Zen And The Art Of Mythological Maintenance

ZenPerhaps it’s my hesitant dabblings in yoga and that one time I managed to properly meditate*, or maybe it’s just I finally stopped caring about making sure everyone knows I’m right all the time, but I’ve slipped into an incredibly Zen way of life and thinking these days. Ok so I’m using Zen in the sense that I’m a placid lake of happy-go-luckiness who just rolls with the punches rather than a student of the 6th Century strain of Buddhism. But I’m sure you get the picture. Things just seem not to matter as much any more. Not that I’m becoming deadened to emotion or anything, I mean more that I’ve chosen not to care as much about things that I can’t change or things that get me nowhere in life.

Now I still geek out excessively. If you want to see me animated then just mention the upcoming Star Wars films in my presence. Words cannot hope to faithfully describe just how gosh-darned PUMPED I am for those things. Same with most geekery across the board if I’m honest. I enjoy being slightly manic when I feel like it. I still get worked up when the moment calls for it. Truth is though, I’ve realised that very few moments do call for it.

I guess it was a side-effect of being 18 and intelligent that I felt the need to hammer home just how correct I was and how wrong you all are at every available opportunity. It’s fun being right – I still believe that (ask any of my exes – I am an irritable correction freak) and I enjoy knowing stuff and churning out interesting facts to people – it’s just not a driving force of my life any more.

Some of you may remember my tempestuous departure from Christianity that went down a couple of years ago. I was an arrogant cynic who felt so intensely angry at so much about my previous life and I felt that I should be angry at someone but I had virtually no individuals to pin my butt-hurt intellect on. As a friend of mine commented “It’s just so hard because for twenty two years I’ve had this utterly amazing imaginary friend and now I have to come to terms that he’s just not there listening any more”.

I spent far too long reading as much as I could about how silly the very notion of God was. What fools! Hahahaha – look at those religious LOSERS! Tell you what, while it may be wrong to pick on a group of people for what they believe, it is undeniably fun. But yes, I was an insufferable prick.

And then came along the realisation that none of it actually mattered. Yes, I’d stopped believing in God, and yes, it was a big woop. Yet after the cosmic dust settles on the theological headstone I’d fashioned for good old Yahweh, I realised that nobody cared. Perhaps it came from my evangelistic days where I was used to going out and shoving my opinion in other people’s faces, or it could be that I just felt proud of my achievements in besting what I had believed to be the ultimate power in the universe, but just how people are awkward around the shouty men in the street who talk about how I’m going to Hell, people get annoyed at people who feel it their mission in life to pounce on any vague theological argument. People want to be able to think what they think without jarring flap-mouthed loons weighing in with their two-cents.

It’s funny actually. The times when I was most spoiling for a fight, I was sending out all the signals that I was singularly the worst person to engage in any sort of meaningful debate about higher things. Simply from an intellectual point of view I wanted to have a debate about atheism and Christianity – I still do in fact – but being a furry little ball of self-righteous rage, all my Christian friends exercised the wisdom of Solomon and stayed away, far far away. I honestly think that was the best call. Thank you all for not allowing me to embarrass myself. I’ve enough moronic moments in my life to deal with already without adding more.

But the worst part is that I never got to have a sensible conversation about things I truly wanted to talk about. I honestly don’t think that anyone of my Christian friends has any idea why I now don’t believe that God exists, and that’s weird considering the fact that I can rattle off the reasons and life events that led many of them to believing in God, and then sort more of them according to denomination and how many points of Calvinism they adhere to.

Perhaps I’d like that debate now. Over a drink somewhere – not on the internet. Internet arguments are without question the worst forum in which to try and talk to someone about anything serious. But then again, I’ve realised that it honestly doesn’t matter. This whole Zen thing has mellowed me out to the point where I know exactly what I believe and I’m comfortable with it. So comfortable in fact, I can listen to people talking about things that fly brazenly in the face of my godless sensibilities, and decide that none of it is worth a fight. You’re my friends and family and I don’t want to push any more of you away because of which books we like to read.

Zen truly is the way to live. Everything is better, everyone is lovely – if you just give them a chance, and the world seems brighter. Though that may just be the new light bulbs we bought for the kitchen – those things are brighter than the sun.

