Today will be the first full day of work with the 5-HTP in my system

Today will be the first full day of work with the 5-HTP in my system. Maybe I’m just over eager to have the same experience that I read someone in an Amazon review of it having, but I think I’m already noticing a difference. When my thoughts attempt to go places I don’t want them to, the simple mental switch to prevent this from happening actually works. For example, hearing a sad song isn’t sending me off into the land of depression. I’m not getting incensed with rage when I remember some slight someone did to me.

I’m not claiming that everything has been reset back to normal, but I did experience a palpable change.

I hate the expression: “I just want to be happy” because I think that this can be achieved in overly artificial ways. I could achieve happiness through complete escapism into the same complete escapist activities that other people do, and I’ll always feel like a piece of me is not quite filled up properly. I also like “filled up” instead of “fulfilled,” because for me, it does feel like a physical state of some vessel being empty or only half full. Fulfilled may mean this in the true sense of the word, but it seems to carry a lot of nebulous associations with it. “I want to feel fulfilled in my career” says absolutely nothing about a hard goal and how to get there. Being filled up in all areas: physical, emotional, spiritual, psychical, social — for me, it’s a lot less grand of an ambition then expecting an experience or job to be fulfilling, and, it’s more incumbent upon me to find the resources required to feel filled up–wanting something that is fulfilling seems to imply that the burden is on the external event or entity to live up to your expectations.

Put simply, feeling “filled up” in every area is easier to quantify than being fulfilled, which is sometimes hard to even qualify.

Of course, I recognize that all of these areas are interdependent. You can’t feel physically full (or empty) of food, and not expect it to impact you psychically and emotionally, which in turn impacts your spiritual and social interfacing.

But, sometimes it’s also easy to look for interdependence that isn’t really there. For example, I used to think that people who were put directly into my life were there as part of my spiritual path. I was supposed to gain some kind of deep spiritual insight from interfacing with them socially. Maybe this was true back when everyone else thought and felt the same way, but in our materialistic world, even hardcore Christians can seem pretty reluctant to apply any sort of meaning to their social connections beyond the simple causal factors of life choices leading to the connection.

As someone who does have pretty high expectations from life to deliver me spiritual insights and give me grand, emotional experiences, I’ve repeatedly been let down by life, and have had to continually lower my expectations. I think in some ways this is good–it’s enabled me to see life in a more sober, objective sort of way. But, I also have the suspicion that I often careen too far in this direction, especially as of late, and I end up missing out on opportunities to let life really wow me, move me, shape me, grow me.

The paradox of freedom

The paradox of freedom. The more license you seek and commit yourself to, the more your world becomes constricted. The more you discipline yourself, the more freedoms you appear to have. Such is the hard lesson of life.

This could be applied to any environment, I think, and not just my culture where the rules of the game, while not completely fair, are more fair than many other rules of the game in other spatiotemporal cultures. In other words, if you lived in Nazi Germany, and you committed yourself to the Nazi party, for a time being you had more freedom to do as you pleased in your country than those who spoke out against it. In this case, if you had chosen to speak out against it, and helped the Jews, and survived the war, such discipline would have had greater rewards following the war, than if you’d chosen the easier route.

So, in effect, the discipline/freedom paradox has strong element of time to it, where discipline of one kind might have a more short-term payoff than another.

In my own life: I wanted to study abroad when I was in college. I could not commit myself to the discipline of securing a scholarship and doing all of the paperwork required to make it happen. I chose the immediate freedom of spending my free time reading random books and playing guitar and drinking with my friend. It had the direct result of preventing me from knowing the freedom of living abroad in my twenties, among other ways that it constricted my life for years to come. If I had chosen to discipline myself enough to get that semester abroad, I might have seen the consequence of needing a loan instead of a scholarship to make it happen, and had to pay off that loan in the years to come. I might have delayed graduating, and postponed getting experience in the workforce and having a career.

Such tradeoffs are understood by children in an abstract way, but almost none of us truly get them enough to actually put them into practice. Inevitably, we all end up making choices that give us too little freedom when we would like to have it the most.

