint scratches from years before.
We all had a shared history, whether we remembered faces and names, deeds or experiences from those decades ago. It was good to find the grooves we’d left behind.
Keeping the Records Spinning
We all have stories from those years in high school, and yet I was much more interested in hearing the stories I hadn’t heard; tales of jobs and children, travels and experiences. I am not convinced I shared enough, but I did listen to it all with as much focus as I could muster.
Reconnecting with the past reinforces just how far we’ve come and yet how little we’ve changed. It’s a strange dichotomy in many ways. But I’m glad the records still played.
The last few weeks have been a long mental struggle for me. I can’t point to any single element that’s the cause, just the combined weights of myriad stressors and challenges without end. The bad part is I know there are other people with much larger pressures and challenges, so I even feel guilty writing about what is essentially me quietly going crazy for no good reason.
But let me back up. I’m not crazy. I’m human. And though I understand that other people are going through much worse situations than I am, this is important. So for a time, I’m going to toss off the yoke of unnecessary angst and guilt and talk about the positives and negatives I’ve noticed of late.
First, the positive…
I’ve never been someone who enjoys conflict. It is emotionally draining and mentally crushes me as I do everything I can to avoid it. And this week I had something arise that I always knew in the back of my mind could come up as a blogger, but never had to deal with myself. (The situation is still evolving or I’d write about it here. Suffice it to say I had to chat with two friends about it – my business partner and a high school friend who is a lawyer. They are helping me deal with it as things develop.)
Yeah, I know – that sounds pretty negative. And it is. The positive was the weird way my brain processed this event.
Lately I’ve been reading more about the Stoics like Marcus Aurelius and listening to folks like Mark Manson (The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck) and Aubrey Marcus (Own the Day, Own Your Life). And generally just trying to chill the f*ck out. I’ve always lived too much in my head, making mountains of mole hills. My last few years of learning to love CrossFit has changed my mental outlook to embrace adversity and change much better than ever before. And it helps that my wife, a force of nature, has been whittling down my resistance to change over the last two decades.
Apparently that has all added up, internally, to a better head space for me.
As the events unfolded in my e-mail and chatting with my friends about the situation, I became almost detached. I watched as my emotions bubbled up as always, with panic, fear, and anger, but it was as though they belonged to someone else. The rational part of my brain apparently decided they wouldn’t do me any good anyway, so it just shoved them to the side in a safe space and let them go while it processed the rest of it mentally.
It was bizarre. And awesome. Though the whole situation is infuriating, it didn’t overwhelm me emotionally like it might have in the past.
So that’s a positive amidst all the crap on that front (and the next).
Then, the negative…
Adulting sucks. I have a billion things going on that I need to do. Some for work. Some for home. Some for my family. Some for my publishing business. It’s all piling on. And I know I’m not handling with all of that well.
I’ve tried some different things with to-do lists and they lasted a week as the overwhelm rose and fall in waves. So now I’m just trying to deal with things as I remember them and have the bandwidth to do so. Some days are better than others. And I’m coping, but not well. (Remember that guilt I cavalierly tossed away earlier in the article? It’s back with a vengeance.)
So here’s my request for help. Does anybody have coping strategies for how to deal with the overwhelming minutiae of modern life? I’m interested in hearing about them.
Welcome to the Words in my Head website. Here you’ll find the thoughts, worries, and idiosyncrasies of Brian Fitzpatrick – a geek, writer, gamer, husband, father, software engineer, crossfitter, musician, and person of odd thoughts.