*It was out of this world. I felt like Yoda, Gandalf, and Professor X all rolled into one.

My Name Is Andy, And I’m An Addict

addictionFebruary is finally over. While for most of you it may have breezed by and you’re left in a bit of a whirl as the shortest month of the year popped its rather damp and windy head up and then disappeared, I  had my gaze firmly fixed on March 1st and it was a long time in coming. Who knew 28 days could be so tedious?

At the beginning of the month, I outlined my plan to detox for four weeks. No alcohol, no cigarettes, no red meat, remain hydrated, drink more tea, abstain from junk food, and exercise. I am now here, as a mere husk of a human being to warn you: do not, under any circumstances, do this for yourselves. It is shit.

It all starts off pretty easy. Don’t drink? Ah, I’ll save myself tons of money. Oh look! A wild salad appears! My lungs are singing with joy at the lack of tar, my GI tract is bubbling with health and yakult, and I feel like I’m somehow making a grand moral gesture to the world when while somehow still remaining a moral relativist. Then after a while, I realised just how much bacon featured in my diet. I can’t help myself to a handy BLT for lunch, and most of Subway’s better options are now verboten to me. I began to feel stressed and agitated from nicotine withdrawal. This was something I expected and actually only lasted a few days, but then the rest of the month just got stressy too. When I feel tightly wound on a normal day, I’ll pick up a bottle of wine on my way home and order in a pizza. I feel better in no time at all. These two options being barred to me, I was left twiddling my thumbs and wishing for March.

A work colleague heard about my puritanical fast and promptly plonked an entire bottle of Johnny Walker Black Label whisky on my desk. The tit. It sat there on my kitchen shelf, staring at me all month. Sheer torture I tell you. Yet the second midight struck, I poured myself a finger or four and had a mouthgasm of alcoholic paradise.

Did I feel any better for my lack of toxin imbibing? Nope. I felt that I was eternally missing out on life’s little joys. I just wanted to drink and smoke. And I didn’t even smoke that much in the first place! Sure, from a medical perspective I’m probably a touch fitter, my liver has regrown a bit, and my general inside health is definitely a little better. But I don’t feel any great effects from that.

Detoxing is awful. 0/10 would not recommend. This is mainly because it’s a scam. You know how you can detox normally? Just live like a normal person. Your body is hardwired to detoxify your system – that’s what liver and kidneys are for. Now perhaps you don’t want to smoke and that’s your choice – it will almost certainly mess me up later in life but hey, I’ve got to die of something and I choose alcohol poisoning and/or lung cancer.

Hello, my name is Andy and I’m addicted to eating, drinking, and smoking things that make me feel good. And let’s face it, we’re all hooked on the little joys of life. Yours may differ from mine but you love them just as much. The real problem came when I realised (about half an hour in) that this was entirely arbitrary and a mere fabrication of my brain. That’s the problem with rules – one day you realise that they’re made up and so you then know that you can just un-make them up. Haunting parallels to my previous religious journeys aside, it’s just not worth it. I was doing this “for science” and this experiment has shown me (negating the essentially negligible sample size and lack of control) that if I don’t drink then I get angsty and stressed.

Perhaps I’ll cut down later in life. Perhaps my doctor will order me to. Perhaps you’re Judgy McJudgerson the diet judge but you can just go sit in a corner and enjoy your lettuce. I’ll be having fun.

A Short Month Of Health and High Water

Now it’s February  I can let you all in on this month’s resolution. (For those wondering, January’s resolve to touch my toes is progressing millimetre by painful millimetre). You always hear tell of how people went on detoxes and cleanses and how it made them feel so good and new and practically bionic with vitality. I think these claims are, to put it bluntly, bullshit. Yet for the sake of science (and perhaps certain internal organs) I have decided to refrain from drinking, smoking, red meat, and junk food for the month of February. Instead I will be dedicating myself to a month of exercise, green leafy things, fancy teas, remaining hydrated with bucketfuls of water and juice. It’s going to be exactly as much fun as it sounds.