The word freedom to me is an all-encompassing one, that fails to encapsulate the responsibility that comes with healthy freedom. Being completely free to do whatever I wanted to do in my twenties would have surely resulted in a drug overdose or time in prison from hurting someone. The freedom I did have was probably too much. But, discipline that is placed upon adults when they don’t want it — and I mean adults in the strictly legal sense of the word, ie, everyone over 18 — is discipline that will surely result in the adult trying to overcompensate by abusing themselves through too much booze or escapist activity.

Self-discipline is the hardest skill to develop. If you are so inclined to stay out of prison and off of welfare, then you inevitably enter into an agreement with an employer who acts as a surrogate parent. Without the fear of losing your job and paycheck hanging over your head, you would probably do absolutely nothing productive each day. If you were capable of doing great, productive things on your own each day, regardless of the incentive of a paycheck, then you would eventually be capable of working for yourself, either as a business owner or a freelancer.

Self-discipline is the difference between being successful or a failure outside of an employment relationship.

My biggest fear about embarking upon the study of Math is the idea that I might find myself five years from now to be the recipient of a BS in Math, but a mediocre one, at best. Or, that I’ve worked incredibly hard so that I can now be qualified to teach High School Math. In other words, I hate the idea of putting lots and lots of time into anything at my age from which there will be little payoff.

But, I do need to go back to school and studying Math has always been my “look over the shoulder” kind of degree. I could easily get an MBA, or easily get an MA in English, and with a little extra effort, perhaps get a PhD in English or through more study, get a PhD in Art History. Again, the payoff is what? So I can be a professor somewhere? Maybe I’m okay with that. Except, I hate the thought of spending my last years here in Texas. Quite frankly, after my dad dies, I don’t feel the strong need to stay in this state. The promise of Texas being wonderful is about as hyperinflated as the state itself. Most of the state is just full of nothing. Unless you are a Texan, you probably will never love the state the way they do. Can I convince my wife to live elsewhere? Hopefully, at least for a spell.

A PhD in Math could see me working at it for ten years. Think about it. I’ll be 47, my dad will be 83. My firstborn, assuming he/she comes along in the next year, will be almost ten. If my dad need a lot of attention and care, then we’ll have to move back to the Austin area. My wife’s parents will be in their 70s. After going through the window of time of caring for my dad until he dies, we will probably be charged with doing the same thing for my wife’s parents, who live in Dallas. That’s a 30-year time frame with only perhaps the five years I’m working on my PhD elsewhere, where I’ll be stuck in Texas. Granted, not everyone requires such close care and attention for such extended periods. But, I would say that at least 15 of the next 30 years will have to be lived in Texas; at most, 25 of them.

Thirty years from now, and I will be 67, my wife 61. I will be looking at retiring from whatever it was I ended up doing after pursuing this. Perhaps I’ll stay on a little longer with whatever school I’m at, if I feel like I’m needed there, and don’t feel like I’m being forced into retirement, or worse, kept around because they feel sorry for me. But, that will be just a few years. Assuming I didn’t get my mom’s cancer gene, that will leave me with 10-15 decent years to travel and hopefully bounce grandkids on my knee before dying.

Something is missing from all this.

It is the thinnest framework of a plan, or rationale for making lifestyle choices and choosing where to live. It is still the work of someone carried along by the ebb and flow of life, without a really deep, solid sense of purpose.

In fact–and here’s the scary part–I’m not 100% convinced that a study of math is part of God’s will for me, or if it’s simply me just filling my head with escapist, idyllic myths about trying to recapture that which was lost starting with my first freshman year of college. Those kinds of woozy, dreamy ideals, coupled with thoughts of pleasing my dad before he dies with an impressive degree, are the worst reasons for studying math. Those don’t even add up to good worldly reasons–if I was an Atheist, I would spit on them as well.

Since I’m not an Atheist, then I have to spend more time in prayer with God. I should be spending more time in prayer, anyway. Not just that lousy excuse for prayer that consists of me trying focus on Jesus’ name before I fall asleep, after begging for forgiveness from yet another day of sinning. But, deep, contemplative dialogue, where I am asking God to walk with me and review me at my most intrinsic nature, and determine what would make the most sense for me to take forward with me to fulfill His promise for my life.

