Day 341

7:45AM:

I met a cashier at the LCBO a couple of days ago, and her IAN is sticking with me.

The LCBO organization has an employee newsletter that they circulate across Ontario.  In it, they have a section about outstanding employees (of the quarter or the month, something like that).  If it is someone they know or have worked with, this woman will go to their location with the newsletter to get it autographed.  She admitted it was stupid and that it often confused the other person.  She also admitted that it always put a smile on their face.  Her Intentional Act of Niceness made these people feel important, feel loved, feel worthwhile.

It made them smile, and that’s never a bad thing.

Day 290

7PM:

DO NOT LOOK AT THIS AGAIN!!!

Now that that is over with…

While it is true that my comments about Summer Reading are stuck in time, static and representative of the me in that moment, it is important to express how they impact me now.  Otherwise, and this would be a correction to yesterday, the commentary becomes meaningless, the writings become meaningless if I never comment.  And then I’m just one of those self-important douche-bags who start to bemoan the art (or make sound installations that make no noise…).

As such, I will reiterate – DO NOT LOOK AT THIS AGAIN, and in doing so, the words will always represent trueness and possibility.


So, the rest of the story is a dystopian mess, but Ursula K. LeGuin’s short story “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” has a point here:

Joyous! How is one to tell about joy? How describe the citizens of Omelas?
They were not simple folk, you see, though they were happy. … They were not less complex than us. The trouble is that we have a bad habit, encouraged by pedants and sophisticates, of considering happiness as something rather stupid. Only pain is intellectual, only evil interesting. This is the treason of the artist: a refusal to admit the banality of evil and the terrible boredom of pain. If you can’t lick ’em, join ’em. If it hurts, repeat it. But to praise despair is to condemn delight, to embrace violence is to lose hold of everything else. We have almost lost hold; we can no longer describe a happy man, nor make any celebration of joy.

There is nobility in being strong, in not falling down.  However, there is nobility in peace, in quiet, in calm, in Tz’u.  There is no nobility, no honour in exhaustion, martyrdom that leaves you without power or capability to continue being a good person, being a Don.  There is no nobility in destruction and the dead tell no tales.  The dead get one celebration; the living celebrate every day they are grateful and appreciative.

And in the “weirdest finds” category (kind of like the one workable item in an otherwise crap-tastic antique shop), we have Tracy Hickman’s Wayne of Gotham:

“Gotham balances on the edge of an abyss, and I alone feel the weight of holding it precariously there.  What kind of a life is that?”

“An important life,” Alfred urged.  “A necessary life.  A life given so that others might live theirs.”

I’m the guardian.  Who guards the guardian? (220)

Doesn’t Wayne’s life suck as a result?  He is stuck being for the world, not of it, and as such, loses pieces of his care, of his potential, of his power of Tz’u.  If you care about the concept of people more than people themselves, losing sight of people, then disconnection is imminent, cynicism is resolved to and a life of lovelessness is guaranteed.

While not as good as his first novel (The Imperfectionists), Tom Rachman’s The Rise and Fall of Great Powers does include some truisms that we would be stupid to neglect:

According to the world, capitalism had won [the Cold War], but Humphrey called it a tie at best.  He couldn’t see capitalism lasting.  What was the point of any system, he asked, if it only encouraged the worst in humanity, elevating self-interest to a virtue? (61)

In the same vein as Batman, it is not a life of Tz’u, a life of love — fuck that, it is not a LIFE to neglect care and ignore Intentional Acts of Niceness in the way or system in which you live (that’s why veganism suits me fine).

Family meant nothing more than did random names in a telephone directory.  The relations that counted were those of choice, which made friendship the supreme bond, one that either party could sever, and all the more valuable for its precariousness. (73)

It is not a LIFE to take the quality of bonds for granted and not be intentional or aware of that precariousness, thereby taking the people for granted.

Her only unease was a hovering sense of responsibility – that she ought to be looking after someone.  But there was no one anymore, just herself, which seemed so frivolous. (371)

It is not a LIFE to live without people-purpose, to live without love.