While some of you may think me hasty, I remind you that February is the shortest month and that my suffering will last a mere 28 days. Part of me really wants to give this all a go so I can tumble out the back end of the month no different than when I came in, but now equipped with scientific data (paltry though the sample size is) to reinforce my long held belief that alcohol et al. have few longer term effects on me shy of liver damage in my 50s. Granted, I entered February with my body pumping nicotine, gin, and vodka round my system but I did need a bit of a last hurrah before swear off such pleasures.

Perhaps I will begin to feel somewhat better. There is a myth amongst men my age that whatever we put into our bodies will do no harm. While that might have been true back when I was 18 and never got hangovers despite knocking back two bottles of wine in a night (sweet youth where hast thou gone?), there comes a time – perhaps around graduation* – where your body begins to behave like everyone else’s. Not to mention the study that concluded that smoking makes your hangover worse. No shit guys. Why waste money researching that when you can just ask me on a Sunday morning? And contrary to popular belief, I can put on weight – I’ve just become a master at losing it (which I know y’all hate me for but the trade off is that I’m a human radiator and I feel like a nuclear reactor as my body burns off all unwanted saturates within a day). So in some ways, deciding to skip life’s little pleasures for February might have a couple of upsides.

Oh come on I’m not all that bad. Worse than some of you perhaps, but that’s your sad life choice, not mine. I honestly don’t understand why people don’t drink all the time (now there’s a sentence that’s going to bite me in the ass) It’s fun, it tastes yummy, and life gets a little cuddlier when you’re sauced. Not to mention that it comes in all sorts of pretty colours and shapes. I know why some people don’t smoke but when people ask me why I do the answer is simple: “I enjoy it”. And none of you can tell me that stuffing your greedy little faces with a late night meat feast pizza isn’t fun. Pizza is a pure circle of joy.

Farewell sweet, sweet vices. I shall miss you all terribly. Perhaps it is fitting that February 1st is also the Satanic New Year. It’s going to be a hellish month at any rate.

*Some part of me believes that stepping onto the stage to collect your degree binds you in a secret magical curse that makes you get fat and have trouble specifying realistic life goals.

Year Of The Sloth

SlotPretty sure this year’s going to be a slow year. Sure, some crazy stuff will happen around the world, old diseases might be cured, new ones panicked about, some people will get married, others won’t, and blah blah blah. But for me, it’s going to be a slow burn, perhaps even a slog, to December. Not that  waiting for things is necessarily bad, I’m patiently holding out for baby Prince George’s emo phase that I hope is due in about 15 years.

Now I’m not wanting to make this a negative year, I’ve come to detest negativity for negativity’s sake, but rather due to the fact that impatience runs strong in my family, I (perhaps along with my siblings) will find that 2014’s developments come at a slower pace than I’d like.

Maybe it’s the 24 hour news cycle and the fact that I am all but surgically attached to what’s happening in the world (this is different to what’s happening on the streets (streetz?) – I usually catch up to that four years too late) and who’s shooting whom, and why tax X is wrong but tax Y is a vital social necessity and all that boring politicobabble, that I just want my life milestones to arrive within 2014’s first quarter so that I’m settled down by the fire with a husband, two kids, four novels written, a sinfully large paycheque, and a rock solid pension fund by mid-July.

As it happens, precisely 0% of these goals are currently on the horizon, or even in the works. Sure there are plans in my head, but there are also plans for the first habitable spacecraft with synthesised gravity floating about* up there somewhere and I’m not quite sure how to move things from the cranial ether to the real world. As one person put it “I think I have too many tabs open in my brain, and I can’t find the one that’s playing that awful song”.

2013 moved rather quickly as luck had it. I was whisked off my feet then I zoomed round the world and had a marvellous time. Shenanigans left right and centre, firsts at every turn (first time in drag, first time cooking a roast dinner (complete with giant bird), first time being paid for things I wrote online, first sibling in law… the list goes on). I hardly had time to check my bags on arrival 12 months ago but I seem to have meandered into a more thoughtful year and have been randomly selected for the slower queue at the airport of life… this metaphor got away from me somewhat.

I’ve made a number of resolutions already but I intend to share them slowly and not announce them with great fanfare lest I fail so quickly. While I’m still of the opinion that new year’s resolutions should only be things that you enjoy (eat more cake, never refuse bacon, learn about wine etc) I have grown as a human being – and who saw that coming? – to enjoy things that make me better either in my body or my person. For example, one of my first resolutions is to be able to touch my toes by the end of the year.