The need to have someone in authority

The need to have someone in authority, or who is an authority on the given subject, approving everything I do and say. Raising up people to the status of the authority who don’t deserve it or want it. Basically, seeking to impress others as if they were a parental or even Godlike figure. Knowing that this puts me in a state of subservience, limits me, I then seek to rebel against that “authority” leaving them baffled. Hating anyone who asserts themselves as an authority over me without my consent. Disliking those I’ve consented to be authorities who turn out to not be the subject matter experts or leaders I’d hoped they would be.

The quest for the perfect figure of this ilk, as I’ve chosen to carry it out, has left me a pretty unfocused human being.

I find myself entering this state before I’m even aware of it.

I get that in God’s eyes we are all sinners and imperfect, and no amount of good or smart deeds will ever impress an all-loving, all-knowing deity who made us. The problem with this is that I am then left to seek out some other entity to fixate my need for validation and approval. It also means that I end up always relating to God in a negative sort of way–please forgive me Lord for the number of times I’ve sinned this day. I know that my good deeds don’t matter to you, since I am only saved by your grace, but I’m pretty sure that all the ways I’ve backslid over the past day aren’t helping me retain that grace.

The thing is, if God were not to be that entity I seek out for approval, than whom do I seek?

It’s all fine and good to get motivational speaker-y, and say that I should only seek to hold myself up to my own standards, but that never takes. It quickly becomes muddled, as my standards inevitably end up looking like God’s in the Christian sense of grace: nothing I do really matters, as I will be forgotten in two generations, anyway. At best, I might be remembered as a name attached to one or two someone is a scholar of me, they know that: I = X. Shakespeare = Hamlet, Romeo+Juliet +some other plays, Homer=Iliad,Odyssey, Einstein=relativity, E=MC^2, etc.

Of course, if I leave it to a real, flesh and blood human being, than I am always wondering if what good I’ve done is really that great.

First, perhaps, it would be instructive for me to define what makes someone great, and what doesn’t. In my mind, for example, David Foster Wallace is great, Kanye West is not. Perhaps this is a conventional mentality of a WASP from the midwest, but there are objective standards in mind when I say this. One is famous for devoting an enormous amount of time to the literary craft, and rewarding us by sharing insights and ideas from the time he’s spent thinking long and hard about human problems, and the other became a known entity through working hard at hustle. Kanye West’s craft, when eyed strictly from a musical perspective, is like a sugary mixed drink. It’s sweet and it gets you drunk, but it can leave you with a hangover if you spend too much time with it, and it is generally forgotten or combined with every other sugary mixed drink like it you’ve had. The rest of what makes Kanye West important will be completely forgotten in ten years or less. His wife and her family are simply famous for being famous, and they aren’t even a sweet mixed drink–they’re like a Sno-Ice or Cotton Candy.

But, in the pantheon of greats, I wouldn’t even say that DFW should be held up in the highest regard. His impact on the way our society thinks and acts will probably prove to be minimal. He will become another literary canon member that English majors are required to plow through during a semester. In the sense of making an impact on how we think about our world and human existence, it could easily be argued that Steve Jobs is greater than DFW. I should stress that I don’t see Steve Jobs in the same light a lot of other unquestioning people do–he didn’t invent anything. The comparisons between him and Thomas Edison are a bit naive. Thomas Edison himself was probably more of a popularizer of technology, but he did spend copious amounts of time in a lab tinkering, where Jobs was more of an artist and storyteller who painted and wrote with other people’s inventions. That said, though, I think that without Steve Jobs, we would all likely still be sitting at some type of command line interface or a green, eighties kind of financial institution GUI. He didn’t invent the mouse and window metaphor, but the technology would have probably sat on a shelf at Xerox for decades without anyone seeing the need to bring it to the market. This is because Bill Gates and anyone else selling software and computers were more interested in doing whatever it took to make the most money, rather than attempt to unleash the full potential of what you could do with a computer.

So, Steve Jobs, because he was a forceful personality with his own vision of what a computer could be, and because he happened to have gotten into the business at the right time, he was able to completely change our perceptions of what computers are capable of, at least twice significantly–once with the Mac and the desktop GUI, and once with the smartphone. These technologies existed before him, and would have been rolled out eventually, albeit much more slowly, but he was able to accelerate it by virtue of what personal faculties he commanded.