She resolved to blunt her flintier side, not to assume that she understood people entirely, and to accept that to be surprised or disappointed or even betrayed was not a catastrophe.  It could be a revelation to learn that you were wrong (372).

It is not a LIFE to lose the humanity in you, in the way you live, by trying to predict perfectly, to control wholly, to try to out-think the universe, to allow your head to dictate your nature (a la Tao of Pooh).  Give the universe its due, it has been around much longer than you.

At the beginning of this literary trek, the world lost a legend, Maya Angelou.  No books of her’s were read, but her words are loudest:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Intentional Acts of Niceness = focus on the people, not the act; focus on what is meaningful to them, on how it will make them feel; love people the way that you can, but as much in the way that they will receive it.

“You may not control all of the events that happen to you but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”

Gratitude and Appreciation = “what’s one good thing about your day?” — looking at the best of the world, as opposed to the worst; there will be shit thrown at you, but you can decide to cry or make mudpies – I will make mudpies!

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

Writing has helped me immensely.  Putting a stopper in myself, keeping it inside, also keeps the blackness in, keeps its torment and its toxicity and its absolute power over emotion.  Writing this down, connecting with other writers, communicating with my wife, talking to my support system (when I could), these things released pieces of the blackness that held onto my silence.  I try to ensure that my students have the same ability to share, the same ability to release pieces of their blackness with a safe space, an ever-present ear and a kind word.

“One isn’t necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.”

It is interesting how the wisest words often are shared by the wisest ones.  While different and generationally distant, Taoism, Winnie the Pooh (Benjamin Hoff) and Maya Angelou all believe in Tz’u.  They all believe that care, kindness, truth, generosity, honesty and goodness, that these things all start with being courageous, with being able to manifest the first step, and then the second step, and then the third.  By doing courageously – which sometimes means doing without knowing the outcome, which probably means falling down and getting back up, and which definitely means being frightened and not having that stop you – that potential for care becomes limitless, infinite.

“Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.”

Love conquers all.

Day 280

6:30PM:

I got to talk to my barber today; it was only him and I and so (I think) Barber was a little more forthcoming with his thoughts.

I started out by asking him how he was doing, to which he jovially and optimistically responded that he woke up this morning with a smile on his face and his mind working, and that’s all for which he could ask.  He’s always been that way.  It is an endearing affect shared by few, one that I feel when interacting with Habitating Family Friend, one that makes life feel warm (even when ice cream is involved).  Then, I asked if he will take any time off in October, like he did last year when he went back “home” to Italy for a couple of weeks.  He responded by telling me what I already knew, things that we had already talked about and – I guess – is the stock answer he gives to all his clients (including me in the past): in the old town in which he grew up, in which his family lived until coming to Canada, there was no one.  His family in that town had either passed away or moved, so he had nothing there to which he was drawn.

Then, he shared new stuff.  He started talking about his wife, who had passed away suddenly a few years ago.  Barber, who is in his seventies, spoke about finding purpose in her, in her love.  Barber talked about going out with couples and friends just not being the same after she left; how if he found someone else, it would feel like he was cheating on his wife; about his love with her – intertwined – and that she was a part of him forever.  It was at this point that I was two seconds away from crying; the only thing that stopped me, the single action that brought me back, was that Barber was smiling.  Barber was smiling because while this might appear to be self-imposed loneliness to some, while this might appear to be not finding value in yourself, while this might appear to be flawed, solely finding purpose in another, it is not.  Barber was smiling because he was not sad about sharing those years, because it reflected his purpose, which was not his wife.  Barber’s purpose was revealed in his wife, it was revealed in his intertwined-ness with her, it was revealed in their love.  He was smiling, imperfectly vivid, about his purpose: love.