While some of you may gasp at my apparent inflexitude, May I remind you that there is literally no obligatory activity experienced by the majority of human-kind that actually requires you to touch your toes without bending your knees. Yet on I must plod with such a pointless goal as I’m now yoga-ing on a semi-regular basis and blending it with snippets of Tai-Chi I’ve managed to glean from the shed-load of martial arts films I’ve binge watched. My plan is to be a bit of a Miyagi-lite by December and see if my new and elongated muscles have done me any good. If they have, then I may take continue in my vague attempt at health. Then again, wine calls.

*I totally missed this pun (or is it simply irony) on first typing but liked it so much I let it stay

Quarter Life Crisis?

im-adult-nowThe difficulty rating for waking up in the morning can be expressed as the following equation:

Where omega is my overall mood from the previous day, p and e are the people and events that I will see in the coming day (if I have anything planned) a is the ABV of my blood upon waking up, w is the number of hours I have to work that day and m is the money in my bank. There is an x-factor that I’m beginning to think is controlled by the phases of the moon multiplied by our distance from Jupiter when it’s raining in the Amazon with a bit of cosine thrown in for good measure, but I think this rudimentary formula suits the purposes of this blog.

I’m in my twenties, my mid-twenties even. It’s only a couple more years before I qualify for being made into a mediocre sit-com and only a few more before parts of my body start falling off. I know I’m not supposed to have it all worked out yet, and this is great because I most emphatically do not have anything worked out.

Oh I’m fine – honestly! I have a cushy job, I live with one of my best friends in the middle of an amazing city. I waltz out of my front door to this amazing view (no seriously, that photo was taken from right outside my front door), I am disease free, I enjoy immense privileges just for being an educated white male in a western country, and most importantly: I’ve discovered what types of wine go with what. Some people spend years hopelessly chugging Merlot.

But everyone seems to have some sort of plan, a scheme, a conspicuously full diary filled out with life things and targets. And here’s me being perfectly happy just rolling down the hill of life and scrabbling at daisies on the way to the bottom. Then again, that’s not even true is it? Well, I’m sure some of you are very planned out and organised – you’re probably the type of people who frequently check unimportant things like the oil levels on their car, how much their radiators need bleeding (in July), and whether or not they remembered to mail their tax return. Sure, some of you are settled but I get the feeling that the majority of us are largely not. Or at least we plan to be settled in a few years time but we’re just going to throw our arms up and say “wheeeeeeeeeee” for now. I am, obviously, talking to my peers in their twenties here. If you’re fifty, have kids, a house, a car, and still haven’t worked out definitively whether or not you like olives, you may have problems.

Why do we need a plan though? Isn’t a plan something the Baby Boomers did? As a whiny, self-centred, ungrateful Millennial (as Time magazine would love to describe me) I can just meander through this and hope the government (read: mum and dad) pick up the pieces right? Well, sort of. I don’t actually care about plans and ambitions and whether or not my pension will be able to cover my impending alcohol problem in my eighties; at least, I don’t care yet – I might do in a bit; but what I do care about is what I really want to do.

I just don’t know.

And that’s lie number one. I do know. I want to be any of the following: Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader (only if the previous two are taken), commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions and loyal servant to the true Emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife, and I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next, Magneto, Wolverine, Indiana Jones…

Seeing as all of those are weirdly unattainable, I think I’d rather be a writer. Like  a big writer. A writer of big things and famous characters. Someone who makes people laugh while crying. You know the type. But the road to there is a slow a tortuous one which I intend to plod along while I continue also doing other life stuff. So what to do while I actually live? Well who the fuck cares as long as I’m happy right? Right? I guess that’s the question that keeps popping up like a rigged fairground gamestand. Do I have to squeeze my life to fit other people’s expectations? I think not. To fit other people’s needs, even if they encroach on my own? Probably, but I can be a selfish twonk who won’t like it. To placate others? No, but it’s sometimes best to I guess. What about just to be kind? I think I quite like being kind – it’s like a drug and I should probably up my dosage. Then again, with questions like that, I generally begin to whittle down at whatever life I’d mentally sculpted and the end result is different and I’m unsure how I feel about that if I’m honest. And oh, look, I’ve just discovered the ancient philosophical battle between the self and other.