But, I would hardly state that Steve Jobs was the greatest man to live in the 20th century. Was he greater than Einstein? Jackson Pollack? FDR? Churchill? Bill Clinton? John Lennon?

All of these individuals had singular visions that ran counter to what everyone around them told them they and what they were doing were capable of. But, all of them also were fortunate to have been in the right place at the right time. An Einstein today is probably buried under thousands of papers being published each year in physics research. At least one paper out there, which has largely gone unread by but a few, is one day going to be the next game-changer, the next Theory of Relativity. The market is flooded with artists doing extremely creative things that make Pollack’s drip paintings seem pretty quaint. In the noise of such a market, how do you evaluate which one is truly great? The same could be said for a John Lennon–in order for someone to rise to that stature in music, you would have ot invent a completely new musical genre, which thousands of people with cheap digital software are trying to do all the time. You’d have to invent it, and move through a series of pioneers, before you reached the stage where the market was ready for a Beatles to popularize it and own it. Of course, the Beatles understood that rock n’ roll was huge when in America it had kind of died down after its burst of popularity in the fifties. The Beatles could have decided that folk music or jazz music would be a more sensible musical vein to mine, and probably would have never left Liverpool. The same with Steve Jobs. He understood that computers would be huge when most people didn’t. Computers weren’t even widely accepted by the average joe until the Internet became a word known in every household. Steve Jobs introducing NeXT machines in 1990 went unheard by most people. So, Jobs actually spent a good half of his career in a state where he was a known entity in the world of computing, but probably not yet “Great” great.

Which brings me back to DFW and Kanye. One had a singular vision in the books he wrote, but they will never gain wide acceptance outside of the literary world. The other has a certain style you can recognize in his music, and a style in his personality, but this doesn’t completely translate to a singular vision that will ever change the way people think about their world and how they interface with it. DFW will be remembered for decades by English majors, and be anthologized and continually read alongside Hemingway and Fitzgerald. Kanye West will likely claim a very small sentence in a musical history written one hundred years from now, and his music will be to kids fifty years from now what Glenn Miller’s music is to kids of today.

This should be clear enough to articulate the difference between the two.

Perhaps we can also extract some salient features of greatness:

1. A singular vision of how the world can be different
2. A wilingness to hustle and promote
3. A dedication to your craft or cause that doesn’t flinch in the eye of opposition. This isn’t the same as #2. You can be a two-bit hustler at just about anything, and have zero craft or cause that you stand by. Look at all the social media evangelists out there. They have plenty of hustle, but what is their craft? Their social media presence? Their personal brand? There are, of course, so many hours in the day. If you do too much of #3, you end up being a Wozniak. If you do too much of #2, then you end up being the long-forgotten computer salesmen of the 90s. Who started Gateway? Compaq? Jobs was able to find the right balance of both. He was also willing to see the computer within a context that reached into people’s lives beyond simply providing an easy way to create documents, spreadsheets and databases.
4. Moments in time and the market that are receptive to your vision – a man with a singular vision of time travel technology will die unGreat unless the technology is invented and a nascent consumer market is created for it. Steve Jobs starting Apple in 1970 would have probably ended up having at best another Texas Instruments kind of play. Steve Jobs starting a robotics company in 1980 would have seen his company end up selling worthless toys or giant manufacturing robots.
5. Your own unique style, or unique selling proposition
Probably the least important to achieving true greatness, but the most important to the moment your vision hits the eyes and ears of the market. There were plenty of men and a few women in the eighties with singular visions of how the power of personal computing could change people’s lives, but only maybe Bill Gates became as great as Jobs.

So, where do you start? Do you identify the rising technologies that are entering the market, and attempt to build your vision and craft around them, or do you build your vision and craft, and hope that fate meets you out in the market? You will likely need to do the former if you want to be Steve Jobs, and the latter if you want to be Albert Einstein. In all likelihood, you can make some kind of decent living, even if you never become great, if you do #1. And, you will in all likelihood never make a dime or be known by anyone if you do #2. But, #1 is for people who would sell their souls in a heartbeat for worldly validation, as well as the rest of us who gawk on the sidelines of what great people do and admire their Ted talks and blogs and such. #2 is the lesser-taken path for people who would die a million obscure deaths before they sold their souls.