In keeping with that and yesterday’s post, my purpose is ever-more clear: helping others, being that support for others, finding value in others.  This does not mean engaging in my purpose in a flawed way, with the blackness driving me into martyrdom, into mental illness, into it screaming in my ear, into vulnerability to its toxic charms.  This means ensuring I am strong enough, wise enough, loving enough, courageous enough, respectful enough to best live my purpose.

This purpose might be imperfect, but it certainly is not flawed.  It might make me tired, but it does not exhaust me.  When flawed, I have tears in my eyes and blackened poison in my veins.  When imperfect, I have a smile on my face.  When imperfect, I find value in others, in helping others.  When imperfect, I am able to best live my purpose.  How does this translate into life?  I would never think about doing a 70.3 Ironman Triathlon; when imperfect, I would do it to support a friend.  I would never think about doing a 10K on three days notice, just having done a long, draining run today; when imperfect, I would do it to support the good and not-so-publicized cause of Alzheimer’s.  I would never think about taking on two jobs at once, working 30 days out of 29; when imperfect, I do it to support my Mom.  I would never have thought I could forgive infidelity, something I was sure would rip me apart, stripping me of every trustful part of me; when imperfect, we recovery, we take it one day at a time, we focus on love.  How does being imperfect and best living my purpose translate into life?  When imperfect, I am vivid.

Barber is going to play the accordion at a local retirement residence tomorrow, finding purpose in providing music and happiness to those less fortunate.  This Intentional Act of Niceness will not give him pause, will not make him think, because it is him, it is the truest version of him to be loving and demonstrate care.  Even after his wife, he continues to find purpose and imperfect vividness in love.

If I find purpose in love, in helping others, in (potentially) being the new dawn/Don of Tz’u, I know that cannot be a bad thing (and not only because barbers are those Fool-like Shakespearean characters that never lie, that enter onto the stage to reveal the truth, the meanings behind it all).  I know that because engaging in that purpose, imperfect as it is, is about being vivid.

Now, I just need to figure out how to best be vivid, so that I can find truthful purpose in love.

Day 279

6PM:

Some universal signs to interpret, from today, a day that has left me realizing I’m worn down and not doing myself any favours by living on the edge:

“Peace is in each of us” (Mennonite Church)

Even though I felt like I needed the Naturopath to be a sounding board, that I needed her to tell me I am drinking too much (either to cope or to fill up the calorie tank at that point in the day), that I am not respecting my hunger out of fear of getting fat (and the never-ending thoughts of belly fat, unknown as to its delusional or truthful nature), that I am not fueling my me-ness enough throughout the day with food and rest, thereby letting my blood sugar drop, my adrenal health plummet and my ability to fight off / ignore / not hear the blackness crater.

Even though I felt like I needed her to say it, I knew these things.  I am scared of trusting myself, of trusting my opinion, even though time and time again, we draw the same conclusions: the only us experts, are us.  Peace is in each of us, or at least, in my case, the ability to find that peace is in me.  I trust my head to think, my heart to love, my soul to feel; now, I need to trust my body to heal.

“I value myself” (Naturopath)

I want to shift the way that I think from I find no value in myself compared to others, worthless in their shadows and that I accept myself as such.  I want to shift it to that I find purpose in others, I find value in helping them (like the happiness I got from doing yard work at my mother-in-law’s house today, not thinking about the selfishness that spawned me doing it, but simply having my heart focus on the love and the IAN).  However, finding purpose in others does not negate valuing myself, it does not have to.  In fact, valuing myself means I can be selflessly selfish, by taking time to heal myself, heal myself so I can engage in that purpose of others; as opposed to being selfishly selfless, making it about ignoring my own needs and ultimately sacrificing my ability to live that purpose.

“Be patient” (Mennonite Church)

We will make mistakes, we will falter, we must before we fly.  We will be patient, step by step on the path of recovery.  We will keep putting one foot in front of the other to reclaim healthy, making mistakes along the way but still going, one day at a time, one breath at a time, breath by breath.