I like to hope that everyone drives through this part of mental road blockage in their twenties but some of you are just so damn smooth that you look like you’ve got it made. What with your weddings and your baby bumps and pictures of the above. However the internet repeatedly tells me that everyone is just as befuddled as I am when it really comes down to it; and I think I truly believe that this blog sounds incredibly like something that goes through each of your heads from time to time. Perhaps I simply needed to type it out to feel better about myself. And perhaps it can make you feel like you’re not the only one who feels like they missed the class at school where everyone was told how to do stuff and things.

I hope that if I’m to have a quarter life crisis, this is it. I don’t have the money to go buy a Porsche.

Incredibly Related Video Of The Day That Also Covers All Of This But In A Much Better Way Than I Ever Could:

Facebook: A Love Story

heart-facebookWhen this most social of all the social networks came out and we all piled on the bandwagon, we adored Facebook. 2007-8 were Facebook’s golden years of unbridled and unabashed fanboy love. Here was the thing we’d all not known that we’d been waiting for – the answer to days of boredom and the perfect excuse to put off essays. Long live the internet!

As the years went on, our marriage to Facebook deteriorated and now many of us are barely holding on and keeping up a pretence at affection. We openly cheat on the side with Twitter and Tumblr (they really know know to make us feel good) and spend the rest of our time resenting all the quirky little things that made us fall in love in the first place. Some have even divorced Facebook and gone to live in happier parts of the internet, like BuzzFeed.

I frequently see blog posts (not dissimilar to many of my own I might add) in which the blogger outlines the many ways to be insufferable on Facebook (that article truly is quite insightful) and we’re constantly reminded just how annoying people whose online “friendship” (that word is always in quotes) that we accepted of our own volition can be on this free internet service that we are in no way obliged to continue using. It’s torture, really, it is! It’s getting to the point that if I saw a Facebook status that read “Grrrr! I’m so ANNOYED at cryptic Facebook statuses!” I honestly wouldn’t be able to tell whether or not it was intentionally ironic or if it was an actual thing that somebody wrote in all seriousness.

But let’s just slow this hate-mobile down a tad shall we? Why do we still use Facebook if it’s just so gosh-darn shite? Yes, it’s useful for inviting people to events that they will passive-agressively click “Maybe Attending” to. It’s sometimes fun to revel in just how good your life is compared to that of that person you always despised back in school. And sometimes people post funny things (I mean, where else on the internet can we find such delights…). No, the truth is that we use Facebook because we like it. If you’re on Facebook right now, you actually like it. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be on it or it will have been seven days since your last login (bless them Father, for they have sinned). I do have friends who hate Facebook, and you know how I know they hate Facebook? Because they’re not on it. They’ve bitten the bullet, cut the cord, eaten the cake, and all other manner of bizarre idioms. The rest of us who are still here actually and actively enjoy the experience, it’s just that we’ve been told that we don’t or that we shouldn’t.

The internet has latched onto the small nugget of discontent for Facebook and informed us that Actually, We All Hate Facebook Now And Nobody On There Is Really Your Friend Except Maybe Your Mum (But Even She’s More Interested In Farmville). By blowing the slight grating of certain aspects on the site (and there are many little things that irk us) we are now reliably informed that although we must keep on using it, we have to hate it at the same time. Cyber-Sadomasochism at its finest.

The truth is, I rarely get that annoyed on Facebook. Even when people keep their wedding photos as their profile pictures for over a year, change them and even go back to the photos (we get it, you’re blissfully married, has nothing else developed in your life?) When people post endlessly about sport (Was anybody truly outraged by Gareth Bale’s transfer amount? Literally everybody knew that the day would come where a man would be sold for that much money). On Sundays when people Jesus the place up (seriously, it’s as if you’ve all been given God homework – “Go home and post a random verse of a hymn and you’ll get an extra acre in heaven” or something). Not to mention when people brag endlessly, complain eternally, or just wont stop posting pictures of their fugly kids. Honestly, it’s only moderately annoying. I’m a big boy, I can get over it. In fact, if you ever do something that honestly annoys me, I’ll either tell you, hide you from my newsfeed (who said Facebook updates were useless?) or just unfriend you. It’s pretty simple.