So, you’ve chosen not to let the market dictate your vision and your craft. That’s great. Then, what do you look for to choose your vision and craft? Sit and meditate and pray for years until a light comes on? Set out with a pencil and graph paper until something materializes? Or, you could simply think about a problem that you and you alone face, and try to invent a way to solve it.

So, what problem do I face?

I face the problem of having a mind that often doesn’t seem to be in my control. My memory is terrible, except for being able to recall terrible things I’d rather forget. I can’t keep things neat and organized like in a spreadsheet or database. I continually have thought patterns spin out of control until I’m ready to just shut down completely. Most days, I feel like a complete fraud, faking it as a “tech person” or “data person” as the role I seem to fall into at work, when I really should be doing nothing more than churning out bad copy for equally bad companies’ advertising.

How do I change this?

Well, first, I am re-reading this and I realize I don’t have anything related to Creativity, and “Great Ideas” in here. I’ve sadly watched my ability to churn out whizz-bang ideas that cause friends in bars to go ooh and ahh–I’ve watched this greatly diminish over time. But, I don’t think “Great Ideas” is necessarily a key component to any sort of true greatness we celebrate. Your singular vision almost certainly comes loaded with a seed that was a Great Idea, but it’s the whole 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration kind of thing. It’s expressed above in the notion that the Beatles didn’t invent rock n’ roll and Steve Jobs didn’t invent the mouse-desktop metaphor interface.

Look at Elon Musk. Accepting payments online was not his idea. Nor were electric cars or commercial space travel. These ideas were there as soon as “online” and “electricity+car” and “spaceships that safely carry humans into space” existed. Any ten-year-old who was aware of these things when they arrived into his consciousness could have thought of them. So, Big Ideas and Creativity are probably just elements that should be taken as givens–if you don’t have them and you want to be great, you are pretty regularly going out and reading about people who do have them. But, your singular vision of how to take one or two of them and bring them to the market–that’s the key differentiator.

But, this is the great challenge. I’ve been surfing the web for years, looking for a next big idea. Sometimes I’m amazed at the things the herd discovers that I’d already met and dismissed years before. Other times I’m shocked at how the herd discovers something I’ve completely overlooked, and it’s already a cresting trend by the time I learn about it. Part of the problem, is that I haven’t ever disciplined myself to look for ideas in a focused, dedicated fashion. I don’t take notes about what I saw, and I don’t reflect on it enough to think about how I could use it later.

The difference in the narratives and their outcomes

The difference in the narratives and their outcomes lies in the meaning we as humans assign to the variables involved in the telling of the narratives. Assignment of meaning, or the choice not to, makes all of the difference. It determines who we align with tribally, and how we execute our day-to-day activities. An individual who is prone to seeing much grander or mystical import in everything he experiences is probably going to be incapable of handling anything except the easiest of life assignments. Unless, he’s able to carefully channel his mystical tendencies into productive behavior that is not charged with endless bursts of emotional energy.

The first ten years of my adulthood, I was seeking nothing but the most epic of experiences, and frightened by the alien nature of women when they didn’t turn out to be Disney princesses. Women gave off energies of their own, and shockingly enough, had desires of their own that expected to be met with at least the pretense of manly capability to meet their needs. They were often not shy, or passive, and often smelled or looked unusual up close, since I’d grown used to fantasizing and sexualizing 2D imagery in magazines and on television. It wasn’t just their womanly natures, but their full-on physicality that shocked me. I was occasionally pre-occupied with the idea that I might be gay, but men were always like trees to me for containing any sort of sexual meaning.

My will was to assign great meaning to everyone and everything. My one college roommate, who became my roommate weeks before school started, was supposed to have been extremely high on the scale of meaningfulness. Of all the people in the world, fate had picked him to live in close quarters with me at the start of this departure from childhood, therefore, I must relate to him on some kind of grander scale. I must discover how he and I are to become the best of lifelong friends, bros operating in perfect synchronicity as we share girlfriends throughout the next few years, then act as best men at each other’s weddings.