Day 267

3PM:

Short one today — very tired after this morning’s run, crappy sleep and definitely grandparents.  IANs are excellent for the heart, but hell on the back (just a little sore, maybe, kind of)!

My IAN of the day: stopped by the side of the road to help a gentleman get his ride-a-long mower out of a ditch.  Not easy, but like Buckley’s, it works (for the soul, in this case).

Going along that same vein, found an article on the physics-defying nature of Intentional Acts of Niceness:

Act of kindness paid forward by 4 families, all way to B.C..

Care and intention defy fatigue, because in the short-term, they may seem like too much.  In the long-term, they are so powerful it is like fucking defying gravity!

Day 266

6PM:

These might all seem like separate things, or even worse, redundancies. Two-hundred and sixty-five days of over and over, dropping one thing and going to the next, picking up one catch phrase when it better suits and putting down an old one, or again, even worse, being redundant and repetitive and (dare I say) edu-speak-ish.

Fuck off.  That is not the case.  These ideas do all fit, they fit around recovery.

Recovery is creating an environment – through lines (structures, respecting your true nature and not shoulds, working through blacklists and exposure therapy, safeguards, routines), support systems (literary and asking for help from the warm-blooded – familial and therapeutic) and tools (regular exercise, expressing gratitude and appreciation, writing a blog, happy lists) – that starves the blackness inside, taking away its power, taking back the things it stole as flaws (taking your thoughtfulness, contemplative nature and warping it into toxic hyper-vigilance and overt control, anxiety and over-thinking, an eating disorder or alcoholism to cope and depression, low sex drive and thoughts of self-harm as a result; taking your self-awareness and bastardizing it into self-doubt and fear, whereby you run and cheat and lose your you version of you) and reclaiming them as your own beautiful, amazing and loving imperfections, and in doing so, allowing yourself to find vivid in recovery one day at a time, reclaim healthy, manifest as the you version of you, your true nature, your Uncarved Block (healthy veganism, thoughtful gentleness, IANs, creative attentiveness and loving care).

Without the breaks and brackets (and questionably avoided run-on sentence):

Recovery is creating an environment that starves the blackness inside, taking away its power, taking back the things it stole as flaws and reclaiming them as your own beautiful, amazing and loving imperfections, and in doing so, allowing yourself to find vivid in recovery one day at a time, reclaim healthy, manifest as the you version of you, your true nature, your Uncarved Block.

See, it all fits – perfectly imperfectly.

Day 264

10AM:

When I smile at you on the bus or hand back the rest of a gift card or help you with your bags, it is an IAN.  It is an Intentional Act of Niceness.  It is because the world would be better with more love and niceness and care in it.

It is because I know what it feels like to not have that.  My regular place of work, the thing that has the ability (when my support system cannot or doesn’t compensate) to take away my gentle, is lacking in IANs.  Benjamin Hoff explains, through the all-seeing eyes of Eeyore:

“‘Not conversing,’ said Eeyone.  ‘Not first one and then the other.  You said “Hallo” and Flashed Past.  I saw your tail in the distance as I was meditating my reply.  I had thought of saying “What?” – but, of course, it was then too late.’  ‘Well, I was in a hurry.’  ‘No Give and Take,’ Eeyore went on.  ‘No Exchange of Thought: “Hallo – What” – I mean, it gets you nowhere, particularly if the other person’s tail is only just in sight for the second half of the conversation'” (96).

Making others feel loved, or even worth it, that takes care, attention, niceness — intention.  I am on the bus (because I want to leave a car to make my parents and brother’s lives easier) going to my grandparents to help them prepare their house for sale, doing the things that they would otherwise be alone to do because I love them.  No — I’m doing it so that I attend to that love, intentionally doing what many other members of the family can’t find time to do (but who will send you an email on your birthday or RECEIVE a birthday phone message from you, without response).  I’m doing it because Intentional Acts of Niceness attend to love, foster it and make it grow.  IANs are my mission!