And yes, the people I have on Facebook may not be as engaged with my life as the friends I see on a regular basis but there’s a reason I added them. I to whatever extent am interested in your life and would like to know that you’re not dead yet and are in fact having a nice time. No, I probably will never see you ever again but at least we can enjoy the planet together and bitch about it on this website.

I Am Dying

ekg_flatlineWhoa there people, hold your horses.

Yes I’m dying, but at the same rate as you. Or at least I hope it’s at the same rate as you. Sorry for freaking you all out with my catchy title which is clearly only there to up my blog views which I obviously don’t care about…

I had a weird experience the other day and it’s stayed with me. I was waiting at the train station in Oxford and sat next to me on the rather uncomfortable metal bench was a soldier. A soldier in full soldiery get-up: helmet, camo, kevlar, the lot. The only thing missing was his rifle. He had with him two massive bags – the type you could carry two medium sized people (or oversized children), and I remember being glad that I never chose to go into the army as the mere sight of those bags made me blanch. Eurgh – hard work. Lifting. My hands are made for finer things, like writing snarky comments on my amazing new phone while being thousands of miles away from the hapless recipient of my wit. On the bags was the soldier’s name. I’ve forgotten the soldier’s real name but let’s just call him Harper.

I thought very little about him if I’m honest. I spared a thought for the guys I went to school with who subsequently went out to sandy places to shoot, be shot at, and disarm IEDs while advancing under fire (true story). I then promptly forgot about the whole thing and went back to listening to Bon Iver.

The journey progressed and we arrived at Birmingham, where I was to change one grubby train for another, even grubbier train. I stood, and down the other end of the carriage the soldier stood up and walked out. Exiting the door myself, I glanced down at the luggage rack and saw a massive bag in which one could fit a medium sized adult (or an oversized child). See where I’m going here? On the bag was the name Harper.

He probably left it by accident. Though quite how you’d forget a bag that big I don’t know. Perhaps it was ransom money and he was instructed to leave it on the train or his pet bunny would be slaughtered. I have no idea. But if you think that last suggestion sounded unrealistic, wait till you hear what my brain actually chose to believe for the next ten minutes.

In my mind, that bag – big enough to hold a medium sized adult (or an oversized child) in fact held a titanic sized brick of plastic explosive. My writer’s brain was in overdrive. Every action film I’d ever seen came screaming back to me in one massive download of “You’re going to die in a terrorist attack, a terrorist attack committed by a British soldier against this mass of the unsuspecting (and by the smell of them, unwashed) British public. You’re gonna die sonny!”

Was I ready? I quickly weighed up my options. I knew deep down that the chances of a massive bomb going off were about the same as me winning the lottery without actually buying a ticket, but the topsoil of my cerebral cinema at that moment was awash with adrenaline and what little testosterone my body could scrounge together.

When faced with the (utterly incredulous and entirely fanciful) possibility of violent death (or victorious stardom through helping people through the rubble!) my mind did a weird thing. It just shut down. All I thought was:
“Are you ready?
– Yup
– Really?
– Think so.
– Cool.”

I then emerged from my weird state of death-readiness and realised that there was no bomb, but instead I’d just watched a guy get off a train without his luggage and done nothing to alert him of the fact. In short, I was a dick. In my defence, there are so many announcements telling you to take your belongings with you, I’d like to think that it’s his own ruddy fault.

But encountering what my bizarrely wired brain interpreted as imminent firey death was a new experience for me, no matter how moronic. I was reading Reddit today and came across a story about a paramedic who was in an ambulance treating a guy. The guy was in pretty bad shape and sadly things got the better of him. His last words were “I feel OK about dying now, I’ve had a good life. I danced a lot.”

I’m happy I had quite a zen reaction to death. Had I panicked in any way I would have felt rather uneasy for quite some time. The fact that it fazed me not a whit makes me smile. I’d like to keep this attitude until the day I actually die. I’d like to be lying there and be able to say that I feel ok, I’ve had a good run, and that I danced a lot.

Might need to take dance lessons first though.