Needless to say, I was to be proven so thoroughly wrong, that this one variable alone should have been enough for me to completely rethink how I chose to assign meaning to build my life narrative. But, I was so deeply entrenched in the mystical side of religion that had been ingrained in me, even as I completely rejected Christianity and sought out all manner of Eastern and New Age belief systems. I changed my major from Anthropology to Political Science because I’d gotten the best grade that first semester in my Intro to American Gov class, and because my mom had had a vision not long before that year of me becoming important in government while my little brother became a preacher. Even as I disparaged her belief in Jesus, I still believed her visions to be completely correct.

After being defeated time and again in my quest to apply more intense (or completely false) meaning to my life narrative, I began to reject the notion of meaning and a life narrative completely. I tried time and again to take an atheist perspective on things – that there is no real meaning to any of it, that things often happen randomly just because, and the rest of the time they happen the way they do because I make them happen that way, whether I’m man enough to accept responsibility for my actions or not. But, this notion taken to its extreme has proven to be just as unfruitful and rings false to my gut. It leaves me empty, sterile and uninspired to get up in the morning and do anything.

As I begin this new phase in my life where I am going to intensely study math and raise a family, I have to think pretty hard about what I want my narrative’s meaning engine to be. I need reasons to be doing what I’m doing beyond the pat answers I might give to others to shut them up when they ask why I’m studying math. Answers like “I enjoy it,” “it makes me happy,” “because I’ve always liked reading popular science books, and am frustrated that I don’t understand the math” are easy enough answers to provide to people who don’t need much of an answer to be satisfied. I also am trying to stay away from the whole “I’m doing it because I know I let my parents down the first time I went to school and goofed off and settled for a degree I could get with next to no studying.” The whole idea of rectifying the way I let Daddy down, and still seeking his approval.

These reasons certainly contain their truths about them, but I think there is something deeper running through all of this, that makes for a more interesting and sustaining thread, at least for me. It is more fundamental, and lies along the lines of my core identity. If for years, you’ve embraced ways of being simply to please others, and sought them out sometimes from naive notions of life being full of mystical signs to point you along your proper path, then you’ve probably never sat down and studied yourself carefully enough to know who you really are. Why do I like the things I like? Have I liked one single thing in my life because it made me and me alone happy?

And then there’s jazz…

What made me go out and by my first jazz CD? When I was ten, my piano teacher made me pick a favorite genre of music, so that she could add this next to my name inside the program at the next recital. I didn’t really know what jazz sounded like, but I told her that this was my favorite kind of music. The reason I said this was because I really liked Classic Rock best when I was ten, because my older brother liked it, but my mom was certain that rock n’ roll was of the devil. Not wanting my mom to be upset with me, but not wanting to seem like an uncool nerd who liked Classical or Christian Contemporary, I picked Jazz, because in my mind I thought it was a good compromise, a way to please everyone. Such were my ways for many years to come, hence the mullet I sported in high school, even though it was ten years out of style.

But, I didn’t buy any jazz music when I got old enough to stop worrying about what my mom thought. I bought hard rock and heavy metal, then skimmed across the top of the blues, buying Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters from the Columbia House on cassette tape, because that’s who Eric Clapton liked, and Eric Clapton had kind of come to replace my older brother as a guiding musical light. So, when did jazz enter my consciousness as music worth exploring? My guitar teacher (I’d moved on to guitar from piano, then trumpet, since guitar was the instrument of cool musicians) liked Pat Methany and other jazz guitarists that I thought were boring wimps.

Maybe it was Professor Budd’s Jazz Pop and Rock class. I would like to think I already owned a Charlie Parker or John Coltrane CD by the time I took his class, but I guess I didn’t. He played us Birth of the Cool by Miles Davis, and that struck me as being music played by grownups who were far too mature to be dicking around with three chords and a few verses and a chorus, but not so grownup that their music had become fit for a funeral parlor. So, I plowed through Miles Davis’ discography, stalling out at Bitches’ Brew because it seemed too sterile and pretentious to me. A jazz CD with Dizzie Gillespie playing Salt Peanuts on it from the public library was a great way to escape from the environment of being back at home up in my room during another humid Missouri summer, wondering why I couldn’t get a girl to go to bed with me.