Day 260

3PM:

In keeping with the last few days’ posts about reclaiming my beautiful imperfections, breaking bad habits (ok, so yesterday and the day before and the day before and today up until now are BAD examples), I will look up for the rest of today.  I will enjoy like Pooh Bear enjoys living in the now: “‘Owl, you’re just confusing things,’ I said.  ‘This is the day after Tuesday, and it’s not Thirds – I mean, Thursday.’  ‘Then what is it?’ asked Owl.  ‘It’s Today!‘ squeaked Piglet.  ‘My favorite day,’ said Pooh” (27-28).

Pooh recognizes that the best day is the one you are in.  I will try to live one of those days today and relax.

And I will do so by both literally and metaphorically respecting the simple phrase on the outside of the Mennonite Church yesterday.  One that I have found wisdom in before, their weekly message to the drivers going by, the parishioners going in and all those who need the IAN:

BE STILL

Day 257

8PM:

We made it through yesterday – through the artificial insanity of my wife’s birth control pills, the hurricane (or tornado, as it were) of tumultuous emotions that tore her up.  We made it through, got strong and fierce and courageous, pulled her through the fire and flood (not without getting singed or water-logged) because of care and attention, intention and affection.

This brings me to something I read in Tao of Pooh.  I have said here before that love is automatic.  Love is the emotion you feel, it is directionless and pure energy.  Caring is the action, the direction, the follow-through of love.  Ironically enough, the thing that makes others feel loved, feel loved when they are alone, feel affected by love, is not love itself.  The ironic thing about love is that directionless, it has the ability to make others feel unloved.  Love itself, by itself, would be selfish.  Love does not make the lover feel loved; love makes the lovee feel.  On the other hand, caring – the action of love – that makes others feel loved.  We found out yesterday, once again, that being courageous and fierce and loving and strong, that these traits related not to love, but to caring.

In line with this, according to Benjamin Hoff and Taoism, the source of courage and strength (of believing) lies in caring, which is the action of love:

“The two Fearless Rescues just mentioned [(of Roo from the river and Piglet who was Trapped by the Flood)] bring us to one of the most important terms of Taoism: Tz’u, which can be translated as ‘caring’ or ‘compassion’ and which is based upon the character for heart.  In the sixty-seventh chapter of the Tao Te Ching, Lao-tse named it as his ‘first treasure,’ and then wrote, ‘From caring comes courage.’  We might add that from it also comes wisdom.  It’s rather significant, we think, that those who have no compassion have no wisdom. … We also consider it significant that cor, the Latin word for ‘heart,’ is the basis for the word courage.  Piglet put it this way: ‘She isn’t Clever, Kanga isn’t, but she would be so anxious about Roo that she would do a Good Thing to Do without thinking about it.’  Tz’u … saved Roo, discovered the North Pole, and rescued Piglet” (128-129).

Strength and compassion, ferocity and fierceness, wisdom – these are built through caring, through Tz’u.  When my wife and I talk about her recovery, we talk about love being natural and care being intentional.  Care takes courage, awareness takes strength, but as it states above, “From caring comes courage” – what you put in – in terms of belief and strength and courage – will feed the recovery, will beget greater belief and strength and courage and feelings of love.  This is not done through love itself, but through the actions of love, through Tz’u.

I feel the love of my mother-in-law not because she loves me, not because of some abstract emotion she has within her.  I feel the love of my mother-in-law because she thinks of me when I’m not there, buying berries that cost much more than they should (probably because of the water they taste like! – but I’ll never tell).  Tasty or not, it is the caring in her action that makes me feel loved [AN ASIDE: (my metaphor continuing, of my wife and my Roo to her Kanga) my mother-in-law, through her Tz’u and because of her love, demonstrates time and time again her strength of character and that she is wise beyond experience].  Similarly, I feel the love of my grandparents because they sought to understand how they could support my veganism, even if they did not understand the love I have for it.  The caring in their actions – Tz’u – is what makes me feel loved.  Intentional Acts of Niceness make absolute strangers feel loved, and yet, there is no love for that stranger by the actee.  However, the IAN will give them the strength to do a nice thing for the next person, even without love being behind the Tz’u.  There is caring, which begets love and happiness, strength and wisdom in the lover and the lovee.