Any number of jazz CDs I made my way through were ready to make me feel like I was right there at the club back in the forties or fifties sipping on a bourbon and smoking a cigar. I could feel the heat of the nightclub atmosphere–maybe somewhere in New York without air conditioning and a bunch of bodies packed in together with the air full of smoke. And the intensity with the way the musicians were hitting their notes–it was a mixture of cerebral and soulful passion for music. Where all the angry punk and heavy metal shit I’d been blasting in my dorm room or pickup truck became simply sonic warfare. Rock musicians were simply using their instruments and voices like weapons to lash out at whatever was giving them angst, and by the age of twenty, I was already starting to feel a certain lack of appreciation for such angst.

Of course, I can still occasionally dial up the Ramones or Pantera on Spotify and have a good blast into the skull for awhile, but after about thirty minutes, it all starts to sound like a wall of one-dimensional noise. I can come back to the same Jazz albums time and again, and still find myself transported back to my twenty-year old self’s simple escape to another world, with any number of layers that have accrued on top of it over the years. The difference between Jazz and Rock, is that one seems to make me feel richer every time I return to it, and the other makes me feel like I’m intellectually and emotionally poorer–suddenly I’m nothing but a callow teenager again who thinks he’s at the pinnacle of Western music, and nothing new can possibly come after his Green Day and his Nirvana.

I would suspect that if Nirvana had come along when I was already in my thirties, I would have seen them as being horribly derivative of any number of noisy hard rock or punk bands of the seventies. I feel much the same way about most new rock music that has been introduced to the mainstream since 1998, probably the first year I heard Matchbox 20 on the radio. Of course, new and interesting stuff has came and went, and I even bought some of it, but I don’t get that excited anymore about it, because it is the soundtrack to other people’s lives. I spent the better part of this morning calling up some nineties rock songs that were the soundtrack of my life, and I discovered that I didn’t have any emotional connection with them, anymore. I could belt out the words like I could when they were playing on the radio all the time, but they too were really the soundtrack to someone else’s life.

Because, after I started to get depressed all the time about not being able to figure girls and women out, the music of my generation lost its appeal. You can’t call something your soundtrack if it’s really the soundtrack for everyone else who is busy having epic college romances. So, you turn to jazz with a vengeance, because nobody you know listens to it. Maybe your dad did when he was in college, but you don’t even care about that. The soundtrack to your life becomes jazz because you can listen to it when you are bopping along and need bop music to go with your mood, and you can listen to it when you are trudging through mud and you need bop music to give you the rhythm you need to get moving again.

And then, you can occasionally peek on Facebook to see what your friends from 1994 are listening to today, and no big surprise–they are still getting excited about going to the next Korn concert, or whatever bands like Korn followed them that you couldn’t even name, but they all sound the same when you bother to spend ten minutes on the groaner/screamer metal station. So, you suppose that you could be accused of being stuck in a time loop, refusing to appreciate anything new, except you would like to think that your appreciation for the same old jazz is novel every time you listen to it, but their appreciation for so-called new rock music is the exact same appreciation for recycled, derivative shit that isn’t really that new at all.

Or, you could just enjoy what you enjoy, now that you’re old enough to know that none of what anyone has to say about music really means much of anything at all.

Keeping some addictions, like this one

I’m keeping some addictions, like this one, the one that I call my raw brain output. This is going to keep me sane in the next two decades, where I try to completely change my profession, and raise a family for the first time. I will make no pretensions about being a good writer. I will leave behind a trail of: misspelled words, bad grammar and random trains of thought that end without any particular conclusions. I will write in the first person. I will continue to write anonymously and make up fake names of people and places when I need to.

This is all for me, really, but I suppose it merits an explanation for why I would bother publishing what I write, instead of leaving behind notebooks in a desk drawer or files on a hard drive. I have those, too, but I can’t feel completely sane again most days unless I know that I’ve said something that goes out into the collective knowledge ether.