Going back to my wife’s path of recovery, it is about intention and belief.  Her path of recovery is reclaiming her healthy, her Tz’u.  I have faith in her love, but I also believe in her Tz’u.  I carry around a lollipop notepad from her.  In it, there are messages of love.  I have yet to open it, have yet to read a single one of these messages.  And yet,  I feel loved because of it.  I feel loved not because of the words on the page, words that are finite and after being read once are never-to-be-read the same again.  No, I feel loved because of the infinite care that the lollipop notepad represents.

In 1494, Leonardo da Vinci stated: “Oh ye seekers after perpetual motion, how many vain chimeras have you pursued? Go and take your place with the alchemists.”  Not so, because the source of alchemy is Tz’u.  Even if I never read a single message from the lollipop notepad, it will always be an infinite source of strength and belief, of courage and ferocity, of matter-and-universe-defying love.  This act of love – caring, compassion, Tz’u – always creates and therefore is perpetually in motion.

Day 251

Now:

I will need strength this week.  Totally usurping my life and taking a risk with my recovery: I am leaving on a jet plane, to a foreign land, taking only a limited support system (I have decided that my Mom, who would be much of that support system for the week, needs my help; she is not paying attention to the fact that I need to eat, she is not pushing anything, she is not aware; I am not going to take this to mean that she cannot be, I am going to take it to mean that she needs me not to need her – it sucks, truth be told, as I was kind of hoping that I could lean on her and bring her back into the fold after my brother’s needing her more; she is tired though, she is in need of rejuvenation and I hope that she has the chance to do that here, outside of her fucked-up-world of the last five months; I am not martyring myself, I am just taking care of my Mom so she can hopefully take care of me later) and a lot of love.  The care, therefore, that will come from afar.

It worked yesterday, so maybe I can find a bit of that care in the continued wisdom revealed by Tao of Pooh.  Every day I’m away will be inspired by the words of this gentle bear:

  • About IANs: “When we make the first move, the process will begin.  And that brings us to the Tiddely-Pom Principle, which comes from a song by Pooh: ‘The more it snows (Tiddely pom), The more it goes (Tiddely pom), The more it goes (Tiddely pom) On Snowing.’  … Now the principle can work negatively or positively.  It can promote cynicism as easily as it can encourage hope.  It can build hardened criminals or courageous heroes, stupid vandals or brilliant creators.  The important thing is to make it work for yourself and for the benefit of others, or face the Ugly Consequences.  Working with the Tiddely-Pom Principle, you use respect to build Respect.  The more it snows, the more it goes” (134-135).

Living as if the world is not for you to get from, but for you to give to, that is a principle in which I can believe.  When I go away like this, I am forced to work with some really stupid people.  I am talking about people who make you wonder whether or not stupidity is contagious.  I am talking about people who would write their name on the pizza they bring into the house, but be oblivious to the fact that you cooked dinner the next night.  I am talking about people who show up late, leave early and take the wine with them.  Those people, I am happy to say, deserve IANs too.  Those people, I will call and tell that we have food in the fridge ready for them and wine in the bottle waiting for them, because it is the nice thing to do.  Those people, I will give choice of bedrooms just in case they want to shower after their swim or bike or run in the morning.  Those people, fuck that, all people, deserve IANs.  Because my hope is not that I am in a position to get a return on investment, that the karma I gain will somehow find its way back to me.  My hope is in the Tiddely-Pom Principle: that I will give respect to the universe, give IANs to the world, and respect and IANs will be built in the universe.  The universe, the people in it (yes, maybe even me), will be better for having these Intentional Acts of Niceness.  No one can be uncheered by a balloon or an IAN or feeling like someone loves and respects them, even if they are dumb enough to believe you are skiing in July.