What does it mean, to have my new narrative? The old ones have failed, but there are pieces of threads in the old stories that I’d like to take with me. I’ve tried too many times to wake up one morning and strip myself of all that I called me in hopes that I’d become somebody else. There is plenty of the old me that doesn’t need to be brought forward, but what really needs to stay behind are the old stories. Some of the old material can be re-used to tell new stories, where appropriate, but all of the old stories are pretty much dead. They all live in other places, so it certainly isn’t worth telling them again.

My new narrative will see me extremely focused on learning math. Why? Because I’ve always wanted to learn it, and it’s always been a pain point for me to reach back in time to that first semester of college when I didn’t ever open the textbook until the night before the test, and never entered the math lab to receive instruction for a tutor. I was too proud and too stupid. I understood the arguments for why problems needed to be solved this way or that, and thought that picking up a pencil and actually bothering to try to solve a few of them was a waste of time.

That is where the new narrative begins. It begins with a shoe box full of letters from home. My mom sent me a card or letter almost every week during those college years. She could get a little crazy with the Jesus, but a lot of times she was just trying to be helpful and encouraging with a quick written word the way helicopter parents try to be with their children today. Also, I suppose I should mention that there will be a lot more Jesus in this narrative. That’s the way it is for me, now. I don’t need to be involved in any bullshit debates about it, so if you don’t like the Jesus stuff, then go find another narrative to take part in. Lord knows there are plenty available to people who don’t want Jesus around.

Anyway, this is my narrative, for better or worse. A little over three years ago, I put a stake in the ground and said that I was tired of the way my life was moving. I had found myself abandoned at a nowhere non-profit with someone ten years younger than me asserting herself as my boss and telling me how to do e-marketing. All of the people I’d called my friends … ah, but that’s part of the old narrative. The point is that I decided to look for a condo to purchase, and go back to church.

This is where I met my wife, and I enjoyed two happy summers with her before I married her. I moved through several jobs, not waiting around anymore for things to get bad, and found myself living in a much smaller town after years of living in Austin. The Austin narrative was really a nowhere narrative, which is typical of someone who arrives there in their early twenties. It’s pretty much a narrative that I’ve raked over the coals–a dead horse repeatedly beaten as if somehow I could bring it back to life.

In this small town where I live now, I found a pretty decent e-marketing job. It’s not the California startup dream job, or the New York City creative dream job, but that ship has clearly sailed.

In my new narrative, I’ve received the opportunity to take free classes at the local college where my wife is approaching her third year as faculty there. This hopefully won’t be a narrative about how a pathetic old dude who is twenty years the senior of the incoming freshman tries to relive college days he wasn’t quite able to do right the first time. Okay, maybe to some degree, but not in a creepy sort of way. Rather, it’s about getting focused and dedicated to learning stuff I’ve always wanted to learn, with the opportunity that most people don’t get to give this another try.

Quite frankly, the idea of having my narrative include me trying to make myself look as if I’m younger than twenty-five by using a lot of chemicals and stressful activities–that’s a concept that was already mostly explored in the narrative prior to meeting my wife, when I worked at the nowhere nonprofit around a bunch of recent college grads. However, I don’t see why this narrative can’t include me making some effort to stay in better shape, as I haven’t bothered to do any serious running for about three years, and I am a little pudgy and fat now.

If I had to try to sum up what I’m trying to communicate, it’s the idea that looking at self improvement from the perspective of telling a new story about me is really different from simply charging forward with rigid absolutes. Shaving my head, declaring abstinence from all manner of things, including meat, masturbation, alcohol and television–that’s usually a recipe for me to become an angry, bitter old man pissed off at everyone for not living up to my own soon-to-be-eradicated standards of perfection. Any program that seeks to completely destroy one’s past is usually met with the past rising back up with a vengeance. That said, there’s certainly no reason why I can’t put an entirely new stake in the ground and say to myself and any part of the world that”s listening — “this really is a new story, a new narrative, one that brings uses pieces of the old narratives that still make sense, and one that describes a completely new, fresh individual who for all intents and purposes doesn’t really feel on the inside like almost twenty years have passed since he graduated from high school.”